I love walking.
Those of you who have read this blog over the past couple of years know that I also loved my train journey commute to London Waterloo. I find myself enjoying the – albeit shorter – commute to Southampton that I now make. There is something very special about a journey that wends its way through the Wylye Valley and on through Hampshire by the Rivers Dun and then Test. And I never fail on the return journey to smile when I see the Westbury White Horse and know that I am nearly home.
So I do love train journeys.
However, there’s something extra special about experiencing the world from the perspective of a walk. The moment you’ve finished climbing a hill and suddenly realised the exertion has not only done you good but also given you a view that was worth the pounding heart and aching calf muscles.
There’s something special about the silence that’s suddenly broken by a lark breaking out of its cover and singing as it soars into the sky. Or coming across a duck with her brood of ducklings performing a perfect ballet apart from the hilarious straggler who’s always slightly behind everyone else. Or watching the changing landscape as you revisit a walk in different seasons.
A group of friends and I regularly get together to walk. We take it in turns to suggest where to go – at the moment we’re working our way through places in Wiltshire, although we do occasionally lapse into Wales. Next year I hope – finally – to get around to organising a group to take on the challenging (but well worth it) Imber Perimeter Path across the Salisbury Plain.
Walking clears the mind. It reminds me of the beauties of the place that I’m proud to call home. I half-jokingly call it Being a Tourist Where I Live. Most of all it gives me a sense of peace and well-being and a sense of place where I belong.
There’s an old adage that says you should take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints. I take a lot of pictures – as those of you who know me on Facebook will testify. And I hope I’ve left nothing behind other than the occasional fingernail lost on an old stile.
In our young people’s group at church, we’re currently running a series called Polar Explorers. It’s looking at how people of faith should have a positive impact on the world around them – the Kingdom Footprint. Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
A man I’ve known for more than 15 years died last Friday. He was someone I met through work, but he became a real friend who I laughed and put the world to rights with on regular occasions. He was a brave and very funny man. Although I knew he’d been seriously ill, I and many others thought he had come through to the other side. As I read the many loving and sincere tributes on his Facebook page I began to realise just how much of a remarkable footprint Shaun leaves behind.
Shaun was a paramedic. His calm manner must have reassured many seriously injured people that everything would be all right because he was there. I also have no doubt that there are people alive today who wouldn’t be, if it wasn’t for him. Shaun’s footprint may not be one that can be easily seen but there is no doubt it is quietly felt in many lives and many corners of the country.
A gentle footprint leaves no damage but instead leaves its quiet mark. Rather than stamping to make a big ‘look at me’ show leaving broken grass and smashed flowers in its wake, the gentle footprint can hardly be seen. And yet it leaves a lasting impression. The evidence that it was made is still there.
Shaun’s death is a terrible loss for his family and friends. No amount of footprints, however gentle, however lasting, will ever replace that cheeky smile and friendly face. And I bet, they, like me, would give a lot to have just one more hug.
As I think of him now, I remember the man who made me laugh. A lot. The man whose ordinary kindness (Come on Hev, I’ll put the kettle on’) helped me in a moment of real pain and unhappiness. The man whose lasting legacy of positive footprints in the world around him is an inspiration and a lesson in how life should be lived to the full for the benefit of others.