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Thinking on my Feet - a WildReads2021 inspired booklist

by Sophie Green


Our Wild Read for May is Thinking on my feet by Kate Humble which explores the soothing effect that walking can have on our daily lives. Here are a few of our inspired picks:

When we think of what makes us human, one adaptation that is regularly overlooked is our ability to walk, and to walk upright. It's this skill that enabled us to walk out of Africa and to spread all over the world - to the far distant glaciers of Alaska, and all the way to the sun-baked deserts of Australia. Walking upright gives us all sorts of advantages. It frees our hands and it also frees our minds.

Neuroscientist Shane O'Mara celebrates the full sweep of human walking, from its origins deep in time, through to how the brain and nervous system performs the mechanical magic of walking, to understanding how it can set our thoughts free, all the way to its most social aspects, when we walk together to achieve something - whether it's a four-ball in golf, a country ramble, or a march to try and change society.

This title is also available to listen to on eAudiobook.

In these frantic and unsettling times, more people are seeking meaning, stillness and a greater connection with the natural world. Modern pilgrimages satisfy this need. Walking mindfully to a special place goes beyond rambling to something deeper. By leaving behind our noisy lives, setting off quietly and with purpose, then simply putting one foot in front of the other, we discover more about ourselves and the land we inhabit. 'Beyond the Footpath' blends the inspirational and the practical with useful information, mindful and creative exercises and suggestions of destinations for your own mindful walks or pilgrimages.

From the author of 'Silence' comes an illuminating examination of the joy of walking. From those perilous first steps as a toddler, to great expeditions, from walking to work to trekking to the North Pole, Erling Kagge explains that he who walks goes further and lives better. This is a book about the love of exploration, the delight of discovery and the equilibrium that can be found in this most simple of activities.

Nature holds the answers for Raynor and her husband Moth. After walking 630 miles homeless along the Salt Path, the windswept and wild English coastline now feels like their home. And despite Moth's terminal diagnosis, against all medical odds, he seems revitalised in nature - outside, they discover that anything is possible. Now, life beyond the Salt Path awaits.

As they return to four walls, the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult - until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything: a chance to breathe life back into a beautiful but neglected farmhouse in the Cornish hills - rewilding the land and returning nature to its hedgerows becomes their new path. Along the way, Raynor and Moth learn more about the land that envelopes them, find friends both new and old, and embark on another windswept adventure when the opportunity arises.

In January 2006, a month or two after my father died, I thought I saw him again - a momentary impression of an old man, a little stooped, setting off for a walk in his characteristic fawn corduroys and shabby quilted jacket. After teenage rifts it was walking that brought us closer as father and son; and this 'ghost' of Dad has been walking at my elbow since his death, as I have ruminated on his great love of walking, his prodigious need to do it - and how and why I walk myself.

The January man is the story of a year of walks that was inspired by a song, Dave Goulder's 'The January Man'. Month by month, season by season and region by region, Christopher Somerville walks the British Isles, following routes that continually bring his father to mind. As he travels the country he describes the history, wildlife, landscapes and people he encounters, down back lanes and old paths, in rain and fair weather.

From Great Yarmouth to Aberystwyth, 'Westering' is a coast-to-coast journey crossing the Fens, Leicester, the Black Country and central Wales. It connects landscape, place and memory to evoke a narrative unravelling the deep topography, and following a westerly route that runs against the grain of the land, its geology, culture and historical bedrock.

With the industrial Midlands sandwiched between bucolic landscapes in East Anglia and Wales, here we explore places too often overlooked. Along the way we encounter deserted Medieval villages, battlefield sites, the ghosts of Roman soldiers, valleys drowned for reservoirs, ancient forests, John Clare's beloved fields, and the urban edgelands. Notions of home and belonging, landscapes of loss and absence, birds and the resilience of nature, the psychology of walking, and the psychogeography of liminal places all frame the story.

Artificial light is everywhere. Not only is it damaging to humans and to wildlife, disrupting our natural rhythms, but it obliterates the subtler lights that have guided us for millennia. In this exploration, Matt Gaw ventures forth into darkness to find out exactly what we're missing: walking by the light of the moon in Suffolk and under the scattered buckshot of starlight in Scotland; braving the darkest depths of Dartmoor; investigating the glare of 24/7 London and the suburban sprawl of Bury St Edmunds; and, finally, rediscovering a sense of the sublime on the Isle of Coll. 'Under the Stars' is an inspirational and immersive travelogue exploring the power of natural light.

Not content with walking the Pennine Way as a modern day troubadour, an experience recounted in his bestseller and prize-wining 'Walking Home', Simon Armitage has followed up that journey with a walk of the same distance but through the very opposite terrain and direction far from home. In 'Walking Away', he swaps the moorland uplands of the north for the coastal fringes of Britain's south west, once again giving readings every night, but this time through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, taking poetry into distant communities and tourist hot-spots, busking his way from start to finish.