The wonder of a wander by Alan Coxon

The multiplicity of benefits of going for a walk are now well documented. Walking is a form of exercise that is accessible to most, for free, and even a moderate amount of walking performed reasonably regularly has both immediate and long-lasting beneficial effects. However, it seems that there are dangers to be observed.  The dangers I refer to here are the dangers of expectation.

The myth of the steps

It seems to be a mantra now that we should aim to perform 10,000 steps a day to have any chance of staying alive in a reasonable form.  There is so much guidance about pace, and distance, the need to be out of breath, or sweaty, or do a certain distance in one go. To do it as much as possible. Every day. Without fail.

And there it is. You can see the enjoyment wither away. Another regime to follow and fail.  Expectations fail to be met, the walk becomes a task, it can become yet another thing to do. The joy is removed.

Forget it all.  Rediscover the wonder of a wander, the right to randomly roam.

Be kind to yourself

Primarily, be kind to yourself about it.  If you sometimes don’t go out because the weather is terrible or you are feeling unwell, that’s OK.  If you can only manage a 15 minutes stroll, that is no problem either. If you can’t fit a walk in on some days due to life constraints and commitments, do not feel guilty.  If you do not want to walk at a clip and just want an able about then do so. You are an adult: it’s not irresponsible it’s how you feel at that moment, go amble and potter about. In being kind to yourself you may well find that over time you will get out and walk a lot more than you might have done carrying the burden of expectation.

The right to randomly roam

Don’t plan the walk.  OK, caveat here for health and safety purposes: if you are going into any exposed environment or an environment where you may not meet people DO plan your walk and tell someone. This way you can be found if you get into trouble and be located by the rescue services.  Right, that’s out of the way…

We can get trapped into achieving a route, or distance or seeing something, being somewhere, getting the steps in, getting the maximum from our time. We can become anxious and doing so lose the freedom we crave. Sometimes, just have the liberty to walk out of the house, and see where you end up. 

On one occasion, I left the house for a local walk, and on passing the train station realised that within 5 minutes there was a train to the West. Forty-five minutes later I was having a wander around in Somerset, not my local patch. It wasn’t a massive walk once I got there, but a massive ‘micro adventure’. A new environment, new things to see, and I had a pint in a new place, chatted to some locals…it gave me a sense of freedom.

Walk the lanes where you are.  You might normally head directly to the park, the countryside, the local shops. Divert. Go down roads you have not been down before. Get to know your local area in more detail. Know your neighbour-hood. I have done that and discovered fascinating buildings, beautiful front gardens, alleyways I never knew existed.

Whenever visiting a city (I live quite rural) I often take to the streets and walk around.  If I have to go to London for some purpose, if possible I will have a good walk. Sometimes, it is quicker than the transport. I do avoid the busiest places, and they do not make for relaxing ambulation. However, look at a map, and you can often find interesting parallel routes.  Don’t walk down Oxford Street, wander the back lanes and mews of Marylebone and Mayfair.

See the view, see the detail

Unless we lead extravagant explorer lifestyles, most of our wandering will be over the same patch again and again. And again. This can lead to route boredom. Do not be afraid, embrace it.

There is beauty in the changes that happen. Be it minute by minute, day by day, season by season, year by year, change is there and waiting to be observed. Town or country or anywhere in-between, there is always something new, all you need to do is see it.

There is always the big stuff.  How does the weather change the look and feel of a place? How do the seasons change the sounds and smells? Do you really think about the weather conditions and enjoy them, beyond not wanting to get wet or too hot or cold? Do you really observe the changes in the world around you, rather than just how it affects you?

Look up, Look down.

How often do you really look up?  Look up at the trees. The upper parts of buildings. There might be a whole world you have never seen. Urban landscapes can be particularly interesting here. There might be details you have not seen. In urban centres, there is amazing architecture that is unobserved on a daily basis. Can you really say you know what is above your favourite coffee shop? Even in suburban areas there are details to be discovered.

An estate of houses can all be identical when built, but people put their stamp on them. Even a block of flats will have a window box, a flag, someone looking out of the window. Roof windows inserted into a Victorian terrace. A random mural. A palm tree oddly placed in a front garden.

Look down. What is happening there that you have not seen?  Ants going about their business. Moss atop a wall. Feel the texture of a fence, a wall, a leaf. Smell a flower.  No, really, stop and smell it. It might not smell of anything, but you have gained that knowledge.

All these things change constantly, see it.


Stop planning and start looking, listening, smelling and feeling, do these things, and your daily walk starts to become like visiting a familiar friend, an adventure, something to cherish.

Photos: Michal Matlonratt, Holly Mandarich, Bruno Martins and Panos Sakalakis

Alan Coxon is a nature writer and Founder of the blog Alan’s Almanac, ‘a personal perspective on seasonal happenings.’ His writing has also been featured in Psychologies magazine – check out his feature ‘Mindfulness in Gardening’ here.

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