Walking in the Media: A Newfound Appreciation – Mati Marek

A man taking a picture of a plant

I started my research placement with the Walking Publics/Walking Arts project in early June. I was tasked with looking at how the UK media talked about walking during the pandemic. Ever since the start of the pandemic, walking became a staple of my everyday life. I try to go for a walk at least once a day to enjoy its numerous rewards. As my research progressed, I have found many of the emergent themes I identified in the media personally relatable. I was one of many people for whom the pandemic helped find a new appreciation for walking.

Walking as a student

At first, I would find myself walking more without realising I was doing so. I would make up random excuses to go out for a walk like buying a jar of coffee that I certainly didn’t need. But having a goal, something to aim for, gave the walk purpose and helped me justify spending time outside rather than studying.

Being in my final year of studies, I felt very stressed at times. Walking also became an activity I relied on for my mental wellbeing, it helped me ruminate and recharge my energy when taking breaks from studying. I found myself increasingly appreciating the local area around me, taking pictures of nature and wildlife. Walking helped me discover things around me that I had not previously paid attention to.

A mushroom in a forest with a small slug climbing up the base

Common themes in the media

In my media analysis I examined 55 articles and found over 30 different themes. Much of what I found has been consistent with my personal experience of walking. The two most common themes I found in the content analysis were mention of green spaces and an increase in walking during the pandemic. Both of these themes appeared in over half of the articles. For example, a BBC News article reported that, “during lockdown, searches for urban green spaces on the OS [Ordnance Survey] database increased by 949%”[1]. Many more articles encouraged walkers to enjoy nature, such as a Telegraph article titled “The UK’s 20 best countryside walks for quiet, scenic strolls”[2].Over a third of the articles talked about the mental health benefits of walking, which was the main reason I had started to consciously take walks during the pandemic (as opposed to pretending to myself that I was on an errand). Many of the articles acknowledged the calming effects of walking, enabling people to take a break from working at home and even connect with others during their walks. A Daily Mail article talked about the benefits of walking as connecting people living in care homes with their families. Since no visitors were allowed throughout the lockdowns, the only way for families to connect was to meet outside. The article gave a personal account of one elderly resident who described a walk with her grandson as “the happiest day I’ve had in the last year and a half”[3].

Decorated stones on a forest footpath

Surprising contrast

Given that I often take pictures to capture interesting things that I encountered, I found it particularly interesting how infrequently the media talked about photography. Looking back, taking pictures was a nice way to document the changing of seasons. Seeing fallen leaves, the snow and eventually blossoming cherry trees gives the world a sense of motion. To me, it serves as a reminder that the world didn’t stop during COVID-19. I have even started an Instagram account (I know, late to the party) where I exclusively post pictures of plants and nature which I have found during my walks https://www.instagram.com/mmarek2202/. As a project team we have encountered many pictures taken by people who used photography to capture their walks and share their walking experiences on social media. This makes its lack of acknowledgement by the UK media all the more surprising.

A fallen tree covered in snow

Currently, I’m looking forward to starting my Masters in Sociology and Research Methods at the University of Glasgow. And despite COVID-19 restrictions easing up, I am planning to continue my newfound appreciation for walking. There are still so many places left to explore and so much nature to see. I might even go for a walk to think about how best to present my findings to the team.

A purple flower with raindrops

[1] Sillito, D., 2020. Slow map: Mapping Britain’s intercity footpaths. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54562137.

[2] Ough, T. and Smith, P., 2020. The UK’s 20 best countryside walks for quiet, scenic strolls. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/life/uks-20-best-countryside-walks-social-distancing/.

[3] Gant, J., 2021. Freedom! Care home residents take to the streets. [online] Mail Online. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9540425/Covid-UK-Care-home-residents-loved-ones-outside-walk-park-beach-today.html.