Shall we go for a walk?
Whether you groan at the thought or look forward to your daily constitutional, we have all doggedly put one foot in front of the other these past 18 months.
At the height of the pandemic, it seemed as if walking was the one activity that we were still allowed to partake in.
As thousands of people swapped the office for the dining room table, and juggled home schooling with work, that one trip out of the house for exercise suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
We swapped the commute for our local footpaths and woodlands, our eyes opened to the beauty on our doorstep.
Shortcuts, nesting birds and weathered benches no longer ignored because we were too busy to look, but explored and firmly grasped as the months wore on.
As cafes remained closed and our own doors firmly shut to visitors, a walk with family and friends as restrictions eased was a joyous occasion.
With the world returning to some form of normality thanks to the vaccine, will a newfound love of walking remain?
Or will twisting paths become overgrown once more, as we deem ourselves too busy to step into nature, or thread our way through a network of urban streets?
Your Life spoke to those across the region who have a great love of walking, and found out why such a simple form of exercise can have the power to change your life.
Alex Williamson, photographer and keen walker
Alex swapped walking the streets of London for exploring the stunning beaches of Nairn when his family moved to the Highlands.
The dad of two, who works in marketing for Findhorn Bay Arts, has always enjoyed walking, and made use of lockdown by combining his other passion – photography.
Alex had been due to start work on a photography project shortly before lockdown was announced, as part of celebrations for Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters.
But with events cancelled, he was instead inspired by daily walks, where he captured people enjoying the scenery.
“When I initiated the project in January 2020, my intention was to record a year of activity to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters,” said Alex.
“At that time, most people were blissfully unaware of the events unfolding in China which would have a devastating effect around the world.
“When the pandemic hit, and the UK went into lockdown, all of those plans were put on hold. There were more important things at hand.
“In the early days of the lockdown, using that permitted hour of outdoor exercise meant going for a walk down by the river or out along the beach.
“Many of my walks followed the coastline and waterways of Nairn.
And there I would encounter people doing much the same as myself. Almost everyone in Nairn turned to the natural beauty right on their doorstep for consolation and solace
“We were lucky, and we knew it. Some took to wild swimming, some paddleboarding. Others simply walked.”
Alex took to approaching people from a safe distance, to ask if he could take their photograph.
“I decided to pick up my project,” he said.
“Initially I was reticent about approaching people, fearing the spread of Covid-19. After a while, as restrictions eased, I began to approach people for their photograph.
What I was really interested in was situating people in a specific place at a specific moment of time – a time of great disruption, uncertainty and, for many, fear
“For others, regrettably, a time of sadness and loss.
“Almost everyone I approached was happy to have their photograph taken. Many were intrigued by the project, and a good number just wanted to chat.
“For me, walking and photography go hand in hand.
“If I’m taking photographs, I’ll walk to do it. Walking makes the planes of our perspective shift and form a moment that you can frame.”
The health benefits of walking are well known, and Alex admits to feeling slightly anxious if he is unable to go for a walk after a few days.
Aside from upping your step count, walking is hugely beneficial for mental health.
Even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
And if you’re just idling along, well it gives you time to think, breathe and just be.
“I call it walking with purpose, and I think I usually walk with some sort of purpose,” said Alex.
“When you allow yourself to get a bit lost, you can explore corners of a place you would not necessarily go.
You can locate yourself and fit a place together. There’s a name for it, psychogeography
Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on our emotions and behaviour, and advocates becoming lost in the city in order to experience it on another level.
“Having moved from London, I now walk with the backdrop of stunning scenery,” said Alex.
“I’ve got the Hills of Clava and Culloden, plus the beach walks which are fantastic.
“Do I think walking united us? In the early stages of the pandemic, absolutely.
“And then later on, when the kids didn’t always necessarily want to go. But we still insisted on it, to get out of the house.
“I had my wife, my family. But for those living alone and experiencing social isolation, finally being able to meet a friend for a walk, that was special.
“My project is almost complete – there are only a few months now until the end of the year.
“I have an exhibition at Nairn Community and Arts Centre planned for October.
“And I will continue to walk and take my photographs up until December 31st – a record of how people have coped with the strange times we have been living through.”
Frank Kelly, president of Aberdeen Hillwalking Club
Aberdeen Hillwalking Club is one of the oldest walking clubs in the Granite City, after it was founded in the 1940s by staff of the then nationalised telephone service.
It now welcomes walkers of all ages and abilities, although group walks came to a halt during the pandemic.
President Frank Kelly has been involved since the Sixties, after his wife encouraged him to join.
Having confessed to having little interest in walking, Frank has never looked back.
