Little Scenes: Life Observed While Walking

One of the great things about walking, whether it’s in my neighbourhood (maybe especially in my neighbourhood), elsewhere in the city, or just out in the country on a trail, is that you continually see little scenes that register mentally but somewhat unconsciously as I wander along.

You can be in a kind of tuned out zone, just walking and not really aware of what’s happening around you, and then some little detail will catch your eye or your ear. These little scenes fascinate me. Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage, so I think of these as life’s little paragraph plays upon that stage, unconnected on one level and yet part of the world-weave that includes each of us.

I keep meaning to write down these scenes as the impressions register, but it’s a pain to type them into my phone as I walk and when I get home I’ve often forgotten them. Occasionally, something will jog that hidden memory, and over the past few months I’ve been collecting these little postcards until I had enough for a post. Et voila.


I overhear a woman as she gets out of her car and goes into her house, keys jangling as she gestures with one hand while talking into a phone held with the other: “I told you, that’s too much”. And I wonder, what is too much?

A squirrel runs down a tree to the edge of the road, and hesitates, hesitates, hesitates, and then dashes part-way across, sees me coming, stops, turns, turns about again, hesitates, and then sprints the rest of the way to climb a tree, spiralling so that it says hidden from me as I pass. Do bold squirrels live longer, or is it the cautious ones?

I’m walking by the lake, in winter, and there is a thin skim of ice just formed along the shore. As a light breeze disturbs it there is a faint crunch as the ice breaks up, and an almost imperceptible squeak.

I walk past a magnificent magnolia in bloom, just as a gust of wind cascades pink flowers across the sidewalk. Spring snow.

A woman pushing a stroller walks past, oblivious to me and to the child as she talks into her phone, and the child looks over at me and smiles, unnoticed by its mother.

A little guy riding his bike with his mom says “I’m sooooo tired” as he passes me, in just the tone that brings the image of our 3 year old instantly to mind.

On a little side street, 3 gardeners in a row are lined up like life-size gnomes with their colourful gloves and hats, each kneeling and digging amidst their early spring flowers and each oblivious of one another, and of me as I pass.

On side streets all round my neighbourhood there are little monuments, signs, and tokens. COVID-19 has people hunkering down, and at the same time looking up for once, to see the many people who work day in and day out to do the little things – stock grocery store shelves, clean hospitals, prepare and deliver food. I think, when this is over, will new-normal mean old-normal for the cleaners and the shelf-stockers – out of sight and out of mind?

I’m walking on one of the first nearly hot days of late spring and a young woman jogs past – early 20’s perhaps. I see the literal bloom of youth on her cheeks, long legs and easy grace, and think to myself, youth is beautiful. Can I appreciate that she’s gorgeous, purely on an aesthetic basis, now that I’m old enough to be more than her father? (Don’t say grandfather!) Like the girl from Ipanema, she doesn’t see me. And then the moment passes – steady on Nabokov, I think. Don’t get purvy.

Walking in Glendon Woods, my mind goes back to when I attended the school and walked these same paths. There are new leaves and shoots all around me, and the only sound is the West Don River mingling with the birds. It’s warm but not hot, earth-rich scented. There’s no one around. I could be alone in a forest 1000 km from here. Where did 40 years go?

Favourite Toronto Walks

After looking back, I realized that I’ve written a number of posts about favourite Toronto walks, and I wanted to collect them together in one place so that you could find them.

Favourite Toronto Walks -Martin Goodman Trail

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! As part of its COVID-19 strategy, the City of Toronto has closed the parks noted below. The Trail itself is open for walking, but the parks and their facilities are not.

And now on to the regular post …..

The Martin Goodman Trail winds along the shore of Lake Ontario, from the Humber River in the West, past Sunnyside Beach, Ontario Place, and Queen’s Quay, crosses the Don River and loops down around Cherry Beach, and then follows Lakeshore Road through Woodbine Park onto the Beaches Boardwalk to end at Balmy Beach. If you want summer, follow this path.

