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Christmas cheer and resolutions

Andrew Stuck, founder of the Museum of Walking writes

“When I was a child, I was told to remember the 3 Rs: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. I never understood why you needed to remember, or to remember them in this ungrammatical way.  These days, as we mangle the English language to fit a Tweet, text or What’s app message, or replace it all together by using an emoji, we can probably forget about the 3 Rs.  Back in the 90s in the States, while trying to win a free place at Tufts University, close to Boston, I encountered the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink.  To me it is amazing that here in the UK, we haven’t actually all embraced recycling as yet, and the current trend is trying to get supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging.  How is it that the world’s most profligate nation (the US) managed to raise awareness amongst its population to embed the 4 Rs almost 30 years before we have?

So our ‘featured image’ on this blog post, is the re-use of a pertinent Christmas card that artist Fran Crowe sent to us 10 years ago – at the time Fran was creating installations and distributing ‘contra-souvenirs’ created from plastic that she had picked up from repeatedly walking the shingle beach at Thorpeness, on the Suffolk coast.  It is one of my favourite memories from recording interviews for Talking Walking, as you hear our footsteps on the shingle, and how often we stop, as Fran spots another bit of plastic for her collection.  You can listen to the recording here.

Back in September, I laid out a challenge (call it resolution) to listen to each of the published Talking Walking recordings, one for each day as we got closer to Christmas and the end of year. The plan was to Facebook and Tweet about each in turn, and at the close of every week, post a blog about the previous week’s listening on this blog.  I called it the #100dayastogo challenge and it came to an end on Sunday, listening to fellow podcaster Rick Pearson.  That tells you that I came up short on 100 interviews – 8 days short to be precise – which means that I have managed to interview, record, edit and publish 92 episodes of Talking Walking since I began, publishing the first in 2008.  You guessed, I had hoped to complete 100 episodes by the end of the year, but alas that hasn’t been achieved.  I have however, recorded more than 100 interviews, just not had the time to edit and publish them!

The Christmas holidays have always been a time for catching up with editing Talking Walking recordings, so I am editing an interview with Stefaan van Biesan, that I recorded at Made of Walking in September 2017…so there is quite a few recordings ‘in the can’ waiting to be edited.  It is far from a chore however, in fact it is a delight, as I get to relive those walks and conversations, happy memories and reflections.

So who is it I have listened to in the final days of the #100daystogo challenge?

Terence Bendixson has lived in Chelsea since the Second World War when he returned there having been evacuated as a child to Canada.  As an eleven year old, returning to a post-war London, walking to school must have made an impression on him, as he is now the world’s longest serving pedestrian advocate, and still keeps batting for those of us on foot.  He became a campaigner, after writing an article in The Guardian about how cars were becoming to dominate our cities. It was a delight to walk these streets so familiar to him and hear him tell his story and why it is as ever important to put the pedestrian first in all transport planning decisions.  Listen to Terence here.

Rarely does the weather intercede and preclude a walking interview, but that’s what happened when I met Maggie O’Neill – there was a terrific downpour, and typically, London’s traffic came to a halt, with pavements flooded, and people bustling here and there to try to avoid a soaking. We crept into a busy hotel lobby and undertook the interview there.  Maggie was a recipient of a Leverhulme Fellowship which offers academics the chance to take time off from teaching to undertake research they are passionate about.  Maggie chose to research ‘walking borders‘ with refugees and migrants, and those involved with migration and sex workers.  We had little time so the interview was quite rushed – but it makes compelling listening.  Listen to Maggie here.

How well prepared are you to take a long walk?  Clearly I am not one to give out advice.  I strolled along the banks of the River Cam in a pair of open-toed Teva sandals, and to my cost, was stung on the ankle by a bee!  This would never happen to Country Walking Magazine‘s Nick Hallissey – for a start he has been testing out walkers’ kit and writing technical critiques for years, but don’t feel too sorry for him, he gets paid to do what we all love – going for a walk.  Listen to Nick here.

Out and about on foot in less familiar spots, it is great to have a helpful finger post pointing you in the right direction, so it was a surprise one wintry snow covered day, to find whimsical directions and instructions on a finger post in Queen’s Wood, near Highgate, London.  I tracked down artist Grace Adam, who had self-financed this intriguing way finding intervention, and interviewed her on a return visit to the woods.  “We no longer follow maps, it is the maps that follow us,” was a profound remark from Grace about how smartphone technology has changed the way we explore new territories.  I have recorded several interviewees who are fascinated about getting lost, but this was a new take on what way finding information is provided and when.  Listen to Grace here.

Bibi Calderaro is an Argentinian artist working in the north eastern United States.  She has been  so enthused by creating sensory walks and re-introducing people to nature, that she undertook a course to qualify as a ‘forest therapy instructor’.  She applied several such techniques on a series of walks she created when she was an artist-in-residence for the US National Park Service.  Listen to Bibi here.

It was a challenge you to keep up with Richard Smith – he must be jet propelled.  We walked beside the Regent’s canal, but he apparently wasn’t going as fast as he usually walks.  He is advocate of using walking poles – not the trekking versions, but alpine poles, which are similar to Nordic walking poles.  That plus repetitive chanting means that Richard is covering vast distances in times we can’t imagine.  I was out of breath just along the canal path…Richard shared his enthusiasm for walking in ‘thin places’, making personal pilgrimages, and how he incorporates fast walking and chanting, into his day when he’s an NHS gynaecological consultant.  Listen to Richard here.

I was on a Made of Walking event with 40 artists so was surprised and delighted that amongst them was American walking activists, Wendy Landman from WalkBoston.  I knew of her and the work of WalkBoston, through attending Walk21 conferences, so it was great to have an opportunity to interview in La Romieu, a place neither of us were familiar with.  She talked about how to sell pedestrian improvements by talking to politicians about delightful places and the delight of walking – two facets we are going to pursue in 2019 (we will write more in a future blog post).  Listen to Wendy talking about the achievements of WalkBoston.

If you thought Nick Hallisey from Country Walking Magazine has a dream job, meet Tom Hall, managing director of Lonely Planet, who is as enthusiastic about short walks in London’s Bankside as he is about walking through medieval Rome or ancient Istanbul. I wish I had had a boss like him when I worked in book publishing...listen to Tom here

Is age catching up with you?  If so I would strongly recommend a listen to Pam Patterson and Leena Raudvee who collaborate as ARTIFACTS, for they have tackled diminishing vision and mobility issues, and put them firmly at the centre of their art practice.  They are not shy at coming forward to explain how using a cane empowers one and can be a handy weapon when defending off crowds.  Listen to Pam and Renee here.

I have always been intrigued about Nordic Walking, as I have tried cross country skiing, and also know how valuable trekking poles can be when carrying a rucksack, when going up or down hills (and the occasional mountain).  However, I have always been a bit self-conscious about trying Nordic Walking out.  So I was fortunate to be introduced to Sonya Brennan, a Nordic Walking instructor, working in nearby Lewisham, and managed by former Talking Walking interviewee, Jenny Budd.  Sonya has had a battle with her weight, at one point being diagnosed as clinically obese, but through her own determination, she found out about Nordic Walking and took it up with relish.  So I joined her on consecutive Wednesday mornings for a taste of Nordic Walking.  Listen to Sonya here.

And so we rounded up the #100daystogo challenge with an interview with fellow podcaster, Rick Pearson, who has been undertaking a challenge of his own: climbing to the summit of the highest peak in every London borough.  Rick is a journalist for Runners World, which should have given me a clue as to what I might be letting myself in for as we set out from Knockholt station to climb to the borough of Bromley‘s highest peak at Westerham Heights.  Rick failed to mention that it was also London’s highest peak, and that one has to descend from Kent’s highest peak to reach it….Listen to Rick here.

So ends the #100daystogo challenged and the tenth anniversary year for Talking Walking draws to a close…the good news is that, having not reached 100 interviews this year, we can have a separate celebration for the publishing of the 100th interview fairly soon.  Many thanks for reading and we hope you get a chance to do some listening and walking over the holidays.”

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Imagine pruning 4,000 fruit trees

400 years ago that little bit of London called St James‘ was an orchard – King James I brought mulberry trees (and other fruiters) from the Languedoc regions in France, creating a demonstration orchard, with which he hoped to encourage the ‘landed gentry’ to create their own mulberry orchards.  There are plenty of myths surrounding why his attempts to establish mulberry trees came to nought, but Dr Peter Coles, who has been researching the heritage of mulberry trees in London as Morus Londinium, thinks the reasons might be all down to freezing cold winters.

