(Warning: there's not an awful lot of history in this...)
I've been musing recently about the relationship between thinking and walking. Like many people, I find that walking helps my thinking. I was going to say that it helps me to think, but it's not quite as clear-cut as that: sometimes when I'm walking I'm not consciously thinking at all. I notice things - like this morning, when I saw a rabbit sitting very still in the distance and realised - with some pleasure - that its outline was exactly the same as a relief carving I did of a rabbit years ago. Or yesterday, when I saw white blossoms trodden into the mud on the ground and looked up in surprise; what could be flowering so early? But mostly, my mind is at rest, not 'besely seking with a continuell chaunge' (to borrow Thomas Wyatt's words). Something is happening though, below the surface, because often by the end of the walk a knot is untied - whether it be a knot in a plot, or a knot of some other kind.
There used to be far more walkers in the British countryside: tramps, they were called. You don't see them so often now. My father used to tell me a story about one: an ex-soldier, one of the many who couldn't find a job or a place after the First World War - you can read a version of it here. Last week, a sprightly 90 year-old in one of my writing classes told us about another one, who often passed through the town where she lived with her young family in Kent in the 1950s. He was called Smokey Joe. No-one knew anything about him. He had his belongings packed onto his bike, which he never rode, only pushed along the roads. In the piece she wrote about him, Phyllis imagined that he had come back from the war and been unable to face life inside a house, with his family: so one day, he just walked out of the door: he needed the sound of his feet pounding the tarmac, the rhythm of his walking, to deaden the sounds in his head, to stop the procession of images, he couldn't bear to see.
And in the small town where I live, there is another walker. He's not a tramp - he lives in the town. But every day, all day long, he walks. He usually has earplugs in, or he stares intently at a mobile phone screen as he walks along. He never, ever makes eye contact, and has only been known to speak to someone - angrily - if they try to push it, to make him talk. Does he walk to think, or does he walk to deaden thinking? I think the latter is more likely. Or perhaps it is that he walks to calm the thinking down, to reduce the noise it makes inside his head? I always think of him as the Walker, partly for the obvious reason, but partly also because he makes me think of the Walker in Susan Cooper's fantasy novel for children, The Dark Is Rising. That one walks because it's his destiny to do so, not just for years, but for centuries; he too carries inside him a burden of unhappiness which is presumably only bearable if he keeps on moving.
"The trail begins with our verb to learn, meaning 'to acquire knowledge' Moving backwards in language time, we reach the Old English leornian, 'to get knowledge, to be cultivated'. From leornian, the path leads further back, into the fricative thickets of Proto-Germanic, and to the word liznojan, which has a base sense of 'to follow or to find a track' (from the Proto-Indo-European prefix leis- meaning 'track'). 'To learn' therefore means at root - at route - 'to follow a track'."
And so the journey goes on.