Writers who Walk – Walkers who Write
A curious Link
Walking, for those of us with good hips, bouncy knees and uncomplaining feet, can often be a chance to leave the housework, the DIY and the laptop screen behind. Whether you set out alone, or meet a friend to chat, the simple physical act of putting one foot in front of the other, on city streets or country lanes, can be an opportunity to think, to work out an issue, to solve a problem.
Novelists and poets have long held that walking and writing are closely connected. Perhaps the most celebrated walker-writer was William Wordsworth, who always seemed to be ambling down country lanes, climbing up mountains or just wandering lonely as a cloud. It’s estimated that Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of around 180,000 miles on foot over his literary lifetime. Charles Dickens also loved a good walk and claimed to cover 30 miles before breakfast, rising in the early hours to reach his destination. Without doubt, characters such as Bill Sykes, Uriah Heap or Ebenezer Scrooge were forming in his imagination as he marched along.
Yet there are some notable walkers who write. Whereas a novelist or poet may walk to get the creative juices flowing, authors such as Alfred Wainwright (A Pictoral Guide to the Lakeland Fells) or John Brierley (A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago) are hikers first, writers second.
Born in Blackburn at number 331 Audley Range (if you are passing, note the plaque on the wall) Alfred Wainwright was motivated by his love of walking the Lakeland Fells. Those who have read his books will know that he was a talented artist as the many pen and ink sketches confirm. Although he is less-known for his literary skills, Wainwright had a way with words that evoked a deep love of the outdoors, both lyrically and emotionally.
John Brierley’s books are purposefully compact. Each page is full of information, maps, elevation diagrams, and his own musings on the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Brierley understood that modern pilgrims travel light and don’t need cumbersome guides in their packs. His spiritual contemplations, which appear alongside the advice for walkers, are beautifully written and rather moving at times.
I often take a break from writing to set off on a walk and I can pace a good few miles with characters chattering in my head. When a plot issue fails me as I sit at the screen, a walk in the open air provides the space to see things more clearly. Walking is often part of the narrative. In Walking Apart, David Richards runs a local walking group and the book ends along a favourite walk near Tarn Hows and over Black Fell in the Lake District. My family have often found ourselves returning to Black Fell and the iconic stile over the drystone wall. In the sequel, Walking Alone, David walks the promenade at Blackpool when he needs some space to solve an issue. Later in the novel, he sets off to tackle the Camino de Santiago and would certainly have had a copy of Brierley in his rucksack.
Whatever kind of writer or walker you are, be sure to experience both activities for their own sake and if the two should overlap enjoy both the activity and the chance to exercise your imagination.
The website below will take you to the Black Fell walk with photographs that follow every step of David and Helen’s hike in Walking Apart. Black Fell is in the Southern Routes section. David took route 1 up Tom Gill.
For anyone who has a desire to walk the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, there is a wealth of information to be found. Alternately, you can get in touch with Catherine if you have any questions about the walks mentioned above through the contact page.