And if you’re not in summer, walk it anyway – the autumn colours, the spring flowers, and the natural ice sculptures of winter all offer sights to keep you interested.

And for people watching, this is Toronto hanging out in its backyard – the whole city makes an appearance at some point. It’s endlessly entertaining and changing to fit the seasons and your mood. Go walk it, and take the time to hang out and chill.

Length: roughly 18-19 km end to end, so 4-5 hours depending on stops. The Martin Goodman Trail is also part of the much longer Waterfront Trail, which within the City of Toronto itself runs from Mimico Creek in the west all the way to the Rouge River in the east. It’s around 50 km across the city, and I’ve walked that as part of my Crossing Toronto Big Walk.

Surface: paved the whole way, though you can walk on boardwalks too at Sunnyside and in the Beaches

Public Transit: to start (assuming you’re going west to east) take the subway Line 1 to either Queen Station or Osgoode Station. Catch the 501 Streetcar heading west to either the South Kingsway (east bank of the Humber River) or the Humber loop stop (west bank). From the streetcar, walk south to pick up the trail on the east side of the Humber Arch bridge At the finish, walk from Balmy Beach north up to Queen Street to catch the 501 Streetcar at Neville Park to head back west to Queen Station on subway Line 1.

Route: The Trail is strait-forward and well marked. It officially starts on the east side of the Humber River just past the Humber Arch Bridge, though there are also several km of waterfront trail on the west side of the river, between Mimico Creek and the Humber.

The Humber Arch Bridge

Strictly speaking, there are actually 2 parallel trails, one for bikes and one for walkers. On weekends especially, the bike trail can be busy with speeding spandex, so keep to the walking trail.

There are lots of park benches along the way, and in Sunnyside Park and in the Beaches, there are also lots of comfy Adirondack-style chairs. On a weekday morning, they’re heaven for resting tired feet.

The path follows the lake pretty closely with many little diversions through side gardens. There are a couple of street crossings to negotiate, near Bathurst Street, at Cherry Street, and near the Beaches. Otherwise you really can’t get lost – just head towards the CN Tower from the west end, and towards the Ashbridge’s Bay chimneys once you’re past the CN Tower.

Sights: There are lots of little joys along the trail. You might see a mother goose and her goslings trailing obediently. Or stop to take in the flowers and the visitors at one of the little butterfly gardens that dot the parks. Or there’s the site of planes taking off from Billy Bishop Airport on the islands (even more spectacular during the Toronto Airshow).

The view from the Humber Arch Bridge looking east

As you walk along the trail, there’s also many spots to take in the Toronto skyline. You may not realize it, but you are starting a bit south of the city when you are over by the Humber. As you walk towards Queens Quay, you’re walking north and east, and the many condo and office towers compete with the CN Tower and Rogers Center to dominate the view.

At Sunnyside Beach looking back west towards Mimico

Then as you move past all the shops along Queens Quay itself, and cross the Don River channel at the docklands to head to Cherry Beach, you enter a more relaxed area with sand and trees. It’s a great spot to stop for a picnic.

Cherry Beach
The trail heading east from Cherry Beach

Continuing on, the beach vibe takes over completely past Ashbridges Bay. The sand will tempt you in any weather, and in summer it’s our own version of Venice Beach. I once came across a movie shoot in progress, across the path from a step aerobics class, and alongside grandparents walking with grandkids slurping ice cream who were staring at muscle-shirted beach volleyball players.

The Beaches Boardwalk at Woodbine Beach
Balmy Beach on a not so balmy day …

Food & Refreshment: The Trail has several places for food and drinks, though most are open only during the Canadian summer – Victoria Day to Labour Day. Outside those months, the Trail has dozens of spots that are perfect for a picnic with may picnic tables, benches, chairs, shady spots under trees and sunny spots on sand.