Peter Coles has been a Museum co-creator for some while.  We have run several successful Stalking Tree walkshops to the ‘Hardy Ash’, the Fulham Palace Holm oak, as well as to the Marylebone Elm.  These walkshops tended to have a duration of between 90 and 120 minutes, and Peter not only shared his knowledge of trees but also gave tips on how to take terrific photographs of them too.  Latterly we have also been running even longer strolls connecting up mulberry trees across various tracts in London – from Herne Hill to Myatt’s Fields, from Deptford to Charlton, and through the East End from Stepney Green to Victoria Park.

Starting last month, we wanted to try to offer shorter walks based on mulberry heritage, and so came up with hour long lunchtime walk that we are calling ‘Midweek Mulberries’.  The photographs on this page are from a walk that took place last week, from Green Park tube station, via St Jame’s Church in Piccadilly, and St James’ Square, to St James’ Park, finishing in College Garden beside Westminster Abbey.  The route ran through the heart of what was King James’ mulberry orchard, none of whose trees survive, but there are more recent plantings form which other tales hang.  In November, we took a route from Farringdon to Middle Temple, and next month we are off to Hampstead.  All of the routes have been meticulously researched by Peter, and he reveals hidden histories of London (not just about mulberries); however, we are still trying the approach out, and find it hard to keep to 60 minutes.  We would love you to come and join us and tell us what you think of these shorter walks – they are less expensive too! Book our January Midweek Mulberries walk

This is an example of what we love doing: creating new walking routes and walkshop concepts for people to get out and about having fun on foot.  This autumn has seen us put two such concepts into practice: Midweek Mulberries and Walking Between the Lines, the latter in which we encourage you to read a novel, and then come with us to explore its’s setting and discover more about the author too.  Next month, we are getting dystopian, but inviting you to walk beneath the Westway, reading ‘Concrete Island‘ by J.G. Ballard.  It is a short novel, so you still have plenty of time to pick up a copy, read, and bring it to the walk. Read more and book for Ballard under the Westway

We were out recording a Talking Walking interview this week, with Justin Butcher who conceived the idea of a “Just walk to Jerusalem” to mark the anniversary in 2017 of the ‘Balfour Declaration‘ in which the British Government supported the creation of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’.  Taking the group of walkers 5 months to complete and more than 2 years in the planning, trying to keep Justin to a 25 minute interview was a tad too tall an ask!  We paced the length of the Parkland Trail from Finsbury Park to Highgate tube and back again.   It won’t be until Spring before we publish the interview, for we have a few others ‘in the can’ that deserve earlier attention, but it will be one to look forward to.

If you would like to discover the Parkland Trail, you are very welcome to join us at 11.00am on 3rd January on a “Meet the walking artist” walk we are running with Billi London-Gray, from Tucson, Arizona, our walking artist guest.  We will start from the Finsbury Park Cafe. It is a free event but booking is required as places are limited – just let us know you would like to come by using our Get in Touch page.

Our #100daystogo challenge to listen each day to a podcast interview from the Talking Walking archive is coming to a close – we are listening to interviews published less than 18 months ago!  Here’s a taste of whom we have listened to this week:

Sharon Thompson is an environmentalist and she has been putting her musical flair into campaigning for the protection of Australia’s rain forest.  She has worked as a vocalist, voice coach, and stage performer, and latterly as part of the innovative walking theatre company ‘One step at a time like this’ (whose co-producer Julian Rickert, we had also interviewed). Sharon delights in the surrounding ambience, giving the natural world a chance to influence the way we walk and not by imposing narratives of her own.  She calls her work ‘site responsive’ and she falls into conversations with her surroundings interpreting them through her own vocal practice. Listen to Sharon here.

Highly topical is our anxiety around air quality, but it is very difficult issue to grasp, as for most of us, it is not visible, and many of us feel disempowered as to how we can make a significant difference.  Katherine McGavin and Mariana Galan Tanes, two post-graduate students form Oxford Brookes University, produced an intriguing interactive tour of ‘Oxford in 8 Breaths, to raise awareness of poor air quality and support people to lobby for better air.  They had found previous approached to the topic rather too dry and scientific and they thought they could apply a more artistic approach.  They drew on Oxford’s historic past but also on their own childhood experiences. Listen to Katherine and Mariana  talking about 8 Breaths here.

From where and whence did the word ‘pedestrian‘ become applied to those on foot, originally it was used to describe someone’s prose.  This and other intriguing histories to those who walk our cities, both at night and during the day, were explained by Professor Matthew Beaumont, who wrote the compelling social history called Night Walking.  Walking at night was a criminal offence for hundreds of years in Britain and was only off the statute book in the early 1960s.  Vagrants, the homeless, and sex workers were amongst those caught up – Beaumont calls them ‘noctivigants‘, while, more middle class are ‘noctambulants‘  who choose to walk at night for inspiration, including diarist Boswell and Johnson, who through their prose excavated the underside of the ‘glorious city’. Listen to Matthew here.

Bruce Mowson, a sound artist and sculptor, has been encouraging us to forego our sight, and literally feel our way through the city, by teaching participants to listen deeply and guide their path by touch and sound alone. Like Sharon Thompson, another Australian, who believes that the natural environment should be let in, and the soundscape to be allowed to dominate.  Bruce is keen to observe how people react to being asked to feel and listen their way around some like professional dancers, can glide along a path, others are far more hesitant, but it clearly develops as an embodied experience. Listen to Bruce here.

Duncan Speakman will add sounds to the environment but not to lead you astray, for it you who chooses the route when listening to his audio walking pieces.  Although at first, you would imagine that planning an audio track for those who choose their own routes would be a tad complicated, Duncan actually argues that as we humans tend to follow similar patterns, he can more easily design in changes in rhythm in music or ambient sounds, that hasten participants’ movements.  Duncan is a leader in the field and is frequently pushing the boundaries, not by making the technology more sophisticated, but by composing ad choreographing opportunities for participants to explore what’s local to them. Listen to Duncan here.

‘A poet who got lost’, is how Geert Vermeire describes himself, and he too is only too happy to leave it to happenstance as to how you might interpret your surroundings when listening to one of his walking pieces on the ‘No Tours’ geo-located app. You curate the soundtrack of the city by choosing where to walk, for sounds, conversations and snippets of spoken words are overlaid across a neighbourhood, offering you as the participants to choose to listen to what you wish.  Geert is insistent that landscape is made by observing it and walking in the landscape can transform it.  Listen to Geert here.

Julie Poitras Santos is also interested in when you got lost and in finding out what strategies you developed or undertook to find your way.  She encourages individuals to walk as a group of strangers, through a labyrinth, and to retell their strategies of ‘escaping from being lost’.  The labyrinth provides certainty, as you can trust that the path will lead you in and then out.  This relinquishes the need to spend cognitive time or energy working out where you are going, and instead clears the mind allowing you to address more personal issues.   The siting of the labyrinth is important, but what she has found is that it is the ‘duration’ of the walk, that is key to trust and intimacy between strangers to take place, and the sharing of one’s own stories is more frequent. Listen to Julie here.

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Sparks fly in Kensington

As we try to unravel fact from fiction, whether it is the novels she wrote or her autobiography, Dame Muriel Spark led us on an obscure trail in Kensington.  Once well established as a literary author, in the 1980s she wrote two novels, on reflection set in Kensington in the 1950s:A Far Cry from Kensington” and “Loitering with Intent” – both of which drew heavily on her own experiences in trying to have her first literary success and in working for publishers who were less than authentic themselves.

Joined by a group of enthusiasts, our latest “Between the Lines” adventure, began at the Pelham Street entrance of South Kensington tube station.  We wandered through ‘pucker Kensington’ little changed from the times when Muriel lived not far away, she either in digs with inconsistent landladies or cohabiting with friends.  The 1950s were a period of transition, not least for the country as a whole as it looked back on the war and gave up rationing, but also for Muriel Spark, as she converted from lapsed Jew, via Anglo-catholic, to a Roman Catholic in just a handful of years.  On our walk, we visited key centres of faith that offered guidance and support to Muriel Spark, as well as those that appeared as key locations in her ‘Kensington novels’.  Participant, Chris Amies has generously shared his photographs from the walk, and these include, a shot of Brompton Oratory where Wanda, a Polish seamstress who is blackmailed in “Loitering with Intent” regularly attends Sunday services.  The Oratory stands in front of the Roman Catholic parish church where Muriel herself worshipped.

