Journeys in Performance
Walking Route 77
Driving between Glasgow and Ayr several times a week, I was in danger of becoming Tim Edensor’s stereotypical commuter; ‘a frustrated, passive and bored figure, patiently suffering the anomic tedium of the monotonous or disrupted journey’ (2011, p. 189). But like Edensor, I knew that commuting was potentially a far more open and creative activity than popular representations suggest. I set out to enact a series of interventions into my regular journey in order to reimagine my daily commute as a space of creative, or even transgressive, possibility. I wanted to spend more time than my allocated fifty minutes exploring the ‘rich variety of pleasures and frustrations’ that commuting affords (Edensor, 2011, p. 189). As such, setting off from my home on Friday 14th March 2014, I endeavoured to walk the route.
I planned to weave around the motorways and dual carriageways to inhabit some of the places that I regularly see from the road. I would walk for 48 miles over three days, staying at hotels along the way. The majority of the journey would be undertaken on my own, but I would be joined by Gary - my friend and regular long-distance walking companion - for the second day. It was important to me that this was a genuine commute so I planned to arrive at the University of the West of Scotland’s Ayr campus on the Monday morning for a day of teaching and administration, before returning home by public transport.
I set off after lunch and immediately enjoy the sense of the familiar made strange. Travelling through the area where I have lived for the last fourteen years, I feel like a visitor in my own city, walking with an entirely different purpose to the typical rhythms and patterns through which I usually inhabit these spaces. Wearing heavy hiking boots, a deerstalker hat and a large rucksack, I feel conspicuous as I pass joggers, office workers, and pupils on their way back for afternoon classes. I am immediately daunted by the prospect of walking through various unwelcoming places – the industrial estates, road junctions and towns that lie ahead of me.
My route soon follows the River Kelvin and my proximity to the natural force of the water reassures me. Like Phil Smith’s (2010) ‘mythogeographer’, I aim to actively seek information, ‘perceiving not objects, but differences’ (p. 113). Here, they are between natural and man-made, old and new: The Kelvin and its concrete embankments; the nineteenth century ruins of North Woodside Flint Mill set against the glass-fronted architecture of the exclusive Glasgow Academy Preparatory School. I walk from private to public and, along with the children of Hillhead Primary, watch a fisherman knee-deep in the water.
As I follow the river, I begin to realise how much of the city is cut up and divided by fixed routes and paths. This grid of different boundaries and trajectories comprises bridges, footpaths, cycle lanes, roads, railways, canals and flight paths. And then there are ‘drainage systems, rivers, electricity cables, telephone wires, and mobile phone masts [...] bearing forms of energy and matter’ (Edensor, 2003, p. 156). This is what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988) refer to as striated space, as opposed to the smooth, open, nomadic spaces of steppes and deserts. But as I walk from point to point, following some routes and crossing others, I do not feel hemmed in or constrained. There is a freedom in this journey and an exhilarating sense of moving beyond the prescribed uses of urban space.
At this point my route leaves the river and the park and cuts through Finnieston, north of the River Clyde. This complex, dynamic part of Glasgow is on the edge of my familiar territory and I walk through a mix of well-known cafes and bars and a less familiar postindustrial landscape presided over by the iconic Finnieston Crane. Here, the offices and fast food restaurants sit uneasily against the weathered brickwork of the converted factories and the North Rotunda, the gateway to the old tunnels under the river. And in the midst of all this, the newly opened Hydro arena is parked like a vast futuristic spacecraft on the banks of the Clyde.
Crossing the water on the stylish Clyde Arc Bridge is a symbolic moment as I leave my comfort zone, entering an unfamiliar part of the city as warehouses and motorways replace restaurants and shops. I feel strikingly out of place here and a feeling of paranoia sets in as two men cross the road in front of me and eye me suspiciously. The dirtier streets, heavier traffic and thicker accents play on my prejudices and set me on edge. I feel vulnerable and naive but not unsafe.
The M8 is the major artery through this area of Glasgow and I cross the dozen lanes on the footbridge by Cessnock Underground Station. I look out over the tremendous flow of people and goods and recognise the point where the M77 branches off from the larger motorway. This is a surreal and unsettling vantage point from which to meditate on the carbon-guzzling, excessive consumption of a society ‘held in thrall to instant gratification, continual self-reinvention, superficiality and addictive, short-term “highs”’ (Elliott & Urry, 2010, p. 23). Paradoxically, the motorway has the same calming effect as the River Kelvin did an hour earlier. I know that the hum of traffic will be a constant companion over the next three days and that it will eventually guide me to my destination. I will simply follow the road.
