On our right side are big bushes of bright yellow gore with grass behind them, running right up to the shoreline; there the sea begins. A sheet of blue, changing in colour and depth as far as the eye can see. On our left side lie mountains, an occasional glen with a path running through it, fields with horses, a row of white houses form a tiny village. We are walking on the road that goes all the way around the island. It’s an exciting thought – if we just kept walking we would come full circle right back to the spot we are standing at now. It would take a while – the circumnavigating coast road is 56 miles – but still. Our feet can take us anywhere.
Up the mountain, for example. The view from the top, looking out over the town, the blue of the sea matching the blue of the sky, impressive rock-formations, is incredible. Yet from all of this, the green foggy glens, the cemetery by the side of the road, the scrambles over rocks and stony beaches, the path through woods and fields, the views, the ocean, from all this I most remember the conversations that went alongside these amazing sights. Personal stories of growing up, experiences in high school, adventures on other travels. Politics, culture, society and arts, we share thoughts and opinions and come to new insights, ideas. Going for a walk with someone you know, a family member, friend or partner, can be a great way to build your relationship and grow closer (unless one of you is terrible at reading a map and keeps getting you lost, or needs to pee all the time, or is just not a big fan of hiking – in that case, it might be better for the relationship to just leave it). Additionally, it’s bound to be inspiring. Long distance allows you, perhaps partly forces you, to reflect on your opinions, formulate your ideas, and speak your mind on various subjects properly. To go into detail, expand what you think or feel, get into the depth of a subject rather than merely grazing the surface. Similarly, meeting a stranger on a walk and getting into conversation with them can be enlightening – perhaps their opinions are the opposite from your own, but this means you can learn something, get an insight from a different point of view.
Yet a walk alone, without anyone but your own thoughts accompanying you, is perhaps most inspirational. Walking is like breathing – it doesn’t require much effort to put one foot in front of the other and to just keep going. Ideas can wander free and explore unseen corners of your brain and heart, while your feet walk a steady pace and your eyes are fed new information with each step: a bird hopping between flowers before flying off; dark clouds rolling over hills; a bustling market square; an old woman with a walking stick crossing the road with a red man on the traffic light; light filtering between the branches of trees; a colourful building against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
A research paper showing that walking directly influences creativity was published in 2014 by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz from Stanford University. They found that people thought much more freely, in a more innovative and imaginative way, when strolling through the university campus compared with sitting down. In comparison, walking worsened performance on focused thinking: coming up with one word that unites a set of three, like “cottage, Swiss and cake” (if you’re reading this as you’re walking, the answer is “cheese”). It makes sense that free-flowing thoughts work best for creative brainstorming rather than thinking that should lead to one single, correct answer.
Fortunately for those of us in Scotland, the researchers found that the environment does not matter: walking inside on a treadmill resulted in a similar creative boost as walking outside. Thus if it’s raining outside and you’re in desperate need of some creativity, just pace around in your flat.
Nevertheless I would encourage you to get out of your room, and soak up the air, the light, the quiet clouds and swaying branches. Don’t listen to music but tell stories in your head, hear new notes amid the rustling leaves, create photographs with your eyes and see drawings just around the corner. Who knows what else you’ll find if you explore the world and let your mind wander with you.