We went in search of various addresses at which Muriel Spark lived and worked, as well as the Brompton Hotel at which she entertained ‘acquaintances for drinks’ so that they should never see the squalor in which she had to live.  One such address is now highly fashionable, Queensgate Terrace, where a one bedroomed apartment (much like that that Muriel rented for a less than 10 shillings a week) is on sale for £1.495 million!  Our route took us as far as the churchyard of St Mary Abbots, just off Kensington High Street, where Muriel lived on the benefit of the parish priest, and where both the opening and closing of “Loitering with Intent” takes place.

The subsequent biography by Martin Stannard reveals that at this very same spot, Muriel Spark made out with her one  time lover and fellow literary critic David Sandford, who is mocked mercilessly as a ‘pisseur de copie‘ in “A Far Cry to Kensington”.

Last Sunday’s Muriel Spark and Kensington drew on the excellent resources of the National Library of Scotland and their website celebrating the anniversary of her birth: murielspark100 Birlinn Pulbishers generously gave us copies of their hardback anniversary editions of two of her novels.  Museum Co-creator, Nigel Bristow and participant Dave Hearle, read extracts from the novels.  We were delighted to learn that one of our participants had actually met and chatted to Dame Muriel Spark – a lovely surprising discovery.

So where next for “Between the Lines” our nascent walking reading club?  We think that cold January weather is just the setting for an investigation into the whereabouts of J G Ballard‘s “Concrete Island” – somewhere beneath the Westway!  We will be announcing a mid- January date shortly and we hope you will join us.

We would love to hear your suggestions for authors with books published since 1945 that draw heavily on particular neighbourhoods.  Participants have so far suggested, Tracey Chevalier’s ‘Fallen Angels‘ (set in Highgate Cemetery), Robert Rankin’s, ‘Brentford Triangle‘, and Michael Moorcock’s ‘Mother London‘.

It has been quite a week for the Museum of Walking as we have not only been to Kensington, but Walthamstow for another Hidden Garden Haiku, and next up is a Midweek Mulberry that includes a stroll through Green Park and St James’ Park.  It is has also been a terrific week for listening to the Talking Walking archive.

Will you tell me your story of what makes it great to live in this neighbourhood ?  So asked Diana Wesser and her collaborator Antje Rademacker as they challenged the stereotypical labels that the Eisenbahnstrasse in Leipzig had notched up infamy as “The worst street in Germany.” It is a captivating way of getting residents to exchange stories and build trust as well as refuting the common held belief that every city has its notorious neighbourhoods. Listen Diana as she explains how residents lead you on a walk that includes dropping by on neighbours for a slice of cake…

Toss the tourist brochure aside, if you really want to hear the warts and all about a city, what better than from enthusiastic residents, so says Ben Waddington, founder and director of the Still Walking Festival.  A self-taught walking guide, he quickly realised that he couldn’t know everything about his home town of Birmingham, and lead every walk, so he invited enthusiasts to join him in devising walks and discoveries of what is ‘under the city’s skin’.  He sees the Festival as a great way to share enthusiasms with other people who share similar interests to you. Proven popular since its first appearance, check the Still Walking Festival when you can. Listen to Ben

Martin Foessleitner wants to ensure you find out more about local neighbourhoods in Vienna, by being reassured that the path your on is the right one.  He is an information designer who has been working on the city’s way finding system for pedestrians.  Although tempting to add more information and details to a map, he insists that clarity and consistency requires less detail, and one defining landmark.  He wasn’t always a walker, having previously commuted by subway and tram, but he has subsequently learnt through experience, how much more reliable travel on foot can be.  As a convert, he tells a compelling story of how we humans are hard wired to walk our local neighbourhoods.  Listen to Martin as we walk through central Vienna.

Julian Rickert creates theatre shows in cities arguing that “the city is an amazing set with an amazing cast of characters”.  For his shows you won’t be following a narrative – that’s up to you – but you will encounter some out of the ordinary occurrences and may find yourself immersed in someone else’s plot.  Working with a small group of passionate theatre makers, called ‘one step at at time like this‘ for more than 14 years, accepting failure as wells successes, means that they have tremendous trust in each other’s abilities to create immersive experiential performances that he describes as ‘site-responsive theatre’.  Multi-award winning, international successful, they must be doing something right?  Listen to Julian as he describes how they make work and the out of the ordinary happen.

Tim Ingram-Smith has been striding out in an effort to learn more about London, the city he has chosen to live in – being born and breed in Edinburgh.  Although living in London for longer, he realised he knew very little about the city beyond his commute to work and his local neighbourhood.  So he set out on what might be described as the longest Sunday stroll – you can join him every second Sunday on the month as he completes another leg of what he calls the London Spiral walk.  It all began in Kings Cross and follows a spiral, determined by points for crossing the Thames.  He admits he doesn’t know whether he will ever stop…..Listen to Tim on a walk through East Ham – or join him this Sunday at Wallsingham

Following an earthquake, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to have anything else making your house shake, so it appears to be the case in Kathmandu where residents are eschewing cars and truck, choosing instead to walk the streets of the local neighbourhoods.  This in part too, as Kathmandu has been running monthly car-free events for some time before the earthquake struck.  Kristie Daniel of Canadian Healthbridge an international public health think and do tank tells me on a walk in Hammersmith, how important it is to encourage and support local NGOs in developing countries in their efforts to promote children’s play, natural spaces and safe and accessible walking routes.  She argues that if you are unaware of what a car-free space might look and feel like, how can you be asked to choose between one and a vehicle dominated space.  Kristie draws on experience of Liveable City projects being undertaken in Nepal and Vietnam – listen to Kristie here

Lise Pape has achieved more in product design by her early thirties, than many ever achieve in their lifetime.  Seeing her father struggle and stumble with Parkinson’s she researched what might help him be more mobile, however, falling short of finding any practical solution, she went out and designed a simple and effective device.  Walk with Path It uses the downward pressure of the step to generate a laser light, that produces a visual cue that tricks the brain of the Parkinson’s suffer to believe they have to step over something.  Lise found out that Parkinson’s sufferers find it easier to step up stairs than to walk along the level, and that they frequently find their feet frozen to the ground, unable for their brain to calculate what to do next.  So should you think that one shoe accessory that could help thousands of people to have more a mobile life was a remarkable achievement, what if you were told that Lise has invented a second one?   She has created an insole that sends electrical pulses equivalent to nerve sensations to help those with diabetes also become more mobile.  Diabetes causes the loss of nerve endings in the sole of the foot – sufferer become unable to feel the surface on which they tread. Listen to Lise’s remarkable story of how she came to invent these incredible shoe accessories.

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Contested spaces and making places more walkable

Transfer of assets to the community is an expression we have encountered a few times this past week – sounds fairly inconsequential until you begin to unravel what this might mean, and who within the community will be the beneficiaries.  We listened to Bob Gilbert, author of “Ghost Trees” and former Islington Borough Parks officer talk about the loss of grander canopy trees and the sell off of playing fields, and how each are diminishing the biodiversity of London and other towns and cities.  However he kept his ire for the movement towards redefining public parks as commercial commodities, such that local authorities now through ‘budget savings’ insist that their parks make revenue.  Some authorities are selling sections of public parks, others leasing them for festivals and the like, which take space away from the public, damage the park, and often leave it in a state that it can not recover from.  “We owe a great debt to the generations before us who fought to create public parks and protect them.” Bob also warned of how new pseudo public spaces were being created in new developments that offered little to wildlife.

We are replacing grander, architectural street trees which have been a symbol of civic pride and visual attractiveness, with smaller, shorter living, less litigious, tree species which will never replace the micro-habitats for fauna and flora.  We are facing a triple whammy of air quality, climate change and loss of bio-diversity while at the same time, cutting down and not replacing one of the most effective tools to combat these issues – larger, broad-leafed canopy trees.

So what has all this got to do with walking you may ask?  For our personal health and for the health of the public at large, we need to coexist with other species – and research continues to show us how beneficial green spaces, including woodland and street trees are to our mental and physical health.  We also want to encourage people to rediscover and value what is on their doorsteps, encountering people and nature on foot within walking distance of where they live.  We have been running walkshop events that bring people to notice what is around them through different medium, whether it is following lost rivers, seeing our surroundings framed by street trees, or being mindful in green spaces.  We want to create opportunities for people to celebrate and value what we have in terms of green space within walking distance of where we live and work and to recognise and improve it so it can benefit all of us.

