In my Sunday paper this weekend there was an interview with a Norwegian publisher who extolls the virtues of walking to promote a general sense of wellbeing and it struck a real note with me. He’s written a book about walking and some of his key messages about slowing down and taking time to think about things as you walk really resonate. I’m currently aiming to conclude the London Loop – a sort of walkers’ M25 that’s about 170 mile long – in a series of day trips. Last Saturday saw me walking the 11 miles from Elstree to Cockfosters which took around 4 and a half hours. Plenty of time for thinking about what to write about this week! So far I’ve walked about 55 miles of the whole route and can’t wait to crack on with the next bit. It feels like a bit of a personal pilgrimage I suppose.
There is some amazing and unexpectedly remote countryside in this green ring which extends between 10 and 15 miles out from Charing Cross. However there are also some stretches that are not so photogenic and some tramping along residential roads to link green spaces, and it’s here that a darker edge to the walk often emerges. The shanty huts constructed under canal bridges in West London; the young people sitting on benches, cold and dishevelled; the anxiety that forms a knot in the stomach when a large dog suddenly appears without any apparent person to call them to heel. Walking alone can be richly rewarding as you stroll along lost in your own world, but that sense of isolation and attendant danger is never that far away.
I haven’t directly passed any Methodist churches on my route thus far but my knowledge of London District tells me that they are never far away in this mixture of affluent estates, rural charm, crumbling city edge developments and linear rubbish dumps. The A1 near Scratchwood was a terrible example of this latter aspect of the walk. Our churches serve all these communities and we know well that safeguarding issues are not confined to particular locations. The bucolic pastoral scenes that we see can often mask so much that we need to care about whilst those living on the edge can sometimes offer real, inspirational solutions honed through resilience and a deep faith. For me it is absorbing all that I see as I walk along and trying to make sense of it.
Wherever you walk this Eastertime, tread lightly, take time to think and feel the better for it!