There are no mall walkers in England

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

I never saw walkers in Britain wearing name brand shoes looking straight ahead and managing five mph in air-conditioned shopping malls.

The Brits are far hardier and ply strictly out of doors. Heavy leather shoes, knee high socks, shorts, shirt and a walking stick is the only equipment, besides a canteen. The hats they wear vary with the weather and fashion changes. Walking behind them on a rugged trail you cannot tell whether tis man or woman, and I have been fooled many times even in town.

In England, walking is their Nutri-system, special diet, physical workout, and hobby. They don’t exercise on a ball, or a beanbag, or a thousand dollars of fancy complicated machinery. They don’t watch videos or TV where men and women have let food intake get out of hand and need to group stretch and bend for hours.

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I’ve never seen a Brit in a leotard, though I’ve seen some English ladies that could do one justice.

I don’t think there’s a sports-bra anywhere on the island, nor needed by anyone … English walkers are solid.

&uot;Over there&uot; even the kids walk, and certainly young adults are caught up in it, or forced by their parents to &uot;give it a try.&uot; You often see an entire family in walking garb, with even the little ones using a walking stick, quite often out in front by 50 meters and nagging mom or dad to catch up.

But to see them in action, you have to join them … it was easy when I was there in 1944. As young soldiers, we were in top condition and ready to accept any physical challenges. More important, that’s where you’d find the most suitably-aged young girls on the weekend. We were in rural Devon, England.

There is flat-rural, moors-rural, and English-coast rural. Anyone can do 10 miles on flat-rural. Eight would be excellent on moors-rural. Those near-barren English moors are unlike any other kind of territory, and you can depend upon a stiff wind that seems to be in your face coming and going. There’s nothing up there but rough, rising ground, huge piles of barn size rocks, and wild horses. You might come across a weather beaten shrub or a gnarled old tree, a patch of heather, or old men digging peat for their fire place.

And the weather can change in an instant, usually not in your favor. But then you might be able to snuggle with the young ladies.

During our 1997 trip to Totnes, our third, we set out on a balmy Sunday afternoon with Peggy; it was her home where we stayed, and she drove us down to the South Coast of Devon. It’s one of the great picturesque places in the world, you know, a lighthouse just off shore, surrounded with huge rocks that had fallen from the high cliffs above. There were sheep on the grassy meadows that sloped down hundreds of feet to the choppy ocean. You could not help but wonder how many chasing rams did not see the &uot;ewe turn&uot; and fell over the edge to their death.

Peggy said there was a &uot;lovely&uot; walking trail where we could see endless ocean from the high cliffs. It looked innocent enough from where we started, a green meadow rising slowly uphill. Of course we were not dressed for walking and surely did not have proper shoes. But we said, &uot;what the heck.&uot;

Within an hour, that path turned sharply and we could look straight down a hundred feet to swirling waves crashing on jagged rocks far below. Too late to turn back we nervously muddled on, fearful of meeting our maker as the trail narrowed and twisted. Suddenly we understood the need for walking sticks, strong shoes and legs, and nerves of steel. We will never forget what we considered to be our near brush with death. Peggy thought it fun.