I’ve visited two cultures and countries recently with strong outdoor walking cultures. No surprise there’s a connection between them.
Both England and New Zealand have rolling green hills, pastoral landscapes, an abundance of sheep, and lots of recreational walkers. They also share mild climates and lots rain.
While away at a conference in Sheffield, I did a fair bit of walking in the Yorkshire Dales and in the Peak District National Park. In one case we were able to get to the start of the trail by train (no cars required!) and we did a three and half hour walk along a ridge (up to the ridge too of course) followed by dinner at a country pub. “Muddy boots, dogs, and children welcome.” Thanks Shannon–not quite the massive undertaking that was your Spinoza walk– but lots of fun nonetheless.
It’s terrific exercise. I love that it combines socializing, snacks, beautiful scenery, and outdoor adventure. You see a real range of ages and fitness levels out on these walks, judging by speed. It’s an English tradition, not just for the elite athlete. No problem keeping up with the David Suzuki 30 X 30 challenge here, see Play outdoors in May!
Over dinner we chatted about how much we loved this kind of walking and why it’s less accessible in Canada. The negative answer is all about out of shape North Americans, we’re into fast food, strip malls, and highways. No trains into parks here. The more neutral answer is our geography, more forests and either flat or mountains, fewer green rolling hills.
But it’s also true, of course, that the landscape we admire in New Zealand and England isn’t “natural” either.
A friend confessed she used to wonder how the grass was kept short. Um, sheep. Lots of sheep.
But it also used to be forested. In many places in both England and New Zealand it’s suited to human walking because we chopped down all the trees. I love canoeing in Algonquin National Park but that kind of wilderness offers a different set of challenges than the Yorkshire Dales.
I’m not sure how much of England was once forested but I know it’s true in New Zealand that forests were used for fuel, ship building, and cleared for sheep. (See England’s forests: a brief history of trees We had lots of trees, then came selfish kings and war. But now our forests are resurgent again.)
So I’m back to in the big country–we don’t offer walking tours of Canada, that’s another key difference–and looking forward to what we have close at hand, paved country roads with wide shoulders for cycling. See you out there!
And keep an eye out here for a post on fell running, or mountain running, in the near future.