28/02/2014 06:43 GMT | Updated 29/04/2014 06:59 BST

On Walking

I have solved all of my problems in life by walking. There is a Latin phrase for it: solvitur ambulando. It is solved by walking. Some may find it amusing or outlandish that problems can be solved by the humble stroll but consider this: I walk the same journey every day- around four miles across hills and through woods so neglected that I am enthralled to see real trees and a vast variety of foliage and fauna that have never had a close encounter with a chainsaw or trowel. Often I meet a badger and on a weekly basis will come face to face with deer and foxes. The birds chirp, sing and cackle merrily overhead and I have learned to tell when they are paying homage to the sun or seducing a potential mate.

I follow the same path every day and observe mushrooms emerging in the Autumn and watch those same mushrooms decay to dust when the colder weather sets in. As Spring begins to stir I can follow the cycle in the budding flowers and leaves on the shrubs and trees that I have grown accustomed to greeting every day. I've learned to smell the seasons too- musky and sour in the Autumn, for example.

The process of walking, of putting two feet on the ground and setting off can be a challenge. For those who are not used to physical exertion or dislike their own company, they would find the solitary purpose of a walk unpleasant or to say the least, painful. For non-stop chatterers who find it hard to quieten their tongues, the enforced silence of a walk in the woods would probably drive them mad.

Walking pushes the superficial self back and in its place, the deepest thoughts, longings, axes to grind float to the topmost of our minds. I have spent entire walks mulling over issues, mending a broken heart and making life-changing decisions with only my hound for company. Occasionally a robin would appear and sit silently watching me. The sight of his smiley face, which always seems so congenial, has stopped my tears, many a time.

The best walks are the ones where there is a complete silence in one's head. Where often I gaze upwards at the sky and I just go "wow!!!". There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being alive, for having the pleasure to observe, gaze, stare in wonder at this life. My walks have taught me to be more spiritual and closer to God. In fact, looking for God is a bit like finding oneself. Finally.


The field where I would speak to my father, Photo copyright S. van Dalen

All the big decisions I have made in my life, happened on my walks. I encounter a heightened sense of intuition as well while strolling along. There was one particular field high up in the hills where I was convinced that my deceased father would commune with me. And often when I am there, I fall to my knees to pray under the massive expanse of sky overhead which makes me feel both irrelevant and at one with the universe.

Walking has also cured me of illness: if I feel a cold coming on, I go for an extra walk and feel much better. They say dog walkers never get sick because they are forced out in all weathers. This has also been my experience. Once when I fell from a ladder and cracked my knee, I instantly set off on a long walk- I am convinced that by forcing blood to pump around the affected knee it healed faster (although it did take six months to heal completely) and the damage was less serious. It has been proven that walking cures depression and banishes the blues- why anyone would choose antidepressants over fresh air beats me but then again, "there's none as queer as folk".

I wonder how city types cope when all they have is a lot of cement and strange faces around them constantly. I would go into a deep and dark place if I could not ramble along in this green and pleasant land and lose myself in the natural world. Life is really very simple and straightforward- it's all there in a long, long walk somewhere near you where all you can see for miles and miles is the promise of silence, of peace and a type of happiness (if you learn to still your restless soul first..).


Photo copyright S. van Dalen