Sunday, 11 February 2018

Book yourself into the soul asylum. Go for a walk.

A week doesn't go by without the media telling us that we are fat. We fill our faces with pizza, greasy burgers and ice cream. Our kids don't play out anymore. We spend less time talking face to face than ever before. We're couch potatoes.

It does not come as a surprise then that depression is now at epidemic proportions.

So that's the bad news.


A few weeks back I was talking to a friend. He had been through a pretty torrid time in the last few years. He mentioned that he has a photo of a bloke he barely recognises in his wallet. The man in the photo has a serene expression. He's the epitome of happiness. In fact, the photograph is a selfie, taken on a walk across Scotland on the annual TGO Challenge. He was backpacking from coast to coast and at the time was about half way across. He had settled into his 'gentleman of the road' persona. His daily rhythm was to wake, have breakfast, then walk fifteen or so miles carrying a heavy rucsac. At the end of the day he would find a place for his one-man tent, have a lie down, make dinner and sleep. Life was simple.

He looks forward to this walk all year. He can walk alone for days but on occasion he can bump into old friends he has met on the walk years before. They each have this walk, this gift in common; they are kindred souls if you will. It may well be that this walk, this happiness is the only thing they have in common. But each recognises it and the sense of belonging is shared. 

For him, this long walk delivers the same pleasure and sensation as listening to his favourite music. Whatever it is, be it dopamine, adrenaline or some other pleasure chemicals the brain sends out, it does it for Mick.


Another friend has carried a small pebble in her pocket found on a beautiful walk years and years ago. It gives her reassurance to feel it there - as a reminder of wonderful times when she needs it most. I was very taken by this, so much so that I picked up my own small rock at Land's End - that I christened Ricky - and carried him seventeen hundred miles on my own long walk the length of Britain. He still comes with me on every adventure.


If you dig around a little you find that stress, anxiety or depression can blight lives. As an example, a couple of months ago I read an incredibly brave blog post from an outdoor blogger I respect hugely. Geoff's blog post "Depression and me" made me stop and think hard. Depression is damaging. 

That brought me back to thinking about Mick's photograph and Ricky the Rock. 

If you are looking for ways to reduce your stress levels, a recent poll suggests that you could not do better than simply going for a walk: Two thousand UK adults were surveyed to find their favourite stress reducing activity:

Britain’s top 10 stress-reducing activities

Having a Bath
Watching TV
Sport / fitness

It seems that Mick has it about right. He goes for a walk and listens to music to make his life happier, to make his head a good place to be.


Regular readers of this blog will know that come each New Year I set out to walk just three miles a day up until May, when I set out for my annual walk across Scotland. Originally this was intended as a means to work up a general level of fitness and to fight the post Christmas flab. 

You may be surprised to learn that this lazy old sod carried on with the regime as I thoroughly enjoy my walks. I live in a mixed urban-rural landscape, not one that would normally be associated with going out for lots of walks. However, whatever the weather I'm out there. It's a bit like that old Mackeson advert. "It looks good, it tastes good, and by golly it does you good." Okay, there may be a pub or two involved as well...


So there you have it. Statistics never lie. My suggestion is to be like Mick. Get to be that chap in your own photograph. 

Going back to the start of this piece: Go for a walk. You may well continue eating pizza, greasy burgers and ice cream. Your children may still have their faces in their screens. However, you won't be a couch potato and you may get to meet a lot of folk that you quite like and have real conversations again when out on your walks.

And you'll be a lot less stressed and much, much happier for it.


  1. Well, having just come back from 4 days playing music with Humphrey, and since walking, music and exercise in general are my top things, I am feeling pretty chilled. Add great kids, and 2 Labradors (they will drop your stress levels trust me), I am feeling seriously serene. I am now thinking that if I stop listening to the news, ignore the total bollocks that pervades Facebook and Twitter & contemplate going back to New Zealand, my stress levels will be zero.
    But first a long walk in May, followed by a brief musical gig at the Park...
    Yep, I am lucky in so many ways. Even my companions on this years TGOC.. ☺

    1. If you've been up at HMP3's for a few days your mind will be filled with new thoughts, wild times and music. There'll be no room left for dark, moody thoughts. The man's an incredible polymath.
      And your sylph-like frame will be a few pounds heavier, as the man's food is superb.

    2. Music, cooking, and babbling.
      Played much, talked much.
      Mary was there toot
      Mighty times.. ☺

  2. Wonderful stuff Al. Read it just before 4.00am, a typical waking and staying awake time, after another of my nightly nightmares....I'm not getting out enough. Enjoy today's bimble old chap.

    1. In September there's a magazine that will come out with an application form for a long walk in May, Sir. You could fill it in and start working on a route back to happiness, peaceful sleeps and warm sunshine on your shoulders.

      Just a thought...

    2. And it's a very good thought which I will think about.

  3. I was contacted by the same people who have obviously contacted you asking to post re mental health and walking. When I challenged the statistics (the ones you have shown above) I got no sense from their reply nor any information about the vercaity of the pepole they had supposedly commissioned to do their survey. The percentage figures add up to over 200% . I also sent them a draft of a post I would have done omitting the stats, but they never replied. See also my comment on Northern Pies when it has been approved.

    1. Sir Hugh

      I'm not certain why the figures can not add up to more than 100%. My stress levels could be reduced by both walking AND gardening. In fact it isn't as I hate gardening but that's not the point! In short, if the survey was one to find an individual's stress reducing 'activities' as opposed to 'activity' the figures could be accurate.

    2. The percentages in the table don't have to add up to 100, Conrad. If the people taking part in the questionnaire thought that walking, music and reading reduced their stress levels, they would tick each box. If someone else ticked walking, gardening and yoga, the same would apply.