“I was a sporty person, but not to the extent of having any interesting of going out to the hills,” he said.
“But it was an instant love.
It’s the freedom and the fact you are outdoors, the whole area around you is stupendous
“People talk about Scotland and its scenic beauty, there’s no doubt about it.
“In the club, we get to a lot of places that people would never go to, maybe because you quite often have to walk just to get there.
“You can get away from the pressures or deadlines of work.”
Trips to Frank’s favourite stomping ground, Deeside, were off the cards for some time thanks to travel restrictions.
Undeterred, Frank discovered the joy of walks on his doorstep.
We found so many walks. Seaton Park for example, where you can walk along the banks of the River Don, all the way to the Don mouth. You can do a circuit coming back
“Tullos Hill is also tremendous, as is Broad Hill where there is a trig point.”
Frank believes that thanks to lockdown, the club could soon have some new members.
“We’ve had around 20 people get in touch because they’re interested in what the club does,” he said.
“I think that is as a result of people getting to know their local area more, and now they want to go further afield.
“Maybe if people are a bit unsure, a club like ours is the perfect opportunity where you can gain a bit of knowledge.
“We provide the confidence.”
But what is it about hillwalking which has kept Frank tracking on all these years, regardless of what cropped up in day-to-day life?
“I think it is a great leveller, because you are away from all the worries,” he said.
“It gives you the opportunity to think in wide open spaces, and work out what you want to do next in life.
“Walking in nature brings you back to a sense of being.”
Claire Turnbull, health walk co-ordinator for Aberdeenshire
If there’s one person who knows about the benefits of walking, it’s Claire Turnbull.
Her role sees her support a collective of independently registered health walk projects, which stem from Paths for All.
The charity champions everyday walking for a happier, healthier, greener Scotland.
Health walks, dementia-friendly, cancer-friendly and buggy walks now take place across the country, and are a way of enjoying a free and accessible walk.
For Claire, it’s a dream job and you won’t be surprised to discover that she’s a keen walker.
“I always fancied the role; I previously supported people living with mental health out in the community,” she said.
“I’ve always loved walking, so it’s the perfect role for me. I walk every day, I love being outdoors in the fresh air amongst nature.
“A health walk is a low-level walk, and it doesn’t normally last longer than an hour.
“It is led by volunteers, so it’s a really good opportunity to meet and connect with other people.”
There are 40 registered projects across Aberdeenshire, with around 40 walks taking place every two weeks.
“We want to raise awareness of health walks, and we have seen an increase in people coming forward as volunteers,” said Claire.
“There hasn’t been an immediate influx, but each walk is seeing new walkers come along.
A health walk isn’t for a set demographic, and I think it can offer that real sense of belonging to somewhere as part of a group
“My favourite route is the blue door walk at Edzell; walking is a big part of my life.”
Alison Mitchell, chairwoman of Ramblers Scotland and secretary of Aberdeen Ramblers
Ramblers Scotland has a grassroots network of 54 local groups, with 6,000 members spread across the country.
Around 3,500 walks take place each year, and the organisation has been fundamental in campaign work, including the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, which gave access rights to land, coast and water.
Alison Mitchell has been involved for 40 years, and believes walking has restorative powers.
“I was working in a sedentary job and it seemed sensible to do something outside,” she said.
“I spent time outdoors hostelling from a young age, and there’s several elements to it really.
“It’s the exercise, exploring the countryside, making new friends and weekends away.”
Prior to Covid, the Aberdeen group met every two to three weeks, but now meets once a month.
“There is a leader for every walk. That person has to know the route and the speed is that of the slowest person,” said Alison.
“People come from all walks of life, all disciplines – from nurses to painters.
“I think people are more aware of the health benefits of walking due to Covid.
“People have come along over the years who have perhaps suffered loss or redundancy.
“When you walk with other people, you chat. Playing golf, it’s not quite the same.
“I love the historical element of some of the walks; we have quite a rich heritage in the north-east.”
Some of Alison’s favourite routes can be found in Deeside, but she has noticed a rise in people who have exactly the same idea.
“I think it’s due to staycations; the car parks can be full by 9.30 on a Sunday morning,” she said.
“That wasn’t the case before the pandemic.
I wouldn’t still be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it. There is a degree of introducing other people, alongside respect for the countryside
“You end up repeating walks, but they are never the same.
“You go back to work on Monday feeling that bit restored, and ready to go again.”
For more information on Health Walks, visit pathsforall.org.uk
To find out about Aberdeen Hillwalking club, visit aberdeenhillwalking.org.uk
And to find your local rambles group, visit ramblers.org.uk