Saunter is a lovely word, resonant with possible associations. One theory doing the rounds is that it can be traced back to the the Middle Ages when people went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When asked where they were going, they’d reply “à la sainte terre” – French for “to the Holy Land.” And so these travellers became known as “sainte-terrers” – or "saunterers".
Disappointingly, linguists have poured cold water on that idea. Nevertheless, the OED etymology suggests possible origins in sauntes or sauntus, from the Latin sanctus. So shrouded as it is by mists of time, it would seem to be rooted in a sense of the sacred or holy.
Nowadays, we think of sauntering as being a leisurely sort of walking, perhaps with no particular destination in view. We might be going not from A to B, but going deeper. We might be led not so much by our maps or satnavs, as by the landscape itself. Seeing what comes …
The link between walking and thought is a very ancient one, and by the late 1400s "to saunter" was to muse or be in a reverie. Thinking, creative people down the ages have always appreciated this, and accounts abound of people in all spheres of influence building astonishingly ambitious walks into their daily routine. And it does seem that these benefits are being rediscovered, with the introduction of walking meetings for business, walking circuits on campuses, walking therapy, and so on.
So then, saunter appears as a word rich with connotation and half-heard association: holy ground, pilgrimage, walking – perhaps even santé (health).
I’ve discovered that the 19th June is actually World Sauntering Day. What a fine idea! I think I'll see if I can run a walking retreat on that day.
“ Every day I walk myself into a state of wellbeing … I have walked myself into my best thoughts"