WALKING has taken on a special importance since the first lockdown.

Chris Grogan, who lives in Hirst Wood near Saltaire, spends much of her life walking. She acts a local walk leader with Baildon Walkers Are Welcome and writes books on the subject with husband Tony.

“So many people have discovered that walking is something you can do from home, it’s good exercise and a way to get out in the fresh air,” she says. “Walking is good for our physical and mental health and it’s something we can do with a friend while keeping to lockdown rules.”

Chris has noticed a marked increase in the number of people walking near her home and in the make-up of walking groups. “I live near the Leeds Liverpool canal at Hirst Wood and I’ve been amazed by the numbers of people enjoying walking on the towpath, from early morning dog walkers to parents with toddlers and family groups.

“It’s great to see teenagers and young people out and about with their families, especially when home schooling and working from home means so many of us spend our time in separate rooms, on our devices.”

People are staying local and discovering places they did not know existed. “I know I am,” says Chris. “I’ve lived around here for more than 40 years and discovered local walks over the last year that I’d never been on before.”

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey for 2020 saw a strong upward trend in walking, with 20.3million of us walking for leisure, up 1.2m on the previous 12 months, and 15.3million of us walking to shops or for other practical reasons up 371,000 on the previous year.

When allowed, Baildon Walkers Are Welcome - part of a country-wide community-led network of accredited towns whose purpose is to develop and promote walking - organise small group walks under the rule of six.

“These have been especially popular with people who live alone, who have told us that they have enjoyed the company and the chance to chat as much as the walk itself. We’ll be starting these in April and details will be posted at baildonwalkersarewelcome.org.uk.”

Chris believes that people will carry on walking more when things get back to normal.

“People have discovered the benefits of stepping out for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Walking is not just exercise, it’s a social activity and a great way to connect with nature and the environment.”

Chris and Tony’s business Skyware Press publishes guides to long distance and challenging walks in the Yorkshire Dales. “The last year has been very quiet as we have supported the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the people who live there when they have asked us to stay at home.

“Now the pubs and cafes and bed and breakfasts have dates to re-open we are seeing a surge in demand for guide books as people begin to plan their walks further afield.”

Others have combined walking with other hobbies such as photography or birdwatching. From the first day of the first lockdown Chris Gill, a member of Airedale & Bradford branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), began a ‘lockdown bird list’. To date she has recorded 82 species in the three-mile radius around her home.

Now Chris Gill, who belongs to Airedale & Bradford branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is encouraging people to find pleasure during lockdown by recording different birds they spot.

Chris Gill decided in March to note down every bird she saw and to date has recorded 82 species including the sand martin, little grebe, peregrine falcon and reed bunting.

“From the very first day of lockdown I was determined to hang on to as much of my own personal normality as possible. So in pursuit of this goal I decided to walk every day for at least two hours and to list every bird I saw.

“From this emerged my ‘lockdown bird list’. The rules were simple. I had to walk from home in Shipley and I had to see, or hear, the bird myself.”

The hobby has taken on a new importance during lockdown. “Without any of my numerous usual activities available, I needed a reason to get up in the morning,” she says. “Going out with my binoculars for a couple of hours was the perfect answer - who knew what I might see or hear?” she says. “I discovered a wealth of footpaths on my doorstep so I was discovering new places to go as well as finding birds I didn’t expect to see.

“The bird list exceeded my most optimistic predictions. The biggest shock was sand martins - I am used to seeing them at Bolton Abbey but did not expect to see them nesting in the stone walls on the side of the canal in Shipley, 50 yards from the main road.”

*baildonwalkersarewelcome.org.uk *skyware.co.uk