People in England walk way more than people in America walk. Most of the people in my village “take walks” for no other reason but to walk. And they don’t walk on sidewalks, cause there aren’t any, or on the roads even – they walk on public footpaths. There are signs all over the place pointing out public footpaths, which wind their way across the country. But we have been here over 18 months and I am still scared to try it.
My American fear of walking on someone else’s land makes me nervous. The footpath signs show you where the paths begin off the side of the road, but they’re not clearly marked once you’re on them. There are also public bridleways, which are not just for pedestrians, but also cyclists and people on horseback. They all wind across open fields, through back yards, across roads, and although there are signs at junctions, I am just never sure where, exactly, I’m supposed to walk. So I stay on the road for fear of doing it wrong.
I’m determined to give it a try though. There are over 140,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales and we’re only here for so long!
I set out last week on a walk, hoping to get the nerve up to venture off the road and onto the path. As a warm-up, I walked on the grass along the road to where the footpath signs mark the junction near my house, rather than on the pavement. Walking on grass changes your speed. It also changes your ability to pay attention to other things — you’ve gotta keep an eye on the ground or you might trip. It slowed me down, but made me more aware. I think maybe that’s the point of walking those footpaths — it is not to make sure you get x-number of miles in, but that you enjoy and pay attention to the miles you do walk.
When I got to the beginning of the footpath, though, I chickened out. I looked along the edge of the field where the sign pointed and it just was not clear to me where I was supposed to go. So I stayed on the road. I walked, but I’m not getting the full English-walking-footpath experience that way. I’m going to ask my neighbor to meet me a few times and show me “the way” I think, so I can get a few accompanied walks under my belt and get brave enough to try a solo.
While in Rome, they say, do as the Romans do. And so, while in England, I shall walk. Off the beaten track. Because that’s how it’s done. I just have to find someone to teach me how.