At the other side of the motorway, I see the trees of Pollock Park in the distance and head straight towards them. I immediately turn down a dead-end by a railway line and can go no further in this direction. In this ‘striated’ urban environment, I have to constantly readjust, checking the map on my phone and recalculating the most efficient route. The little blue dot tells me that I need to return the way I came and walk along the motorway for a while longer. I pass through an industrial estate and follow the curve of the slip road to emerge in a leafy South Side suburb. The roar of traffic is replaced by something else – a faint melodic drone which I soon realise is the sound of bagpipes.
I remember Smith’s advice to use my senses as ‘tentacles’ and to move in a way ‘that allows the thinker to ride the senses’ (2010, p. 113). For now, music will be my guide and I allow the sound to pull me in its general direction. I arrive at Sherbrooke Castle and watch wedding guests hurry inside, presumably for the ceremony. I watch the saltire flag fluttering in the breeze and listen to the pipes for a while and then drift on, imagining myself living in this part of town and exploring the tree-lined streets and old Edwardian merchants’ houses.
Following a sign for a cycle lane to Pollock Park, I find a path which runs directly alongside the motorway. A chain link fence separates the dog walkers and cyclists from the busy traffic. Walls, barriers and boundaries have featured heavily in my journey so far and I look forward to breaking out into the open Ayrshire countryside. These fences act as grids that break up lines of perception and frame spaces as cordoned off, out of bounds, dangerous or inaccessible. For Smith, grids denote homogenisation (2010, p. 13). Walking with him in Ayr two years ago, I was struck by the frequency with which these patterns presented themselves – in wire fences, metal gates and squared paving (Overend, 2012). I felt an impulse to break through, climb over and dismantle some of these physical barriers over the next few days, but this particular installation seemed to serve a valuable function, so conscious of safety, I allowed it to determine my direction for now. I had never really noticed the life of the minor roads and footpaths that run parallel to the motorway before: the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work within earshot of the perpetual rumble of the roads of my commute. Usually, I would be part of that relentless noise, which was not unpleasant, only ever-present.
Eventually, I reach the edge of 360 acres of Pollock Park. The section that I choose to walk through is a huge golf course which is currently almost completely empty. It disappoints me that so much of this public space has been rendered so exclusive but I revel in the open skies and huge green spaces that I have to myself. In the 1990s the park was occupied by the Pollok Free State who opposed the destruction of public woodland to make way for the M77 (Yuill, 2012). The battle was lost before I moved to Glasgow at the turn of the millennium, and I started using the motorway for my commute to Ayr over a decade later. Nonetheless, I feel a sense of guilt and loss as I walk across the perfectly kept greens, conscious that on the other side of the wooded embankment is miles of road rather than the thousands of trees that used to be there.
I check my phone only to find that the battery is dead. This is concerning as I haven’t worked out precisely how to get to my first port of call at Newton Mearns without my map application, but fortunately I have the constant hum and occasional glimpse of the road to keep me right. I hadn’t realised it until now, but from the moment I crossed the Clyde, I was constantly checking and rechecking my position. Along with the catalogue of photographs that I was assembling along the way, this had used up my phone’s energy faster than I noticed and now, I found myself without the reassuring companionship of mobile technology. I soon reach White Cart Water, one of the Clyde’s tributaries which runs from Eaglesham moor west through the park and underneath the motorway. I follow the flow of the water to the underpass before realising that I should be heading in the other direction. I am sure there will be a bridge soon but once I have retraced my steps, I walk for longer than I expected. At Pollock House, I find what I need and cross to the south side of the park by way of a stone footbridge.
I head out across more empty golf course, roughly guided by the flow of the traffic in the distance. As the sun shines through the trees, I relax into the rhythm of one foot after another propelling me slowly forward across the open greens. Here, in the absence of barriers and fences, the space feels smoother than before and the nomadic quality of my journey is more tangible. For Mike Pearson, the nomad is an aspirational figure, ‘cut free of roots, bonds and fixed identities’ (2010, p. 20). Although this might be too much to claim of a ten minute walk across a golf course, there is certainly a feeling of freedom here in contrast to the roots, bonds and fixed identities associated with my daily commute. Before I get carried away, I reach a huge metal fence at the edge of the course.