The Sunnyside Pavilion Cafe is a lovely spot for coffee or something stronger.

There are many options around Queens Quay, especially on a summer weekend when there’s usually a festival or market of some kind.

And of course, when you get to the Beaches, a short walk north from the trail takes you to Queen Street with its many shops, restaurants, and bars, not to mention Beaches institutions like Ed’s Real Scoop Ice Cream.

There are a number of public toilets along the trail, at Sunnyside Park, at Queens Quay, Cherry Beach, Woodbine Beach, and Balmy Beach. These are only open between May – October, however. Outside those months, your best bets more or less on the trail are the shops at Queens Quay. Otherwise you’ll need to leave the trail and head towards the shops on one of the parallel shopping streets. Or just walk fast and drink lightly.

Diversions: Because the Trail runs though and nearby to many fun neighbourhoods, like Queens Quay, and especially the Beaches, there are many ways to change the route around.

  1. Shorten it and just walk from the Humber to Queen’s Quay, or from Queen’s Quay to the Beaches.
  2. West to east is fun for me because I like to end at the Beaches, but going east to west is also good. In that case, starting off with a great breakfast at a Beaches joint like the Sunset Grill sets you up to hike away.
  3. As mentioned, the walk changes character dramatically when you go off season. For a number of years, we liked to walk the Beaches Boardwalk on New Year’s Day, and often the wind off the lake is particularly icy. It’s still fun though, and when he was small our son liked to throw snowballs into the lake.

Favourite Toronto Walks – The Beltline

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic!

And now on to the regular post …..

The Beltline is one of Toronto’s best known and favourite walking trails. There are actually two, connected Beltlines – the York Beltline which runs from just north of Eglinton near Caledonia Road over to the Allen Expressway, and the Kay Gardiner Beltline which runs from the Allen to the Don Valley Brickworks.

Length: about 15 km for the full length, approximately 3 hours

Surface: about 50/50 gravel and paved. The York Beltline is paved and the Gardiner Beltline is mostly gravel with some paved sections in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Public Transit: To get to the start, take the Eglinton 32 bus west to Caledonia Road from either Eglinton or Eglinton West/Allen station on the Line 1 subway. From the finish, walk up Yonge from the north-west corner of Mount Pleasant Cemetery about 300 m to Davisville Station on the Line 1 subway.

Route: The start of the York Beltline is a few blocks north and west from the intersection of Caledonia Road and Eglinton, near the Canada Goose outwear factory. It follows a well-marked paved trail east roughly parallel to and just south of Castlefield Avenue. At Marlee Avenue, you have to leave the trail, walk north about 50 m to cross at the traffic lights, then follow Elmridge Drive over the Allen Expressway. Just after you cross the bridge over the expressway, turn right (south) onto a trail that runs parallel to the Allen, and just off that pick up the trail again, walking east on what is now the the Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail. Follow that east all the way to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, just past Yonge.

Just after you cross the bridge over Yonge, there is an entrance from the Trail into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. You can follow the marked Beltline path within the Cemetery, where the Beltline is marked by painted lines on the road. Alternatively, you can walk along the Beltline Trail outside the cemetery east to Mount Pleasant Road, where there is another entrance into the Cemetery that joins the marked path on the road.

Follow the Cemetery road markings east under Mount Pleasant and then south to exit the Cemetery on Moore Avenue, crossing that road to enter the Moore Ravine. Follow the trail downhill towards the Brickworks. You can divert or end here, if you’d like, or you can just make a quick pit stop and then keep going.

The Beltline Trail proper runs just to the west of the Brickworks and heads toward Bayview Avenue. There is an entrance to the Brickworks trail network at the northwest corner of the Brickworks property, and another entrance further south off the Trail, opposite the main buildings. Use either entrance to pit-stop here.

