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CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL REVIEW: KATE HUMBLE
While a storm battered the Sunday Times Garden Theatre marquee, inside we were snug and warm as we listened to much-loved presenter Kate Humble talk about why she loves walking so much.
It was hardly walking weather, but one got the idea that neither gales, rain nor snow would stop Kate from venturing out into the hills and dales around her adopted Wye Valley home.
Her new book, Thinking on My Feet, is an uplifting celebration of getting about by Shank’s Pony, not to mention the many benefits it brings, from destressing and clearing the mind to being a great way of keeping fit.
As a child growing up in the country without mobile phones or social media, Kate said walking was something “you just did”. “When you grew up in the 70s there wasn’t a lot else you could do: you go for a walk, you climb a tree, or you go to A&E, as no one had invented health and safety either, thank god!”
It was something, she said, she didn’t think about, but, after 20 years working in London, walking through city streets to catch the tube or the bus, she found herself yearning for the countryside and the way she had grown up.
“The first few years were great fun; I lived in a squat and did all sorts of things my mum couldn’t possibly know about. But then age happens and it’s not so much fun to go out all night and live on crisps and you start to hanker after your roots.
“In my case it wasn’t so much the geographical roots but the muddiness, so I found myself going out somewhere close to London like the Chilterns or South Downs just to get that respite from city life.”
Eventually, Kate and husband, television producer Ludo Graham, decided to move out of the city altogether and bought a farm in the village of Trellech, where she indulges her passion for walking to her heart’s content.
Once there, she decided to start to keep a diary and include in it all the things she saw during her walks, particularly the changing of the seasons and everything that comes with that, such as the first cuckoo’s call of the year or when flowers start to bloom.
She likened walking to a kind of meditation, when you can switch off from the world and all its stresses and renew your soul. “If I have something that I’m trying to work out but can’t, I find a walk really helps clear my mind and come up with a solution.”
She spoke of walking 130-odd miles from the Hafren Forest near the source of the Wye, back to her home last summer during an unexpected break from work. She walked alone except for beloved Welsh sheepdog, Teg, and, apart from getting lost several times, loved the experience.
Conversely, she also recounted joining 300 others near her home in the Dordogne, as they went on an 12km night walk in the countryside, every so often stopping in a field to consume food and wine supplied by organisers.
“By the time everyone’s finished eating it’s dark, you’re drunk, and you remember you’ve forgotten your torch, so you have to stagger back along the French lanes to the village square where there’s a really bad ‘70’s disco, chocolate eclairs and everyone just goes into the bar and drinks brandy. But it’s a lovely community thing to do.”
The Mystery Reviewer
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