In the past few weeks I’ve been on a wonderful journey experiencing walking in many countries in Europe and states of the US. I’ve met brown bears in the Tatra Mountains in Poland, spotted an Iberian lynx in southern Spain, watched the cowboys of the Maremma area in Tuscany, Italy, watched beetles scampering across a track flanked by the rich pastures of the Dordogne, and wandered beneath the spreading olives in Corfu.
And yet to do all these amazing things, I’ve not had to rise from my study armchair. I’m working on a book and the experiences I’ve just listed, and many more besides, make up the research for the book.
It’s true that the internet is not all good, and sadly the digital age we’re living in has generated new problems and issues we could never have imagined possible less than thirty years ago. But particularly at this time when our travel plans have been thwarted and our adventures have had to be put on hold, we have, thanks to technology, the ability to place ourselves anywhere in the world and absorb ourselves in new landscapes, cultures, atmospheres and possibilities. I for one find it amazing that computer science enables me to type a question such as “Is December a good month to go walking in Turkey” or “what plants will I find in Yosemite National Park in June” and receive not only a straight answer to my question but the opportunity to find out so much more – simply by pressing a few buttons.
One might say it’s no substitute for the real thing, and of course in one sense it isn’t. But it gives us ideas. It fires our imagination with possibilities. It may make us yearn to visit a particular location and, once travel restrictions are lifted, we can make plans to enjoy a walking holiday in that location. It may, paradoxically, make us appreciate even more what there is to see around us, and convince us that we don’t have to travel as far as we thought in order to find happiness and fulfilment in our walking. We may find that it’s enough for us simply to enjoy the images of faraway landscapes, using our minds to picture what it would be like actually to be there ourselves. One thing that my researches have reminded me is that the world is a very big place. The variety of landscapes is astonishing, from the forests of Maine to the tundra of Sweden, from the mighty cascades of Niagara to the rocky shorelines of Portugal, from the quaking volcanic ground of Iceland to the noble peaks and pinnacles of the Tirol in Austria. Nobody can truly say that they have seen it all. If we accept we can’t physically see it all, we can do the next best thing and visualise it instead. The internet is also an invaluable means of reliving great walking experiences. Think back to some of the walks you’ve done and go back and enjoy it all over again with Google Earth. You may rekindle memories that would otherwise never have surfaced.
Yes, the lockdown can feel restrictive – but it can also be immensely liberating. Just log on and the world awaits. Enjoy your virtual walking!
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