I don’t normally indulge in fasting for Lent. Giving up coffee or chocolate in the midst of a busy semester doesn’t seem like a great idea, and anyway I am not religious. But this year I have decided to give something up: I’m giving up taking the bus to work.*
I live a 37 minute walk from my work. It’s mostly on main roads, with the last bit in Princes Street Gardens, but it’s pleasant in many ways, and only takes a little longer than the bus. I’ve got out of the habit of walking in recent months: I had a series of colds in the late autumn, then it got so dark that it wasn’t at all appealing, then it was stormy, and then I experienced a slight footwear crisis, happily now resolved! But it is time to revisit my daily commute. As I do so, I am reminding myself of the benefits:
1. The seasons. Walking allows me to observe one of my favourite British phenomena – our seasons. Spring is best, of course, when the trees bend low under the weight of their blossoms, and new shoots burst forth from the ground. I divert my route in daffodil season, so as to take in the stunning fields of yellow beneath the castle. Autumn is glorious too, and a for a few weeks my commute includes circumambulating the horse chestnut tree on Queensferry Road in search of conkers. I can’t help it.
2. The scenery. Partly covered in the previous, but also the sky, which does some amazing things at this time of year in particular, when the sun is low. In the evenings the ever-changing moon keeps me smiling. Meanwhile the castle looms over part of my journey, and my exit from work involves gazing down towards – and across – the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh is such a stunning place to live.
3. People-watching. I rather love being part of the pedestrian commute, as we gradually swarm together over the bridge and up to the west end. And there’s a guy on my route who commutes by UNICYCLE !! I can’t help but grin each time I see him!
4. Listening. I’ve had the occasional flirtation with a podcast, but I prefer listen to music. I like big romantic piano concertos first thing in the morning. Let’s face it, podcasts may be educational, but music is good for the soul. If it exists. And even if it doesn’t, as the Buddhists suggest, it is still good for the collections of process that we label as a person. It also provides a helpful background for:
5. Thinking. Okay, this is supposed to be an academic blog, so here’s the actual academic bit. Sometimes at this time of year my days can consist of wall to wall meetings and classes, perhaps separated by a few minutes to trawl through the emails that have flooded in meanwhile. My walk to and from work is my one pause, a time for thinking through the day ahead, or processing what has taken place. Walking helps me puzzle out little dilemmas, or make connections that seemed elusive when I was at my desk. Whether it’s thinking through a lecture or reflecting on an article I’ve written or read, I can sometimes do my best creative work when I’m on my feet out in the fresh air.
And I didn’t even get to the physical health benefits. It is enough to remember that my daily walk makes me happier and more productive. So no more lazy bus rides for me. At least not until Easter.
* My exception is that I will allow the use of the bus during named storms. Happily the new policy of naming British storms will help me differentiate between simple bad weather (which should not prevent walking to work) and hostile anthropomorphised forces of the universe (which justify bus use)!