Shakespeare and National Walking Month

It’s still National Walking Month, when everyone is encouraged to get out and increase the amount of walking they do. We don’t all have lovely countryside to walk around so inevitably some of our walks are a bit mundane. Over the last few months I’ve been working with an organisation called World Walking that encourages people, especially in groups, to make their regular walks more interesting by giving them challenges. It’s organised by Duncan Galbraith. The World Walking website includes a collection of virtual walks to and around a variety of locations, some fairly ordinary, some very exotic. Individuals and groups feed in the amount of walking they’ve done and they can see how far they have gone on their virtual walk, passing points of interest on the way. In fact I’m told that Duncan’s local walking group, the Inverclyde Globetrotters have, just this week, completed a virtual walk to the moon!

Duncan contacted me last year and asked me if I’d like to create a Shakespeare walk for the site, and it went live earlier this year. It’s one of the shortest as it begins from Mary Arden’s Farm in Wilmcote, passes Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and then walks around Stratford-upon-Avon visiting places Shakespeare would have known.

Shakespeare’s characters often wish they were somewhere else and try to think themselves there. Left in Egypt, Cleopatra wonders where Antony is and what he’s doing, and Richard II tries to think himself out of prison.

Shakespeare also mentions the idea of taking journeys in your mind. In sonnet 27 he talks about how, even after a tiring journey, the mind keeps on working on its own:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.

Imagination is powerful, but it can’t really substitute for experience. Also in Richard II, Bolingbroke, facing banishment, recognises that the imagination can’t prevent us from being where we are.

O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?

And in As You Like It Orlando voices his frustration after thinking he hs been wooing a boy instead of his love Rosalind, “I can live no longer by thinking”.

Of course, most of the walks on the site, unlike the walk to the moon, could actually be done as walks and this is certainly the case with my Shakespeare walk. In fact it’s short enough to do in a day, either virtually by walking round your own local park, or in reality. I hope that for National Walking Month you’ll have a go.

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