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…..