Leaving the Brickworks, walk past the parking lot on the southwest corner to pick up the trail as it bends around to the west parallel to Bayview Avenue. It then climbs up a little hill, then turns northwest and drops down into the Yellow Creek ravine.

Follow the trail north until you come to Mount Pleasant Road. Cross carefully! The traffic always seems to be doing 10-20 kph faster than the speed limit and there is no formal crosswalk. If you’re nervous, turn south when you come off the Trail at Mount Pleasant and walk about 100m to climb some stairs up to Crescent Road. This crosses Mount Pleasant on an overpass, and on the other side you can then descend back to Mount Pleasant and walk north to pick up the Trail again at the entrance to David Balfour Park.

Here the Trail keeps going north through the Yellow Creek ravine. The official trail climbs out of the ravine just south of St. Clair Avenue on Rosehill Avenue (on the northeast corner of the Rosehill Reservoir), but you can follow the rough unofficial trail under St. Clair along the west side of the creek. This takes you to a gated entrance back into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Follow the road up out of the ravine and wind your way back to the northwest corner of the Cemetery. Leaving the Cemetery here takes you back to the Beltline Trail and completes the loop. Congrats, you’ve walked it!

From here, take the stairs down onto Yonge Street, then turn right and walk north a few hundred meters to Davisville Station, or else south and walk about 1 km to St. Clair Station.

Sights: I love walking the Trail at any time of the year. My favourite time is probably in the early autumn, just after the trees have started to turn colour, on one of those blue-sky, crisp days we get in October.

Summer is great as well, with wildflowers, shaded lanes, grasses, and laughing children along the way. And then a clear winter’s day can be gorgeous as well. And of course, spring is great when you’re itching to get out and the birds are singing everywhere.

Each season brings its own sights and sounds and smells. They’re all fantastic, and that’s probably what makes the Beltline the busiest Trail in the city. Mid-week is lighter traffic than weekends, but if you like people-watching than any holiday weekend with decent weather will bring out the crowds.



Food & Refreshment: On the Trail itself, there are several water fountains along the way: near Walter Saunders Park; at the entrance to Mount Pleasant Cemetery; and in Mount Pleasant just before you cross Moore Avenue. These are available from May to end of October.

Just off the Trail, there are several food options. There are pizza, fast food, and coffee options on Eglinton near Caledonia Road, at the start of the York Beltline. There are similar places near Davisville Station at the other end. There are also several coffee places on Castlefield, parallel to the York Beltline. Finally, there is the Saturday farmer’s market at the Brickworks, and the everyday option of Cafe Belong, also at the Brickworks.

Diversions: There are several ways to vary the walk, including:

  1. Walk it in reverse, from east to west
  2. Shorten it, by starting and ending at the northwest corner of Mount Pleasant cemetery and just walking the loop through the Cemetery, the Moore Ravine, and the Yellow Creek/David Balfour Park portions.
  3. Shorten it even more and just walk from the Cemetery to the Brickworks.
  4. Just outside the Brickworks, on the west side of the Trail, there is a linking trail up out of the ravine to Chorley Park in Rosedale. Climb that to get a fantastic view east over the ravine – spectacular in the autumn.
  5. Instead of following the Yellow Creek Trail to David Balfour Park, take Milkman’s Lane up out of the ravine into Rosedale, and then wander through there over to Yonge. Depending on your route, you’ll probably end up near either Rosedale or Summerhill Station.
  6. Incorporate portions of the Trail into other walks, such as what I call the Midtown Cemetery Walk.

The Trail is a great way to explore Mid-Town, get some exercise, and explore Toronto history. Enjoy!

When Will I Stop Walking in a Pandemic?

I guess the title of this post has two meanings. When will I stop walking? Will it be because I get sick? Will it be because my wife or son or someone I’ve been in contact with gets sick, so that I have to go into self-isolation? Will it be because the province or city completely locks everything down?