My dilemma is whether to add more miles to my journey by trailing the perimeter looking for an exit, or to attempt to cross into the adjoining field. The solution presents itself as I notice a missing railing which I suspect has been removed deliberately to open up a walking route. I make my way through woodland and clamber over another lower fence and land in squelchy mud. Following the high wire fencing that separates the field from the M77, I enjoy a feeling of subversion and recall Rosi Braidotti’s vision of nomadism as ‘the intense desire to go trespassing’ (2011, p. 66). Whether or not this is strictly trespassing, it is a moment that embodies the spirit of this journey, moving against prescribed uses of space and reimagining my route as a space of creativity and transgression. However, just as I cast myself as the heroic psychogeographer, I come face to face with a large highland cow. Its menacing stare, sharp horns and slow, deliberate movement towards me make me nervous and I look around for an exit route in case things turn nasty. Unfortunately, I am now too far from my entry point to retreat, and the section of fence that I am beside is too high to easily climb over. The cow lunges forward and a surge of adrenaline catapults me over the fence before I have time to think. On my way over, I scratch my shin and slightly cut my finger. Writing up my notes almost exactly a week later, the cut is still faintly visible - a corporeal document of this encounter.
Emboldened by my successful escape, I wander through scraggy woodland until I emerge through the trees onto Barrhead Road. I had been relying on using my phone for navigation at this point so my only option is to head in the vague direction of the M77. I walk along pavements by busy roads and struggle with the lack of pedestrian crossings at a junction. Soon, I emerge in the suburb of Thornliebank. Here, the motorway cuts loudly and unsympathetically through a residential area. I follow a footpath round the back of the houses to a large primary school and resolve to cross the motorway again over a footbridge. I had planned to stay on this side today but I see a large supermarket and some fast food restaurants in the distance and decide to take the opportunity to find somewhere to recharge both my phone and my body. In a soulless KFC on Nitshill Road, I buy a large cup of tea and plug in my phone.
Now that I am able to access the map again I am pleased to see how much progress I have made, and that my hotel is now only two miles away. The final stage of my first day’s walking takes me underneath the motorway at the slip road that I have often used when driving between UWS’ Paisley and Ayr campuses. I then walk between another golf course and a new housing development, past Patterton railway station and on to Newton Mearns. Many new houses are being built in this area but arriving in the early evening sunshine, most of the construction work has stopped. In this brand new space, there are fences everywhere. I am at the edge of the suburbs and passing by cordoned off gardens and driveways, I see trees and fields beyond the scaffolding and roundabouts. As I approach the Premier Inn, I can also see Junction 4 of the M77.
The hotel exudes functionality and convenience. I check in much earlier than I anticipated and lie on the clean white bed wondering how on earth I will spend the next few hours. I take a bath and soak my aching muscles, reflecting on the bizarre prospect of sitting in a cheap hotel room, only fifteen minutes drive away from my flat, with nothing to do. From my window, I can see the motorway carrying people home to their families and friends. It is all faintly depressing so I decide to phone a taxi. I leave my rucksack and boots in the hotel room and return to spend the rest of the evening at home eating take away food and watching television with my fiancé, Victoria.
At half past ten the following morning, Victoria drives me through the grey, drizzly city to collect Gary from his flat, and then drops us both off in the car park back at the Premier Inn. Travelling here in the back of my car feels like cheating, but it has also been a valuable opportunity for a return from the détournement of the walk. After all, as Smith points out, ‘the permanent drift disappears the drifter’ (2010, p. 139). An evening at home has provided ‘the periodic abjection provided by domestic life in order to be disrupted as well as disrupt’; the ultimate prevention of assuming the role of the ‘star psychogeographer’ (Smith, 2010, p. 139). This brief return to the domestic also shows that I am already thinking of my commute differently, pointing out places I walked through the day before and noticing features of the route of which I had previously been unaware. Cessnock Underground, Sherbrooke Castle and Pollock Park are all visible from the road and they have now become part of the web of associations that comprise my regular journey.
