I found some old pictures of my family and I out walking. Most Sundays we’d go for a walk, sometimes we’d drive out for a walk, other times we’d keep things local.
These pictures make me smile. It was a walk with my Grandparents. By this point, my Nan had probably moved up here after her health had deteriorated living alone and an hour away from us. My Gran and Grandad lived in St Helens and would have been visiting for the weekend. They never considered themselves ‘walkers’. They were. None of them drove so they either walked or used public transport to get where they needed to go and my Grandad would often take a morning stroll.
As you can see, we’re not all ‘kitted out in walking gear’. I’ve got my mum’s coat on, my nan’s hat, my trainers and my handbag (?!).
My mum used to laugh saying my Nan hated going on walks in the countryside because of the mud but that woman could walk for MILES! The same could be said for my Gran. She’d always be wearing shoes with a small heel whenever she went out. I’d guess she is wearing my mum’s wellies and my brother’s United hat (despite her husband being a City fan) in the picture. Reflecting now, I wonder if it was because often public transport would take you into a town centre and not necessarily out to the countryside or reliably be able to bring you back.
Walks were reasons to get out of the house and get some fresh air. They gave us space to be together without feeling on top of each other. The walks also took us to new places that we hadn’t been before.
Unlike my Grandparents, I did have the opportunity to take driving lessons and I passed a month before my 18th birthday, however, I’ve always opted to walk over driving if I can. It helps me get a feel for the place I’m in, moving slow enough to absorb what is going on around me, and see the smaller details. As a parent, I’ve retraced some of those steps with my own children, walks that remind me of my childhood.
Walking feels like second nature to me, like breathing. It’s something I’m fortunate to be able to do with ease.
The thing is I’ve started to feel more pressure to have the ‘right gear’ on when I go for a walk. The outdoor clothing industry has certainly grown over the years and seeing my Instagram squares filled with people ‘looking the part’ can sometimes mean that ‘not good enough’ feeling starts to creep in.
I know the benefits walking brings to my physical and mental wellbeing and whilst I’ve got a waterproof coat, fleece, and a pair of walking boots, I don’t really own any specific ‘outdoor clothing’. (I was the person with the Regatta coat at school who really wanted the Spray Way!)
I worry that people may feel excluded from the outdoors, and walking, because of this image that has been created, consciously or subconsciously by brands and outdoor enthusiasts. I also wonder if the reliability of public transport also plays a part, we all know there are many rural bus routes being reduced or cut.
This leads me onto Walk~Flow which Matthew from The Design Attic and I set up to bring people who were often working alone, together, to have conversations outdoors.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve continued to listen and learn from our co-walkers. It became apparent that not everyone could do some of the walks because they were reliant on public transport so we ensure that at least 80% of our walks can be accessed by public transport (the plan was also to enable car sharing but that has been paused given the current circumstances). We also want our walks to be accessible so we keep them between 3 and 5 miles long and aim to have at least 50% on solid paths. We’ll always suggest a comfortable and sturdy pair of shoes and a waterproof jacket but other than that, people can come as they are. We’ll take a couple of pictures for social media but the 2 hours are largely spent connecting to the people and the place in which we’re walking.
There are lots of directions we could take this project but for now, we’re keeping things simple. Reconnecting.