If you have ever been on the Deep Time Walk, you will know what a profound sense it can evoke of the unhurried evolution of life on Earth throughout virtually all of its 4.6 billion years. Even bacteria, the first forms of life, didn’t appear for a billion years. Dinosaurs only appear as the end of the Walk comes into view. At the very end of the Walk, here come the humans – and, in the last flicker of geological time, they suddenly and shockingly wreak ecological havoc by burning fossil fuels and triggering climate change.
A well-known Deep Time Walk – popularised by Dr Stephan Harding, an ecologist from Schumacher College – is in Devon. It’s 4.6 kilometers long, with each metre corresponding to a million years. It is an opportunity to go beyond learning about the evolution of life on Earth as a series of cerebral facts to experiencing evolutionary time in the time it takes to walk. It’s a holistic experience of body, heart and mind. And in the last fifth of a millimetre of this walk, representing 200 years, we humans transform the Earth.
The Deep Time Walk at Hedgerley Wood, in Oxfordshire, is a compact version, with each step corresponding to 10 million years. It meanders along a public footpath through the lovely woods of the Hedgerley Wood Trust. Along the way, beautiful oak markers created by the artist Marcus Bolt indicate when various forms of life made their first appearance.
You can visit Hedgerley’s Deep Time Walk at OX39 4BW, starting where the public footpath meets the road. It’s free – but wear outdoor boots unfazed by mud.