The solitary walker: travelling and learning

Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.      (from Wanderlust: A History of Walkingpage 5)

Recently several senior students returned from an overseas trip organised by the school. These students, on return, articulated how transforming this first overseas travel experience was for them. They were intellectually stimulated and personally challenged, on multiple levels, making many comments about how differently they saw their own communities (and lives) on return. Travel is like that. It is addictive and after these initial experiences many crave to deepen their pleasure of learning with more travel and reading. Certainly that’s how I feel about it and remember fondly the glow of those first journeys (in my case to India and Nepal) and their impact. It is no surprise to me that walking long distances alone or travelling by myself on the train played a large part in these first wonderful journeys overseas.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The solitary walker

I like walking alone. Walking with friends is great but walking alone has a stillness I love. Sometimes that stillness is disturbed by high drama as the weather closes in while exposed on a ridge or when challenged by navigation where the trail has grown indistinct. Walking provides a natural metre for thought (and discussion). There is a rhythm when walking, deeply satisfying to the whole human, that ‘leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts’. After a few continuous days of walking it feels like one no longer needs to rest and can walk forever. Thoughts have both clarity and precision.

For so much of human history it is estimated that our species walked 20 kilometres each day. Logically, humans walked far more than what they do today and many in contemporary society have little or no experience of long walks, taken day after day, through changing landscapes, as our ancestors did. Much has been written about walking and our long history, as a species, with this most basic mode of travel by the greatest writers of our collective literary tradition. Wanderlust: A History of Walking is a good read for anyone interested in a taster to what is available on the subject.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Reading & Walking (but not at the same time)

Reading the right book(s) when travelling, especially while walking alone, is important and fuels the walk as much as a good breakfast. Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe (whose research interests include Atlantic trade systems, cultural interaction and state formation in Southern Iberia and social hierarchies in Central Southern Britain) is an excellent, authoritative read about the surprising level of travel and trade that was taking place pre-Iron Age (before 800 BC). Many miles were walked as individuals and small family groups sought knowledge and trade. I found his book stimulated much thought while I was in England and Spain about the ethnic connections between the people of these regions that I’d previously not even remotely understood. The number of regular, great sea voyages made by many in ‘the sewn boats of the Early Bronze Age’ was quite phenomenal. These were not journeys of conquest but those likely made out of curiosity, exploration and trade. Professor Cunliffe says

…mastery of the sea became an imperative: shipbuilding technologies improved, and power began to be expressed in terms of ability to acquire rare raw materials brought from afar. All this seems to have created a situation in which competitive journeying became the favoured activity of a new maritime elite…Over the thousand years from 2500 to 1500 BC the nature of mobility had changed from initial exploration, to population movement and settlement, to elite adventuring, and finally to trade and settled cultural consolidation…Over the long-drawn-out period of interaction people needed to communicate one with another to develop relationships, set up complex allegiances, and exchange knowledge about technologies and the subtle values of abstract ideologies. To do this they needed to develop a lingua franca.

I mentioned in a previous post that travel always leads to interesting questions and reflections about language. Etymology is endlessly fascinating but Cunliffe’s book really has one thinking about this period before written records and the migrations that took place. Looking at the similarities in physical appearance of people in different countries one starts to realise how little we still understand of the movements of populations in the earliest of times. Travelling to Spain, after reading Britain Begins, really allowed me to see the physical similarities of many people in this country with those in the UK. Previously, although I spent a month in Portugal, I had not made this connection.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The privilege of travel

Many of the students we teach do not have the privilege of travel. For me, travel was not an option either until I was an adult. My own parents, born pre-WWII, never left Australia. Leaving the school, for short journeys and excursions is great but it would be wonderful if all students could travel, walking long distances as part of the experience, to make their own connections and be stimulated by the multiplicity of experiences on offer. I often think that more students would read more widely if they had the opportunity to travel. Maybe the penny would drop and reading would become a vicarious form of travel.

Travel is often said to broaden the mind. Student exchange is a great option and the values, espoused by organisations like AFS, are wonderful:

AFS is an international, voluntary, non-governmental, non-profit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world.

 

What experiences of travel, walking or exchange have stimulated your learning?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Here a few more pics from my recent walks in the Picos de Europa and Cumbria.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


Featured image:
 cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Darcy Moore: http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/9351564955/

Share

DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

2 Comments

  1. Deb Hogg:

    “stimulated by the multiplicity of experiences on offer”… beautifully written, Darcy.
    Memories of walking with Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates after long, challenging expeditions through rugged, Australian landscapes, with the only energy remaining supplied by the sense of accomplishment. Walking is certainly its own reward.
    Thanks for sharing your travels with such eloquence.
    Cheers, Deb Hogg (Sydney)

  2. Paul:

    So many things to think about Darcy. Beautifully written and illustrated as always; you make it seem effortless!

    I’m glad you enjoyed walking around the Lakes and Europe. The Lakes really are a special place and the chance to be walking alone there would be magical. I presume you read Wainwright on walking – one of the great writers on the subject at a time when it was far more common than now.

    Thinking of writers, I’m glad you had a chance to sample some of Cunliffe’s work. He really is amongst the pantheon of archaeology in the UK – it would be difficult to excavate any period without someone mentioning his work. He has done so much to bring the subject to the fore. What surprised me (probably because I grew up with this and spent years teaching it) was the notion of long-distance, cross-cultural travel was seen a novel. Despite the distances in Australia we don’t seem to get that sense of inter-relationship (although undoubtedly it was there).

    I must agree on the need to get students to travel – and by this I don’t mean to schoolies! The ability to explore is being driven out of our experiences it seems and the sheer difficulty of getting even a modest day trip out of school is both frustrating and potentially life-limiting. I see students whose spatial awareness is so restricted they are not aware of the possibilities out there. Perhaps we should worry more about education than test scores but that’s another thread no doubt.

Post a Comment

*
* (will not be published)


3 × = three

Random Posts

LOAD MORE
UA-6171563-2