And then the other meaning is broader – when will this epidemic end? When will restrictions lift, and some normalcy return? When do I have to stop criss-crossing the street, doing the the covid dance to keep my 2m separation from anyone else?

So which comes first – me being shut down or the epidemic ending? It’s what everyone is thinking. It looks like we’re talking months for all restrictions to be lifted, and probably at least a few more weeks here in Toronto before even a slight loosening. Recent briefings from the Ontario government talked about being prepared for 2nd and 3rd waves that stretch out 18 or even 24 months from the start this past March, and for a gradual, step-by-cautious-step return to what we hope is the old normal over that time. We’re in this for a longish haul it seems.

So when you look at it like that, a certain fatalistic, carpe diem attitude is likely. Remember that Bobby McFerrin song? – Don’t Worry, Be Happy

And can I just take a moment to remind you about some dos and don’ts about walking while we’re in the middle of this:

  • Do – keep 2m apart while making space for others by stepping into a driveway or off the curb onto the roadway if you need to
  • Do – try to walk on the left side of the street so that if you have to step into the road you can see the traffic coming towards you
  • Do – give extra space for someone who might be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19
  • Do – smile at your neighbours and fellow walkers 😉 – we’re all in this together

  • Don’t – walk about in 2s, 3s, and 4s crowding others off the street
  • Don’t – forget to look up from your smart phone
  • Don’t – ignore the birds, flowers, sunshine, and SPRING! now that you can actually hear, smell, and appreciate them
  • Don’t – be that person who’s so self-absorbed that they actually think this epidemic is all about them and how they’re the only ones inconvenienced by it all

Just Keep Calm and Carry On

And oh by the way, let’s hope we keep that idea once this finally settles, because waiting in the wings there’s climate change to be tackled, not to mention paying back the $billions borrowed to fight COVID-19. We’ve got a challenging decade in front of us. If the 1920’s were known as the Roaring ’20’s, then this coming decade may come to be known as the Pooring 20’s, or better yet the Soaring 20’s as we not only get back on our feet, we use our new-found resolve to face even bigger challenges. Humans are smart, resilient, toolmakers – 5 million years of evolution have seen to that.

In the meantime, embrace the little things – like a box of Rice Krispies when that’s what you crave.

Favourite Toronto Walks – Tommy Thompson Trail

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to Practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! That means that, unfortunately, Tommy Thompson Park is closed right now, until restrictions are lifted. Read on to dream about walks when we’re all released from our cages.

And on to the regular post …..

For the past 150 years, Toronto has been growing and building at a furious rate – the skyline has evolved with every decade, as new towers join and dwarf older ones. In recent years, there have been more than 100 high rise buildings under construction at any one time.

All of that development, including the roads that connect it, has resulted in massive amounts of demolition and of excavation, which has created hundreds of thousands of tons of construction debris. It all has to go somewhere, and for 50+ years that somewhere was Lake Ontario.

And thus, from debris was a park born. Today, through a lot of effort from a lot of people and groups, especially the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, the Leslie Street Spit has become Tommy Thompson Park, and the Trail within the park has become one of the most popular in the city. While many bike out to the tip of the park, I like to walk it in a loop. It’s a great way to escape the city – it can be so quiet that, on a winter’s day, you can hear the ice groaning along the water’s edge. And yet, only a couple of km away, that ever-changing Toronto skyline is in full view – the park is one of the best places for taking selfies of the city. And it’s also one of the best places to view wildlife in Toronto, home to many species of birds and waterfowl, as well as squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, beaver, and more. It’s a favourite year-round, and a must for any visitor to Toronto.

Length: about 12 km if you do the full loop around the tip

Surface: gravel and pavement, about 50% each though you can use the paved road the whole way if you’d like

Public Transit: take the #83 Jones bus south to Commissioners Road, either from Donlands station on Subway Line 2 or from the 501 Queen East streetcar.

