It is autumn in the year 2020 and your camera roll is 95% trees. That’s just the way things are now. Back in Lockdown 1: Original Flavour, blossom was the elixir of life. This time round, the seasonal pumpkin spice reboot, it’s crunchy leaves and skeletal branches against a watery 4pm sunset.
Because not since Jane Austen’s day has Going On A Big Walk played such a pivotal role in our recreation lives. Even for those of us who deliberately chose an urban life in the hope we’d never have to own waterproof trousers. Parks are the new pubs. Hillsides are the new hot eateries – or lukewarm, depending how well the Thermos holds out – and the new spa day is pissing behind a bush in the rain.
But while our instinct might be to stay swaddled beneath a duvet until either spring, or a vaccine arrives, the twin threats of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and vitamin D deficiency are reason enough to peel ourselves off the sofa and put our most practical shoes on. Numerous studies indicate that spending time in green spaces (or orange and brown) is associated with good mental health and wellbeing. The way I see it, we can either pine for our former lives as indoor people, or we can lean into it.
So, let’s stretch our legs, and have ourselves the most iconic arcadian fun times since Elizabeth Bennet got mud on her petticoat and Paris and Nicole went to live on that farm. Here’s how to optimise your Big Walk Energy this winter.
Sure, sometimes nothing is nicer than a spontaneous pootle to Tesco Metro. But do yourself a favour and look up some local nature to explore. Even in the buzziest metropolis you’d be surprised how many secret lakes, woodlands, canals and marshlands are within strolling distance from your front door. Wildlife Trusts has a handy map. When attempting A Big Walk - i.e. anything longer than an hour each way - it pays to plan. Consider the most scenic routes: think about toilet availability, and check sunset times to make sure there’s no chance that night will fall while you’re walking home through, say, a dense forest or a field full of angry cows.
As the Norwegians love to say, there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing. But while, OK sure, that might mean layers of cagoules and Uniqlo’s heattech fleeces, I’d like to make the case for the ‘right’ clothing also being an outfit that lifts your spirits and helps you live out a rustic sartorial dream. Whether that’s Jo-March-goes-to-Soho-Farmhouse or post-coitus-with-a-Scandi-fisherman. May I suggest summer’s prairie dress layered up with tights, a thermal polo neck and lace-up ankle boots for maximum ‘unchaperoned maiden wild on the Moors’ energy? If you want to add a beret I’m not going to stop you.
You need snacks, and good ones. We’re in a pandemic, folks, you can’t bank on finding a delightful kiosk selling vegan falafel wraps and oat lattes on the top of that hill yonder. Baking your own cookies or cheese scones is premium-level BWE – but even just knowing you have a really good sandwich (toast the bread for structural integrity), a family bag of Sensations and a Winter Spice Twix in your bag can help turn the walk from a self-care chore to a treaty excursion. And unlike school field trips, there’ll be no penalties for eating your whole supply before you’ve got past the end of the road.
Sure, in an ideal world the sublimity of nature would be entertainment enough. But it’s 2020 and our attention spans are frayed like old bootlaces, so there’s a chance we might need #content. If you’re walking solo, line up a nice audiobook or some cheerful podcasts to distract from your aching legs. Table Manners, The Adam Buxton Podcast and Fortunately with Fi and Jane all deliver the right amount of easy charm with minimal murders, while Pearl Mackie reading Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is like cottagecore for your ears. Or you could ingest the whole of Zadie Smith’s new essay collection Imitations on Audible in under two hours, and come home cleverer than you left.
And if you’re walking with someone? Let’s just say there’s no relationship a spirited game of Would You Rather won’t strengthen.
You didn’t think I wasn’t going to suggest booze in a hipflask, did you? A tot of whisky is traditional central heating for grown-ups, or you could get festive with mulled cider or Irish coffee in an insulated bottle (Klean Kanteen makes the best). Just be sure to take water too, and no swigging from another household’s bottle. It’s autumn 2020. That’s just the way things are now.