Walking the archives

The #100daysto challenge to mark the tenth anniversary of Talking Walking has begun! We are diving through the Podcast Library archives of 90+ interviews and we thought we would work through it chronologically.  So take yourself back in time to 2007/8 – where were you 10 years ago?

I had been very lucky to win a place on a ‘Walking and Art‘ residency at the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity in the Canadian Rockies.  I had never been on a residency (and to be honest, never mingled with so many artists).  I quickly realised that my lack of arts training meant that the facilities offered were beyond my mastering them within the 6 week residency.  So instead, I started recording interviews with the artists to find out how walking was the catalyst for their practice.  Podcasting was in its infancy but offered an exciting avenue for my creativity.

Toward the end of the residency, we had two visitors both of whom well-respected artists: Simon Pope and Hamish Fulton.

Simon had come to lead on a ‘new media’ residency (as it was so called then, now geo-located media is mainstream), and Hamish as the  star guest for our own Walking and Art residency.  Simon was graduate of Banff, previously creating a walking bibliography.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was also author of a book called “London Walking – a survival guide and technical manual‘ – already out of print, he transferred its contents to a wiki that I had introduced him to.

Our Talking Walking interview took place among suitcases packed for our imminent departure from Banff.  Simon talked enthusiastically about how walking through necessity had led to become more observant of the many incremental changes taking place in London, and how he felt driven to write London Walking.

Hamish Fulton invited the residency to walk as slowly as possible around a city block – taking as much as 15 minutes on each of the four sides.  I also remember a bout of walking backwards.  He raced up a mountain and I only was half way up, when he was coming down, so I admit, I turned around and accompanied him down.  He was so enthusiastic and intrigued by the variety of walking and walking interventions in which I had been involved, and was eager to learn more.  So when I came to interview Hamish the following day I feared that he and I had already covered everything.  Hamish was strident, not only fast across the ground on two feet, but talking rapidly as though time was running out, he revealed his frustration with the various walking spheres not embracing each other.  Hamish sees walking as a means of opening up the mind to creativity and inventiveness, and feels that a bout of habitually walking a similar route, but with occasionally adding some absurdity, is a great way of freeing the mind.  He is also a string advocate for nature, arguing that the western world has a severe contempt for nature.

I knew I could bring variety to the Talking Walking podcasts by interviewing people I encountered in my work as an active travel specialist and urban designer. When I left Banff, I didn’t return to London immediately, instead, drove west (through a snow blizzard) across British Columbia (in the good company of Becky Ipp) to Vancouver to meet Arthur Orsini and Bernadette Kowey.  I can’t remember now why I don’t have Arthur as an interviewee, but do I recall walking along the shoreline in Vancouver chatting and recording an interview with Bernadette.   As she was working on tackling car-borne school journeys, I could empasise with her having recently finished project  managing Young TransNet.  Canadians are auto-dependent – to some extent you can understand as the vastness of the country and remoteness of some of the cities is extraordinary.  Not only Bernadette, but two other interviewees were grappling with similar issues.

Peter Tombrowski was a Calgary resident whom I very briefly met at the Walk21 conference in Toronto, where he had shown his award winning short documentary To Costco and IKEA without a car.  In Britain getting to IKEA without a car isn’t too onerous, although buying a sewing table, that was Peter’s intent, carrying back might have proven problematic.  Try it -30C cold and with deep snow it becomes far more than a ‘stroll to the shops’.  I didn’t get to interview Peter at the conference and instead, I only managed to catch up with him when back in London, which meant he was my first interview recorded over the Internet using Skype and Encams recording software.

Elinor Whidden is a sculptor and performance artist, but above all else an intrepid adventurer.  She tackled the car crisis head on, by cutting up cars, or collecting shredded tyres and rear view mirrors with which to make props for compelling art that took her into the higher snow covered peaks around Banff.


Once back in the UK, I went to an early meeting of the Walking Artists Network where I met Clare Qualmann and Viv Corringham, both of whom submitted to being interviewed for Talking Walking.  Clare was at the time, one of a trio of women, (the others were Serena Korda and Gail Burton), all walking artists called WalkWalkWalk, who set out to undertake various nightwalks in Hackney, searching out the ‘archeaology of the familiar and the forgotten’.  They all admitted to feeling fearful when walking alone, not just after dark, but also in daylight. Walking as a group, and often leading a larger group of walkers, changed the dynamic of the abandoned city spaces they searched out and encountered.

Why not join us and listen to each of the interviews we’ve recorded and published on Talking Walking – we will give you a weekly round up here of what we hear, and would love to encourage you to seek out our archive and have a listen yourself.

Earlier this month, we ran three sensory walkshops in the London Bridge Low Emission Neighbourhood on behalf of Better Bankside and Team London Bridge. Research reveals that by walking just one block away from a main road your exposure to air pollution can drop by half. The intention of the sensory walks was to encourage residents and visitors alike to experience better air on walking routes away from the main trafficked streets. We had already begun a similar series during National Park City Week. This time however, I was joined by Paul Wood, acclaimed author of “London’s Street Trees” and one of our Museum of Walking co-creators. We took a group of participants along a circular route connecting Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market, Guy’s Hospital and London Bridge station. Along the route, Paul told them about the few trees that line the streets and how through careful selection it is possible to plant trees more resilient to pollution and climate change. The London Plane tree is renowned for its resilience to pollution, and with our longer and hotter summers, this species is thriving, with trunks expanding and shedding bark, creating colourful patterns. Latterly I led a listening walk and a smell and touch safari. In all I must have walked the route a dozen or more times!

On a very wet Sunday morning, in the company of Dr Peter Coles, creator of the on-line resource Morus Londinnium and Museum of Walking co-creator we took a group stalking mulberries in the East End. Joined by local resident and now tree activist, Jaime Rory Lucy, we peered over the hoardings to view the top of Bethnal Green’s oldest mulberry (and possibly one of the oldest in Britain). Threatened by the redevelopment of the London Chest Hospital site only a couple of days before, Tower Hamlets Planning Committee had decided that the tree could be re-located, although experts argue that as it is so fragile and reliant on specific micro-organisms in its current root site, it is likely not to survive any relocation. Read more about here from Spitalfields’ Life.

#Forgotten – we are keeping up a weekly walk of forgotten routes and walking initiatives – do Get in touch with us if you would like to join an ad hoc adventure into the forgotten past of the walking world. Last week we struck out on a route from Parliament Hill to Trafalgar Square that included a walk through the newly expanded Royal Academy of Arts – that got us thinking about reviving CrissCrossCulture walks….

Not a Guardian reader? Well you can dip into a fascinating series about walking the city, including an article about following others on their walks, written by walking artist (and one time Sound Salon participant) Debbie Kent. The series is proving to be a delight.

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…..