Route: Starting from the parking lot at #1 Leslie Street, follow the trail signs into the park. The walking trail proceeds south and west from the car park just to the south (left-hand) side of roadway. If the trail is too muddy, you can just walk the road. Follow the trail/road about 1 km into the park, until you come to a gate on the south side (left-hand) side. Turn left and follow the trail/road along the south side of the ponds. Where the road turns right (north), on the lake side of the road, there is a gravel/dirt path. Follow that along the shore to the tip of the point, by the lighthouse. Loop around the lighthouse and follow the trail back to the roadway. Follow the roadway straight east all the way back to the the car park, where you started.

Sights: For me, there are several key sights along the way. First and foremost, there’s that stunning view of the Toronto skyline.

Then of course there is the wildlife, especially waterfowl. In spring and autumn, there are many migratory species coming through – I’ve seen clouds of raptors like hawks, eagles, and vultures, as well as swans, geese, ducks, gulls, and many other species.

I’ve also seen a lot of evidence of coyotes, though I’ve never actually seen one in the park. Similarly, there are often trees downed by beavers, though again the actual animals keep hidden during the day. Both of these species are nocturnal, so one of these days I’m planning to visit late in the evening, just at sundown, to catch some of the night critters.

In summer, there are also many species of butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects, plus snakes, turtles, toads, frogs, and fish in the ponds. You can spend hours just exploring the ponds and observing in the smaller creatures.

As well as the city and the wildlife, there’s also the lake itself. In any season, sitting by the water and listening to the lap of the waves is deeply relaxing. I’m sure it’s also pretty dramatic during a storm, though also pretty exposed.

And finally, there’s an interesting free-form artistic side to the park. Over the years, many people have built sculptures out of the construction debris – wires, bricks, concrete and rebar are combined with driftwood to create some fantastic pieces.

Food & Refreshment: This is a bring your own picnic spot, because there no restaurants or refreshments in the park. At the intersection of Leslie and Lakeshore, just outside the park, there are several coffee shops as well as a grocery store, so you can pick up snacks there. Bring lots of water, especially in the summer, because there are no fountains anywhere. There are also few washrooms – just a couple of portapotties along the way.

Diversions: I’ve drawn the full loop trail on the map, but you can also make a shorter walk by cutting across the park about a third of the way along.

You can also just go straight along the north road to the tip, and back the same way – it’s a bit more sheltered/shaded if the weather is blustery or sunny, and it’s a bit shorter that way as well.

One other alternative is to start at Cherry Beach

and follow the Waterfront Trail to the entrance to Tommy Thompson Park – that adds about 1.5 km, and is a nice walk in its own right.

Finally, the TRCA hosts various events in the park, so check out the park website to see what’s happening.

Happy thoughts: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the times we live in

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been walking in our neighbourhood, I’ve been taking pictures of the many signs and sidewalk chalk art that I’ve come across.

They’re a mixture of happy thoughts and admonitions. There have been some that are too big to capture – I saw a chalk art design today that took the whole width of the roadway on Manor Road just west of Mount Pleasant.

Humans are nothing if not adaptable, and one of the ways we’re adapting to COVID-19 is to create art. It’s a reminder that we’ll get through this.

In the words of her Majesty the Queen – “We’ll meet again“.

Walks Past – Gaff Point Trail, Nova Scotia

Hey Toronto, remember to Practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic!

And now on to the regular post …..

Every few years, our family packs up the car and heads east to Nova Scotia. We’ve come to love the South Shore, basing ourselves around Mahone Bay or Lunenburg for a few weeks in late summer to soak up sun, swim, gorge on seafood, and soak into the village feel. It feels like a second home for us, and we can’t wait to get there as often as we can.

On our first family trip there, in 2008, we were chatting with some locals who told us about a great beach called Hirtles. It’s a badly-kept secret at this point, but we can always get away from the crowds by walking the nearby Gaff Point Trail.

