Of late I have been enjoying a daily discourse, on Radio 4, by the excellent Richard Holloway, whose written works I have commented on in the past.
Honest Doubt is a series of essays in which Holloway dispenses his usual dose of good common sense. He has been looking at our past, and in particular the tensions between faith and doubt these past 3,000 years or so. And of course he speaks wisely from experience having given in to both during his allotted time.
This morning I happened across another fine essay from the man himself. It is in the dead-tree version of the written press only at the moment it seems, so no link yet, and definitely no advertising. But in the next few days I may be able to direct you to the full text of Sole Searching, in which he talks about walking and the solitude of the hills. He begins by dismissing those church walking groups, ‘a blethery lot’, and goes on to discuss, amongst many things, the spirituality that Bruce Chatwin took from the art of walking. Chatwin, you may recall is one of my literary heroes, a scribe of few equals, and a man not without his doubts and struggles in the short time he was given.
Given that I’d like the essay to be read in full, I’ll give you just a couple of snippets:
‘My own walking led me to a painful re-evaluation of religion.’
‘What I came to understand in my walking of Scotland’s hills was that none of this [he was talking of religious disagreements, slavery, and changing minds], had anything to do with God; it had everything to do with us. Religion is as human as politics and it is every bit as fallible and volatile.’
‘……… and stop using it as an excuse for hammering people who differ from us in sexuality or gender or the way they choose to live the brief lives they have been given.’
It’s not a bad sermon for a Sunday; at a time when the pulpits are filling with angst about clergy and weddings, and the pews emptying. In a nutshell, life’s too short, try walking instead. As Holloway says, ‘it’ll make you think’.
Now it’s many a year since I last bagged a Munro, though there’s a few wee mounds nearer home that still get trampled on increasingly rare occasions. I remember well the struggle up the Big Buachaille mid-summer, and the numbers who made it to the top leaving solitude a distant wish. And I recall too the aching knees on the way down, even after discovering those extendable poles. I think it’s wear & tear, and age. So try cycling instead, much easier on the knees, more fun going down, and heaps of time for mulling over the meaning of life or thinking about nothing at all. You might just find more solitude on cycle tracks than the hilltops these days.
Holloway is speaking at the East Neuk Festival at the end of the month, in the company of that sorceress Kathleen Jamie. Now that’s a double bill I’d drive through to my ancestral Fife stomping ground for, if only we didn’t have a ferry to catch in Hull. Did I tell you we were going on holiday?