Before the UK went into lockdown on the evening of the 23 March, I wasn’t really someone who walked for pleasure. For me, walking was a means to an end, not a thing in itself, and it was frequently boring and unpleasant.
I live in Greater Manchester, where people own cars and public transport is for the eternally optimistic. As such, many of my commutes have involved walking, and not always in the kind of beautiful spring weather that the UK so cruelly saw during our first week of lockdown. One of my lowlights involved walking along a main road at night during a power cut, and being thankful for the snow on the ground because it meant I could see where I was going. I’d also have to mention the long, tedious walk in torrential rain from Oxford Road to the centre of Longsight, undertaken while listening to Cherry Ghost’s “People Help The People” on my mp3 player. It was, perhaps, my most ‘on brand’ Mancunian moment.
At the time of writing, citizens in the UK are allowed out once a day for exercise. The lockdown rules, as laid down by the government, don’t mention how long we should be out of doors for, but a time period of one hour is often mentioned. This is based on a series of off the cuff comments Michael Gove made during the first week of lockdown.
Urban areas aren’t necessarily that well provided with green spaces, and that’s certainly the case where I live. As such, the immediate local area might not feel that attractive to many of you when faced with a request from your government and the NHS to stay local when exercising. I live on a main road, so pollution and noise are a big factor when taking a walk in the area closest to my flat.
But lockdown has changed my relationship to walking.
For one thing, going for a walk is pretty much the only way I can get out of my studio sized flat each day, and as such, I value the opportunity to perambulate far more than I did previously. It’s amazing what a loss of freedom will cause you to value.
Another reason I am beginning to enjoy walking is because the roads are both quieter and less polluted than they were a fortnight ago. This means I no longer have streaming non-seasonal rhinitis from road pollution and, as such, can wander the streets of Greater Manchester while thinking and contemplating life without my nose and eyes suddenly, and without warning, gushing saline and snot.
And it is quiet. Not silent (I am still living on a main road after all) but definitely quiet enough to hear your thoughts.
My local area is very built up, with little in the way of green space (there’s a bit of grass about the size of a football pitch behind the flats which people use to walk their dogs and set off fireworks) but that doesn’t seem to matter in this new age of stillness. I no longer feel the need to put my headphones in when I’m out. Instead, I’m content to listen to the quiet and to my own thoughts while I notice my surroundings. I like to check which shops are open, and to smile at people.
A few years ago, walking was recommended to me as a good mindfulness activity to help with my anxiety. I didn’t get it then. I sort of do now.
Cazz Blase is a freelance journalist specialising in public transport and music.