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Let's start at the Beginning...

I have always enjoyed walking, particularly long walks in natural settings, but really any place or amount of time to walk does the trick. The ‘trick’ being a growing sense of calmness, clarity, and curiosity. I have walked my way to conclusions on questions that have been buzzing in my brain for days, solved simply as I travel through space it appears that my thoughts are following along beside me, until they reach a satisfying conclusion. As Rebecca Solnit muses in Wanderlust: A History of walking, ‘I like walking because it is slow, I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about 3 miles an hour.’  The changing scenery, well-paced views and points of interest serve as a distraction from problems, allowing me to literally walk away from gnawing negativity. I began using walking as part of my art practice in 2018, whilst on residency with Antropical in Luxembourg, it was a playful workshop I named Maps to Nowhere. That workshops intention was more linked to value of found objects rather than walking, but through the experience I discovered it was the walking that was possibly the most interesting process.

Walking has always been a valuable tool. And never was the value of this tool more starkly highlighted than in the Covid 19 lockdowns. Suddenly daily walks were our only brief escapes from our houses, a daily bitesize piece of freedom. I saw a dramatic increase in the amount of people using my usual routes, enjoying natural spaces. Walking was the first way we could re-socialise, re-connect with friends and families. It became more common for people to have first dates as walks, and I wonder how many people formed more meaningful connections walking side by side, than the pressure of face to face in a crowded pub. I chatted to a therapist who said that as lockdowns eased she met clients for walks, and had made greater breakthroughs with them walking than any formalised therapy session.

But then the Sarah Everard case happened. The details of which can be found in other places, I am not a news or crime journalist and so I can only talk about the after effects of this case that I felt and saw. The country was justifiably outraged, shocked, and angry about both the case and the police reaction to a peaceful vigil. Conversations sparked online, bringing up the wider case for women’s safety whilst walking, particularly at night. Not all the conversations were pleasant, and I saw plenty of ignorant, unhelpful, and unkind comments about this issue. I think the reason I felt so infuriated by it was that walking had been our one freedom for a while, and suddenly half the population were being warned against that too. Everywhere I turned it seemed to be about walking, both the miraculous benefits of it and the dangers of it too. It was a subject I couldn’t walk away from.

Walking became my art practice, particularly as I prepared to join a Masters course in Socially Engaged Arts in Salford. I wanted to understand the research behind all these walking benefits I had frequently heard through anecdotal sources. I wanted to gather stories from fellow walking enthusiasts. As I began my research, I realised the subject of walking was no straight path, instead a maze of ideas, crossing over into countless subjects. A whole world of walking artists opened up to me, I connected the dots that the history of walking, is essentially the history of humanity, while simultaneously finding there is plenty of contemporary research on the every growing subject. This wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but I was ready to put my best foot forward.

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