Gary smokes a cigarette outside while I return to my hotel room, prepare myself for a day’s walking, and check out. We start the second phase of the journey by walking in the opposite direction to the motorway, through the centre of Newton Mearns. I am thankful for the company, as I have never fully embraced the role of the solo wanderer. We have been walking together for ten years now, usually up and down the Scottish Munros. Over the years we have developed a shared ambulatory language, comprised of moments of silent progression, swapping the lead, stopping and waiting for the other to catch up, and walking beside each other in conversation. It is in this last mode that we move through the residential streets of the town until we reach an affluent leafy street lined with gated mansions. At the end of the road, the threshold to the countryside is marked by three bollards, beyond which the vista opens up to wide grey skies, soggy fields and damp country roads which we follow til we reach the village of Eaglesham.
This close to the largest city in the country, it is surprising to find a village that has maintained the trappings of rural tranquillity: a village green, a row of cottages, a country pub. Without the need to speak it, we both head straight into the lounge bar of the Eaglesham Arms for a late morning pint of lager. Inside, the decor is unexpectedly chic with leather seating and polished surfaces. It seems we are not the intended clientele and we both feel slightly out of place as we tramp in with dirty wet boots, taking off backpacks and slumping down to enjoy a drink and a rest.
As tempting as it is to stay for another pint, we plough on, leaving the village on the B764 through fields and farmland. The weather has taken a turn for the worse and we pull on waterproof jackets and continue in silent single file as cars race past us kicking up water. We are still the only walkers, but we are now joined by a steady stream of cyclists following the welcoming signs towards Eaglesham moor along the ‘cycle lanes’ demarked by white lines notionally cordoning off slices of the road. The impersonality of speeding cars and vans is offset by the brief moments of co-presence as the cyclists nod to us or we share a friendly greeting. On foot, we are also aware of the vast amount of rubbish and notice how much the sides of roads around large populations centres are ‘littered with the vestiges of previous journeys: [...] evidence of previous events’ (Edensor, 2003, pp. 156–157). It is depressing to realise how many people must simply throw litter from their car windows, unaware or unconcerned with the destructive impact on the environments that they pass through. I wonder whether they would do the same if they walked this route and saw close-hand this accumulation of drinks cans, takeaway boxes and plastic bags.
We trek on through the incessant rain along this unwelcoming stretch of road for a while and my legs start to ache. This is perhaps the lowest point of the journey so far and I wish we could have stayed in the warmth of the pub. Then, just as my enthusiasm for this venture takes a nosedive, we are rewarded by the eerie shapes of the Whitelee wind turbines looming through the fog. We are at the edge of the largest onshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. I always see the turbines from the road as I drive between Glasgow and Ayr and while I have often desired it, I have never broken from my commute in order to visit. Turbines are an intriguing mixture of lightness and strength, stasis and motion, in which Fabienne Collignon (2011) sees ‘the graceful movements of a ballet mécanique’. Their cold, seamless design forms part of ‘the rhetoric and aesthetic of a (white-washed) future’ (Collignon, 2011). Emerging now from the foggy moorland, they are an alien presence in the mundane landscape, exerting a gravitational pull on the interloper.
We surrender to the hypnotic quality of the turbines, which offer a regularity and rhythm approximating the effect of music. Our ambulatory rhythms sync up with the rotations of the blades and we adjust our pace accordingly. One foot after the other meets one rotation after the other. At the same time, in this exposed location, rain beats into our bodies and blasts our faces with icy water. The wind is blowing in tremendous gusts, which drown out all other noises, but in the occasional dip, our ears tune into another constant sound – the faint, humming drone of the turbines as they ‘farm’ the wind and convert it into electricity.
Walking through this futuristic landscape is a disorientating and unusual experience but the surrealism is amplified when we arrive at the visitor centre and tea room. Here, a varied demographic have arrived by car to wander round the small exhibition space and pass the time in the cafe. It strikes me as ironic that the only way to visit this bastion of carbon-free energy in the middle of the moor is to drive for miles, and the electric car charging point looks like it has rarely, if ever, been used. We join the other visitors, ordering tea, paninis and cake and setting up camp by the heater where we arrange our hats, gloves and jackets to dry out while we eat. I also take the opportunity to plug in and recharge my increasingly useless phone, which has again run out of power despite far less usage than the previous day. I am pleased to know that I will now be carrying some of the Whitelee wind power with me on my journey.
Warmed and recharged, the onward journey across the weather-beaten moor holds little appeal but on we walk until we reach the far side of the wind farm. At this point, the road markings stop abruptly and the previously smooth road surface becomes riddled with potholes. I presume that the upkeep of the roadway up to this point is the responsibility of the wind farm, but later I discover that we have passed through the boundary between East Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire, so it may be that the latter sees cycle safety and road maintainance as lower priorities.
