“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks.”

The words of the Scottish-American environmentalist John Muir have taken on greater meaning since the UK’s lockdown came into force nearly two months ago.

Ever since the government permitted just one form of exercise a day, the British public has taken up this instruction without fail, with socially-distant flocks walking dogs and rambling through fields or along rivers up and down the country. Even though exercise limits are no longer in place, commitment to daily walks, runs, and cycles has remained far stronger than in pre-lockdown times.

The old aphorism “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” didn’t quite work for the once-a-day exercise rule. Rather, the more apt term was “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s all you have left”.

Being outside – whether taking a walk alone, with a family member, or pet – suddenly assumed a great significance in our daily lives, arguably going some way towards restoring the importance of spending time outdoors. 

The manifold ways in which Muir’s words can be interpreted highlights the diverse range of benefits which going for a walk can bring.

Especially during these spring months, walking in nature allows us to enjoy the vibrant birdsong from our migratory and domestic avian friends, warning off rivals and signalling their availability to mate.

If you’re an early bird, then you can catch the dawn chorus as the sunrise illuminates the sky. Listen out for the chirps of sparrows, the caws of crows, the melodious songs of the blackbird or cuckoo, and perhaps even the faint sound of a woodpecker at work in the distance.

The company of darting swifts and circling red kites on the walks I take by our local river is matched by the startling skies at both sunrise and sunset. From dreamy blues to crimson reds, witnessing the fading sunlight glistening off the water and weaving its way through the branches of drooping willows provides a truly peaceful end to the day.

It’s not just what nature can add to an evening walk though, it’s what nature can give: calm, solitude, space, and clarity.

In my experience, Muir’s words are just as applicable to the sensory gifts of swishing grass and hazy sunsets as to the internal solace one can find in walks.

During the lockdown, many of us likely feel as if our minds as well as bodies are restricted. Until recently, being unable to meet up with even one socially-distant friend deprived us of opportunities to explain our worries, clear our heads, and discuss dilemmas with people we trust in settings in which we feel comfortable.

Never before has the escapism of walking alone provided such a necessary break from the frustrations and pressures of daily life. Allowing yourself time alone offers the refreshing prospect of being able to talk to yourself, whether out-loud or in your head; or if you feel like it, to share your thoughts with the birds and the trees. You never know, they might just have the answer you were looking for!

Lines from Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own come to mind: “I know the days are reeling past in such squealing blasts / But stop for breath and you will know it’s yours.”

Walking in nature gives us all the perfect chance to do just that. Our walks allow us to stop for breath, to enjoy the clarity of thought and peace of mind that are so crucial to our wellbeing, especially in these unprecedented and troubling times.

Many lessons will undoubtedly be learned from our experience of the current pandemic, but one which mustn’t be forgotten is the value of spending time outdoors. Even though restrictions are gradually being relaxed, it’s vital to remember the benefits that nature walks can provide during difficult times.

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor and Climate Columnist at The Blue. He is in his final year studying History and Politics at Balliol.