We’ve done this walk many times now, and it’s become a ritual on every visit. To get to the Trail, you have to drive to Hirtles, about 20km outside of Lunenburg. From the parking lot, you follow the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach, and then turn right to walk south along the beach for about 2 km to get to Gaff Point itself.

When you get to Gaff Point itself, there’s a well marked trail that loops around the point and returns you to the beach. It’s only about 3 km long, but it winds through little meadows, moss-treed forest, and rocky shore, packing a little taste of Nova Scotia geography into its short length.

One of our favourite parts of the walk is actually after we’re done the trail at itself. By then we’re always a bit hot and tired, so it’s wonderfully soothing to wandering back towards the car park, trailing tired feet in the water, and then rewarding ourselves with a swim at the end. That’s easier if the tide is out, because there are some rocky stretches of the beach that are tough. I’ve walked it in sandals a few times and now usually wear hiking boots, which I carry for the last km as I splash in the water.

We have so many memories of the walk. One year when our son was about 6, we noticed that someone had made little inukshuks from the rocks along the shore,

Another year, someone had put a solitary lawn chair up on a small cliff overlooking the water, to sit and contemplate the vastness of nature.

We often take a picnic lunch with us, to enjoy sitting on the rocks in the sun. One year it included a thermos of homemade seafood chowder that I’d made the night before,

and enjoyed it sitting on the rocks listening to the jug and gurgle of the water.

Later this year, we’re planning to return to Nova Scotia in September, this time to drop off our now 18-year old son at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Afterwards we’ll spend a few weeks in old favourite haunts on the South Shore, and I am sure we’ll make time for Gaff Point, to say hello to an old friend as we enter our new chapter as empty-nesters. The sea is always there.

Walking Books

It seemed like a good time to republish this list of books about walks and walking. Enjoy some armchair trekking while practicing Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic!

And on to the regular post …..

Stay healthy!

There have been many books written about walking – the techniques of walking, the destinations, the journey, the effort, the spirituality, and so on, and there will likely be many more to come. This is a by no means exhaustive list of those books in English which I have read and which have inspired me. I’ll update this list from time to time as I come across new ones. Let me know which books about walking have inspired you.

Author/TitleDescription
Author: Bill Bryson
Title: A Walk in the Woods
ISBN: 0385-408161
Comic, instructive, insightful, and far better than the film made of the book. Read it and draw inspiration from a middle-aged guy who found the determination to walk a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail.
Author: Nick Hunt
Title: Walking the Woods and the Water
ISBN: 978-1-85788-643-6
The subtitle is “In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn”. Wonderfully well-written, charming and inspirational.
Author: Nick Hunt
Title: Where the Wild Winds Are
ISBN:978-1-85788-656-6
A follow-up to his previous book, walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor. In this new book, he walks about Europe tracing the paths of famous winds – the Foehn, the Mistral, and more.
Authors: Lonely Planet
Title: Epic Hikes of the World
ISBN: 978-1-78701-417-6
A candy store of a book, with more than a hundred walks worthy of your bucket list. Dip into it on a rainy winter’s evening and make your plans.
Author: Barry Stone
Title: The 50 Greatest Walks of the World
ISBN: 978-178578-063-9
A subjective listing, of course, and somewhat overly interested in walks in Europe, but nevertheless it covers not just the biggies – the Camino de Santiago, the Appalachian Trail, etc. – but also many lesser known, shorter walks that are bucket-listable and achievable by the average walker.
Author: Levison Wood
Title: Walking the Nile
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2633-7
An account of a walk the length of the Nile river. The journey is fascinating, the people he meets are more so, and the landscape is bucket-list stuff.
Author: Rory Stewart
Title: The Places In Between
ISBN: 978-0-14-305330-9
A lyrical book, inspiring and engaging, about the author’s walk across Afghanistan in early 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban.
Author: Will Ferguson
Title: Beyond Belfast
ISBN: 978-0-14-317062-4
Funny and informative, the author walks 800+ km along the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland.
Author: David Downie
Title: Paris to the Pyrenees
ISBN: 978-1-60598-556-5
Part travelogue, part history, part internal meditation, the author and his wife set out to retrace the medeval pilgrimage route through France along the way of St. James, to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.
Author: John A. Cherrington
Title: Walking to Camelot
ISBN: 978-1-927958-62-9
Two Canadians walk the McMillan Way, from Boston to Chesil Beach through the heart of rural England, drinking in history and savouring the journey.
Author: J.R.R. Tolkein
Title: The Hobbit
One of my favourite books, re-read many times, and far better than the overwrought movie version. The story is about much more than a walk, and yet Bilbo Baggins’ sub-title, There and Back Again perfectly describes my walks.

