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'Walking has helped me meet new people'

As part of a series of blogs for World Car Free Day, Living Streets' Jessie Davidson tells us about the benefits of leading a (predominantly) car free life in a rural town.

Car Free Day in a rural town like mine can sometimes feel like an unknown concept (indeed, local councillors approached on the topic confessed to never having heard of it!). However, as someone who has lived in different market towns across Yorkshire, I am keen to share the benefits of leading a (predominantly) car free life from the countryside.




The reason I love living in a small town is because of the community feel that comes from it. I walk around my local area every day, be that to go to the shops or market, or to wind down after a long day of work. Walking has helped me to meet new people and feel connected to neighbours. My favourite time of day to walk is in the early morning, when you can always guarantee a friendly “hello” from everyone you walk past – even from some of the teens on their way to the local secondary school.My town has seen recent housing developments, and fortunately these have been well planned so that walking and cycling to schools and the town is easier than driving. This means that, even from my own living room, I get to see regular faces walking around to get to places, helping build that community spirit. Living in a small town means that the ‘20-minute neighbourhood’ concept that so many cities are seeking to implement are already in place: local services, shops, transport links (rail and bus), and sports facilities are all within walking or cycling distance of my home. Not only that, but the routes to these destinations are pleasant – I can get away from traffic and see lots of greenery. When you’re in a town for a while you see the same people using these shortcuts – cut throughs and footpaths get more footfall than we think!

When I do need to journey further, I tend to use my bike, or get the bus or train. On these occasions, I recognise walking’s greatest advantage: its reliability. Public transport in rural areas can, sometimes, be like going on a blind date: you never know if you’re going to get stood up last minute. Train cancellations and bus delays are my main reason to drive, getting the keys out as a last resort when the hourly public transport connections fail. Having said this, I do really enjoy the bus and train, and the improvements to these services show in how comfortable and modern they are now. When I make these trips, I’m often visiting family and friends, travelling for work or participating in sporting events, so having the time to relax and unwind is appreciated. When I drive somewhere I tend to arrive a little bit on edge, but when I get public transport (or even better, walk or cycle) I feel ready to socialise, work or compete. 

I often get met with the argument that to live a good life in the countryside you need a car to get around. I won’t deny that cars are helpful, especially when you have to get somewhere at a specific time, or if you’re carrying bulky loads (I’m yet to brave taking a surf board on the bus…). However, the connectedness, calmness and healing that comes from leading a less car-dependent life are brought out no matter what community you live in.