Some of you might recall that during the first lockdown in 2020, I set up a Facebook group called "Picture That Walk" where people could dump all those photos they were taking while they ambled about their local area on their permitted daily hour of exercise.

The group now has about 1,500 members who continue to share their lovely pictures from all over the world. A regular topic of conversation is the various terms we use to describe a walk. For example, we have had bimble, potter, meander, stroll, ramble, amble and mosey to name just a few.

It was a member of the group who gave me the inspiration for this column after she posted a quote from the legendary John Muir (1838-1914) regarding the word "saunter". Muir was objecting to "hikes".

“Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’” he says. “It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘a la sainte terre,’ – ‘to the Holy Land’. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Conservationist John Muir, c.1902, who said we should 'saunter' through nature, rather than 'hike'. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Muir was a Scottish-born mountaineer who was passionate about nature and the founder of the modern conservation movement. He was an active campaigner for the preservation of our wild places and wrote extensively about the physical and emotional benefits of immersing oneself in the countryside. His ideas were radical for the time and were based around the premise that the earth was not to be used simply as a resource for humankind but should be looked after, enjoyed and preserved in all its glory. He was instrumental in coming up with concept of national parks, his first being Yosemite in California (Muir’s family had moved to the USA when he was 11).

If you search for his name online and look up some of his more famous quotes, you will find that his words on nature are quite beautiful despite him declaring he wasn’t a particularly good writer. One that struck me was this one, encouraging people to get outside:

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

How lovely is that?

This weekend, I was party to quite a debate about the difference between a walk and a hike. I was spending the weekend in the beautiful Lake District for the "hen" celebrations of my niece, who is due to get married in November. It was superbly organised by her sisters and mum, and on the itinerary for Saturday morning was a walk. ‘It won’t be too intense, don’t worry,’ we were told. It must be noted here that my niece is super fit, and recently completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge where she climbed Pen-Y-Ghent (2,277 ft), Whernside (2,415 ft) and Ingleborough (2,372 ft) in one day.

Bearing in mind we’d had a rather heavy night the night before, many of the 17-strong-party were slightly jaded on Saturday morning, and the weather was cold, windy and rainy. You can imagine how delighted we were to discover that this "not too intense" walk was a three-and-a-half-hour circuit starting at Troutbeck and climbing up and over the not inconsiderable 1,600-foot Wansfell Pike.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The reward for climbing Wansfell Pike in the Lake District is the spectacular view from the top

There were a fair few mutterings about the description of this as a "walk", when for some it was most definitely a hike.

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Despite the grumbles, the groans, the breathlessness, the cold, the wet, and the general pain, once we’d struggled to the top of the fell, we were handsomely rewarded. The views of Lake Windermere, Ambleside and the mountains beyond were absolutely stunning. By the time we got to the end a couple of hours later, the sun had come out, our hangovers had gone, our grumbles had stopped, and we were ready for a good old pub lunch.

I must confess, on the way up Wansfell Pike, I was definitely in "hike" territory. But once I got to the top, and took in the fantastic view, I took a deep breath and gave the landscape the due reverence that John Muir declared it deserved.

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