Personal Walking Histories
"I encourage all to write their personal history of walking" Ernesto Pujol
Artist Ernesto Pujol, a former monk, is a performance artist, social choreographer and educator. In his book "Walking Art Practice - Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths" he suggests that a public art walking practice often begins with a private walking practice. Merched Chwarel started sharing our personal walking histories while stopping for lunch on our quarry walks, as a way of exploring personal and collective experience. Here we share our stories with you.
Personal history of walking - Marged Pendrell
Walking is one of the first memories of my 1950’s childhood in rural Wales.
Life evolved around walking.
I walked to school, to the shop, to see friends and family, but more importantly it was, as I grew, the way in which I developed the confidence and independence to explore new territory.
I differentiated at quite an early age, the difference between walking from A to B for a reason and the creative freedom I experienced on my timeless, unplanned adventures.
All the walks during my formative years were with my tadcu.(grandpa)
We walked to collect things, twigs, berries, nuts, bits of coal from around the coal tip for fuel etc.
Most weeks we walked for pleasure, searching the hedgerows for signs of Spring, birds nests, white snails, the first flowers.
The picnic was an important part of the walk, we covered miles I now realise and were always listening, looking, telling stories about where we were, singing or listening.A highlight would be to be to light a fire and boil the kettle, tadcu had carried for miles. It was during these times I would listen to stories about the land we were on, or what was important about where we were walking.
We walked in the Gwendraeth valley where we lived and this was one of the areas that had a lot of history in connection with the Rebecca Riots.The places where there had been toll gates were some of the picnic spots and the stories of the rioters were brought alive.
Further back in time, the limestone ridges on which we walked, had been populated during the Bronze Age with the recently excavated archaeological settlements that had been our picnic table and hideaway from the rain becoming a standing stone and a burial cairn.
As an adult, my walks were solitary by choice as they fed my creativity. I realise that one of the qualities of my childhood walks was the amount of time I had to reflect on what I was taught, we spent a lot of time walking in silence. (Possibly my tad’s way of stopping the endless questions that I asked)
I was given the confidence ,strength and a sense of curiosity on these early childhood walks to create my own very long adventures during early teens and later as an adult.The world expanded for me in many ways on these journeys and I often recorded my experiences by drawing or collecting.Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path alone at the age of 17 began a lifelong interest in exploring different lands and different cultures.
Having done a number of long treks in other countries, mostly with a creative focus ,I particularly enjoyed walking in the mountain regions of the Himalayas and the Tien Shan where its the normal method of transport for the local population.
In these countries I walked for weeks, up to 8 hrs a day and experienced first hand ,the strong spiritual connections between cultures and the land, particularly in the Buddhist areas. The harsher the environment ,the deeper the connection.
Putting one foot in front of another this context becomes the most primal action.
I wasn’t really aware that walking was the most essential element within my artistic process,I regarded it almost like breathing, as a natural function.It was when walking became regarded as an an art form in itself e.g. with Richard Long in the 1970’s that I began to value and expand on how I walked.
Walking for me, keeps a balance with the natural world through the physical and personal engagement with the land.The pace of walking allows time for observation and reflection as well as the exploration of place and time.
I enjoy being part of the layers of foot prints, of history that leaves its traces.
A personal history of walking - Lindsey Colbourne
I talked early, but walked late. It still takes me time to get out of my head, and into my body.
Growing up in a small village near Nantwich in Cheshire, surrounded by woods, and with dedicated hill walking grandparents (and a fell running mother) in the lake district, I developed a fond-ness for walking with sticks. I wasn't particularly fond of mountain climbing. But liked dam and den building on the way, the snacks at the top, and coming down as fast as possible, jumping from stone to stone rather than walking on the path.
With my other grandparents on the coast in West Sussex, I developed a fond-ness for walking on pebbles. And the feeling of cobbles under my feet, like the stones on the way down the mountain, in the arch of my foot, a pivot or point of no return, an intimate connection with that place/instant that seems to connect my feet with my heart and spirit. An S-shaped thread.
When I was little, my mother would take me on geology trips, everyone else an adult. Close to the ground, I was good at spotting things, and started a rocks and fossils collection at the age of 6. The habit of picking things up all the time is hard to kick. I am still looking at the ground, although it is now so much further away.
Often as a child I used to ‘run away’ – which involved walking very slowly - to my dens, on the river bank, in the garden, in fields of corn, in the woods. Here I would sit and watch the world go by for hours – the birds and wildlife, especially water voles (until animal activists released the mink, how I hated those townies). I named the cow tracks on the slopes, invented whole cities there, invented games and took my friends. I was convinced that I had had many past lives, and could see the future too, and I would channel these characters into the minature landscapes, exploring how they used to relate to the land, harvesting by hand, cooking in the ruins, fortelling the future. These were intimate walks, in well-known places, personal routes and journeys to my favourite secret places, different eras, different - free - me. In my teens, when the hunt gathered on the village green, I would walk to flush the foxes out and drive them away from the oncoming slaughter. I was in my own world, and time was unbound.
It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I developed my own liking for walking any distance, or for walking in the mountains. I still prefer walking around familiar places, rather than conquering lands anew. I like the details, the feeling of belonging, noticing the changes, knowing the routes around fences, the insider. I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things to see and experience in new places. I feel like a tourist, greedy, rushing through, brushing the surface, exploiting. I find it hard to connect… except when I get stones in my arches.
Today, my daily walks today don’t go far: I always had a dream of being able to just walk from the back of my house, without passing anyone. And now I can do just that: I wander up the back of the slopes behind my house (from here it’s possible to walk to at least 5 peaks and Dinorwig quarry. I find myself doing this sometimes, by accident, but I prefer to stay in my patch). I have a secret tree. Special huge stones (glacial erratics) that I can’t take home. Dens in derelict buildings. Names for the tracks (made by sheep and quarrymen and shepherds) and valleys and streams that snake across the slopes. I think of the connections to people who have lived here before, and the way that time is frozen in the mountains. Witnesses to our teeny short lives. I know where to go to find different birds, and follow their sounds to determine my routes. As I walk, I spot and then protect the tiny saplings – from about 1cm tall – so they can grow into trees rather than being mowed by the sheep. I like to think of them gradually forming wooded tracks that will snake across the land, marking my routes when I am gone.
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