Friday, 8 May 2009

Walking and knowing what it's like

Lois and I booked some holiday and, this week, walked the Cumbria Way: a five day route along the North South axis of the Lake District. We had enjoyed three dry and sunny weeks in late April, when we formed the plan, but this week was very wet indeed. (What should one do when faced with a stream too wide and deep to get easily across? We waded in our boots sacrificing dry feet to up the chances of making it across without falling over.)

As the weather deteriorated, I began to wonder about the pleasure of walking in such conditions. In good weather, there is a variety of sensory-based and purely aesthetic pleasures (the sun on one’s skin, the views, characteristically walking-based conversations with companions etc). But these do not survive solitary tramping hunkered down in a cagoule in the rain. What does survive, I think, (but merely as a pleasure like any other, to be weighed against discomfort) is cognitive. It is the pleasure of knowing how parts of the walk connect together. So, for example, Borrowdale connects via Langstrathdale to Langdale. But I now know what that connection looks like, how accessible it is relative to a normal day’s walk, how much it matters to be carrying a pack over it and there’s pleasure to be had in such knowledge.

The worry, though, about that line of thought is that it might slide into a too personal form of knowledge: that the experience one has in doing the walk does more than is safely domesticated through demonstrative thought and other innocent notions. One would not want that to seem to support merely private knowing.