There are few activities as accessible, and yet as subversive, as Roger Deakin once said, as walking. An incredibly underrated form of exercise, walking can be a better workout that running for many people. A quick search on the internet reveals myriad articles on the benefits to be derived. Being lower impact, it can be done for longer periods, improves cardiac health, can help to alleviate mental health problems such as depression and may even reduce our risk of developing cancer and chronic disease. Walking is such a valuable asset in our healthy body, healthy mind toolkit that it’s a wonder we don’t hold it up more to pupils in schools as the secret weapon that it is. A “radical act”!
In a recent “Radical Geography” podcast, Paul Turner discussed walking as a radical act with Jack Cornish, Head of Paths at Ramblers (Britain’s biggest walking charity), and explored the role schools might play in encouraging walking in young people and their communities. One of the key points that Cornish makes is how important walking for leisure is. Footpaths are not just about utility or leisure, however. Our path network is historical and local, created by people going about their lives; work and leisure. How people have moved around the landscape over generations and how this has changed over time is important to know about. The conversation is well worth a listen (see below).
Radical Geographer, Paul Turner, is keen that children should learn more about the politics of walking. He told me, “Land ownership underpins the power dynamics of every aspect of our lives from representation in Parliament, which is still disproportionately from large land-owning families, to how land is managed and where we get our food. The lockdowns and Covid helped us realise how little of the open spaces near where we live, we are allowed to access, and people recognised the importance of access to open spaces for our health and well-being.”
Walking is not usually seen as a particularly inclusive activity, although this is changing with groups such as Black Girls Hike UK (see below). Turner explained, “Walking is disproportionality a white pastime and many people feel unwelcome in the countryside. This plays out in schools often with people of colour less likely to take part in outdoor activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.”
Working on inclusion when it comes to promoting walking to your school community is essential if the benefits are to be open to all. For Turner, “The benefits of spending meaningful time in nature developing deep relationships with the rest of nature is well documented and highlighted by the research of people like Miles Richardson at the University of Derby and his work around nature connection.”
Opening up walking in your locality to children and their families and wider community is absolutely at the heart of the school curriculum. “Walking and exploring our local area can be a medium to explore the history and story of a place,” Turner said. “It can be a vehicle to meet new people and understand the stories of what makes the place special. It can help young people understand their place in the world and solidify their identity. Schools can organise regular opportunities for walking at the micro scale with 5-minute adventures to break up the routine of the normal school day. At the other end of the spectrum schools can organise mass walks for whole year groups or children and their families. These can help build people’s confidence to walk more themselves.”
If we follow these ideas and incorporate them into the work we do in schools, walking and regular time with the rest of nature can punctuate every aspect of the curriculum. “Fundamentally,” Turner said, “we need to break free from the confines of our ordered lives and white sterile boxes we call classrooms. Schools should be brave to take more risks and be creative with how and what they do. This could begin with using the strengths of teachers to take young people outside and explore their local area.”
Walking is a utilitarian act of travel, and we need to promote this as much as possible, but it is also so much more. We need to be more impressed by what walking can do for us, and to take far greater notice of the walking routes available to us in our locality. As Jack Cornish explains in the Radical Geography podcast, walking side by side with someone and talking is one of the most non-confrontational acts we can engage in. And even walking alone gives us so much. Help to develop an energy for walking among children and young people, so that this free and effective route to health and wellbeing becomes a daily habit in all their lives, and help them never to forget the subversive nature of pacing the streets, hills, mountains and dales for health, happiness and a life well lived.
Find out more…
- Ramblers: Ramblers.org.uk
- Walking a Radical Act - In Discussion ... Radical Geography (Walking / Ramblers / Access Rights) - YouTube
- Black Girls Hike UK C.I.C (bghuk.com)
- Finding Nature | Nature Connectedness Research Blog by Prof. Miles Richardson
- Who Owns England? - Google Docs – Series of lessons for KS3
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.