I’VE been on five lovely walks around Yorkshire in the past few days. No need to tip off the Home Secretary, as boots were not involved.
It’s early doors to pick your favourite TV programme of the year but I’d be surprised if Winter Walks on BBC4 isn’t up there.
There are many reasons to cherish this uplifting little series. Some are even slightly masochistic reasons, as you’re watching people go on the walks you’re not allowed to do right now.
The timing is coincidental as Winter Walks was mostly filmed a year ago, but mischance has given the programmes emotional resonance.
Normally we meet friends, perhaps 12 of us in all, for a walk of seven or eight miles. These outings fall at random intervals but we manage a few a year. Now we meet on Zoom. Our last proper walk was a year ago.
There are five Winter Walks, each led by a different celebrity. If that’s what they are. All are well known to a degree but none are showy, although one did once to a twirl on Strictly.
The muddy-booted quintet are poet laureate Simon Armitage, broadcaster Reverend Richard Coles, poet and writer Lemn Sissay, more or less retired broadcaster Selina Scott, and the politician Baroness Warsi.
Each walks alone, carrying a camera that captures a near 360-degree view, while being trailed by a drone that follows like a nosey eagle.
Other than that, each presenter gives a running commentary. Occasionally they stop to chat to locals or fellow walkers. A few more miles pass. Heart-stopping views of Yorkshire fill the screen, as do more local details, a babbling, water-falling brook, a stone-flagged pub, a sandy beach, a barn full of peacocks, a field packed with vintage tractors, and a man with no neighbours playing the bagpipes.
Simon Armitage follows a trail we’ve also walked along, heading from Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay. He puffs up the steps from Boggle Hole, just as we did, and marvels at the distant view of Robin Hood’s Bay with its rooftops arranged in charming confusion, higgledy-piggledy style, just as we did. As you might expect, he finds poetry in the landscape, and recites a few lines too, as they all do.
The roaming reverend walks from high on Sutton Bank to Rievaulx Abbey. Along the way he touches on ecclesiastical history, grief at losing his partner, and the almost spiritual importance of walking.
Lemn Sissay is a lovely walking companion, as he navigates the borders of Yorkshire and Cumbria on his way to Dent railway station. He too is struck by the poetry of the landscape, although mostly he is reminded of his own smallness in comparison to nature.
Selina Scott leads a gentle walk around Wharfedale in the Dales, heading from Thorpe to Appletreewick while imparting her country knowledge and chatting imperiously to the locals almost like visiting royalty.
The Yorkshire peer Baroness Warsi heads to Coneston in the Dales, and what cheery company she proves to be. You could count on the bruised toes of one foot the number of Tories you’d love to walk with, but Warsi should be among their number.
The 360-degree camera captures beautiful views but also lends a strange fisheye-lens curve to the countryside. How this technology works isn’t entirely clear. Each walker holds a stick about the size of a golf club with a camera on the top. This stick-camera isn’t visible but does cast a shadow. Perhaps it’s been edited out.
Of all the things being missed at the moment, walking with friends is high on the list. Tramping along and putting the world to rights. Politely arguing over whether or not it’s lunchtime yet (that’ll be a yes from me). Getting Yorkshire mud on your boots. And, just occasionally, going for a pint along the way.
Zoom has been our saviour but doesn’t compare to having the wind, rain and sometimes the sunshine in your face.
Winter Walks rolls up stretches of Yorkshire and unfurls them for you as you sit bootless on the sofa. It’s on iPlayer for another 11 months.