The Outdoor Book Club #1: Kate Humble’s ‘Thinking on my feet’

The book that changed my life – yes truly! Let me explain…

You know that I’m all about photographing in the great outdoors but I bet you didn’t know I’m also REALLY into books written about the great outdoors. I’m fixated with stories of climbing mountains, rewilding farms, walking rivers, exploring the countryside…because it’s never just about the landscapes. It’s more often than not about personal fulfilment and reflection and I just LOVE that stuff.

You know Kate Humble, right? She’s a BBC television presenter, most famous for Springwatch. Generally, she’s the voice for the English countryside, an expert on the great outdoors. She lives on a farm in south east Wales, she loves to walk, usually with her dog by her side. Kate is incredibly connected with nature and in touch with the seasons. The book opens in Africa, where she is filming, and as she explores her surroundings she comes up with a brainwave. She decides to keep a journal about walking, about how it affects us mentally, physically and spiritually.

Great idea, wish I’d thought of it…

I love Kate’s journey through the seasons at her farm in Wales; trudging through a dreary January, and then welcoming the inklings of Spring. Each time she went for a walk, I felt as though I was with her.

I also loved reading about the interesting people she features in her book, all who have been motivated by the act of walking. There’s a landscape painter who walks to find inspiration, a therapist in New York who takes his patients for walks in Central Park, an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD who makes it his mission to walk the entire coast of Britain…

This a topical book to read. After all, most of us are interested in how we can improve our mental health. Kate points out the strange paradox in the western world. Whilst we’re open and interested in going back to basics with activities like camping, nature retreats and wild swimming, we’re still incredibly attached to our material possessions. The reality is that we’re doing less and less exercise outdoors. In fact, we’re the least active generation. Hardly any of us do the recommended 10,000 steps each day…

The book leads up to Kate embarking on an expedition, just her and her dog. She sets out to walk the River Wye, all 136 miles of it, over 9 days. Sure, it all sounds like an incredibly romantic adventure but due to getting repeatedly lost and suffering the most painful blisters, it becomes somewhat of an endurance test.

Still, this part of the book made a huge impression on me. It was this tale which motivated me to walk the length of the Thames. I didn’t set out with my dog and my tent like Kate, as I have a commitment to three small children, but I’ve chipped away at it in bitesize 20-mile chunks. Now, 90 miles in, out of 184, I can say it has been one of the most therapeutic and thought-provoking things I have ever done. There’s a moment in Kate’s book where she deviates to a café for a cup of tea but so perturbed by the crowds, she describes how she suddenly felt “overwhelmed and miserable, as I often do when I’ve had time on my own and am then faced with lots of my own species.” I felt a similar sentiment when I entered the Oxford stretch of river and had to weave around insistent bicycles, students dressed up for an end-of-year bash, lovers holding hands, children on scooters, and dogs on retractable leads. There were even unruly tramps, swigging from a can of lager and slurring insults at each other. I was relieved when we left urbanisation and the general public behind, and peace and solitude was restored.

Thames Path
This is how the Thames starts out…

There’s another moment in the book I can now identify with. After walking a 22-mile stretch, Kate sits in her tent with her dog and says “If there is a heaven, it might be not unlike this.”

Yes, I’ve felt like that after a day on the river.

Overall, this is a really effortless and interesting book to read, written by a worldly and energetic woman. It might not lead you to walk an entire river but I bet it gets you thinking more about the great outdoors on your doorstep and that, in itself, is a worthwhile thing. The book really spurred on my pursuit of nature and wellbeing…and without reading it, I probably never would have refined my photography business to become The Outdoor Studio. This book was like a big revelation to me and that is why it is so important to me, that is why YOU should read it.

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