The Walking Library

a 1930s style walking library in London, from the VSW Soibelman Syndicate News Agency Archive

Updates…8 Nov 2013: hear Dee’s contribution to Talking Walking’s 5 year walking forecast series…24 Feb 2015: vid with Dee from My Bookcase, also Stories from the Walking Library, seminar in Embra on 20 Feb, and an article in Cultural Geographies (open access).

How ace is this? A Talking Walking podcast on The Walking Library, a ‘performance piece’ conceived by Deirdre Heddon and Misha Myers for the Sideways Walking and Art Festival in 2012. With the help of a troupe of volunteer walking librarians a library of more than 90 books that people suggested were “good to take for a walk” was walked 375 km across Belgium. Along the way locals donated books to the project, and at the end of the festival the library was donated to the festival organisers.

In her research of the histories and discourses of walking Dee kept encountering
descriptions of books and journals that were carried by walkers, as a kind of travelling
companion. This prompted the idea of The Walking Library (sadly no sign of the catalogue, but some listed here, plus see the photo on Facebook and 34 page PDF):

The Walking Library carries a curated library of books and facilitates a peripatetic reading group as it journeys, allowing engagement with and reflection on the library’s content, and some sketching with words or images.

The Walking Library is being continued by Alec Finlay’s Bothy Project on Eigg (see the book list at the end of the post). Update: for further details see Bothan Shuibhne 2013 and The Walking Library for Sweeney’s Bothy.

Another wheeze from Dee – she celebrated her 40th birthday by undertaking 40 walks with family, friends and colleagues – see the 40 Walks Blog, and not least the Paris Arcades walk and an article: ‘Turning 40: 40 turns: Walking & friendship’, Performance Research 2012, 17 (2) pp67-75, eprint).

2013 Walking Library projects:

  • Tree Walk – Glasgow, 27 November, during National Tree Week
  • Bedrock Walk – from Dalwhinnie to Glen Nevis, 15-21 July, as part of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Stories in the Land project
  • PSi 19 Night Walk – Palo Alto/Stanford, 28 June; from dusk to dawn to visit the sleeping libraries of Palo Alto and Stanford University as part of the Performance Studies International Conference
  • From Ohio to Scotland and back again
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walk walk walk: an archaeology of the familiar and the forgotten

walk walk walk keeps popping up, most recently via Clare Qualmann (@ClareQualmann), involved in the Performing landscapes and identity colloquium and a member of Footwork (her latest post).

Clare worked as a materials librarian and is now a lecturer/tutor in performing arts and design:

  • walk: “as a necessity, routine walks, getting places without spending any money, walking as a freedom, as a subversive practice, and as a visual art practice”
  • art: “my work stems from an obsession with the ordinary and the unnoticed, looking for beauty in the everyday mundane…domesticity…repetitions and routine”

Stress on re-examining familiar places –  a kind of anti-derive. Particularly interested in her text works, collecting and collating words, Letters from the bank, Perambulator (and Huntly Perambulator 2014, cf being encumbered with a dog) and Darned Memory, a self guided walk on Millbank. Current project: East End Jam, which has thrown up a lot on bye laws that forbid the picking of fruit/berries. See also Where to? Falmouth, looking at the future of the Walking Artists Network, and Ways to wander (Amazon).

Collaborations include Spinning Stories and Honesty Box (hej Denmark!).

From 2005-10 Clare worked with Gail Burton and Serena Korda on walkwalkwalk, which started as a route/map and self guided walk through Bethnal Green, running regular solstice7night walks – bring something back, relook by rewalking. Walking as a way of gathering information, a research method, but also as art – other outputs (flyposters, large format texts on a screen) are products from the walk. Theories of the everyday – step aside from routine (dog) walks and re-examine the repetition, turning points and traditions.

Searching brought me to Lost Steps (see episode 14), a series of weekly radio programmes exploring lost London presented by Malcolm Hopkins (Housman’s Bookshop) and produced by Nick Hamilton (who made the Foot and Mouth series), a series of podcasts for idle listening IDC.

Here they described the project as “a participatory live art event, with a walk at its core. The project begins with an exploration of urban routine. Starting from the routes we take to and from work and home, part time jobs and friends houses, we established a methodology for the systematic exploration of the areas in and around Bethnal Green, Spitalfields and Whitechapel. Stepping outside, or aside from the absorption of the day to day in order to examine the places that we pass through and the narrative of pathways afresh.” Lots of synergies with dog walking here. Issues of the male domination of psychogeography were also discussed, touching on gender issues irt walking. Eliz Bennett in P&P!

