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A Walk around the Block

Tuesday, 15th July 2003, West Yorkshire

Coxley ValleySince Barbara and I read an article about the beneficial effects of walking* we've been meaning to get out more but with all the work in the garden and other commitments we haven't had the chance, so today, realising that the morning cloud is melting away and that it will soon be warmer than I like it for walking, I set off around Coxley Valley.

The article states that a fit man of my age, 52, should be able to manage 4 to 5 miles in an hour. I set off at nine and I'm back by ten past ten so, allowing for a couple of short breaks on my 4.5 mile walk, that's a little over 4 miles per hour. If I broke into a run every now and then I'd easily have managed five!

The Lady with the Wimple

The article suggests taking a drink of water every twenty minutes. As it works out, my first twenty minute stop coincides with a bench in the wood overlooking stepping stones and a wimplefootbridge across the beck and my next is at New Hall Farm, by the lady with the wimple - a medieval carving with a head-dress of the type worn by some nuns - over the door to the dovecote, set above a dated stone which probably refers to Anby and Mary Beatson of New Hall.

The carved head probably comes from a nearby chapel, recorded as early as 1209 and still standing in the 1500s. Like many 'new' things in the English landscape New Hall goes back a long way:'Niwehall' is first mentioned in 1202. It may have been the original manor house for the parish of Sitlington.

I've written more on Coxley Valley in a booklet of the same name, which is where this sketch comes from.

Walking for Health

The magazine article lists the apparent benefits of walking: everything from improved memory to a reduced risk of colon cancer. It sounds almost as good as one of these miracle pills that I'm bombarded with in the depressingly frequent junk e-mails that arrive in my inbox ('the fat melts away as you sleep' was today's claim; yes, 'course it does!)..

New Miracle Therapy Now Available
as seen frequently on NBC, Oprah and 'The Little House on the Prairie'


20 per cent less risk of breast cancer
50 per cent less risk of diabetes
30 to 40 per cent less risk of heart disease
A reduced risk of colon cancer
A reduced risk of stroke
Fights osteoporosis
Improves memory
Gives your love life a lift
Boosts your breathing
Improves you body's immunity
Decreases risk of glaucoma
Releases feel-good hormones into your system
Helps brain function*

put one foot in front of the other

*Adapted from 'Walk your way to better health' My Time magazine (free with Puzzler Collection), May 2003

Well that's the hard sell, almost puts you off doesn't it?! It's got to be worth trying though, unless you'd rather put your faith in one of those pills that burns away fat while you sleep. I should stress that most of the evidence is from statistical studies. There's more detail of the studies and some genuinely useful advice on walking in the article.

I like the way Richard Ballantine put it in the inspirational and thoroughly practical Richard's Bicycle Book (1975):

. . . you will literally become more fagged out and tired just sitting still than if you run around the block a few times.

. . . think better (more blood to the brain - and if you think this is crazy, go out and run around for a while and then think it through again)

Enchanter's Nightshade

wrenenchanter's nightshadeWhen you think how long many workers have to spend commuting I should be able to fit in a five mile walk every day and still have time to put in a full day's work. I'm so lucky that for me a 'walk around the block' means that I can walk alongside the stream under willows, oaks and ashes, on paths lined by bracken and bramble, wood avens and enchanter's nightshade (left), in the company of wrens, herons and chiff-chaffs, with views over fields and woodland and even enjoy the company of a medieval lady in a wimple . . . all without having to cross a road. next page

Richard Bell