My 2015 is off to a flying start, thanks in part to a hiatus in my working life. When I finally raced through Clare Balding’s first book in a day last autumn (something I’ve not done since reading One Day by David Nicholls several years previously), I added her follow up Walking Home to my Amazon wishlist. Walking Home subsequently made it down our non-existent chimney on 24 December, and I picked it up and started reading almost immediately.
The concept of Walking Home didn’t grab me as much as My Animals, but I’m a big fan of Balding, and she cleverly finished her first book at a point in her life when the reader would want to know more. This time, the stories are framed around walks she’s taken – largely in pursuit of recording her Radio 4 programme Ramblings – and the people she’s met along the way. Some of the stories are more tenuously linked to walking, such as her recollection of covering the Olympic and Paralympic Games during London 2012, but they’re all engaging, just like the previous book. There are tales of people who walk barefoot, people who walk to counter grief and people who just like to walk. There are anecdotes which involve walking with her family (and a few animals sneak in, of course), and mini-history lessons about buildings she has passed en route or areas she has covered.
Thanks to writing stories about walks and adventures, Balding is able to keep the subject matter largely impersonal – the book covers a period of time during which she fought cancer, for example, but there is no lengthy outpouring regarding the ordeal. She also – very elegantly, I think – doesn’t mention her complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (which was upheld) following an article written by a Times journalist regarding one of her shows (when show was mentioned in passing in the book).
Probably my favourite part was the piece about the Olympics and the torch relay: Balding was one of the torchbearers prior to London 2012, and describes the experience in detail. I had always assumed that she had participated due to who she is, that she was one of “those” people who’s important enough in the sporting world to be listed by the Games organisers and given a relevant place, but my assumption was incorrect (I won’t spoil it for you, as it’s an interesting story!). She also recounts her now-infamous encounter with Bert Le Clos, father of South African swimmer Chad, who she and Mark Foster astutely got on the air straight after Le Clos Junior beat Michael Phelps to a gold medal. Watching those sorts of things at home on TV is one thing, reading about what actually went on in real time is another.
The book was a pleasure to read, and did inspire me to get off my backside and get out more – partly to see a bit more of the world around me and farther afield, and because I agree with Balding that walking is good therapy, and can offer thinking time as well as health benefits. If only it would stop being January outside…