Composers and walking

There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that walking – especially walking in natural settings, or just lingering amid greenery, even if you don’t actually walk much – is associated with increased productivity and proficiency at creative tasks.

Walking and writing is a given, the walking artist is definitely a thing, and we’ve sighted some troubadours already, so it’s time for composers and walking…

The subject of #ramblings on 4 March 2010 was a proposed Gustav Holst Way in the Cotswolds. Gustav, whose family hailed from Latvia, was a walker, he was known to walk home to Cheltenham from London due to shortage of funds, and went on walking holidays with Vaughan Williams.

The Gustav Holst Way is now a reality – I’ll add any more composers and walking factoids to this page as I find them.

Composers who took a daily walk:

  • Beethoven – after his midday meal he embarked on a long walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon; as the day wound down, he might stop at a tavern to read the newspapers
  • Mahler – took a three or four hour walk after lunch, stopping to jot down ideas in his notebook; was a nature lover, took long walks in the country, keeping up a speedy tempo; see memorials (map | Vienna map, but note that while the State Opera has a Mahler bust by Rodin, there is no statue, just a street), summer locations: 1901-07 Maiernigg (by Maria Wörth), 1908-10 Toblach (aka Dobbiaco, South Tyrol); see also Alma (new book), not least Walking the walk with Alma Mahler; walking cure in Leiden with Freud: see Why Mahler pp207-, Walking with Freud on R3, book excerpt etc; p292 of Why Mahler: “When we trawl the information superhighway, each discovery must be treated with kid gloves, put on hold and worked into a larger perspective if the human mind is not to be atrophied to that of a firefly. Mahler offers breadth and depth to the thought process. In a speeded-up, homogenised society, he allows us to think that the individual mind can survive. He urges us to see the bigger picture, to listen to the unsaid. He continues the conversation. He makes critics of us all.”
  • Erik Satie – “he walked slowly, taking small steps, his umbrella held tight under his arm…endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day”
  • Tchaikovsky – believed he had to take a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him

Sources: Daily Rituals (GdnSlate), Daily Routines and Rise and shine. July 2014: now as infographic.



Simon Armitage walks home

photo credit: Guardian

In 2010 Simon Armitage took a walk down the Pennine Way and wrote a book about it, Walking home. Like his earlier book, All points north (1999), it’s laugh out loud funny in a very British way – self deprecation to the max.

Reviews: Amazon (with both sides of the argument) | Goodreads | Google Books (long excerpt) | Guardian 1 & 2 (extract) | LibraryThing

The walk is described as a ‘troubadour journey’ – Simon walked without a penny in his pocket, stopping along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms for bed and board. So, yet another walking challenge or project. Entertainingly, at one point he is in danger of bumping into Seamus Heaney, also undertaking a walking project at the same time. And. as I discovered when looking at his website, in 2013 he’s writing the follow-up – Walking away, a journey from Minehead in Somerset along the north coast of the South West Coast Path to Land’s End and beyond…which rather spoils it for me. There are sateliite events, two articles in the Guardian (1 & 2) and everything. It’s not quite Ed and Will’s Walk around Britain.

For a taste of Simon’s deadpan style listen to his #rambings episode, part of the Stuart Maconie season on city skylines. The lads take a ramble on Marsden Moor near Saddleworth, aka Posh Oldham.

Saddleworth is a bit schizophrenic, having been part of Yorkshire until 1974. The moors are the lungs of the north. Simon talks about how the logic of a walk keeps you going, you are in competition with it and have to win. It’s mentally hard work, a different sort of challenge from other stresses such as deadlines. Walking pace mimics a heartbeat, and also the iambic pentameter, say some…walking is a process not a product. The Pennines are the spine of England, with a drop on one side to the North Sea and on the other to the Irish Sea, with views on this walk of Jodrell Bank and Beetham Tower at the end of Deansgate, the fourth tallest residential building in Europe. Fab.

The Bath Beat and four more skyline walks

Ramblings 17, hosted by ‘passionate hiker’ Stuart Maconie in early 2011, was a series of six city skyline walks aimed at making the most of short winter days. Do spring and autumn offer deeper sensory experiences, with more changes of colour?

