Morvern Lines – with Iain Thornber

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The ten Commandments of Walking

With summer round the corner, it won’t be long before walkers start appearing on the roads. By walkers, I mean those who shoulder their rucksacks and head off on long-distance routes refusing to thumb a lift or have their luggage carried ahead of them.

To those who are about to set out here are some old-time recommendations.

The first Commandment is – Thou shalt walk, if thou would keepest well.

Walking is the healthiest exercise in the world. It clarifies the mind, and exhilarates the spirit. Thought and feeling are largely determined by the physical condition of he who thinks and feels.

The second Commandment is – Thou shalt set out properly equipped.

Travel light. Let your shoes be stout old friends. Carry everything on your back in a rucksack, and in the hand nothing but a stout stick to swing rhythmically to your whistling or your songs, or to strike at a pebble or a dog, if you are attracted to the one or attacked by the other.

The third Commandment is – Thou shalt have no programme.

Let each day determine itself. There is no irritation like that of being compelled to walk to an exact timetable. Set out every morning from your inn with any determination you please but turn aside anywhere, and at any moment, to see some great sight; sit down when you will, retrace your steps even if you wish to see the great sight again and you will have some hope of happiness. But hurry not for the mere sake of getting there.

Do not be deceived, no man can see the world properly who is either in a hurry or in pain.

The fourth Commandment is – With all thy walking thou shalt get knowledge.

Knowledge comes through the eyes, the ears and all senses. But many a man looks without seeing, hears without listening, feels without being able to interpret. The writer of Ecclesiasticus says: ‘The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure, and he that hath little business shall become wise.’

The fifth Commandment is – Thou shalt choose thy companions of the road with the utmost discretion.

Refuse to walk with everybody or anybody. Choose your companion of the road wisely. Travel alone rather than ill-mated. The longest road can be a perfect idyll to a solitary rambler. But every milestone reminds you of the next when your fellow-traveller is a bore.

The sixth Commandment is – Thou shalt not despise the passer-by.

The road is the most democratic institution in the world. It belongs to everybody. The greatest honour in humanity is to be a common wayfaring man. Despise no-one. Pass the time of day with all. Ask no names and seek no introductions. You will find them full of surprises, as doubtless so will they find you.

One half of the world does not know how the other half lives. That is the tragedy. But that is the glory of the road – that it belongs to all, it introduces us to all sorts and conditions of men, and levels all ranks by the sheer necessity of circumstances.

The seventh Commandment is – Thou shalt not destroy anything that is thy neighbour’s.

Wild flowers by the hedgerows; song birds in the woods; fish in the most tempting of pools, heather on the hillsides – these are all God’s gifts to the wayfaring man. Enjoy them all, but destroy none. Every time you do some damage on the road you dishonour your comrades. Leave no litter. Cover up your tracks. But, above all, destroy not anything that is your neighbour’s.

The eighth Commandment is – Thou shalt often keep silence if thou wouldest hear what the voice of nature has to say.

Until you can pass through the world quietly, you will never learn anything. You will lose all the blessings of the road if you have not the gift of silence.

The ninth Commandment is – Thou shalt blaze thy trail with good deeds.

Someone is sure to ask if you have passed this way. If so, may the question bring a word of good commendation from every cottage door. Let every tramper behave so on the road for, ‘I shall pass through this world but once; any good, therefore, I can do or any kindness that I can show, to any human being, let me do it now, let me not defer it, or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’

The tenth Commandment is – Secure good lodgings for the night and thy sleep shall be sweet.

The end of the road comes at last. With weariness, but without fatigue, the wandering man arrives at the wayside inn, hungry with health and ready to rest. Then the stillness of the summer night, the enjoyment of the evening meal, clean sheets and a sound, dreamless sleep. These are the joys of the road which gold can never buy, but which are open to every wayfaring man who keeps the commandments.

Iain Thornber

iain.thornber@btinternet.com

 

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