Still Walking in an Epidemic

When I wrote about taking walks during the COVID-19 epidemic a couple of weeks ago, I knew that social changes were coming, but even so I didn’t that things would change as quickly as they have.

Just 3 weeks ago, COVID-19 was serious but still something that impacted someone else, somewhere else. Now it’s here, in Toronto, and very much hitting home. The city and the province have declared states of emergency. Neighbours and acquaintances are in self-isolation. At least one relative has tested positive for COVID-19. Our parents are tucked up at home and sitting tight. Stores and shops are closed or only offering delivery. Our son is home and is probably done school for the year (thankfully he received early acceptance from Dalhousie University so we don’t have to worry about marks).

It seems that plans are being adjusted and changed day to day. And that’s just the precautionary impact. So far, we don’t actually know anyone who’s been seriously ill, but it feels as if it’s only a matter of time.

So there’s a carpe diem feeling in the air to some extent, which is reinforced by spring fever when the sun comes out and then tamped down and mixed a feeling of uncertainty and doubt, especially when it is gloomy and rainy. You want to keep living and enjoy life, because it appears to be just a matter of time before a full-on city-wide lockdown is declared, or worse, you contract it yourself. At the same time, you know more is coming and that we’re still on the bad side of the curve.

Walking is a distraction in times like these, and of course we’re all feeling cooped up and in need of exercise. For the first time in weeks, I’ve actually gotten out 6 days out of 7 this week. I try to keep my distance from others, so I weave from one side of the street to the other as people approach, or walk in the roadway. There are lots of people still out walking dogs, especially as the off-leash dog parks are now closed, so there are still more than a few people out on the streets, and anyone with young kids at home is trying to keep them active. All of it means that in some ways it’s actually harder to find peace and quiet on a walk, even though vehicle traffic is lighter.

One thing I’ve noticed is that, in addition to the usual flotsam left behind by the receding snow tide, there is a new line of jetsam – latex and plastic gloves. 1000 years from now, will archeologists puzzle over this clue?

It’s quieter though – you can hear the birds, the chuckle of squirrels and the rustle of the breeze in the trees. The air is cleaner too, I have to admit that. Turns out that taking cars off the road makes it easier to breath – who knew! It’s ironic that with petrol cheaper than it’s been in almost 20 years and with light traffic about, now is the time for a road trip, but no one wants to be far from home and meeting strangers.

Will that shrink our horizons? Just a few weeks ago, people thought little of jumping on a plane or in the car and buzzing off to New York or Montreal for a weekend. Now we hunker down within a 1-2 km radius – New York is the other side of the moon right now, and in full lockdown even if we could get there.

So I keep walking, even if it’s just in our flat. I can do 5-10 minutes at a time, pacing back and forth across the living room and doing stair climbs as well, and can get it up to 4,000 or 5,000 steps in a day that way. Mostly I try to go out and walk the neighbourhood, careful to touch nothing on the way in or out (I’m getting good at using my elbow to turn the door handle and my foot to push it open). Our son has put a big sign on the powder room door as you enter the flat, to remind us all to WASH HANDS.

Sign of the times.