Today saw the first synchronised walk for the ‘Women Who Walk‘ network, tagline ‘walking, making, thinking’. This network, curated by Sonia Overall, is designed to allow women who use walking in academic and creative practice to share experiences, ideas, methods and so on. In terms of synchronicity I fell down twice by not managing to fit the walk into the allotted hours (quite) and also because I am not mobile tweeting enabled. This post therefore represents a paradox: a fixed account of something that happened in the past dealing with fluidity and transitions.
You can follow other women’s experiences by searching Twitter for #womenwhowalknet where you can find a picture of Sonia’s wellies. At least I managed to synchronise my footwear. Although today is beautifully sunny and almost warm where I am, it has been wet, so I anticipated mud and water. So, to my walk.
Why do I walk? It allows space and time for reflection and thinking. The visual aspects of walking act as a stimulus. I work on landscapes, space and place, so movement is essential.
Why did I walk today? To share experiences, because it was sunny and because I am overwhelmed with book proofs and if I don’t do something creative this week, I’ll scream.
Where did I walk? See if you can guess…
Today’s route is one that I do reasonably often as it can be accommodated in a break from work. It’s not especially unusual, but it does encompass a series of transitions and different landscapes within quite a small geographical area.
Stage 1: cross the main road and railway, see a plane take off. Lots of traffic noise.
Stage 2: Reach the river at the point where it ceases (as I was walking upstream) to be tidal. The tide is out and it’s not long before low water. there are plenty of gulls sitting on a mud bank. We are past the big spring tides, but I am always struck by how different this part of the walk looks depending on time of day, the wind and water conditions.
Stage 3: Cross the road. The river is flowing quickly and freely after all the rain. As well as the usual ducks, coot, moorhens etc. there is a large flock of geese and they are very loud. As it is school half-term there are plenty of children. Signs of transition between the seasons include the first appearance of the ice-cream van this year and a patch of yellow crocus. It is beautifully light and sunny. I continue to walk up stream.
Stage 4: Strange lack of anglers today, though there are one or two sitting on the benches. Lots of dogs under various degrees of control from their owners. Waterfowl all very sensibly staying on the other side of the river. I find myself trying to match my walking pace to the flow of the river. As I’m walking against the current all that happens is that I feel dizzy. Normally an area of recreation, today there are people working, surveying and sampling the park and river.
Stage 5: Reach the bridge where I cross back over the river and head off down the path behind some houses (the walk is roughly circular). The river is very close but I can no longer hear it, nor see it. The honking of the geese is replaced the chatter of starlings in the shrubs. I wonder how many car alarms, ring tones etc. they are mimicking. The path is muddier and less solid than the river bank. This is also a landscape of uncertainty: what will happen to this redundant building?
Stage 6: The houses are behind me and I’m now at a small wood, often waterlogged at this time of year, but not today. It borders a monkabulous stream that flows eastwards into the river, via the nature reserve. Since I was last in these parts, several trees have fallen or been felled. It looks like experimental disaster archaeology. Starlings replaced by sparrows.
I deviate for a little bit as my eye is caught by two things: someone has carved a stump
and this is the place where old paths go to die.
I cross the stream on a metal bridge, hearing the contact between structure and wellies echo through the wood. Unusually there is remarkably little litter.
Stage 7: The final transitional point as the path emerges into the graveyard. The snowdrops are still out in the shade and one brave daffodil is in bloom. It is wonderfully quiet and then a bus goes past. Time to head back.
This is a route that is constantly in flux and highly dependent on the river levels. Sometimes, like today, there is less water than expected. At other times, it is possible to cross paths dry shod only if you know the ground, specifically where the tree roots elevate the tarmac. It is a route where everything seems to be moving: people, dogs, birds, water. The only people I saw standing still were those whose noses seemed glued to their smart phones, their fingers waggling. I am struck by how, in a place of movement, standing still without a smart phone, small child, dog or fishing rod, is transgressive, or at least contrary.