The Lost Art of Walking

By GEOFF NICHOLSON

Geoff Nicholson doesn’t walk to stay fit. And he doesn’t walk to lessen his carbon footprint. “he real reason I walk is because I have to. I walk because it keeps me sane,” he writes in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism, a charming 273-page ode to the wonders and dangers of traversing the earth (and even the moon) on two feet. Nicholson, a native of England, lives in Los Angeles, but he’s intimately familiar with the byways of New York City and London as well, and he once spent the day walking the length of Oxford Street. “I knew that I must be one of the very few who had ever walked twenty miles back and forth on Oxford Street in a single day. The perversity of this pleased me no end.” No doubt this seems eccentric. But nowadays, Nicholson notes, isn’t all walking considered suspect? “Looked at a certain way, walking is the most ordinary, natural, ubiquitous activity. What could be more commonplace or lacking in eccentricity than the act of walking? And yet we live in a world where plenty of people find the idea of walking for pleasure, much less for philosophical, aesthetic, or deeply personal reasons, to be not just odd but downright incomprehensible.” But to those who like to stroll, saunter, straggle, what have you, walking is a comprehensible passion, and Nicholson cites some of history’s champion perambulators, including Charles Dickens, Thomas De Quincey, and Iain Sinclair, who’s currently “a sort of guru for London’s hipper literary walkers.” Sinclair says of walking: “s well as hoovering up information, it’s a way of actually shifting a state of consciousness, and you get into things you didn’t know about, or you begin to find out about, and that’s the interesting part.”

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