When my Dad was a teen he'd leave his Lancashire mill village of Helmshore and take the train via Preston to the Lake District. He'd walk the peaks and drink in the village pubs. With a copy of Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland fells in his pocket, this was an accessible adventure and a taste of freedom. Whatever did he have in common with the writer, a brusque Lancastrian civil servant who was happiest on a bleak moorland?, I'll never know... At my Dad's funeral we chose as exit music folk singer Ewan MacColl's The Manchester Rambler which was inspired by the Kinder Scout mass trespass, something my Dad talked about with pride. On a side note please leave instructions on what you'd like your funeral to be like and what music you'd play, it'll spare your loved ones an anguished night with Spotify and a bottle of red.
I saw walking as naff when growing up, something old people with beards and bad breath did. The love of the outdoors I inherited from my Dad was there, but I was in to mountain biking. That was a cool and hip thing to do. Then again I also wore Carter USM band t-shirts and Cinelli caps, so what did I know?
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that I'm now getting in to walking. As part of getting my strength back and along with my new Fitbit toy, which acts like a nagging boss when you decide to sit down for any length of time, I'm walking everyday. Last year was mainly confined to indoors, Chemotherapy leaves you so tired and depressed even walking to my local Tesco for milk was a challenge on a lot of days. Now with this break in treatment getting outside is a thrill. Feeling the temperature differences and wind which takes your breath away feels really great, after a year of recycled air from hospital wards. Eventually I'd like to get back on my bike, but in the meantime walking is giving me the chance to be outdoors again.
As I've been reading up on walking I can see that it isn't just a fusty pastime for people in M&S sweaters, it can be truly revolutionary. In the always excellent Museum of London I learnt about Women's Sunday on 21st June 1908 where up to 500,000 women protested for suffrage. Many women came on the district line and got out at St James' Park station and walked on mass through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace. Also I've been reading Stuart Maconie's The Long March from Jarrow which chronicles the legendary 1936 march to London. He writes about retracing the steps of the 26 day walk to petition PM Stanley Baldwin with wit and humour. There's also the chin scratching, philosophical side of the Flaneur about the casual wanderer who investigates their own city popularised by Charles Baudelaire. This is a little too up it's own arse for me, but the spirit lives on in the excellent early morning tweets of poet Ian McMillan.
With all this is mind of decided to set myself a walking challenge. Now I live in central London, so not easy to access the Peaks or the Lakes. I've found an alternative challenge though, something closer to home, called The Capital ring. This is a 78 mile / 126km stage walk around the green parts of the capital. As it's designed by TfL the stages are all accessible from public transport with a tube or train station nearby. The walk is signposted by handsome green signs with millage information and access points. This is great for me as I can use my disabled freedom pass as every bit of the walk lies in zone 4 or less. Being money poor but time rich I think I've got a good chance of completing it.
I've already done a section of the walk from Crystal Palace park to say hello to the dinosaurs, to Balham for a welcoming pint of Purity beer and an open fire at the The Bedford. There were great views across South London, interesting houses to look at and lots of good dogs being walked. I enjoyed being outside and for someone who thinks they know London quite well, it's always great to visit places you would not necessarily visit for any other reason. I walked about 7 miles and although tired at the end of it I think it's a manageable project. I've even gone to Foyles to pick up Colin Saunders excellent guide to the whole thing. I finally feel like my Dad with the Wainwright books.
This week I've been... Watching The Winter Olympics (cont). I tried snowboarding once and I just kept falling on my arse... Reading - see above!.. Listening to Ezra Furman's Trans Angelic Exodus. A great if sometimes baffling album.
Next Week: Technology special! Can tech help with chronic illness? I go and investigate!