Keep on walking

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We have to acknowledge and accept that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything in life. But it also has to be admitted that some unexpected changes are for the better.

Main image: Man and woman walking up manmade stairs in wooded area in Greece. Ghostly feet walk in front of them. Fairies hide in the foreground. Illustration Chris Johnston

Here in Greece, for example, people seem to be smoking less and walking more. Gone are the days when long walks were measured in the time it took to smoke x number of cigarettes, the cigarettes being considered compensation for the walking, for the latter was equated with work and certainly not with pleasure.

But the practice of walking can, of course, accomplish great things: just think of Captain Tom Moore, who raised more than 30 million pounds for Britain’s NHS, simply by plodding around his garden for a month before his 100th birthday. Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor started his career at the age of 18, when he set off on a walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in the year 1933, before old Europe changed forever. An inveterate walker, the eminent historian G.M. Trevelyan, author of a famous essay on walking, always said he had two doctors: his left leg and his right.

The Jains of India believe that while the Buddha found enlightenment while sitting under a tree, their original leader had enlightenment come to him while he was walking, and so Jainist nuns and monks walk everywhere, using a fan as they go, so that they do not inadvertently harm any living thing.

My Greek mother-in-law, the redoubtable Aphrodite, did not suffer any physical incapacity, but one day she simply decided to stop walking, took to her chair, and then eventually to her bed. It was as if she had retired from work, but in fact she had also retired from life: once in her bed, she never got out of it. We had many differences, she and I, and one thing she found impossible to understand was my daily habit of wandering off on my own, up into the nearby mountains, or in order to make a circuit of the village.

The important thing was that I used to feel, once established in a rhythm, that all care had lifted, had simply floated away. Trevelyan said that after a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value, and I, for one, can see what he meant.

 

'I kept on walking regardless, but also kept on wondering about fairies, although none appeared.'

 

But my practice of walking apparently bothered some villagers. ‘People worry about you,’ my neighbour told me.

‘Why?’ I asked, genuinely puzzled, even though I knew solitary walking was not the done thing.

‘Because you walk where there are fairies,' my neighbour replied. Seeing my bewilderment increase, he went on to explain that fairies had their favourite haunts, and that it was quite possible they would spirit me away into their world. (Why not go for it? suggested another friend later. It might be preferable.) But my neighbour, taking all these matters for granted, reassured me that I was safe in my house, because it was situated in an area of white magic. I kept on walking regardless, but also kept on wondering about fairies, although none appeared.

There is a type of kinship in any kind of outdoor activity: recently I noticed and made contact with a dogged older man I judged to be well into his 80s, who seemed to cover great distances, and in energetic style. His black armband showed his widowhood, and he often carried a plastic bag of dry food for the several stray cats that have their favourite places along his route. I said hullo one day, and realised another aspect of his doggedness, for he fished in his pocket for the gadget that enables him to talk. I deduced he had had an operation for throat cancer, as he had to press said gadget into his neck in order to activate his vocal cords.

He told me that he walks every day, sometimes notching up as many as 90km a week. I was very impressed, and felt on reflection that Trevelyan would have been as well. I thought summer’s heat might have discouraged him, but no: I still see him often, determined and brave. I don’t think he gives much thought to fairies: he is content in his own world. He will keep on walking. And so will I.

 

 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Illustration Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, COVID-19, walking, Greece

 

 

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Existing comments

A kindred spirit. See my Walking the Camino. Or , to quote Dory, “keep on swimming”.
Tony Kevin | 29 September 2020


After a recent hiatus I am back walking. And it is the best feeling. I can understand your walking expeditions around your village and into the mountains in Greece, Gillian. You are exploring new horizons within yourself. I recently saw, in a digital edition of a magazine, a picture of the Piazza Navone in Rome taken from directly above the Piazza and I could see the streets and lanes I walked through to reach the Piazza. No better way of reaching our destination!
Pam | 29 September 2020


Thank you for affirming what I couldn't name.
Angela Allen | 29 September 2020


The redoubtable Johnny Cross (Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Cross OBE, formerly of the UK Brigade of Gurkhas) who must be 90 by now goes for a 20 mile trek every morning where he lives in rural Nepal. I think he'll live forever. They don't make men like him any more.
Edward Fido | 29 September 2020