Our last week of listening to the archive of Talking Walking interviews has also highlighted aspects of how some places are contested and others are open for us to explore at our leisure.  David Watson undertook what became a nine year pilgrimage to his childhood home, through Sydney suburbia, uncovering stories of places that he had heard of but never been to, and encountering almost deserted streets.  Few people, but also more terrifyingly lacking in nature or indigenous species. Listen to David here.

Brad Garrett, now also in Australia, but when interviewed was a geography lecturer at the University of Southampton, has spent a lot of his spare time, venturing where most of us would not dare to go.  He has sought out public assets which are areas where people are forbidden – call it trespassing or simply ‘space hacking’ – he has been infiltrating hidden spaces in our cities. Listen to Brad here.

Idit Nathan was a child that played in the street either side of the Six Day War, and during the bombardment, played in the shelters too.  She is often seeking ways to ‘play the city’ inviting us to “disrupt our familiarity” by throwing a dice of different instructions. Listen to Idit here.

Tim Pharoah, co-author of the government’sManual for Streets gave a clear argument for ‘walkability’ and why it is of such importance that when designing new developments and urban extensions that we should consider the movement of pedestrians first. Listen to Tim here. And Dieter Schwab, a resident of Vienna, explains how he has encouraged grass-root pedestrian interventions by local groups, to make his city’s neighbourhoods more walkable, and how this process has led to a National Pedestrian Masterplan in just 8 years. Listen to Dieter here

Claudia Zieske grew up in Austria too – walking as a child was just what you did, whether it was around town or on long walks up mountains.  It is the long walks that keep her sane so she argues – “a self- therapy that saves on counselling” If you want to solve a problem go for a walk  – “you think it over in a healthy way.  The mind works with your feet.”  Claudia, now living in Aberdeenshire has galvanised her local community to offer accommodation and support to visiting artists, and has created the world’s first “Slow Marathon” – the time it takes you is not of importance…Listen to Claudia here

Walk Exchange Study Group

Blake Morris knows a thing or two about walking and art he has a PhD in it, but instead of just keeping it to himself he has devised the Walk Exchange Study Group, that runs 6 week courses in discovering more about walking.  The output of a week’s learning is not an essay but a further walk, such that “walking generates as well as transmitting knowledge”. Listen to Blake here

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Tales of long walks

On Monday Andrew Stuck, Museum founder and Producer of Talking Walking, went to a talk by Satish Kumar at Alternatives, in Piccadilly, London. Now in his 80s, smiling and looking as young as ever, he spoke eloquently, about  how peace is a way of life not just an opposite of war. Explaining that he was inspired by Bertrand Russell, and the stop nuclear weapons campaigns, to undertake an 8000 mile walk from his home in India to visit the capital city of each the nuclear powers: London, Paris, Moscow and Washington – the latter walking the decks of the Queen Mary.  All done as an ‘Earth Pilgrim’ without money and relying on the trust and generosity of strangers.

One could say that walking has probably defined his life and he has certainly inspired many other people to walk in protest or in supporting various campaigns. He wrote a book about walking through Britain called “No Destination“, and in which he talks about how he came to set up the Schumacher College. It was that book that inspired Talking Walking interviewee Tim Hagyard  to undertake his own personal walk through ‘Sacred Britain’ . Tim accompanied me to the talk on Monday. He in turn has recently come back from a very long walk in supporting the Amos Trust and their work in Palestine. The walk has been written up by Justin Butcher, in a book called ‘Walking to Jerusalem‘ which is to be published at the end of the week. Tim very graciously introduced Andrew to Justin who Andrew will be interviewing for Talking Walking in mid December. Listen to Tim Hagyard on Talking Walking

Another writer whom Andrew interviewed for Talking Walking who undertook a very long walk is Nick Hunt who followed in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor on a walk from Britain to Istanbul. Synchronicity strikes once again as this week Nick will be in London for the launch of a new addition of Dark Mountain, an ecological journal for which he is one of the editors and for which he is running a new series of essays described as ‘Under the Canopy‘. Listen to Nick Hunt on Talking Walking

If walking to four capital cities or journeys on foot across Europe aren’t tough enough, perhaps the thought of walking to the one of the North Poles might get you out of your slumber? That was the proposition offered to Lisa Pook and so she began intensive training and fundraising for a walking and cross country skiing expedition to what is called the ‘Northern Pole of Inaccessibility‘ This is the point on the Earth surface that is the furthest from any land mass – some 800 miles. The plan was to undertake this in four 200 mile legs, in which participants would drag a sled of rations and equipment equivalent in weight to  their own body weight. So when Andrew caught up with Lisa and interviewed her for Talking Walking she was training by dragging heavy car tyres on runs across and around the Rotherhithe peninsula in London. She also put herself through cold water immersion and various training exercises north of the Arctic Circle. The vagaries of the weather and the melting of the ice meant that there was no certainty about whether the expedition could take place, let alone be successful, and as it was the Northern Pole has so far proven to be inaccessible for Lisa. Listen to her on Talking Walking

If you would like to discover things closer to home but realise there is no walking guide, you may feel it’s part duty and part challenge to write one of your own.  So it was for Julia Killingback, who when returning to live in Bristol after studying art there, chose to create her own illustrated walking guides to the city.  After the financial failure of a local publisher, Julia took on the task of not only writing and illustrating four guides but also the publishing of them.  In all it took her eight years and yet her enthusiasm for writing  and researching the guides and passion for her local neighbourhoods oozes from the Talking Walking interview that Andrew recorded with her.  Listen to Julia Killingback on Talking Walking

In the last week, Andrew has also listened to two walking artists who have created audio walks in which their intention is to offer their listeners the opportunities to escape to other places, however, their approaches were very different.  Charlotte Spencer Projects created “Walking Stories” a group audio adventure, in which participants, although strangers, were invited to create a community and choose their path. Listen to Charlotte Spencer Projects. Jennie Savage created “FractureMob“, for which participants all over the world could download an audio album of recordings she had made in different cities, through which they followed instructions to get lost. Listen to Jennie Savage on Talking Walking

With Bill Aitchison as your tour guide, it is very likely you will uncover more to the city than you would ever discover if you had taken a dozen tours.  He has created a performance called “Tour of all Tours” that casts a critical eye to mass tourism and our consumption of the cities we visit.  Now working in China, Bill is prolific: he is performing, directing and writing works, many of which take place in public space, beneath eyes of the ever-present authorities.  He believes such a constraint offers greater artistic freedoms than he can find in the West.  Listen to Bill Aitchison on Talking Walking

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Bucolic scenes in town

Autumn colours have been all around these last two weeks, and what has surprised us is that so many of the scenes that have caught our eye have been in London.  We have been out about on the streets of Muswell Hill, walking with Paul Wood, author of “London’s Street Trees“. As a finale for our final street tree walkshop of 2018, we thought we would include a walk through Coldfall Woods, a remnant of ancient forest, rescued several decades ago by Haringey Borough Council from the housing developers.  Crieghton Avenue runs along the southern edge of the wood and affords a good viewing point, so we equipped walkshop participants with binocular so they could look into the tree canopy, while listening to guest presenter Craig Harrison from the Forestry Commission.

The woods are a Local Nature Reserve and public park so there is no reason for you not to pop in and walk through the woodland, but as a group, we are apparently expected to seek permissions, provide insurance with cover to £5million, a plan of what we intend to do, and then wait for the Borough to consider our application.  On top of this, as we are ‘commercial venture’ (Oh dear, we charge a ticket price and try to make a living from our efforts), we have to pay a fee of £5 per head.  We left it all too late, ruffling some feathers of a representative of the Friends of Coldfall Wood, who alerted the council to our plan to walk through the wood for 20 minutes or so.   Exchanges of emails to establish what we were doing, who we were, our intentions, and providing our insurance cover and route plan, came to no avail, so we took the step not to enter Coldfall Woods.  We can see where the Borough is coming from however, but surely we as a group interested in trees, can be trusted not to damage the wood; and to levy a fee of £5 per head, when it must cost the Borough considerably more than that to process an application, grant permissions and process the payment, seems madness.

The good news is that the our walkshop participants took it all in their stride, thoroughly enjoying the walkshop as a whole, and especially the contributions from Craig and Paul – giving 4 and 5 stars (out of 5) throughout.

