‘Fresh air is medicine’: British ramblers on the joy of their daily walk

Photographs: Jonathan Browning. Interviews: Joe Stone
·5-min read

Majda, 40, with Henry, 37, and Minka, 5, Ditchling Beacon

We live down the hill in Hove, so we often walk here, or make the most of being by the sea. Henry works long hours in digital marketing, and I was made redundant in the first lockdown. Before that, we both worked in offices. Now I’m freelance and we’re both working from home, which means a bit of juggling; one of us will be looking after our daughter and the other will be catching up on work. We try to break up the day, and venturing out into nature is a way to do something together as a family. Rather than thinking: “What shall we do next, colouring or drawing?” it’s a chance for my daughter to be extra noisy and run about. We all feel calmer and happier afterwards – stepping away from it all helps to balance us out. We’ve just bought a new tent, so we’re looking forward to going camping as soon as it’s safe.

David, Clayton Hill

I’m not a crowd person; I can’t abide going somewhere where people are queueing to do something. A lot of places people go to tick them off their bucket list wouldn’t impress me at all – I’d rather be in the mountains where you can commune with nature. One of the pleasures of walking is to be able to get away from it all. Recently, of course, everyone is out walking. My lady friend and I have walked all over the world: Peru, New Zealand, Tasmania, the Himalayas – and we’ve done most of the long-distance paths in the UK. For the past six months we’ve only been walking from the house; we haven’t put petrol in the car since the start of December. But we’re hoping to go to the Lake District or walk the Seven Sisters coastal path, as soon as Boris allows it.

Laura, 40, with Justin, 43, Hattie, 8, and Jackson, 9, near Ansty

We’re a “put our wellies on and go for a stomp” type of family, but we’ve especially needed it during lockdown. The Downs are on our doorstep, so when the weather’s good we’re out pretty much every day. Sometimes the kids are up and raring to start home schooling at 7am, which can be slightly horrendous. But it does mean we’re finished by lunchtime, so can pack a picnic and go. At first the kids would moan, but they’ve come to see it as a treat and are itching to get out. We’ve two new additions to our family: twins born earlier this month. As soon as it’s warmer, we’ll be throwing them on our backs and taking them with us.

James, 33, Cissbury Ring

Related: A joyless trudge? No, thanks: why I am utterly sick of ‘going for a walk’

I’ve worked from home for the past three years, and walked our dog for at least an hour every day, so lockdown hasn’t changed my routine that much. The main difference is the amount of people; I’d got used to being by myself around Cissbury Ring, but now I notice a lot more people out walking, which is good. My wife and I moved back to the UK in 2015, after living in China and Australia. By the end of our time away, we longed to spend time in the Great British countryside – and we feel very lucky to live in rural Sussex, which is beautiful. I usually go for a walk at around 11am; it’s my opportunity to reflect on whatever is going on at work, and get a clear overview of what I need to be doing. The pandemic has made me value the outdoors even more – it’s a great way to relax and calm your mind.

Abel, 37, Ditchling Beacon

I work in IT for the NHS, so I’m mostly working from home at the moment. I live alone in a one-bedroom flat without any garden, so the first lockdown was very limiting, only being allowed out for an hour a day. Gradually I’ve found myself exploring my area more and discovering new places. I hadn’t realised there was a nature reserve about five minutes away, and now I go pretty much every day. You sometimes take what’s right in front of you for granted. Having a walk is a great way to clear your head, and provides a bit of escapism. Lockdown has made me realise that I enjoy walking more than I thought I did. I’d definitely like to keep it up.

Tara, 50, with daughter Livvy (centre) and friend Hannah, both 18, Wolstonbury Hill

I love the outdoors, and I like to walk four or five times a week when I’m not swimming or going to the gym. Wolstonbury Hill is quite steep, so you can’t really speak on the way up, but once you’re at the top you have the whole view of Brighton. Fresh air is medicine; when I walk early in the morning, I always find I get more done afterwards. It’s invigorating. I’m a flight service manager, so it’s a big lifestyle change to be at home all the time. It’s more than just a job: if you work in the aviation industry, you do it because you love that lifestyle. Whenever I’m away, a group of us will always go for a walk. I can’t wait to get back out there. When the pandemic is over, I’ll look forward to visiting Palm Springs and Joshua Tree – but Brighton will do for now.

• See more photographs from this series at jonbrowning.co.uk