Looks also at found objects and artefacts – the archaeology of the everyday. In March 2014 Clare led a walk finds visual arts lab, exploring how overlooked and extraordinary ‘finds’ can be uncovered in familiar places: “Searching for ‘finds’ creates a different kind of looking and being in the city – observation, scanning, close to the ground, gleaning. Which in turn leads to encounters, engagement, adventures, stories – a ‘turning over’ or examination, literally. Finding is anti-commerce – we are inculcated/necessitated to buy as a way to exist in public space – the found object is a testament to this purchasing and consumption, its trace – but also proposes a challenge to the imperative to buy and own or choose. Finding is free, is random, possibly dirty, always unregulated!”

Ramblings 23: walk for self improvement

Ramblings 23 looked at walks for self improvement:

The Walking Book Group 

Clare joins Emily’s Walking Book Club for their monthly meeting on Hampstead Heath, all very north London. Described as a gentle stroll for around an hour, 15 people (14 women, one man) aged 35-65 attended. The man walked at the front.

From the group walk point of view, having a book to discuss meant there was no need for awkward small talk. From the book club POV, it felt more relaxed than a ‘sitting down’ club at someone’s house, which can be quite competitive, particularly regarding cakes.

People drifted into smaller groups to chat, meaning that everyone had a voice, rather than one voice dominating. It was relaxed, both in terms of the discussion and the route of the walk – walking breaks down barriers and makes people more confident.

Found some nice things on Emily’s blog:

Similar walking book clubs have been set up in Edinburgh (stop it; can’t trace mind) and Exmoor. Now then, wonder if the north CPH book club could be tempted? And can I – my main problem with book clubs is that they never discuss anything I want to read. Should I maybe try a three circle Venn diagram with Dogenhagen? That would be just me, you see.

Back on Hampstead Heath, a 2010 #ramblings with the Harrow Road walkers included comments on the views from different vantage points around London and seeing things from a different angle. As well as a splendid metaphor, this reminded me of my brother’s comment about “the queer folk” who live round the back of Arthur’s Seat. It’s just not right…

Walking for spiritual renewal

Clare undertakes some mindful walking, staying in the moment and dipping into the body…we can’t stop thinking, thoughts pop up but don’t follow them (stop endlessly pursuing the same thoughts) – concentrate on each footfall instead. A calming and soothing way to walk.

Walking has a soothing quality, it engages both body and mind. You don’t have to look into your companion’s eyes (so it’s a good way to impart bad news) and provides natural breaks. A walk around the block can be enough to give yourself space and relieve stress. But we need to learn to trust silence, which doesn’t come naturally to most.

Some sports also give you the chance to concentrate on the body – see not walking but…

Walking with friends

Clare and two friends do a two hour circular walk, around six miles – enough to get your heart rate up and muscles working, but not enough to hurt. It’s a nice thing to do together and a good thing to slow down.

They don’t use maps but rely on Google (search: walk from…not sure what this means, didn’t work for me; phone thing?).

Toyah Wilcox, David Sedaris

Six miles (again) with Toyah and her dodgy hip, followed by a litter pick with David Sedaris.

Barefoot walker

On a February day when the “sky has no colour, sort of grey” Clare walks barefoot with Michael Weltike. Barefoot walking, known as ‘earthing’, helps him to feel centred and connected with the earth. We look up rather than down when we are walking, and are hence not in direct contact with the earth and its electromagnetic benefits. The energy exchange of walking barefoot can be harmonising and balancing. Michael also takes dew baths.

See Barefoot Ramblings for more.

Ramblings 21: walk the dog

Update: series 14 includes a group dog walk in Sheffield: “When dog owners Chris Bird and Victoria Cooper discovered that their four-footed friends were not always warmly received by all ramblers clubs they decided to set up their own, where all well-mannered dogs and their owners would be welcome. They enjoy exploring further afield than just the local parks and they discuss with Clare the joys and drawbacks of dogs in the countryside.” We’ve tried a couple of group dog walks, but our beagles are a bit too independent. Can’t think where they get that from…

Ramblings series 21 was a series of walks with dogs and their owners:

