I should probably tell you I’m walking up a hill, with crisp leaves crunching beneath my feet while the winter sun gently warms my face. Because that’s the ode to winter walks people want to read, isn’t it? A description so inviting, it encourages you to abandon the sofa altogether for the great outdoors.
In reality, winter walks are rarely poetic or romantic – and that’s precisely why I love them. Winter walks are messy; an act of rebellion against Britain’s unloveable weather; an unpredictable competition between hiker and drizzle, where the winner is undetermined.
Your hair blows so frantically in the wind it ends up in your mouth, covered in spit. Your shoes are coated with such a thick layer of mud, every step feels heavy. Your ears scream in the cold if you’ve forgotten your hat – your forehead itches under the wool if you haven’t.
In a world where we’re surrounded by images of Insta-worthy perfection, that reminder that nature is, at times, ugly and unforgiving, is the most beautiful moment of them all.
Sure, the flowers on a summer walk are lovely, fringing the path with colour and scent. But spotting a disobedient bloom poking out of the twigs during winter is an unparalleled joy.
A close second: observing the weird and wonderful mushrooms that have clung on since autumn. Poke them with a stick with childhood curiosity and gawp at the ones that have desecrated to slime, because why not? No one’s watching.
And that’s the thing about winter walks – there are very few people barmy enough to attempt them. Whether you’re walking alone, with a partner or friends, a winter walk offers something in short supply in 2020: silence.
It doesn’t matter if you live surrounded by countryside, or in the middle of a big city, taking time to stretch your legs in the fresh air – down a side street or through a forest – does wonders for your soul, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
I should know; I fill my weekends living in rural Hertfordshire with long, revitalising walks, but I value my daily lunchtime stroll around a central London park just as much. There is no better way to shake off a stressful morning and return to work with a genuine smile.
Numerous studies have linked walks to better mental health, so it seems a crying shame to reserve them for spring, summer and autumn. At no other time of year do you get the thrill of going out in the afternoon and trying to beat the sunset home.
Win at a winter walk and you’ll go to bed with a sense of undeniable achievement – or be filled with that extra sense of smugness as you recover at a warm, inviting pub. My winter wanderings are such a pure time for stillness, reflection or total escape – I’m (almost) hesitant to let you in on the secret.