Ways of Seeing: To deepen your experience, slow down

You’re probably familiar with Slow Food, the international movement whose aim is to promote local and culturally specific foods. Even if you’re not familiar with Slow Food as an organization, you may be part of the movement; if you’ve had the traditional fried dough and maple cotton candy at Field Days, I think you’re probably in.
I support the mission of Slow Food. I’m also a fan of a related idea: Slow Travel.
My husband, Bill, and I traveled to England this summer. Did we see the museums and royal residences of London? No. Drive around the Cotswolds? No. A day trip to Edinburgh? Not that either. We took the Slow Travel option. We got to know a very small part of the country very well. We walked for 16 days across northern England, 192 miles from coast to coast.
Our route was planned along a well-traveled footpath from B&B to B&B, with our main luggage carried from place to place by a service appropriately called Packhorse. This was hardly roughing it!
Can you imagine 16 days never moving faster than a walk? How might your way of seeing the world change with a Slow Travel experience?
First, a Slow Traveler is immersed in a full sensory experience of his or her surroundings. Itreally matters what kind of a day it is, and what kind of terrain we will  be walking through. I don’t mind the steep climb, anticipating a lie-down in a sunny meadow and views of hidden mountain tarns or the next ridge of peaks. When it’s windy,Iam full-body blown until I am nearly walking sideways. When it’s raining, I intimately know wetness. And I walk grateful for good rain gear and good somewhat-waterproof boots.
The hum of cars ahead on a road or the cheerful sound of a running stream tell me where I am. I smell the sheep in the pasture we’re walking through, and I feel the ground beneath my feet: gravel one day,  then laid stones, then muddy edges of farm fields, then carefully-placed steps through the standing water of a bog. I see a thousand shades of green, a hundred variations on stone, and every little cottage garden’s beckoning fairy world. These are memories of England you only get with Slow Travel.
Second, a Slow Traveler is open to chance encounters. People love to tell their stories when you have time to listen. The woman cleaning up after breakfast in the B&B told us about harness racing with Prince Philip. The older gentleman standing in the yard of a neglected farm in a light rain began the conversation by saying, “I got my wife off this farm.” At a remote stone farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales, we heard the entire history of the farm, the farmer, and the whole valley from the wife about to deliver her seventh child, all while being served tea and fresh-baked scones. At another farmhouse over tea and scones we heard about the freak snowstorms of this spring and how the family saved their sheep. These are pictures and stories I won’t forget.
Some of the best chance encounters are with fellow walkers. The Coast to Coasters become a community, a fellowship. We are comrades, sharing maps, helping with way finding, and sharing our stories in the evening at the pub. Like other new acquaintances, we hope we will see one another again. Maybe we will and maybe we won’t, but our Slow Traveling companions have made great memories with us.
I think the key idea in Slow Travel is “open.” By “open” I  mean giving up making the agenda, giving up planning all your experiences, giving up expectations, and holding yourself open to embrace whatever happens along the way. For us, our time at slow places like Danby Wiske, Ennerdale Water, Clay Bank Top, Ravenseat Farm and Kidsty Pike were, like Slow Food, an authentic local and culturally specific experience. We’ll go back for more.
Abi Sessions lives and gardens in Cornwall with her husband, Bill. Thanks to Ann Corrigan and the Purcells for this way of framing our Coast to Coast walk experience.

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