  • Flamborough Head to Bridlington – with Stuart Jessup and springer spaniel Poppy, undertaking an eight month, 2500 mile walk around the English coast in aid of mental health. Nice point re being with the dog 24/7 and how it will be hard for both to adjust to ‘normal walks’. Interesting how modern walking challenges involve charity rather than Captain Barclay and co’s derring do. Here’s Stuart’s website, lacking Poppy pics – more in evidence on Facebook.
  • Dartmoor – with the Tavistock-Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team, obsessive border collies who constantly ask their people for something to do; very different from beagles who entertain themselves and may well need a search and rescue team themselves (see Team Beagle Lost & Found).
  • Alnmouth – portrait of the relationship between a border terrier and a lurcher; see also the vid of Val McDermid on walking and writing with said border terrier
  • Larkhall – more walking challenges with long distance walker Scott Cunningham and guide dog Travis the day before his retirement, to be replaced by Milo. Scott has raised more than £150K for guide dogs – see Milos Miles  for details – and @milotheguidedog.
  • Pen Farthing on Dartmoor – yet another inspirational one! Pen, a former Royal Marine, has set up the Nowzad charity and shelter in Afghanistan – read the full story in One dog at a time and follow on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Whitley Bay with Barry Stone – misery memoir written from the dog’s point of view – Barking at Winston; Barry’s current dog is a rescue, demonstrating that rescue dogs can do some rescuing themselves.

See also BBC Two’s Walking with dogs: a Wonderland special from October 2012 (“Over a number of months in north London’s Hampstead Heath, Vanessa Engle approached people who were walking their dogs to discover why they have a dog and the role their dog plays in their emotional lives. The people she meets tell their stories, many of which are moving, surprising and profound.”), Keith Arnatt’s Walking the dog, 40 photos of dogs and their owners, and, new for 2016, C4’s Coast walks with my dog (press).

Here are some more dog related walking challenges:

Clare Balding’s Ramblings

Update: ultimate Ramblings: Geoff Nicholson, 20 Oct 2016

Ramblings is an R4 programme hosted by national treasure Clare Balding, broadcast since 1999.

It’s quintessential R4 and prone to well, rambling, as Clare gets into conversation with her fellow walkers. I’m not entirely sure how much specialised clothing is involved – probably varies.

I’ve hurled the programme into my feedreader and bookmarked the archive to see where it takes us – see the #ramblings tag. I’ve also stuck #R4Ramblings into Hootsuite, although also need to keep an eye on the rather more random #ramblings. Update, Dec 2013: I’ve now listened to the entire archive of 100+ podcasts. I’m still no wiser as to the definition of a #ramble, but it was fun!

Each series has a theme – a possible taxonomy? In the current series (24) Clare is walking in search of new places, new people and new experiences – how apt!

27 June: Tara Bariana recalls his long walk home to India. Last one of the series – back in the autumn.

Clare walks on Cannock Chase with Tara, who recalls his 19 month walk home to the Punjab in 1995.

20 June: West Highland Way from Balmaha

Clare walks a section of the West Highland Way with twin sister ultra runners.

13 June: In search of the old ways

A ‘linear walk’ with Robert Macfarlane in Cambridgeshire’s Himalayas. Walking became a leisure activity rather than a necessity in the late 1800s, however pedestrian was still a bit declasse compared to chivalry/horseback. Wayfaring and walking clubs became popular (see Penguin comp), with anthologies of poetry and prose, although there was also a darker side with the Old English Brigade in search of Englishness. Does UKIP walk?

Walking as a special way of seeing, connecting with the landscape both familiar and unknown/challenging. The Cambridgeshire landscape can be considered uncharismatic if typical of contemporary England, and it has taken a long time for Robert to learn to read it and love it – you need to learn to love your place.

The walk explores the old ways, a network of footpaths, long, beckoning lines forming gates and portals into the landscape, the stage for eg a couple with a black spaniel walking between their legs. Wide paths created before the 18th century parcelling up of the land by enclosures (qv, also Connemara) and hedgerows, creating a partitioned version of the landscape (something about DK?).

Creates the mapping of our lives – interior landscapes and landscapes we travelled through, personal landscapes, as individual as we are, in our mind as well as in front of us. We all have our heartlands.

6 June: George Monbiot in search of the wild

George has a new book out, Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding – here’s the short version. Obviously endorsed by me, but rather earnest.

30 May: In search of love

Waterproof trousers alert! another group walk “like a map of a relationship”, rather too Home Counties for me, plus rather too much about leaders and being in charge; OTOH might have to research GPS machines; the walk in question was 8.5 miles.

23 May: Chilterns American Women’s Club hiking group

This was fun, being an expat myself; the particular type of international women here were almost exclusively Anglo Saxon professional wives; a jarring note where one mentioned British reserve as a barrier to friendship – just try DK!; note to self to look for DK expat walking groups to not join…