Clare Balding’s new book is dedicated to the joys of a good walk, but however far her adventures take her, the path always ends at home in Chiswick
It’s a busy time for Clare Balding. Between presenting September’s Invictus Games with Prince Harry, as well as the St Leger Festival in Doncaster, and her own BBC Radio 2 show, Chiswick Gardens’ most famous dogwalker is also currently promoting her new book, Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles. And when she’s not doing all that, she’s up on a hillside somewhere walking.
She’s also set to be one of the star turns at this month’s Wimbledon BookFest, along with the likes of Ian McEwan, Alan Johnson and John Inverdale who, ironically, she replaced as Wimbledon presenter after Inverdale’s unfortunate ‘not a looker’ comment about the 2013’s Ladies Champion.
As for Clare herself, if you haven’t seen her in her usual Chiswick haunts recently, one of the most notable things about her at present is how slim she’s got since her first book came out two years ago: ‘Yes I lost a couple of stone at Christmas and have kept it off,’ she says, agreeing that part of it was all the walking she has been doing, plus the ‘very occasional’ trip to the gym, and the other was a bet with her mother.
Her family are the stars of the book once again, and it takes the format of a walk with various family members along the Wayfarers Walk, a 70 mile footpath from Inkpen Beacon near Hungerford, Berkshire to Emsworth in Hampshire. So why has Clare taken to walking? She says it can be tremendous therapy – both physical and mental: ‘If you start walking, and I am talking about a proper walk here, when you get past the first hour with a companion, you start peeling back the layers. It’s a great way to get to know someone well – something about the process of walking beside each other means you have a conversation in a totally different way, because you’re not constantly making eye contact, you share the experience and people tell you things when they’re walking that they wouldn’t tell you normally.’
The genesis of her new book came about 15 years ago: ‘I was rung up out of the blue by a BBC producer who asked, do I walk? Well I walk the dogs, I said, not really realising that other people did long walks, serious walks!’ The producer asked her to present a series called Rambles and that has now been going since 1999. In Walking Home, she writes a travelogue about the walk and its history, such as the awful murder that led to a hanging at Coombe Gibbet and involved the unlikely murder weapon of a nestful of hornets. Between this Clare writes about her family and pets, her career and the London Olympics where she really came to fore in wonderful interviews such as the one with Bert ‘my beautiful boy’ Le Clos. She also talks about some other favourite walks in Britain and Ireland. ‘My ultimate result,’ she says, ‘would be for people who read it to say ‘let’s go walking this weekend! Let’s explore somewhere new’.’
For herself, Clare is still exceptionally happy living in Chiswick with her wife Alice Arnold, a Radio 4 presenter. The couple are regulars on the dog walking circuit around Chiswick with their dog Archie. But what keeps her in W4? ‘It’s like living in London but not exactly in London,’ she says, and lists a series of favourite local haunts that include Charlotte’s Bistro, La Trompette, Marmalade Jewellery for gifts, and Chiswick Pets on Devonshire Road. Her favourite thing, though, is to spend time with the close friends that she and Alice have made walking their dog Archie, a Tibetan terrier in the park, or sitting drinking champagne by Chiswick House Gardens’ waterfall. Perhaps we can now look forward to a book of rambles around Chiswick…
Bookfest runs from 3-12 October 2014, wimbledonbookfest.org
Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles, is out now