Nicholson, G. (2010) The Lost Art of Walking Harbour Books ISBN 978-1-905128-174
With a loping pace, comparable to the act of walking itself, Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking invites us to bring pedestrianism back to the centre of life with musing on his own walks; reflecting on writers, artists, musicians and film makers who take walking as a subject; and by looking at some of the great walkers in history – the competitive, the adventurous, the philosophical, and the merely eccentric.
The book takes us far further than most would consider walking distance, from the concrete canyons of New York City to the seven hills of Sheffield, by way of the British seaside and the deserts of America, Egypt and Australia. Along the way it describes encounters with nude walkers, labyrinth walkers and psychogeographers. The Lost Art of Walking is discursive, imaginative, full of insight and sometimes downright hilarious.
I wouldn’t advise that you look for some profound hidden message in this lively and all-encompassing survey of walking. I suspect there isn’t one. Instead, Nicholson, who admits that he goes for walks wherever he finds himself to both ward off depression and help him to write, takes us on a compelling, mildly anarchic, journey through the world of walkers.
Starting with the nature of the word “walk” itself, and ending with significant journeys of all kinds (from epic walks across Africa and walking on the moon to how Albert Speer kept himself sane during his years in prison by pacing off the distance between Berlin and Heidleberg across his prison cell). Nicholson’s book is a ‘dip-in-to’ joy to read.
Ultimately, Nicholson does draw some kind of lesson out of his ruminations on walking; that it is a kind of metaphor for life itself.
There’ll be missteps and stumbles, journeys into dead ends; the reluctant retracing of your steps. And you have to tell yourself that’s just fine, that it’s a necessary and not wholly unenjoyable, part of the process. It’s an exploration.
But as with any good walk, this unsurprising revelation isn’t the point, it’s all about the journey. And in this book Geoff Nicholson has taken us on a delightful one.