Funny things shoes. Imagine any other animal wearing them and a pretty unusual image appears in your head, yet we humans wear them every day. After attending a series of summer weddings wearing blister-inducing heels, I decided it was high time to abandon these instruments of torture and try something a little different.
Having read about the benefits of barefoot walking, from strengthening feet and joint mobility, to helping your back, improving balance and promoting foot health, I decided to try it out for myself. As well as the health benefits I was interested in the sensations I would experience on my walk and to investigate the claims that it would connect me more directly with my own physicality.
The advice from barefoot walking sites was intense and immense – with tips on how to walk including the decision of whether or not to adopt the ‘fox walk’ and the benefits of the forefoot stride. The only advice I really felt I needed at this early stage was to go naked from the knees down to avoid the need for trouser washing and to take a light pair of shoes that were easy to slip on and off and to carry.
Now, whilst there was nothing to stop me from just taking off my shoes and tromping about my garden, or the local park, or down on the beach, I prefer something a little more structured when trying something new so, having read about a dedicated barefoot walk at my local National Trust property I decided I’d start there to see what all the fuss was about.
I started my walk on the soft grass of the Orchard at Godolphin House and immediately discovered that, as a barefoot walker, grass was my friend. It was slightly damp once I removed my footwear, but not unpleasantly so, and I wandered around until I got used to it, almost enjoying the odd looks from other visitors (I’m sure they wanted to join me really!). Then I got braver and sampled the scrubby areas under the trees, noticing the light crunch of autumn leaves beneath my feet.
As a creative writer I am interested in any way of creating a space where sensations are altered, and I realised that I was starting to connect with my other senses in a different way too. I noticed my shadow on the ground and the breath of the wind through the trees. I became very aware of my feet and found I started to walk differently, sweeping my foot slightly to check for hazards before placing it down, ball first, on the ground. As human beings, we are often keen to find ways to reconnect with our bodies and with nature, whether it’s through yoga or tai chi or wild swimming; barefoot walking is a much simpler pastime and much easier to start alone and without instruction.
Armed with my new walking method I tackled the specially constructed barefoot walk, complete with different textures (or hazards) to try, from a pool of muddy water (no looking back after that!) to cobbles and pinecones (not as bad as you’d expect) to sawdust (simply, heaven).
I wouldn’t say I’m a complete convert, and the thought of joining the barefoot walk led by the local ranger up rocky Godolphin Hill is still a scary thought, but I might just take off my shoes and flex my toes more often – indoors and outdoors. I suspect my colleagues and my boyfriend may give me some funny looks too at first – but maybe, just maybe, I’ll persuade them to join in.