This article is a preview from the Guardian’s new Do Something supplement in this Saturday’s paper, full of ways to make the most of your weekend
If your only experience of crossing the city is a hectic commute, you’re missing out. Here, three seasoned walkers share their favourite ways to enjoy an urban stroll
Craig Taylor on the art of getting lost
Cities deserve to be experienced by a person in motion. You will pass through an extraordinary amount of time, and cross the world, as you move between buildings from the 12th century to the modern day, from old English markets to modern Chinese restaurants.
I’m a wanderer. We are so used to reading maps and having maps with us all the time, but wandering cultivates the mind. I love that feeling when I don’t know where I am: all your senses become heightened and you are aware of what is happening around you.
All walks begin somewhere that you know. From that familiar starting place, you will head down streets you recognise, until you find ones you only know a bit. Keep wandering, and if you’re lucky you’ll realise you’ve arrived somewhere new. Your understanding of the geography of the city grows as streets link up, and you can connect up different areas in your mind.
Walking through a city, you will experience more than you would in a landscape that’s more uniform. The streets and buildings may not change often, but there is a cast of people that do. You may not witness the same beautiful vistas that you would in the countryside, but you do get an endless procession of interesting faces.
As you walk, remember to look up. Near Baker Street in London, there is a block of 1930s flats with a whole load of train parts such as buffers and couplers embedded in the building. In New York, you might look up and find yourself at the bottom of a deep, manmade canyon, unlike anything you’ve seen before – if you come from a small town, like me.
People often ask me my favourite place in Britain. I don’t like the idea of a favourite static spot – I have favourite routes. In London, walk down Marchmont Street, past Judd Books, cut across and sneak through the British Museum. There’s something very satisfying about wandering past great artefacts on your way to somewhere else.
Londoners by Craig Taylor is published by Granta Books, £7.49, guardianbookshop.co.uk
Philippa Perry on walking and talking
As a psychotherapist, When I think of hikers, walkers or ramblers, I think of their Gortex jackets and well-worn, sturdy ankle brown leather lace-ups striding along footpaths and bridleways in the green and pleasant land. I’m a keen walker. Walking regularly is good for your brain – it significantly lowers your chances of developing vascular dementia, as well as boosting your immune system and making for a healthier heart. But don’t do it just because it’s good for you, do it because it’s fun. Listening to music or an audio book as you walk can be an incentive to lengthen your excursions. Get literary inspiration for walking from Psychogeography by Will Self or The New York Nobody Knows by William B Helmreich.
I’m interested in people, buildings, history, communities and although the beauty of lakes, mountains and valleys are not lost on me, I find more to engage with on an urban walk.
And your connection to a place is not the only relationship that travelling on foot can deepen. My favourite way of walking is to walk and talk: meeting people for a drink or a meal is all very well but there is a different quality to conversation as you fall into step together. When I know I have a certain amount of time without interruption, I allow myself to have more contact and connection not only with the surroundings or the other person or people, but with myself as well. There is more time for thought and more time to listen. Taking a long walk can give me space in a way not altogether dissimilar to the therapy hour.
When I’m walking, and hear or have an idea, the very act of walking helps me to embody it. Some of the landmarks on my walks are for ever associated in my mind with the ideas I had when being near them, and these then shape the way I see certain places. It’s not only the talks I have when walking in the city that are instrumental in forming my feelings and thoughts, but the very buildings and streets that leave their impression upon me.
How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry is published by The School of Life/Macmillan, £6.39, guardianbookshop.co.uk
Sukhdev Sandhu on pleasures after dark
As our cities become safer and more regimented, we lose something. I don’t want a city that’s all about safety – that’s boring – I want anxiety and sensory pleasures. The city at night is different. There’s nothing boring about it. You can’t see as much, but you can hear things: your footsteps, other people’s footsteps. Suddenly you are aware of shadows, and you are negotiating fear.
Historically, there is a sense that the night is a time of danger, that the only people out and about are rogues. But most of the people walking the streets at night are going somewhere. You have migrant workers on their way to a night shift, or people queuing round the block at the Apple shop. You might spot parents walking their kids around in buggies, trying to get them to sleep. I like the idea of these nocturnal identities that don’t seem to fit in anywhere.
Most of us don’t really “live” in our cities. We live in our home, and travel to work, and then we have compass points: that mate around the corner, that Thai restaurant near work, that pub. We talk about cities as vast places of revelry, but in reality we live in constricted zones. Walking the city at night can break you out of that. Follow that foreign melody to a lock-in and push on the door. Go down that back alley. Go where you want, and see where you get.
Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu is published by Verso, £6.39, guardianbookshop.co.uk
Over to you: what do you spot looking up on your city walk?
We would love you to follow Craig’s advice, and look up on your next city walk. Then photograph what you see. Maybe it’s a beautiful old shop sign, a row of birds or a crumbling roof.
And tell us all about your walk as well. Where did you go? What did you see? Is this a walk you do regularly, or a completely new urban adventure?
The best contributions will feature in the February issue of Do Something, the Guardian’s brand new monthly activities magazine. Please upload hi-res images so that we can publish them in print.
To take part, just click on the blue “contribute” button or download the free GuardianWitness app for your smartphone.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/35bbb925/sc/10/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Clifeandstyle0C20A140Cjan0C10A0Chow0Ewalk0Ein0Ecity0Edo0Esomething/story01.htm