Friday, 10 February 2012

Solvitur Ambulando

Whenever there is a crisis in my life, I have walked. I stuff a pack full of things and take to the hills. As far back as Roman times this was recognised as a way to deal with your problems, and the phrase 'solvitur ambulando' has been something of a motto for my life. It means, roughly, it is solved by walking. This is not perhaps completely true for the reality is that the problem or situation doesn't go away, but the act of walking seems to put distance between you and the situation, a distance that allows it to be viewed with fresh eyes.

On occasions where I have been so overwhelmed with a situation I have often found that being away for a while, in a situation where my senses are filled with the sights and sounds of the countryside the problem I have left behind, shrinks in size, it's magnitude retracting with every step. I often wish I'd worn a pedometer on my walks, I tried once but lost it within a few hours when I climbed a chalk cliff that got in the way of where I wanted to go. I could gauge each problem or situation by the number of steps it took to recede. A large bill could become a 5000 step bill, a relationship ending maybe a 50000 step situation.

I'm often swamped by urban life, I grew up in semi rural environemnt, and I have never been suited to the sensory overload of towns and cities. As I get older this situation has deteriorated; I actively avoid places like London and even Brighton; the noises and sounds of the city are often too much for me, and within a few hours I long for the wilder, open places. The feeling of claustrophobia and restricted vision I have in London is overwhelming, something I can only bear for a few hours before I long to escape.

I used to think nothing of walking twenty or thirty miles in a day, often walking in a mild daze, words crashing around my head, thoughts tumbling around like raffle tickets in a tombola; ideas running like a torrent over a waterfall. It was only recently that I found I was not as alone as I thought in this act. There is a lengthy literary history of great walkers. As I move along my path I encounter Thoreau, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Jeffries, and Baker. Even in modern literature Olivia Laing commences a journey at a time of crisis, a symbolic crossing over from one path in life to another. I envy their ability to convey this to others, whether in prose or poem, their ability to juggle language to take a reader into their mind, to see what they see, and to feel their surroundings as if they are a companion on the author's journey.

In June I had an accident, innocuous at first, where I fell several feet onto a dry river bed in the Lake District. It seemed relatively minor, and I continued walking and climbing that day; but by the next day I was having issues with mobility. I crept up the tourist route on Sca Fell Pike, mainly to ensure that someone else's trip had some meaning, some achievement, but within a few days I was struggling with the pain. Since that time I have commenced what the NHS have referred to in that awful modern language as 'a patient journey'. This seems to be defined by months of physiotherapy, mind stifling drugs regimes and no real move towards a diagnosis.

The benefit though is that my walking is restricted to shorter journeys. I move more slowly, three to five miles, with a long stop in the middle is about where I am. I tread more softly, I rest more frequently, and this seems to have bought me much more in line with my environment. As I crawl through the landscape I disturb less, make less noise, and am generally less visible to the world about me. I have come face to face with deer, stood so close to goldcrests I could have reached out and touched them (if only they would stay still for a few seconds), and on one memorable occasion near Midhurst I watched a fox cub chasing leaves around a forest glade for some 15 minutes before he realised I was there.

So it seems that, as that cliched proverb goes, every cloud has a silver lining. I might not be marching out in search of 5000 step solutions to problems, but I am connecting more with the world around me. Curiously at this time this fits with my situation, this connection is more powerful to me than any drug. I get more from thirty minutes walking about Ebernoe Common than I do from an hour in the hospital gym. It's better for my soul and for my mind; but while the GP can now prescribe books from the local library to help a heal a soul we're still some way from the day he writes 'solvitur ambulando' on your prescription and hands you a map and some walking boots.


  1. Have always found a good walk clears the mind and puts things either to rights or to bed! A great way to get rid of bad temper.... how you can you feel so irritable with nature so beautifully presented?

  2. Beautiful blog post! It expresses what I and many others get out of walking and other outdoor pursuits - far from the maddening crowd, as I like to see it. Hope the injury heals... Keep up the great writing.

  3. Hey, and once done here readers could no worse than pop over to


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