Ways to Wander the Gallery” is a new book brought together by Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind for which we attended the launch last Thursday at Tate Modern.  Claire Hind managed to enthralled the audience with some simple but effective ‘arm-ology’ while Clare Qualmann gave us a hint of how she approached walking as an art practice.  Clare Qualmann was an early interviewee on Talking Walking, when she was part of the walking artist trio, WalkWalkWalk, and this book full of amusing techniques to deploy in a gallery – you may need to choose your gallery carefully, no doubt Tate Modern’s expansive Turbine Hall is helpful here – echoed the interview of Sara Wookey, of which we listened again to this week (as part of our #100daysto  challenge).

Dance, movement and performance artist understandably consider walking as part of their practice.  For Sara Wookey, walking is a means of gaining knowledge of a place, through a tactile experience, literally feet on the ground, what made it appear unusual is that she chose Los Angeles as the city to walk around.  Her practice came to the notice of the public transport authority, MetroTransit who employed as a movement consultant, training people in ‘Being Pedestrian‘ as part of their drive to get more discretionary ‘ridership’ the subway.  It may seem crazy to us here in London, but many residents in Los Angeles have little experience of walking in public spaces or travelling on public transport among strangers. Listen to Sara Wookey on Talking Walking

Establishing what is and what is not socially acceptable in public spaces is how Lottie Child has developed her walking art practice and in devising her ‘Street Training‘ course, for which she trained the Metropolitan Police.  Working with  young people on deprived housing estates in south London, she found their playful, carefree approach to life on the estates and in the surrounding streets as insightful.  She herself had not been adverse to a bit of scrambling, parkour, or even urban climbing.  Young people are often seen as the perpetrators of crime when they are merely meeting up to play together in social groups. She asked how is it that such an activity can result in an Anti-Social Behaviour Order and being restrained, when she can win an international art residency for doing little different? Listen to Lottie Child on Talking Walking

Author Linda Cracknell also sought a tactile experience walking bare foot in the Kenyan Highlands, one of her paths trodden in memory, that was included in her anthology “Doubling Back“.  Linda is often out walking and conversing with the elements around her as she finds a walk often allows her novel’s characters to reveal themselves.  In her interview she talks abut the practicalities of walking on foot, and how ‘journalising’ a walk isn’t necessarily the best way of approaching writing a compelling and appealing narrative. Listen to Linda Cracknell on Talking Walking

Jess Allen Photo credit: Richard Gott

Jess Allen is not shy of a long walk – she walked for 7 hours through Herefordshire and Gloucestershire to meet to be interviewed for Talking Walking – and as she says it’s not really fair to set a time or a destination for any long walk, for you are often distracted from your route by what you encounter, who you meet and the weather.  Like Sara Wookey, Jess is a dance artist (but also happens to have a PhD in Biology) who has explored walking activism, tackling issues around how we are connected through services, such as food distribution, power networks, water and sewage. Listen to Jess Allen on Talking Walking

Tim Hagyard has taken up durational long walks first by devising his own 1800 mile tour of Sacred Britain, for which he describes as a number of different pilgrimages, and subsequently walking to Jerusalem for the Amos Trust.  However, his day job is that of an urban designer seeking to improve the spaces between buildings, and especially looking at how to accommodate walkers, cyclists, and vehicles in Hertfordshire (possibly one of the counties of highest car ownership). Listen to Tim Hagyard on Talking Walking

So Tim is probably aware of the research that Jody Rosenblatt Naderi undertook to establish the role of street trees in vehicle crashes, for which (thankfully) she discovered that street trees not only reduce vehicle crashes, but also provide a buffer for pedestrians, between them and vehicles, making spaces and corridors in which pedestrians belong.  So visual cues are key in encouraging and reassuring those on foot that where they tread is safe.  Our Talking Walking conversation explored more than just road safety, and covered topics on ‘walkability’, measuring city civility, and what are the elements that encourage deep thinking and contemplation.  It is one of the interviews that I keep coming back to, and highly recommend as a strong argument as to how we can make places better for walking (at not very much expense). Listen to Jody Rosenblatt Naderi on Talking Walking

Expense is key in Matt Tomasulo‘s campaign to get more people walking in cities across America, for he created Walk [Your City], a means by which you or I can generate our own waymarking signs that indicate how long it takes to go from one place to another. Signing the highways for vehicle traffic is a hugely expensive and often drawn out process, but Walk [Your City] provides a cheap and effective way to sign a city for pedestrians.  Doesn’t it clutter the city with unnecessary signage, I naively ask?  Well that’s a good problem Matt explains, in typical ‘disrupter parlance’, as it moves the conversation on, and can generate shifts in thinking and in policy. Listen to Matt Tomasulo on Talking Walking

Wayfinding is also key in Rowena Mcauley‘s campaign to make it easier for people to get about in Colchester and within the campus of the University of Essex.  She has been training walk leaders in auditing routes and documenting them by using photographs – nothing new there surely?  However, she has investigated how photographs can be used as way finding tools and these have been found to be effective for those with ranges of mobility impairment – something that we all encounter at different phases of our lives. She also talks about her involvement in 3D wayfinding through buildings….Listen to Rowena Mccauley on Talking Walking


All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

A Peckham Spark

We took to the streets of Peckham on Sunday to celebrate the life of Dame Muriel Spark and in particular her novel “The Ballad of Peckham Rye”. We had a great turnout of more than 20 people, good number of whom had actually read the book!

We began by walking up Rye Lane to the Peckham Arch, standing opposite Jones & Higgins, the once grand Department store to which many hundreds of customers visited on a daily basis In the 1950s, the decade in which the novel is set, and when Muriel Spark was a nearby resident in Camberwell.

Along the route there, we were able to point out buildings that once housed well-known shops including C&A, British Home Stores and Sainsbury’s. For some participants this was the highpoint but there is a lot more to come. Museum co-creator Nigel Bristow film director and tutor in film at Goldsmiths gave us a synopsis to the novel. We then split into pairs to discuss the novel as we retraced our steps in search of locations mentioned in the novel.

We choose the Bussey building as a surrogate for Meadows Meade & Grimley, the first textile factory to employ Dougal Douglas, the novel’s key character. Here co-creator Tim Ingram Smith, adopting a typical Dougal pose, putting a scarf beneath his coat to raise his right shoulder to emphasise Dougals deformity, read from the book.

We continued onto the site of the prefabs on Costa Street. Delightfully Mavis Pilbeam and her sister Elsie described the area as it was when their mother was brought up here as a child. Very recently, the last remaining prefab was sold for close to £1 million. One of those rare serendipity moments occurred when participant, Gail Astbury (Tim Ingram-Smith‘s partner) revealed that she had worked with local schools and artist Tom Phillips to create artwork in the small park behind the site of the prefabs. So we went into the park and Tim read a second passage from the book.

As twilight began, we moved onto Peckham Rye itself, to a point just beyond where the Peckham Lido used to be. “Dougal peers into the gloom across the Rye” In the novel, the Rye is where fights take place, picnics are to be had in the Old English Garden and would-be lovers court. Turning around, we lent on the railings to look over at The Rye Hotel (as it was called by Muriel Spark) . The group shot, shows a great bunch of enthusiasts thoroughly enjoying discovering not only the novel, something of the life of Muriel Spark, but also what Peckham may have been like in the 1950s.

Next month where off to Kensington to walk Between the Lines of two other Muriel Spark novels: “A Far cry from Kensington” and “Loitering with Intent“. Why not come in join us? Read more here


On Monday evening we went to NESTA to listen to Ingrid Fetell Lee talk about her new book and “Joyful: The surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness“. She argues that we can draw joy from everyday things that surround us, and amongst the key elements are bright colours. So it was of no surprise, that later this week my reverie was interrupted by a glorious show of oranges and yellows:  by a tree whose branches had grown between railings in Muswell Hill. I was on a recce for this coming Sunday’s Exploration of the Urban Forest with Paul Wood, the last of this year‘s series, that is sure to be very colourful. Sign up here to join us on Sunday

Yesterday we joined in at the first London National Park City Foundation Network  meeting in Conway Hall. We weren’t sure what to expect but we were pleased to find a room full of enthusiasm, filled with people willing to share their wisdom, make suggestions and work together, to bring the vision of London as a National Park City to reality. Some dates for 2019 to put in your diary include:

  • 1st January:  Launch of 10 ways to make life better in London
  • 23rd May: Launch season begins with an event at the Southbank Centre
  • 20-28 July: National Park City Festival

As co-producers of the first Urban Tree Festival, we need to ensure that our own efforts in 2019 compliment and not conflict with the National Park City campaign.

