In our hectic world, walking is often regarded as a means to an end – a planned leisure activity, or a means of doing physical exercise. However walking without purpose or purposeless walking has much more value. It becomes a way to clear one’s head, allow inspiration, take in the scenery and even notice other people.
Whilst moving more slowly, wandering with the feet through walking helps to free the mind. Walking can become a sensory experience, not only enjoying the countryside views, but even hearing the sounds of nature, enjoying the smell of wild plants and more. The social lifestyle of meeting people in a relaxed atmosphere whilst enjoying a walk can also result in a positive boost in mood.
Although Malta is amongst the most densely populated countries in the world, still, there are areas which remain undeveloped and pristine. Some Maltese villages are surrounded by open areas, whether agricultural fields or just ample space for walking. The Maltese countryside has much to offer, whether through the natural landscape of azure waters, towering cliffs, karstic plateaux, beaches, or the agricultural scenery of winding country pathways lined with rubble walls, old rural structures, maybe encountering farmers tilling the land, and more.
Up till the mid-1800s, the only means of transport in the rural Maltese Islands were the horse, cart or the simplest mode of commuting, walking. This is a far cry from today’s car dependence trends, when people are not inclined for active mobility options but use their private car as the default mode of transport, even for short journeys. Statistics show that currently, there are almost 400,000 vehicles in Malta, three-quarters of which are passenger cars. Apart from the health concerns related to lack of exercise, the total car dependency brings about several social challenges. Random encounters with strangers or acquaintances are eliminated with the use of the car and the interactions between people are reduced to co-workers and family.
Even children are becoming used to be driven around and have become strongly dependent on the car. The increases in car ownership and the hectic lifestyles of modern life have brought about a shortage of time, with an associated increase in the use of the private car. Considering that children are the transport users of the future, an over-reliance on the car during childhood, can result in car dependence during adulthood. Social issues even arise due to car dependency by children. Today, our children have less sense of belonging to their home town than their parents or previous generations, they do not know the people in the village and their nicknames, they have lost the traditional village dialect, etc.
Having an easy access to the countryside can prove beneficial in enjoying nature whilst increasing the amount of physical activity. In these unprecedented times, when people are told to stay indoors and avoid unnecessary travel, there is a possibility that even to buy essential services from the village, people may start opting again to go on foot rather than use the private car for short-distance travel. Taking a short walk alone helps to reduce stress and anxiety whilst being able to connect with nature and the surroundings. Since parents are spending more time with their children, one may encounter an increase in families enjoying a walk in countryside areas. If this is the case, the question remains whether the practice of enjoying walks will be a short-term one until the health crisis is over or whether it may be able to get engrained into normal lifestyle practice in the long-term. For sure, walking has many benefits, not just a way to enjoy the surrounding environment but a means to help people socialise with each other!