      The survey broadly corresponds with web searches I carried out, and so I'm happy to include it in the post. The email I received from Gareth Evans was very broad-brush in its approach and I was happy to choose areas that I was comfortable with, from my own and my friends' perspective. I had been working on a post like this since Geoff's post in December (and others' quite a while before) and so the contact acted as a spur to push on and write it.

    3. Ah, David. It appears we were both tapping away at our keyboards at the same time.

  4. Nice one Alan, particularly Geoff’s story, as it happens in the past week I have encounter two examples of this with a friend and more closely a family member. Have a good walk yourself, keep on posting. Ian (Somerset)

    1. Thank you, Ian.

      When preparing this post I ran through a list of friends and family and was very surprised to realise that a very large proportion of them had suffered difficulties in this area over their lifetime.And I include myself in the list as well.

      One thing I was surprised not to see in the list was the support from friends that often comes from unexpected quarters. I was very lucky indeed to have such friends.

  5. I got the same - I've emailed Gareth asking some questions about why an Art supplies company should commission such a survey and what organisation Gareth works for and go no reply. Nevertheless I've done a pieblog blog thing.

    1. For me Gareth's email acted as a prompt to get my piece finished. I've invariably got four or five unwritten posts and half a dozen drafts on the go - the majority of which don't get written through lack of motivation or a better idea coming along.

      I didn't pay much heed to the fact that the people who paid for the survey were an Arts Supplies business; Social media promoters generally pick a whole range of stuff the company can sponsor to get its name out there. The fact that it dealt with stress reduction may well be that it fitted with the company owner's own pet thing at the time.

      I enjoyed your piece, Mike. LINK

  6. A great post Alan, I recognize the 'gentleman of the road' position and you have reminded me that I need to find him again soon. Thanks

    1. I think Challengers are very special gentlefolk of the road, Sir. They go out of their way to wade through bogs, clamber over rocky ridges, to be mauled by midges and drenched by downpours. And then they come back for more!

  7. Walking and backpacking has kept me sane over the past fifteen years or so while I’ve had to cope with my wife’s chronic illness. Music and reading are pretty good too. The great thing about a long walk like the Challenge is being able to leave the world behind and focus on the basics of life: eat, drink, walk, shelter. For a brief time we can reconnect with the life our ancestors led (well not quite as they didn’t have freeze dried meals and cuben fibre tents, but that’s how it feels). I’m getting stir crazy as I’ve not been on a proper walk in the hills since October. Maybe next week.

    1. But you are a fortunate chap, Sir; you have the fabulous forest on your doorstep and a small dog to drag you there everyday!

      Not long now to the PreWalkDaunder!

  8. A typically well writ piece on a subject close to my heart. Thanks for your kind comments re my own blog. It's not one of my better bits of writing, but the thoughts came from deep inside me. A gut reaction, if you like. I'm grateful you linked it though and pleased you felt it worth it. Keep walking Alan, you know it makes sense 😉 I wish you well.

    1. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to add a comment to your excellent blog post, Geoff. Every time I tried all the words seemed inadequate and a ghastly period in my life reared up to engulf me again.

      The post above is about half its original content as at the point of hitting 'publish' I could not face seeing it in print. It's only in the last couple of years that I've honestly felt properly better.

      All power and good health to you. And thank you.

  9. Walking has been my self-medication fir quite some time, especially as I'm seriously bad at asking for help. I just don't. There are many of us in a very similar boat which can be a wonderful support network.
    Thank you for posting.
    PS. Gareth contacted me a few years ago to review some Berghaus gear. I did the review, got a hoody, which I gave to Conall.

    1. "I'm seriously bad at asking for help. I just don't."

      Ah. Yes. I recognise that trait myself. And that leads to all sorts of difficulties.

      One fine piece of self-medication occurs every year at Lochcallater Lodge, with the massed voices of The Challenge Choral Society. You really ought to try it some day, Missy.

  10. I fell into walking almost by accident, but within months it became the only thing keeping me sane. So important did it become as stress relief that I reshaped my whole career to fit around walking, and I've not regretted it for a moment.

    1. Not many people have the courage to completely change their lives like that, Matt.
      You must feel like a million dollars now.
      Well done, Sir.

  11. Great post Alan.
    I’ve gone through odd times of late - lost an overbearing aged mother with dementia, my two grown up sons are now living in distant pastures abroad and I sometimes feel pretty low. My main pastime is walking, whether in an urban setting or in the hills. All mine is done with my wife who is my soulmate.
    I’m attempting the Challenge for the first time this year but I’m doing it solo - it just felt the right time and thing to do. I’m looking forward to walking alone as well as bumping into new folk and learning about their experiences. I’ll be taking my music along just in case I’m not too exhausted and wake up at my usual 4am slot (no wonder I’m going deaf!)
    The planning and preparation has helped things along a lot. I’m looking forward to it.
    Have a great crossing,

    1. Thank you, Paul.

      It sounds like you've been through the mill. I hope that the Challenge will be everything and more that you have hoped for. You need never be on your own on the walk, as I'm sure you will bump into other Challengers and we're a very sociable crew. After a few days you'll feel like you've been a part of this for years. Trust me!

      All the very best to you, Paul.

  12. Very thought provoking Alan, and a great deal there that I recognise.

  13. Great post and sage advice. I've been laid up with flu for a couple of weeks and noticed how slow and long the days seemed. Never happens when out walking even on the worst days. There is just something intangible about the joys of a walk either alone or with friends. I always return feeling happier and more content than when I set out


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