Oneworld Publications: 7/12/16
advanced reading copy; 240 pages
Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden is a highly recommended walking tour of Great Britain, with philosophical pondering shared along the way.
Hayden and Wendy, his wife, decided to do a three month "End-to-End" walking tour from the northeastern tip of Scotland to the southwestern tip of England. They started in John o'Groats and made their way to Land's End (JoGLE), a 1,200-mile trek, enduring blisters, sore backs and feet, and weather along the way. The eight chapters list the towns they went through during that part of their travels.
Rather than an account detailing exactly what they did from a detailed journal kept along the journey, Hayden, who was 49 when they undertook the journey, shares what he remembers as he recalls their travels. He had no plans to write a book about their experiences, and is glad he didn't keep a journal because it would have ruined the experience, reducing it to something that needed to be recorded and sold rather than lived.
There are stories and thoughts shared about the areas they traversed and some of the sights they encountered along the way. You can appreciate Walking with Plato without any geographical knowledge, but it might help American readers to have a clear knowledge of the names and places, including walking trails in Great Britain, or at least a map handy to follow Hayden and Wendy's path.
Along the recounted journey, Hayden contemplates some thoughts from other thinkers. Bertrand Russell said "The secret of happiness is to understand that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible." Hayden thought that it makes sense because, if you go through life thinking the world owes you anything, you will be disappointed. However, if you accept that the world cares nothing for you or your plans and that bad things happen to everyone, you can stoically wait/hope for something better to happen.
He also ponders the writing of Epicurus, and concluded that the more you have, the less you appreciate it. The key is to subtract from your desires to appreciate the simple, wholesome things in life. If you are walking 1200 miles and usually cooking outside and sleeping in a tent, the simple pleasure of a coffee and a biscuit along the way takes on a new satisfaction.
Hayden felt that the walk was benefiting his mental health along the way. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who believed that "the striving for meaning is the most powerful and motivating force in human life, and that a sense of purpose is essential to mental wellbeing." Frankl's thoughts summed up Hayden's feelings about the goal to walk JoGLE, "Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on what one has already achieved and what one still has to accomplish."
Walking with Plato is a worthwhile travel memoir, and every reader can appreciate Hayden's thoughts along the route. It might be more appreciated a bit more by those who know the geography compared to those of us not living in Great Britain who had to stop and look at a map. (No judging please, I could follow walking travels across the USA quite easily.)