If proof were needed that I am no longer young and hip, it is my newfound passion for a ramble.
As an angsty teen, and later as a perennially hungover student, I deeply resented family walks, which were compulsory at this time of year. To me the fuzzy, neither here nor there period between Christmas and new year was best spent sleeping till noon, then transferring to the sofa to watch an old movie - preferably 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' - and work my way through a chocolate selection box.
Instead, I was dragged on several bracing strolls - blown to bits along the seafront at Brighton where my grandparents lived, or ambling along a picturesque section of the Thames, with friends of my parents and their equally reluctant offspring.
I was mystified that anyone should choose to venture out in the cold, wind and rain and simply walk for the sake of walking, and was wholly unconvinced by talk of blowing away cobwebs or stretching legs.
What an ungrateful brat! These days, a walk is not a chore, but a treat. Wellies in the car, coffee in the flask, cagoules, ONS maps, walking socks - sign me up. On holidays, I can't wait to drop my bags and go for a quick stomp to get to know the local area.
On weekends, I've even started organising the odd ramble for my friends, researching the best routes and pubs.
It's at Christmas time, though, when this hobby really comes into its own. When you're feeling frazzled and lethargic from all the festivities, a walk - the cool fresh air, the rhythmic, primal stomping of the legs, the gentle raising of the heart rate - is the perfect antidote.
For the rest of the year, so much of the walking we do is a rush from A to B, phone clamped in hand, eyes cast down and thoughts in a thousand places. So a gentle saunter, with nowhere in particular to go, feels fabulous. It's also the perfect hangover exercise (the gym is too soulless, running too vigorous, swimming too… horizontal).
A Christmas walk is sociable, but also a chance to stroll off any rising tension and escape an awkward in-law for an hour or so (just keep pace with those you find most jolly). You can show off your new winter wear, while gently working up the appetite to squeeze in another mince pie.
Why go to the sales or a show when you could stroll along frosty fields and icy lakes, spotting deer and robins and coloured lights twinkling in the trees? Whether in town or country, at this time of year the country takes on a sleepy benevolence - with strangers smiling more than usual and old friends stopping to chat - and it's worth soaking up. Walking this week, I'll be minded to burst into a round of 'Ding Dong, Merrily On High' as we set off, with an enthusiasm my teenage self would find truly toe-curling.
Parenthood has undoubtedly enhanced my experience of the festive walk. As soon as our two-year-old is freed from the car seat she's off at a formidable sprint, throwing off her coat and hat despite my protestations, jumping in puddles and stroking every dog.
I have no doubt that in around 10 years' time she'll begin grumbling and complaining about the uncoolness of it all. But I shall do as my parents did, and make the Christmas ramble a three-line-whip activity - and I urge all others to do the same. (© Daily Telegraph London)