Rural walking, subversion and awakening


Writing the Map started with a 193 miles from my present home in Brighton to Bristol. As a writer, I intended to reflect on the nature of journeys –  actual and metaphorical: life journeys, physical journeys. I kept a diary and filled notebooks, planning on writing a longer piece of creative non-fiction when I returned. But, when it came to fleshing it out, I couldn’t decide what I had. It wasn’t a flora or fauna report, historical enquiry or even personal memoir. I had no deep theme to interrogate. I was vague and unformed. I rumbled off in all directions, temporally and geographically. Trudging up Winchester Hill, I simultaneously walked a shale track in the mountains of Southern Crete. When rain dripped inside my hood, I thought of the soft plush seats of the Odeon, the smell of popcorn, the furnace of Mordor glowing over storm clouds on the screen ahead. I nursed old fears and grudges. I had crackpot ideas (A series of Blue banded Absolute Beginners OS maps with a scale of 10:1); conspiracy theories about the National Trust. I ruminated over chance encounters, the politics of landscape. I got lost. I got scared. I felt elegiac about my life.

Looking for a way in, I stumbled across psychogeography. With its framework for subversion, reawakenings, and a multi-textured approach to landscape, it offered an obvious framework to contain my meanderings. It spoke to my emerging ideas of identity being both shaped and contained in place, but transcending it – a dynamic rather than passive relatonship. It understood how sensory perceptions, feelings, and associations become the map as clearly as the coral contour lines or squiggles of blue rivers.

Traditionally, psychogeography focuses on the built environment.  Was it possible, I wondered, to draw on their methods to ‘reawaken’ an approach to rural walking?  Could it differentiate between the walk and walkers?  After all, we may walk the same paths, but our experiences: what we notice, how we interpret information, what associations we bring to the landscape, make all our walks deeply personal.

The OED defines protocol as: ‘official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.’ A valid protocol has to form three functions:

  1. To transform relationship to landscape.
  2. To reveal/uncover aspect(s) of personal narrative/identity/story.
  3. Be mappable – insights/knowledge/routes/information can be mapped and shared – geographically, visually, prose, poem, instructions, song, conceptually, thematically/ narratively etc.

They are, of course, work in progress –  any thoughts and suggestions welcome. Writing the Map aims to interactively explore the relationship between identity and landscape and capture this information in a series of narrative maps. If you would like to walk a protocol, share information – your own narrative maps of your journey, or contribute your own protocols for the Write the Map blogsite, email contributions to address below.

In coming weeks, I will share the various protocols I’m using as a starting point. This week, I’m starting with a question. Mine reflects the nature of the project- yours will reflect your own interests, passions, dislikes.

Protocol #1 – walking with a question: What does this walk have to do with my identity? Mobile: 07738 763 161. @ChrisSand12 #writingthemap  Facebook: writingthemap.