Walk and talk for mental and physical health

Events, Pilgrimage

Talk for Health invited us to run a three-hour storytelling pilgrimage from Islington to Hampstead, over Hampstead Heath.

A wonderful group of people took risks telling true stories, and others that were entirely made up.

We even had a go at competitive storytelling, and finished at Hampstead Parish Church, lighting a candle in thanks before saying goodbye.

Photos: Minnie (thank you!)

If you are one of the people who popped along, please do fill in my short feedback form, here: https://forms.gle/Mv7PJQBRxC6WM4Av5


The Woolfs, in Sussex


A friend has suggested this route (or something like it, but with less walking on roads).

Starting around Charleston, the National Trust property where Vanessa Bell lived, crossing the Downs and the river where Virginia Woolf took her own life, then visiting the house where she wrote her wonderful books (also now owned by the National Trust).

Finishing with a walk to Lewes, where there’s a ruined priory.

I’m hugely keen. There’s art, mental health – and storytelling in the great outdoors.

Any additional thoughts, please leave a comment…

Chaucer’s Seat


I was in Southwark, delivering a heartfelt story of my own to staff at HarperCollins HQ.

Afterwards, I popped into the Cathedral, where lots of tourists were taking photographs of windows, statues and memorials to deceased clergy.

I popped into the area where the choir sits during services – and look whose name was on the seat!

None other than my hero, Geoffrey Chaucer, whose storytelling pilgrimage started here…

Walking and talking can be therapeutic

Journalism, Pilgrimage

The Times asked me to interview a therapist with a difference: one who takes his clients into the great outdoors, to share stories as they walk.

We did the interview on Hampstead Heath, where I plan to take people to play Chaucer’s Game, on storytelling pilgrimages.

A therapist’s work is different, obviously, because therapy tends to involve something very private, and potentially difficult.

But the similarities were delightful:

  • we had a destination in mind, but took the roundabout route
  • allowed the things we said to emerge spontaneously
  • noticed the effect of different environments (shady groves are nothing like open meadows with extensive views)
  • breathed fresh air, and
  • enjoyed each other’s company (mostly, as you’ll see if you read the piece in full)

You can view a PDF, and / or download it here:

Obviously, the best way to bring The Canterbury Tales back to life would be to travel from London to Canterbury. No argument about that.

But I’m excited about doing a walk from Aldgate, where Chaucer lived, to Westminster Abbey, where he’s buried.

It takes about an hour to walk, but I plan to be slower, and take a few detours. Specifically, I’d like to visit sites relating to some of the following (in approximately the order I’d stumble on them):

  • Benjamin Disraeli
  • Sir Thomas More
  • John Milton
  • Thomas a Becket (buried in Canterbury, but born on Cheapside)
  • Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke
  • William Hazlitt
  • Samuel Johnson
  • Charles Lamb

Naturally, being a journalist, I’d walk along Fleet Street – reaching the end of the City of London to enter Westminster.

In Westminster, the walk to the Abbey could easily take in the following:

  • Bram Stoker
  • Noel Coward
  • Samuel Pepys
  • Jane Austen (finally, another woman!)
  • Thomas Rowlandson
  • JM Barrie
  • Rudyard Kipling, and / or
  • Herman Melville

Then again, I could cross the river and walk through Southwark, where The Canterbury Tales starts.

Southwark was home to:

  • Charles Dickens
  • Percy Shelley
  • Mary Wollstonecraft (another!)

Naturally, I wouldn’t stop for ALL these literary superheroes on a single pilgrimage. Can you imagine!

But choosing one or two for each pilgrimage would allow me (and others with me) to think about very different kinds of storytelling as we spin tales…

I can’t wait.

Note: I love Dead White Men, and intend to be one myself one day. But there are perhaps a few too many in this list. Can you suggest anybody else I might include, to fix that…?