We are very fortunate indeed to have a large natural nature (well allowing for sheep grazing for over a century) reserve with a nice sized hill to climb at the rear of our property. The temptation to go for a stroll , even on sunny calm winter days, is always there.Hot summer days, less so, since the long dry grass is a haven for snakes, so then we stick to the fire trail .It is always refreshing and a time for deep thinking about the nature of things. The top of "our hill" gives a vast vista extending across the valley to the distant Brindabellas, which, with an increasingly rare dusting of snow at times at this time of year, makes for stunning scenery. The best part is that no two walks are the same as nature goes through her seasonal cycle. The joy in walking is not just the exercise but discovery too!
Gavin O'Brien | 29 September 2020


until fairly recently people in the village would take a car for even a short journey but the the health message has got through. I was given some walking poles for my birthday and I can now travel rocky paths with much more confidence. I feel it might give the fairies a warning that I am coming and your mentioning them brought back lovely memories of fairy rings and gossamer wings.
Maggie | 30 September 2020


Thanks for your article Gillian. More walking, is one of the suggestions of the heart foundation, and one that I take very seriously these days since my successful triple bypass surgery a year ago. It has forced me onto long beach walks and into the Australian bush which has in itself other bonuses, though as yet no fairies !
John Whitehead | 30 September 2020


I have noticed the increase in walking in the small country town in Western Victoria where I live as well. I'm sure walking is the best way of seeing things whether it is a new city that you are visiting or just wandering around your own little town. You have time to notice things and you have time to think. You have time to see nature at work, even in a city. It's pleasantly fatiguing and should help you sleep. And best of all it is a relatively Covid Safe activity. Thanks Gillian.
Stephen | 30 September 2020


Thanks Gillian for the usual uplift of spirit your articles bring me. I started walking to the nearby Mt Eccles (now reverted to its Indigenous name of Budj Bim) when I was a 10-year-old in Western Victoria. [Hello Stephen; any proximity to your town?] Now 74, I'm still managing at least an hour a day, provided the garden doesn't demand attention. One hour used to be 5km - but not now; I'm happy if it reaches 3km. Keep walking! and insist on better whisky.
Ian Fraser | 30 September 2020


I envy you your ability to walk -- if only I were younger ! But I do remember long exhilarating walks and the sense of achievement when toting up the miles. As for the fairies, don't forget that no-one had ever proved tat they do NOT exist.
Meriel Wilmot-Wright | 01 October 2020


As you say so well, Gillian, there's much to be said for walking (especially when more strenuous exercise recedes into the realm of memory!) The ancient Greeks and Romans knew a bit about it, too - the peripatetic philosophers of the Athenian agora's stoa, and the Romanised formula: "Solvitur ambulando."
John RD | 01 October 2020


Gillian - lovely reflective piece. My Borders Scottish Granny came from a long ancestry of walkers - as far as Edinburgh in the pre-railway days apparently - but I recall once aged less than three trailing her a few miles into the shops in Tamworth - mollycoddling not part of her primary teacher frame of reference. When Christine and I were in Madrid in the latter 1970s we read Laurie Lee - of course and walked a lot (days of relative poverty). It was while living in western Japan and already undertaking a walk or two across the mountains of the old Edo era Hagi O-Kan that I read Tony Kevin's inspiring walking of the Camino from Granada to Santiago de Compostela and gained permission from Chris already back in Australia to undertake my own pilgrimage - same distance as Tony's walk - around 1200 kms - the 88-temple pilgrimage course around Shikoku - as my farewell to Japan. Since which back in Australia frequent walks of six kms from home to a local emergency services and helicopter/gyrocopter landscape flights and tandem sky-jumps. It's a flat pathway - but I can find myself having walked several kms totally oblivious - lost somewhere in my head - on automatic pilot as it were - musing on this or that! (I recall once walking the Arfara fairy path with a noted Australian writer! Over 30 years ago! "Sic transit ambulants" (Pardon my atrocious Latin!)
Jim KABLE | 01 October 2020


Walking is indeed both healthy and pleasurable provided the terrain allows contemplation rather than constant vigilance. Especially in cities and suburbs it can be hard to avoid joggers, cyclists and others who simply don’t see anything of their surroundings because they’re hypnotised by their phones. One of the saddest aspects of modern life (apart from the current necessity of wearing a mask) is the number of days on which walking outside is not recommended because of the ever-increasing pollution of the air we breathe. Your walks sound altogether idyllic. Enjoy them!
Juliet Flesch | 02 October 2020


Wonderful article Gillian!
Sarah Cannon | 02 October 2020


Efcharisto (sp?) Gillian! Here in Mebourne we measure our walks in other ways. My friend described a coffee shop as being perfectly a pod cast away. And in the burbs we used to all like to go dancing together- many steps and distance covered, partic with live music Greek. A long mesmeric dance could take you travelling a long way, in a small space.
Michaela | 02 October 2020


The Tao literally 'the way'
Michael D. Breen | 04 October 2020


A good long brisk walk is pure medicine Well written and well argued- there is finally a social shift with smoking in Greece. Long overdue
Stathis T | 04 October 2020


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