I remember reading where C.S. Lewis and his friends (J.R.R. Tolkien among them) would sometimes walk a days’ journey across the English countryside together, stop at a pub for beer and rest, then take up their walking sticks again the next morning.
“It was an idyllic way to spend three or four days. Footpaths were plentiful, motor traffic rarely disturbed the quiet of the countryside, roads were often unmetalled and comfortable to the feet, inns were numerous and cheap, and pots of tea and even full meals could be bought in most villages for the smallest sums.”[i]
They called their jaunts “walking tours”— though Lewis set a different pace than ‘Tollers’ did:
“Tolkien’s own idea of a walk in the countryside involved frequent stops to examine plants or insects, and this irritated Lewis. Warnie [Lewis’ brother] remarked… ‘He will keep going all day on a walk, but to him, with his botanical and entomological interests, a walk, no matter what its length, is what we would call an extended stroll, while he calls us ‘ruthless walkers.’”[ii]
It was on a walk, in fact, that Tolkien explained Christianity to Lewis as a “true myth,” and a wind gust sent leaves raining around them, and Lewis took his first step toward belief.
For himself, Tolkien would go on to write books about folks who took long, dangerous walks that carried them far from home, to The Lonely Mountain of Erebor or the fires of Mordor.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”[iii]
Jane Austen was another writer who preferred walking, though her characters took shorter, pleasanter strolls:
“Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.”[iv]
Henry David Thoreau said he was “probably the greatest walker in Concord,” and besides Walden, he wrote an essay called Walking.
“I will take another walk to the Cliff, another row on the river, another skate on the meadow, be out in the first snow, and associate with the winter birds. Here I am at home.“[v]
And so walking, it seems, isn’t just a reprieve for writers but a writing space all its own.
“One of the great joys of my life has been the hours upon hours that my family and I have wandered through the hills of England on footpaths, over drystone walls by way of stiles, through kissing-gates, and even along private driveways to a gate in someone’s back garden that leads right through a meadow of grazing sheep.
It’s difficult to articulate how intensely delightful it is to hobbit my way across a meadow of golden grain, with a map in one hand and a walking stick in the other.”[vi]~ Andrew Peterson, The God of the Garden
[i] Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings. (HarperCollins Publishers: London, UK, 2006), 34
[ii] Ibid, 57, 58
[iii] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, NY, 1966), 15
[iv] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, NY, 2001), 23
[v] Henry David Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau Quotations: Walking, “The Walkden Woods Project,” (https://www.walden.org/quotation-category/walking/)
[vi] Andrew Peterson, The God of the Garden, (2021: B&H Publishing Group. Nashville, TN), 127
One thought on “Writers On Walking”
Lovely post. I’ve always suspected that there was something magical to traversing distances with nothing but your legs and thoughts—running does it for me too. But my walks with my dog also gives me some form of therapy for the mind. Anyway, thanks for this post!
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