(Written on 31st December 2021 but not actually posted until 2022 due to the hurly burly of life and all its many obstacles)
The newspapers called it “unprecedented” as if there were no other words in the collective vocabulary. We thought 2020 was a year like no other; we didn’t expect 2021 also to be quite as un-normal as it has turned out to be. So, as another unusual year comes to its end, I reflect on the things that have got me through. We all seem to have had one or two things that saved the day, be it baking or box sets. The main one for me used to be swimming, but in the last two years that has changed. When the pools were closed for so long, and everyone seemed to be wild swimming, I somehow didn’t want to do that as much. Wild swimming is special and lovely and there are some beautiful places to do it around the outskirts of Sheffield but it felt different; involving a drive or bus out to the reservoirs, and somehow more of a social activity. My pool swims were solitary, exercising for mind and soul as well as body, and while I loved the community at the pool, my swims were always the way back to myself, shoulder knots unfurling and everything feeling suddenly back in perspective. The baths are ten minutes walk from my house and their simplicity and availability were key. When the baths opened up again I’d still go for a swim, and enjoy it, but booking ahead for restricted sessions makes it trickier to fit in, and something has changed. So now it’s walking in nature.
Walking was always so much more than just a cheap way of getting from A to B. There’s a wonderful saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, that when in doubt, “solvitur ambulando”- it is solved by walking. Like swimming, it calms the mind while exercising the legs and lungs, and somehow things seem better for doing it. One of the best things I did in 2021 was go on a walking trek across Dartmoor, walking mostly in silence with a small group, following ancient pathways carved out by people and animals over hundreds of years. Walking and sleeping out on the wild moorlands amongst standing stones and extraordinary skies, walking through sun and rain and mud and mist, just letting our feet find their rhythm. Everything seemed to fall into balance and re-set. And perhaps most crucially, having left my “full of care” head behind, along with my phone, I learned to switch my thoughts off in a way I’d never managed in a thousand attempts at meditation, by simply being in nature and just looking. As a city-based tree-hugger who loves walking locally but had never done anything on this scale, it was what they call a game-changer.
Back home, I realised that although I love the green parks and woodlands and moors of Sheffield, what I really love is walking along its high edges: steep hills with high plateaus, feeling the pleasant pull on my muscles of brisk uphill climbing, rewarded by a panoramic view of sheer breathtaking beauty.
So a daily walk amidst some kind of wildness and greenery has become my life-saving companion (alongside the early morning ritual I have done since being on Dartmoor, sitting in the garden for ten minutes with my coffee, not trying to plan or change anything, just looking.) On a good day, getting out to water or the wild edges. These things have got me through the last months and long may they continue. But as 2021 ends and a new year begins, I wonder how to incorporate art and making into these small excursions, and then too, where to go next…
New year’s reading: “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin (perhaps no accident that he was born in Sheffield and also grew up walking its woodlands and edges) is a beautiful book about the joys of walking and its history. A book I first read years ago and which feels very timely to read again now.
*I do so recommend Henriette as a walking guide and for her philosophy of being a woman in nature. https://www.wanderingwild.co.uk
And if you have any recommendations or tips about possible future adventures or wild wanderings, coast to coast walks and the like, then please do let me know. Happy New Year XXX