This last week’s listening from the Talking Walking archive, has brought a lovely mix of memories, walking wisdom, and creative thought but what rings through all the podcasts is the value of walking to find space in our busy lives.

Three of the interviews were recorded on the Sideways2012 nomadic art festival in Belgium, in which a ‘caravan of walking artist’ including myself walked 375kms across the fairly flat country of Flanders.  A strange landscape of deserted suburbia, market gardens and some farming, with an occasional tree-lined canal or former slag heap as landmarks.  Dee Heddon, co creator of “The Walking Library” talked about how she and Mysha Myers came to the idea of carrying a library of books chosen as companions on walks.  She also described how “walking deepens friendship” and that when she turned 40, she invited 40 of her friends (and family) to gift her a walk with them.  A lovely idea, I cribbed for my own significant birthday earlier this year.  Listen to Dee here

Bram Thomas Arnold has just completed a PhD based on the theme of walking home, a journey he undertook in 2009 to revisit his Swiss childhood, but when I interviewed him he was collaborating with Eleanor Wynne Davis on project they called “Belgium Transect“.  Taking its form from ecology, they dissected the landscape, making music and writing poetry in response to what they encountered.  They ‘field broadcasted‘ portraits of their transect at the end of each day.  Listen to Bram and Eleanor.

Christine Mackey from Ireland, carries a mobile studio and botanic laboratory as she investigates ‘invasive plants’ on the Sideways2012 route.  Her intention was to build a multi-media installation at Turnhout (our final destination on the walk) that would include moving and still images, plant specimens, drawings and audio recordings. Listen to Christine here

I was slightly fearful of meeting Amy Sharrocks anywhere near water, for she’s been known to jump in to canals, ponds and rivers and in her effort to swim across London (with 50 other hardy volunteer recruits), has taken a pre-dawn dip in a lido or two.  She says her interests lie in journeying, and although I had met her when she volunteered as one of Dee Heddon’s walking librarians, I was actually wondering whether she did any walking at all in her art practice.  She is now well-known and well-travelled by her creation of a Museum of Water, for which she explains an early prototype in our interview.  Little did I know at the time, that Amy was using the interview as a rehearsal for a judging panel for the Royal British Society of Sculptors, Sculpture Shock Prize, for which she came out as the winner!  Listen to Amy here.

Ali Pretty has had a hugely successful career as an artist developing work for carnivals, including that at Notting Hill, painting colourful silk banners.  She talked about how she wanted to move on to include walking as her practice.  And move on she has.  Ali gave me the impression that she wouldn’t ever stop walking, becoming a member of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association, who don’t shy at walking 30+ miles in a day, she had devised a 100 mile walk to link the 8 white horses of Wiltshire – these giant etchings in the chalk downland sward. She had collaborated with digital artist Richard White, and together they had produced a geo-located, visually stunning exhibition at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.   I interviewed her at the back of the Brady Arts Centre in Hanbury Street (close to Brick Lane) in East London when the piece was still in development, but later joined her and Richard at the start of her 100 mile walk for which I couldn’t keep up, let alone go the distance!  Listen to Ali here.

Tim Stonor is an architect and urbanist who heads up a consultancy called Space Syntax, that itself was once a research laboratory at University College London.  Space Syntax is a means of forecasting pedestrian movement through our existing towns and is applied in planning new cities an urban extensions.  So does this mean that there is no such thing as an unpredictable human? Tim explains that we are fairly simple beings and that ancient cities grew on a grid pattern – which I thought was something that was only revealed in cities built for cars.  We humans apparently develop patterns of movement that can be predicted – we don’t however, walk to destinations unless they have a particular pull – we are not that daft – so much of Tim’s work is in persuading planners to provide better places for us to walk and better connected routes that link attractions e.g. public transport hubs, shopping, schools, green spaces etc. Space Syntax were heavily involved in the re-configuration of Trafalgar Square, so Tim, although likely to forecast your next move, must be on the walker’s side.  Listen to Tim here.

Walking through Bloomsbury on an early Sunday morning in the company of Susan Trangmar must go down as one of my most delightful memories of Talking Walking.  Susan has been photographing street trees or rather photographing building facades as they are framed by street trees.  Many of these trees have lived through the Second World War and bomb damage, others have witnessed considerable changes in the built environment, and Susan sees them as the ‘Invisible consciousness of the city’.  Her take on walking is as much abut slow movement as it is about pausing to take a photograph – the pauses allow the sound around you to penetrate your consciousness, and often it’s an unexpected silence that you hear.  She sees the combination of slow movement and pauses as a therapeutic walk.  Listen to Susan here.

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Clock changes

Never been one for working out whether the clocks go forward or back, so of course this last weekend, I had a bit of panic that I wasn’t going to be at the start of a walkshop in Brockley at the right time!  As it happened I bumped into co-walkshop leader Paul Wood on the Overground, so I was reassured that I had got the right time!

Persian silk tree

Brockley is the ‘heartwood’ of street tree warden volunteers.  The neighborhood is not short of trees or green spaces, but many of the street trees are coming to maturity and may soon face the chop.  Brockley Society has for many years recruited volunteers to look after trees in the streets.  So many residents have signed up that they have now created Street Trees for Living as a separate NGO, working in collaboration with Lewisham Borough Council‘s tree officers.  All over the borough (not just in Brockley) there are some 2000 empty street tree pits, but the council alone hasn’t the resources to plant and maintain trees.  So, Street Trees for Living are galvanising residents to fund the purchase and planting of trees in their own streets.  The Borough does the physical work of planting them, and the residents then maintain them as ‘juveniles’.

Strawberry tree in a front garden

Elm as a street tree

Xanthe Mosley is co-chair of Street Trees for Living and she and her husband joined our walkshop on Sunday, providing fabulous local information to complement Paul’s remarkable knowledge of street tree varieties. It is intriguing discovering which trees local residents choose to have planted in their streets – what influences their decisions we ask?  Brockley station boasts a Persian silk tree, but other streets offer up sweetgums and several birch varieties. Many of the houses on the ridges running up to Hilly Fields (itself a fairly diverse parkland arboretum) have front gardens festooned with shrubs and trees – one example is this red barked strawberry tree. Neither Xanthe nor Paul quite expected to discover an elm surviving as a street tree!  Elms in Lewisham, of which there is one in Ladywell, were decimated by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s, so it was terrific to find this elm tree thriving.

Paul with a gingko in the background

The fruit of the female gingko has a pungent noxious aroma

The weekend was a full on street tree extravaganza, as we had been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society to run two walks and a talk across their Urban Garden Show.  Each of the walks was an hour in duration, and Paul had worked out a circular route around the Horticultural Halls in Vincent Square.  The route included the magnificent avenues of London plane trees in the Millbank estate, and participants learned just how smelly the fruit of a female gingko tree can be! We also found out the derivation of the term ‘Pom’ used by Australians to describe the English, and Paul bumped into the commissioning editor of his new book (out in May 2019).

We have been prepping for our first “Between the Lines” walkshop coming up this Sunday 4 November in Peckham, celebrating the life and work of Dame Muriel Spark,who wrote an intriguing novel called ‘The Ballad of Peckham Rye‘ .  Many of the locations mentioned in the novel still persist so the plan is to walk to some of these and read and discuss her book.  Why not come and see Peckham in the 1950s (when the novel was set) and see for yourself? Read more and book here.

This last week, catching up with the Talking Walking archive, I have been listening to a variety of voices whom it would be difficult to categorise under one label, unless that label was ‘passionate walker‘.

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street about to join a workshop on using Garageband (the sound editing suite bundled in with Apple computers, which to this day is what I use for producing these podcasts) when I met Graham Stevens, who was having difficulty closing his computer down.  I offered to help and we got to talking, and it turned out that not only was he an artist and film maker but one who was passionate about walking – not just any walking, but walking on water!  Well this piqued my interest and in researching the Internet, I uncovered a video in the archive of the National Library of Scotland.  It showed a large polythene cube in which two people walked, causing the cube to move forward, one side at a time, and as it moved forward down hill, one realised that the cube would end up in a lake if the people within weren’t careful. Well that was of course, their intention!  Once the cube came to the water, the people within it just kept walking, and indeed walked on the water, to the far side of the lake.  A very much younger Graham Stevens emerged and was interviewed about his experience.  I sent the link to Graham who told me he had never seen the video!