Bath Skyline followed the National Trust’s Bath Skyline Walk, their most popular download with 9K a year, it’s even got its own Twitter account (@NTBathSkyline). See the route overview, with non-zoomable map.

Bath, like Rome and a few other places, is built on seven hills, but is now known for its hen nights. Stuart’s walk (6 mile circular, on a ridge) was in the company of the Bath Beat walking group: specialised equipment rating probably around 3. The walk took in a number of POIs (scroll!), such as the university, Solsbury Hill, the British Bobsleigh Track, Sham Castle and Smallcombe (hamlet, 5 mins from central Bath), ending up on Bathwick Hill with views inter alia of Bath Abbey, Kelston Tower House and Pulteney Bridge (one of four bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides).

Points of personal interest, aka even more curious facts corner:

  • Bath dogs home is one of the first UK dogs’ homes, opened in 1937, and pioneer of the no destruct policy (currently houses 130 dogs)
  • mention of Street Pastors, never heard of these before I came across Natteravnene in Denmark
  • industrial heritage – the walk passed Bathampton Rocks, a limestone quarry, with deserted tramways used for transporting stone downhill to the Kennet and Avon Canal (mid 1700s)
  • Ralph Allen – bcame a postmaster at the age of 19, wanted the view of a castle from his home at Prior Park so built Sham Castle, a one wall facade complete with drawbridge and portcullis

Updates: several cities have spawned their own specialist publishers – the Akeman Press list includes a guide to Bath with 15 walks and another with 11 literary walks. Plus Bill Aitchison has covered the walk on his Bath tour of tours.

The other episodes in the series:

  • Belfast – the perspective from the Belfast Hills, where you can’t see the murals or the peace walls, but on a clear day can see Galloway
  • Lancaster – traversed by both Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie, plus hosts the Taj Mahal of the North
  • The Garth, outside Cardiff, offered up the story of The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain (plus 2008 re-run)
  • The Lickey Hills – overlooking Birmingham and its five hills, one of which doesn’t really make it…the flat middle of England, no higher point between Beacon Hill and the Urals (that’s some viewshed); a train sponsored by Cadbury for the benefit of its workers used to run to the top; perfect for a Sunday constitutional or to get inner city types into the countryside – all very Living Streets and why not? “walking is still not really viewed as a valid form of physical activity”

I’ll cover the Manchester episode with Simon Armitage elsewhere here.

Ramblings 23: walk for self improvement

Ramblings 23 looked at walks for self improvement:

The Walking Book Group 

Clare joins Emily’s Walking Book Club for their monthly meeting on Hampstead Heath, all very north London. Described as a gentle stroll for around an hour, 15 people (14 women, one man) aged 35-65 attended. The man walked at the front.

From the group walk point of view, having a book to discuss meant there was no need for awkward small talk. From the book club POV, it felt more relaxed than a ‘sitting down’ club at someone’s house, which can be quite competitive, particularly regarding cakes.

People drifted into smaller groups to chat, meaning that everyone had a voice, rather than one voice dominating. It was relaxed, both in terms of the discussion and the route of the walk – walking breaks down barriers and makes people more confident.

Found some nice things on Emily’s blog:

Similar walking book clubs have been set up in Edinburgh (stop it; can’t trace mind) and Exmoor. Now then, wonder if the north CPH book club could be tempted? And can I – my main problem with book clubs is that they never discuss anything I want to read. Should I maybe try a three circle Venn diagram with Dogenhagen? That would be just me, you see.

Back on Hampstead Heath, a 2010 #ramblings with the Harrow Road walkers included comments on the views from different vantage points around London and seeing things from a different angle. As well as a splendid metaphor, this reminded me of my brother’s comment about “the queer folk” who live round the back of Arthur’s Seat. It’s just not right…

Walking for spiritual renewal

Clare undertakes some mindful walking, staying in the moment and dipping into the body…we can’t stop thinking, thoughts pop up but don’t follow them (stop endlessly pursuing the same thoughts) – concentrate on each footfall instead. A calming and soothing way to walk.

