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Friday 20 December 2013

WALK 4. Greek island

Laying aside exercise, the calming of an over-fevered brain and an unlimited supply of fresh air should “walks” (the plural noun) be essentially pointless? Where there’s a goal is it still a walk or simply a means of getting there?

I’m not expecting coherent answers. On the Greek island of Karpathos, in the Dodecanese, my walk from Diafani to Olympos and back (about 12 miles) was not only pointless but also punitive. Why? I ask myself. Why?

There were options but I stuck to the tarmac road. The route rises to a low col then descends, the weather was culinary, the surroundings were unexceptional (scrub and hills of the humpy sort). I walked quickly, as if to be shut of the work. Nearing Olympos I was faced with a depression devoted, it seemed, to allotments. Unable to see a non-trespassing way through I followed the road loop which added 1½ miles before I entered the village. As I walked the streets, my no-doubt purple, certainly sweat-glittering, face encouraged shopkeepers to suggest I slowed down, even stop. I ignored them.

Olympos occupies the steep backside of a cliff and housing is terraced. From the heights I saw a route through the depression. My descent, via tiny promenades and short staircases, was diverting but took less than 15 minutes. To tempt excitement I ran all the way. Soon I was back on the road, head down. Then beer at Gabriella’s in Diafani.

Why? I was glad it was over but I wasn’t exhausted. I’d previously travelled the route by car so there were no discoveries. The exercise was as nothing compared with my daily two-mile swims off the coast. The only non-pointless aspect is that it provided material for this grudging post. A walk, then.


  1. Thirst whetting. Your unconscious knows what you need. Do not puzzle over it.

  2. I think walks need to have raisons d'etre. The best thing about carrying a map of the area you are walking in is that you can make these up as you go along.

    What does that wall look like? Can we find this cairn? ... that sort of thing.

  3. MikeM: I suppose I was inviting everyone else to puzzle over it, a very infantile attitude to do. It's not the only time this has happened. Once, on a ski-ing holiday, when I didn't care to ski, I subjected myself to a much more savage, more punitive walk at high speed along the side of a local railway. I passed through suburbs and close to industrial estates, consciously speeding up at times. Eventually I reached the next station where, obscurely satisfied, I took the train back to the ski resport.

    B2: What you suggest is only one of a dozen more rational options. But I wasn't open to such reasoning, I had this need to push, to engage with this chemin de mortification. Had I hopped on an exercise bike in a gym (Actually I have one of those in my garden shed) it would, in contrast, have been a perfectly normal act. To do it in the open makes it slightly more sinister. But then every so often being mildly sinister (eating rice pudding cold, watching ten minutes of TOTP, feigning interest in a James Patterson novel) is good for one's self-perceived persona; I could use more sinister. I'm too genial, too much given to Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt. A displaced enthusiasm for the EU, perhaps?

  4. There are occasions when one needs to think over a problem (good or difficult) over a prolonged period, and walking like a robot whilst doing so seems to provide some kind of catalyst which aids the process - well that has happened to me anyway, and only very occasionally. In those circumstance the surroundings are irrelevant.

    Perhaps that was what you were doing in an unconscious way without being aware of the connection between the physical and the mental.

  5. Gentlemen: Sir Hugh is correct. I have two methods of solving sticky problems. One is sleep, it is amazing how ones brain can solve a puzzle better when you are not ruining the process by trying to think about it. The other is walking as Sir Hugh describes - maybe for the same reasons, the brain is engaged in the walk leaving the sub-conscious to do the problem solving.

    Whichever way, it would appear that our brains are much better off without us!

  6. The great joy of walks in Karpathos is being off the tarmac roads and finding the terrain changing so frequently, not to mention the constant and awe-inspiring views and being able to see so far into the distance. All gets in the way of introspection or pure exercise, because you have to stop and look so frequently. Could that be why you stuck to the tarmac?
    By the way, there is nothing wrong with cold rice pudding (in my opinion).

  7. Sir Hugh: I dare say. But unconscious thinking has one enormous advantage when offered as a concept: by definition neither its existence nor its non-existence can be espoused or disputed.

    B2: So, Sir Hugh has acquired a squire or possibly an equerry - more likely the latter since equerries seem to adorn themselves with yards of gold rope in loops about the shoulder (All the better to set off their matching hair). Your final - quite alarming - suggestion fits your situation to a T. The pair of you set off to do something utterly terrifying on your beloved Dartmoor, one with the brain switched on, the other switched off. A third person (I'm perfectly willing to volunteer) accompanies you and tests your performances with simple questions, scores you. If Brain Off wins is it something its owner would be inclined to boast about?

    Fed: No doubt, no doubt. But that isn't what I did. And the question remains: why did I do what I did? A temporary attack of insanity? Also, your ability to consume things cold isn't in question; it's the impression such consumption creates I'm talking about. If I find it sinister my opinion may be wrong but, given my apparent flirtation with insanity, it's best skirted.

  8. I have a few memories of hot boring walks in otherwise lovely Greek locations, the purpose of which I can't really recall existing. I suppose it might have been that just sitting about eating and drinking and getting blistered didn't seem to quite justify one's being there. I can't imagine it would cause me such qualms now.

  9. Walking adds yet another regular rhythm to the rhythms of your heart and breath. Very hypnotic, mind opening, and of course exercise alters the ratios of neurotransmitters.

  10. RR: I have never liked braiding - it reminds me too much of afternoons watching over-long amateur pantomimes as a child.

    We realised long ago that it is fine for one of us to switch her brain off and are very good at working out who that should be without discussing it.

    You are welcome to come along and test us but I fear that many of your questions may be beyond both Blonde brains. Although I would like to mention how pleased I was with myself at being able to translate the German in your post without aid. A shame I did have to look up the reference.

  11. Lucy: No great Hellenophile, then. Probably confirmed by your decision to put down roots in the Cornwall of France. Qualm - a good word, but under-used.

    MikeM: That's what Tone Deaf needs: more about the ratios of neurotransmitters. Thanks for upping the techno-tone.

    B2: I once sang the first dozen lines, solo, in a Swedish castle, in German, accompanied on a guitar in the key of C-major, to prove that I preferred being thought of as a Euro-turnip rather than a Brit. My creaking baritone hit the heights with the preceding lines:

    Seid umschlungen.

    Alas, that was 18 years ago and my EU fever has abated somewhat, since.