Graham invited me to join him on a walk on the Isle of Wight, where he had created the ‘Freshwater Dialogues‘ a series of walks in honour of Robert Hooke (inventor and town planner) who was born in Freshwater.  The intention of the walks were to visit sites that would prompt discussion about Hooke and about walking on water, air and fire.  Cannily Graham had got funding from the Royal Society marking their 350th anniversary – for whom Hooke was a founding member – and had been invited by local art gallery, Dimbola, to display photographs of his work from the Rock Festival in 1970.  At that time, Graham had created an inflatable tube of vast proportions, that was passed from hand to outstretched hand by the rock festival crowd, creating an extraordinary image and film of ‘crowdsurfing’.

Only a few months earlier, Graham had been approached by Andrew Tweedie, a photographer who recognised Graham from when he had been studying photography at college, and had taken Graham’s art works as the focus of his photography dissertation.  Andrew had leapt negatives of photographs of Graham’s work from the 1970s (including from the Rock Festival), such that these photographs could shown at Dimbola.

An amazing story and an amazing artist, and delightful company on a walk across the top of the Isle of Wight – a treat to make and a treat to listen to.  Listen here to Graham Stevens Talking Walking.

Phoebe Taplin recommends you take a dog zappa next time you follow one of her walks.  Although she now lives in Bishop Stortford, I interviewed at the time of the publication of her walking guide books to Moscow.  She has since written guides to walks in Hertfordshire, London and the Thames Valley, where it less likely you will encounter packs of wild dogs.  Resourceful Phoebe realised she could cover more ground and write more walks, if she recruited friends to join her, thereby creating a regular walking group, that expanded in number immediately her walks began appearing in an English Language weekly Moscow paper.  In all she devised more than 50 walks in Moscow – take a  look at her Talking Walking page to follow links to her books, and listen to Phoebe explaining how she landed what she sees as her ‘dream job’ as a walking route devisor.

Adam Shaw had worked on the front line of the NHS for more than a dozen years as a nurse in a heart ward.  Listening to heart disease sufferers he began to realise how little they knew of how to change their lifestyles to prevent heart disease, attack or imminent death. He looked into alternative medicine, becoming a Reiki master, yet found that walking was often seen as the best prevention to heart disease.  He consequently combined energy healing with walking, devising a simple process through which participants can become grounded and lower their stress levels, as well as taking moderate physical activity, calling it “Walk Innovation“.  I came across Adam when working on behalf of the NHS on workforce development and invited him to present Walk Innovation at a Talk the Walk hosted by Greenwich Healthy Living Service.  Well worth a listen.

Katrina Naomi is a poet, currently in residence at the Leach Pottery in St Ives.  She is passionate walker so much so now, that she felt to really be prepared for any eventuality, it was important to her to train as a mountain guide.  Frequently, clients assumed that she wasn’t the guide!  We walked together across Streatham Common towards The Rookery, at the time she was living in London.  Now in Cornwall, she was recently commissioned by BBC Local Radio to compose a poem for National Poetry Day.  Listen to Katrina on Talking Walking here.

Dare I describe Foster Spragge as an obsessive?  Her art is made through almost constant repetition, criss crossing the City of London, marking every step with a pencil mark on an unfolding square of paper.  Each city she encounters has a unique ‘signature’ created through her repetitive walks.  Listen to Foster’s interview on Talking Walking.

Trying to move further into recording the path one treads, this time trying to devise a simple process for a tactile interpretation of the landscape, Belgian artist Reg Carremans walked 375kms across Flanders with canvas on the soles of his shoes.  It was only the third day of the month long nomadic Sideways 2012 art festival, when I recorded this interview, so Reg’s shoe adaptations hadn’t yet been tested on the roughest surfaces.  Yet he was very confident that not only the canvasses and the shoes would survive the adventure, but so would he!  He was a companion on many more kilometres of the festival and we became allies and friends.  I have lost touch with him since, and only have this recording and a couple of newsletters he sent me, but I am hoping that one day soon our paths will cross again.  Have a listen to Reg Carremans Talking Walking.

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Stories from stones

Borrowing a phrase from Talking Walking interviewee, Leo Hollis, who said ‘where stones turn into stories‘ while talking about how the City of London, and the fabric of its built environment conjures up a myriad of stories.  Leo had just written a book about Sir Christopher Wren and the re-building of St Paul’s Cathedral, but I had approached him about an earlier book which described the history of the City of London through ten walks.  I accompanied him on one such walk when I recorded the interview.  He is a great advocate of both Wren and Sir Robert Hooke, as he feels that they were the first to ask ‘modern questions’ about how cities should function and how their form could influence how people lived within them.  Leo is also supporter of preserving views of St Paul’s and feels that they should be protected, more so than individual buildings being listed.  In this digital age, where our every move can be tracked, Leo recommends switching everything off and getting lost, allowing yourself to experience the stones of the City of London, to create your own stories. Listen to Leo here

At the other extreme, in terms of digital tracking, I accompanied Tim Wright, a digital author, who keeps track of not only where he is, at what altitude, but also his velocity at any time.  His GPS provides hims this detail, from which he determines the time it takes him to walk from one point to another, providing him the score on which to write the script for an ‘audio walking piece’.  It is actually fascinating stuff, and like Leo, he is only too happy to let stories emerge.  We walked from Waterloo station to Hercules Road, where William Blake once lived, and Tim recounted how he had ‘stumbled’ upon an idea for a ‘bibliomancy‘ – what if you stepped from a Blake walk, into a Dickens‘ walk and from here ended up in Joseph Conrad‘s ‘Heart of Darkness’?  He too came out with memorable turn of phrase, in which he said ‘walking liberates the writer from the solitariness of the room‘.  This interview was very much an inspiration for my own efforts of devising geo-located audio walks, for which the software and smartphone technology, makes it easy and affordable to have a go yourself. Listen to Tim here

Tom Bolton is also a walking historian, with similar enthusiasms to Leo, but he has broadened his territory to include the Lost rivers of London and Vanished neighbourhoods.  On our Talking Walking jaunt, we went in search of the River Effra, which along its whole course leaves tantalising traces in street names – Brixton Water Lane, Effra Road – but never appears.  We supposedly heard it rushing beneath our feet as we stood on a manhole cover in Norwood – but after a couple of hours following its course, you are prepared to believe anything.  Since then, Tom and I have gone out with groups of people and walked several lost river courses and explored forgotten neighbourhoods.  Tom is an engaging speaker and brings hidden rivers and streets to life. Listen to Tom here

Len Banister is a writer of walking guides.  He is also not averse to using the latest technology to help him devise an engaging route, flying through Google Earth, before he sets out on foot. Len showed me little known alleyways in the historic village of Waltham Forest, but he has been a contributor to Country Walking magazine and various  newspapers, so has walked all over the UK.  However, Len has volunteered for the Ramblers for many years, and has founded and chaired the Greater London Ramblers Walking Forum, as he realised how valuable the work of the Ramblers has been in maintaining, preserving and creating new rights of way, and for them to continue such work they must be involved in strategic policy in London.  So Len has been a lobbyist for walkers, and in our interview explains the inconsistencies of rights of way in London.  Len has a keen interest in nearby Essex, its inland villages and the coast, which he sees as an almost indefinable border between sea and land.  (It’s also of interest to Tom Bolton too whose latest book is all about Brexit and the Essex coast…). Listen to Len here

Moving up the coast to Suffolk, I met Fran Crowe for a walk along the shingle beach at Thorpeness, and area of continuous erosion from the North Sea.  She too is drawn to the coast but for a very different reason.  Many years before Sir David Attenborough‘s Blue Planet, Fran was inspired to take action having discovered the extent of plastic pollution in the North Sea from attending a talk by the Friends of the Earth.  She learnt there that at the time a square mile of ocean was host to as much was 46,000 pieces of plastic.  Taking this number to heart, Fran determined to collect plastic from the beach at Thorpeness and use what she found for installation art to raise awareness and campaign for a reduction in plastic use.  She kept bobbing up and down as we walked along the beach to pick up yet more plastic – shingle makes a terrific ambient backdrop and one is immediately taken to the beach just listening to the recording. Listen to Fran here.