Walking has a soothing quality, it engages both body and mind. You don’t have to look into your companion’s eyes (so it’s a good way to impart bad news) and provides natural breaks. A walk around the block can be enough to give yourself space and relieve stress. But we need to learn to trust silence, which doesn’t come naturally to most.

Some sports also give you the chance to concentrate on the body – see not walking but…

Walking with friends

Clare and two friends do a two hour circular walk, around six miles – enough to get your heart rate up and muscles working, but not enough to hurt. It’s a nice thing to do together and a good thing to slow down.

They don’t use maps but rely on Google (search: walk from…not sure what this means, didn’t work for me; phone thing?).

Toyah Wilcox, David Sedaris

Six miles (again) with Toyah and her dodgy hip, followed by a litter pick with David Sedaris.

Barefoot walker

On a February day when the “sky has no colour, sort of grey” Clare walks barefoot with Michael Weltike. Barefoot walking, known as ‘earthing’, helps him to feel centred and connected with the earth. We look up rather than down when we are walking, and are hence not in direct contact with the earth and its electromagnetic benefits. The energy exchange of walking barefoot can be harmonising and balancing. Michael also takes dew baths.

See Barefoot Ramblings for more.

Clare Balding’s Ramblings

Update: ultimate Ramblings: Geoff Nicholson, 20 Oct 2016

Ramblings is an R4 programme hosted by national treasure Clare Balding, broadcast since 1999.

It’s quintessential R4 and prone to well, rambling, as Clare gets into conversation with her fellow walkers. I’m not entirely sure how much specialised clothing is involved – probably varies.

I’ve hurled the programme into my feedreader and bookmarked the archive to see where it takes us – see the #ramblings tag. I’ve also stuck #R4Ramblings into Hootsuite, although also need to keep an eye on the rather more random #ramblings. Update, Dec 2013: I’ve now listened to the entire archive of 100+ podcasts. I’m still no wiser as to the definition of a #ramble, but it was fun!

Each series has a theme – a possible taxonomy? In the current series (24) Clare is walking in search of new places, new people and new experiences – how apt!

27 June: Tara Bariana recalls his long walk home to India. Last one of the series – back in the autumn.

Clare walks on Cannock Chase with Tara, who recalls his 19 month walk home to the Punjab in 1995.

20 June: West Highland Way from Balmaha

Clare walks a section of the West Highland Way with twin sister ultra runners.

13 June: In search of the old ways

A ‘linear walk’ with Robert Macfarlane in Cambridgeshire’s Himalayas. Walking became a leisure activity rather than a necessity in the late 1800s, however pedestrian was still a bit declasse compared to chivalry/horseback. Wayfaring and walking clubs became popular, with anthologies of poetry and prose, although there was also a darker side with the Old English Brigade in search of Englishness. Does UKIP walk?

Walking as a special way of seeing, connecting with the landscape both familiar and unknown/challenging. The Cambridgeshire landscape can be considered uncharismatic if typical of contemporary England, and it has taken a long time for Robert to learn to read it and love it – you need to learn to love your place.

The walk explores the old ways, a network of footpaths, long, beckoning lines forming gates and portals into the landscape, the stage for eg a couple with a black spaniel walking between their legs. Wide paths created before the 18th century parcelling up of the land by enclosures (qv, also Connemara) and hedgerows, creating a partitioned version of the landscape (something about DK?).

Creates the mapping of our lives – interior landscapes and landscapes we travelled through, personal landscapes, as individual as we are, in our mind as well as in front of us. We all have our heartlands.

6 June: George Monbiot in search of the wild

George has a new book out, Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding – here’s the short version. Obviously endorsed by me, but rather earnest.

30 May: In search of love

Waterproof trousers alert! another group walk “like a map of a relationship”, rather too Home Counties for me, plus rather too much about leaders and being in charge; OTOH might have to research GPS machines; the walk in question was 8.5 miles.

23 May: Chilterns American Women’s Club hiking group

This was fun, being an expat myself; the particular type of international women here were almost exclusively Anglo Saxon professional wives; a jarring note where one mentioned British reserve as a barrier to friendship – just try DK!; note to self to look for DK expat walking groups to not join…