Walking, in many ways, is not unlike the singing of a song. To leave home and seek a path in the great outdoors captures the same expressive outward-bounding thrill that singing releases in a singer. When I find myself in full pathfinding, free-roaming mode there is nothing like a good song to bring a little technicolour into the scene. Best of all, a folk song, a breed as old as those who first walked the land, that sends its protagonists and those that partake in their reciting on hopeful, helpless, heroic but always heartfelt journeys. For a folk song is a navigation. Trust me on this: I am a folk singer, and whenever I walk, the songs come with me.

Folk songs emerged from the landscape, and are not just dainty depictions of it. They are transmissions from a time when our ancestors’ antennae bristled with attentiveness to the gentle inflections and nuances of Nature’s wide frequencies. But in modern times, ‘experiences in Nature’ are big business, especially for a society striving to overcome generations of disenfranchisement and separation from our natural heritage. Folk songs are for me like a Swiss Army knife in my quest to reclaim that sense of wildness.

And so goes this strange practice I’ve found myself experimenting with, and not just alone either. For some years, greatly encouraged by these Covid times, I’ve been leading pilgrimages and Nature walks in the transgressive ambition to rewild folk songs back to their ecological niches. As the seasons progress and species arrive, blossom, take prominence, consort together, fledge, fruit and recede, particular songs that hold intelligence on these natural rites of passage chime in me, calling to be sung, shared and, best of all, elicited in others to be sung too.

Birds are key players in this songful repatriation. In April and May, I take visitors on Singing With Nightingales walks, where guests retire from the fireside for a dark-of-night walk to seek out the greatest singer of them all: the male courting nightingale. As these birds are a rapidly declining species with looming extinction expected in this country within 40 years, singing songs that are centuries-old adorations of nightingales with nightingales feels an utter privilege. More than this, it’s a defiant act of palliative reconciliation towards a creature in whose demise we are utterly complicit. In return, we receive a powerful healing to our own ecologically weighted shoulders. A similar act of restoration through song and passage is made in another journey, the Turtle Dove Pilgrimage, co-created with pilgrimage revivalist Will Parsons.

When we carry a song, it is a bit like holding a prayer. With this intention, each step we make is a marking of our compassionate commitment to respecting the land walked. The song is our gift, and habitats that ask nothing of us, while knowing we are part of them, reciprocate by freeing us of any stigma towards public singing. Further still, a powerful collegiate bond within the group is created – harmony, even. Awkwardnesses or embarrassments evaporate.

My songs are both map and compass, and singing them acts like permission-seeking for my passage, heightening my awareness to the native species passed. Nature, in her many voices, is always singing, so why not I?

The aegis of being in a group helps, but going alone is equally powerful. In fact, I encourage anyone to experiment with this cocktail of ingredients. Shyness and scepticism always need overcoming, but remember that this practice is intercultural and millennia-old, and demands new blueprints for today’s reconnective needs. So I say, find your folk song and invent your ritual to adorn it, play around with it and eschew the path of least resistance for one trodden with rich existence. In the eccentric search for means to nurture your love of Nature, there is no wrong way.

Sam Lee is a folk singer, song collector and promoter. His book The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird is published by Century. www.samleesong.co.uk