Danielle Wilson is a labyrinth facilitator – which means she is there to support you as you walk through a labyrinth, journeying to find an inner calm.  It was about this time that I was working on Amazing London – an unrealised Olympic legacy project in which were going to create a maze in all 2012 square kilometres that London covers.  I was walking down Hampstead High Street, and spotted a banner of Danielle’s hanging on the railings of Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel inviting people to walk a labyrinth.  This turned out to be printed on a vast canvas sheet that Danielle rolled out to which she added a circle of candles.  The space itself was contemplative and she merely invited us in our own time, and at our own pace to walk the labyrinth route.  Now unlike a maze, which offers several routes, to trick you, and make it hard to find the centre of the pattern, a labyrinth offers only on route to the centre.  Hence you can trust that the path will lead you in and lead you out.  This Danielle tells us is a key to finding inner peace and each participants will discover something different.  It was a remarkable experience and subsequently chatting to Danielle and discovering both her journey to become a labyrinth facilitator and the history of labyrinths, make this a lovely recording. Listen to Danielle here

A frosty walk across London on chilly winter’s day, in the company of Ben Rossiter one-time Essex boy, and now full blown Australian was challenging for both of us.  I recall that my gloved hand holding the recorder got cold very quickly, and Ben, unused to the cold was fairly quickly shivering.  One needs to consider how much colder it is when you take to a bridge to cross the river Thames on foot – it is a big river, and takes awhile to cross! Ben runs Victoria Walks which acts both as a government lobbyist as well as promoting walking and in devising routes, across the state of Victoria in south Australia.  Melbourne is its biggest city, sprawling out into age tracts of suburbs, so finding ways of encouraging people and routes they can walk is challenging to say the least, but the Internet has provided a means by which people can contribute their own suggestions to a growing route map of the state. We may see Australians as fit athletes but the sorry fact is that they too have succumbed to obesity with almost 2/3rds of Australian adults overweight and 1 in 4 children.  Ben is a realist. His enthusiasms though come clearly through in our conversation and he values the chance encounters and excitement of urban walks. Listen to Ben here

Plotting buildings and streets of Peckham in the 1950s

We have been out walking and talking this week, not least in discovering as much as we can about Peckham, in south east London, plotting buildings, some of which still persist, all part of our homework for our celebration of Muriel Spark’s 100th anniversary – why not come and join us on Sunday 4 November as we explore and read her  novel “A Ballad of Peckham Rye“. Read more and book here

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..

Orchard to Orchard

We marked Apple day on Sunday 14 October, with our new Museum of Walking Co-creator, Carole Wright who is not only an artist, but a bee keeper, community gardener and orchardist.  She has lived in the SE1 postcode area for many a year, and has worked for local charities and initiatives, including Bankside Open Spaces Trust, Groundwork and homeless charity St Mungo’s. She has such infectious enthusiasm, that despite the rain, we had a wonderful time walking from Orchard to Orchard, from Peabody Square (adjacent to the Blackfriar’s Road), via the ‘Brookwood Triangle’, Charles Dickens’ country, to White Ground Rents, tucked up beneath the railway into London Bridge, and just east of the trendy Bermondsey Road.

5 stars: It was excellent: Because Carole is so articulate, funny, personable, and committed to the programs she runs.

5 stars: It was excellent: It was a real delight to discover these community gardens
that looked a bit run down from the outside, and on first impression, due to the autumnal season. When we spent more time lingering, looking at the different mixture of trees, hedges, and wildflowers, up close and enjoying the stories about the people who have taken part in these gardens, the gardens really came to life and became very endearing.

Walk21 the series of international walking conferences organised by Jim Walker and Bronwen Thornton, rolled into south America on the invitation of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa Londoño in Bogota, Columbia.  We would have loved to have been there this week, and although the conference was free, through a generous gesture of the Mayor, the flight from London was prohibitive.  Next year, there’s talk of Walk21 in Holland, and if they’ll have us in the EU next year, we intend to be there.  It is great to bring so many people together talking about what they are doing to benefit those of us on foot.  So Three Cheers for Jim and Bronwen and read more about the conference here.

Occasionally I’ve tried to plan who I’m going to interview for Talking Walking and where I’m going to walk with them. However most of that interviewing takes place whenever an opportunity arises and the publishing tends to follow in a sort of similar haphazard way. So this week I’ve been listening to 8 previous interviews 3 of which are very closely linked through health walks.

I’m up on the Berkshire Downs looking down on the River Thames in the company of Veronica Reynolds who at the time was a director of Walk England. Her two Jack Russell dogs accompanied us and occasionally you hear them barking in the background. We are just a heartbeat away from where health walks were first devised by family GP, Dr William Bird in Sonning Common. In fact Veronica and William co-authored a book about walking and health and they’ve known each other for many years. It only seems right that the interview that followed that of Veronica was that of William Bird. Listen to Veronica here.

I first met Dr William Bird back in 1997 when he came to the launch of Get Wiltshire Walking… more of that later. This time when I made the recording, we were in St James’s Park and in the background it wasn’t dogs barking but a man with one of those dreadful leaf blowers. By this time William was frequently being interviewed and so he was quite a professional getting me to stop the recording whenever the blower interrupted our conversation.

Patients with diabetes attending his clinic , offering up weak excuses for not taking exercise, was the catalyst for Dr William Bird to go out and discover for himself the under-used resource of public footpaths around his GP surgery in Sonning. Not only has he started the successful uptake of health walks by hundreds of thousands but he is also the genius behind Green Gyms in which people volunteer (or are prescribed)  to undertake conservation projects in the local area. The former is helpful for increasing physical activity and the latter has proven successful not just in physical activity but also in improving people’s mental health. Listen to William here.

This week,  I also listened to Dawn Vernon who I originally met when working in Wiltshire for TravelWise and with whom we devised Get Wiltshire Walking. Dawn went on to become the key trainer within the Walking for Health initiative incredibly training hundreds future trainers who in turn trained more than 40,000 volunteer health walk leaders in for just five years. Listen to Dawn here.

Another key ally when we launched Get Wiltshire Walking in 1997 was Nick Cowen who then and still to this day, is the rights-of-way officer in Southwest Wiltshire. I interviewed him on a walk to a remote woodland where he told me that many uses man has put Hazel to over the centuries. Nick is a larger-than-life character a keen photographer, wonderful musician, and also a writer to boot. He is generous as a walking companion and listening again to this interview was a delight. Listen to Nick here.

About as far away from rural Southwest Wiltshire in terms of landscape must be the Wakefield Europort Truckers’ services on the M62.  John Davies, at the time, a rookie vicar in Norris Green, Liverpool had taken a sabbatical and walked the route of the M62 from Hull to Liverpool. I had met him previously at TRIP, a Manchester conference on psycho-geography  and caught up with using Skype for an interview over the Internet. Listen to John here.


Psycho-geography also came up in conversation with Geoff Nicholson, author of the ‘The Lost Art of Walking‘ and many novels. I first met Geoff in the Stook’s Wine bar when we were celebrating the publication of his second novel, ‘The Knot Garden’.  Similar to John Davies, for this interview I used Skype, as Geoff was living at the time in Hollywood an area where the majority of people don’t walk.  Geoff has a lovely turn of phrase in his writing, and also in conversation, punctuated with wry humour.  Listen to Geoff here.

I have had the pleasure of re-listening to a walk I took on a very blustery day in Bristol with George Ferguson and Richard Holden, two key players behind the creation of the Brunel Mile. This is a direct 1 mile route that links the Great Western Railway station at Temple Meads to the harbour where the SS Great Britain stands. Isambard Kingdom Brunel had hoped that his Great Western Railway would have continued all the way to the dockside but the city fathers would have nothing of it and so it stopped short. However, George and Richard saw  a great opportunity, begun as a Millennium project, and since to create a pedestrian walkway that connects the station to the now increasingly popular Bristol harbourside. The recording was made some years before George became the first elected mayor of Bristol. Listen to the story of the Brunel Mile here.

I believe Laura Jennings wasn’t long out of art college when I interviewed her for Talking Walking, but she spoke with such assurance about how she had developed a process in which she engaged people through adding layers of audio to enhance their experience of public space. She developed narratives, as well as characters, from observing people using the many spaces.  By gathering recorded reflections of participants, and re-editing the work to include them, provided a rich source of material, to create a truly immersive experience.  Laura provided a clear and concise description of the process of creating an audio enhanced walking piece, and it is well worth a listen to Laura.

A couple of weeks ago we were blogging about #Forgotten and a walk of discovery we took along the ‘Pedway‘ in the City of London – well, we were beneath an isolated and dislocated part of the Pedway yesterday, and look what we spotted had been constructed there.

Read our previous post about the Pedway  here.


All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..