Tuesday 27 January 2015

Make it a mission to be part of a happy walking community

Hikers in scenic coastal landscape. Photo: thinkstock
The Inchidrisla Loop route

It may be an illusion, but I'm convinced that there are more people out walking these days. And I wouldn't trouble your busy mind with the observation, only that I mean far more people.

Last Sunday at Emo Court, we could barely get into the car park, and though a sample of one isn't a sound statistical platform, I suspect the scene is being repeated all around the country.

I must be getting old; obviously I'm not getting any younger, but I also noticed how good it made me feel to be part of this happy gathering in the winter sunshine.

A positively corny glow of appreciation came over me as I contemplated a community - or at least a decent chunk of one - moving in the right direction (in circles) and conspicuously enjoying it. It ticked all the boxes; there really should have been a crew out filming a yoghurt commercial.

There was a sense of something happening; a combination of atmosphere and numbers - a vibe, if you like.

Wishful thinking aside, it occurred to me that the unremarkable phenomenon of a couple of hundred people was more than the sum of its parts. That something is afoot.

Momentum is a powerful force and like all social trends, including the bad ones, the move towards a healthier lifestyle thrives on it.

You don't have to be a sheep to be a social creature - the knowledge that other people are benefitting from something is an obvious and rational reason to try it yourself.

Being conspicuous about your walking may not be a personal priority, but it has a value that can be exploited.

This week I'm shifting the focus of my usual urgings from the personal to the collective. Happily, you can serve both ends at once, and you're probably doing it already.

As an individual walker with a civic sense, your mission is easily accomplished. Walk visibly, to the point of ostentation. Acknowledge your fellow citizens cheerily. Affect an air of acceptable self-satisfaction and, if in company, let the liveliness of your discourse convey enviable enjoyment. Make last Sunday at Emo a commonplace; just the way Ireland is and just the way the Irish are.

The potential rewards of a shift in culture towards better health and well-being are colossal, and the pursuit is anything but a zero-sum game. This is an everyone's-a-winner opportunity that no society can afford to ignore, and I think and hope that we're on the threshold of it.

There's a lot to play for; we have the potential to forge a healthier and happier society. Don't get me wrong - as far as I'm concerned we're doing pretty well as it is, but we can do better, and need to try.

In the obvious sense that any benefit accruing to the individual accrues also to the community, but also in the broader context of example and inspiration, every happy walker out there is doing a service to his or her community.

Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine. www.walkingworldireland.com

Walk of the Week: Inchidrisla Loop, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

Distance: 5k Ascent: 100m/80m Time: 1hr15mins-1hr30mins Grade: Easy Terrain: Forestry roads Trailhead: Colligan Woods, Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Irish Independent

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