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…..