From the motorway, I often notice sections of coniferous forest and we walk through one of these now; nature contained within regulated patterns and bordered by roads and burns. As we return towards the motorway, the allocation of roadside litter increases proportionally and the roar of the wind is replaced with the steady hum of traffic. We reach the A77 first, which ducks underneath the newer motorway and runs alongside it for a couple of miles until the M77 comes to an end and hands over to the old route again. Before the construction of the new route, the A77 was the major road to the southwest. All the way from Glasgow to its end at Fenwick, it tightly hugs its replacement, weaving over and under bridges and paralleling the frenetic speed of motorway traffic with a slightly slower, quieter flow of people. A wide cycle lane is protected from the road by a raised concrete division. Inexplicably, as we walk south, tens of cyclists ignore the designated lane in favour of the main road, forcing the overtaking vehicles into the opposite lane to avoid them.
Walking so close to the road for the next half hour is a tedious and bleak part of the journey. Our vision is constrained by straight markings and we are realigned with the perspective of the commuter as the view ahead is dominated by ‘the shifting rectangles and hexagons of the rear end of vehicles, hemmed in by the homogenous green lateral strips of the verge and embankment’ (Edensor, 2003, p. 156). The going is tough and I am relieved when we eventually turn off the A77 onto the country lanes that lead to Stewarton, our destination for today. Here, birds dance through the still-autumnal hedgerow and tractors wind their way along single-track roads between fields. We pass under telephone lines and wires connecting vast electricity pylons, buzzing and crackling with the transportation of raw power.
Before long, Stewarton appears before us. From our vantage point we can see the whole town as the first sunshine of the day heralds our arrival. We walk through the streets and arrive at the Millhouse Hotel where I will spend the night. We find a seat in the crowded snug and order two pints. Later that evening, after I have checked into my room, we are joined by Gary’s flatmate, James, who has driven from Glasgow to collect him. We eat a meal together and reflect on the day’s walking. After dinner they return home, leaving me alone. I head upstairs to my bed and immediately fall into a deep sleep.
I wake early the next morning and leave the room just before my arranged breakfast time at 8am. A sign on the door to the restaurant and bar warns guests that an alarm is set until 7am but as it is well past then by now, I wander through to the snug bar. As soon as I open the door, the shrill warning sound of the alarm is triggered. I freeze and scan the room for a sign of the staff but nobody is around. Unsure what to do, I sheepishly retreat to my room and wait it out but the alarm has developed into a full-blown siren. I sit at the desk and write some notes on yesterday’s walk. Five minutes, ten minutes and still the alarm can be heard. When 8am has passed, I return to investigate but I can see nobody and the alarm is apparently being ignored by anybody who happens to be in the vicinity. It is possible that I am the only person in the hotel. I check the sign on the door again and read an instruction that if guests are leaving early, they should use the fire escape on the first floor. I am not keen on waiting around to find out if someone will come to turn off the alarm and make my breakfast so I leave the room key on the desk, push the bar to escape the building and head out onto the sleepy Stewarton high street.
I buy an apple breakfast bar and a carton of milk from a local store and enjoy the feeling of the early morning sun as I walk through the empty streets. I reach the Lainshaw railway viaduct and pass underneath the nineteenth century structure enabling twenty-first century journeys. The road meanders on through farmland and the sunshine shows off wide vistas across fields and towns. I fall into a fast rhythm and briefly jog through the East Ayrshire countryside. The wind is behind me and I feel full of life – a stark contrast to the grey monotony of yesterday’s trudge along the A77.
My journey takes me through a series of villages – Kilmaurs, Knockentiber, Crosshouse, Gatehead and Symington. I am far enough away from the motorway to avoid the sound of the traffic and I enjoy the peace and relative seclusion of these places as they gradually wake up to a quiet Sunday morning. As I move through the villages, my presence seems to hardly be noticed and only a goat, in a farmyard to the south of Kilmaurs, is interested enough to break from its usual business and wander over to say hello. For now, I am happy to be walking on my own. This is a privileged insight into other peoples’ worlds that I have previously passed by in seconds, unaware that they were even here. However brief and cursory it may be, walking this route on my own at my own pace allows me a sense of inhabitation of the places that I usually drive straight past.
From the viaduct at Stewarton to the A77 at Symington, I pass over, under and across a series of other paths. Rivers, roads and railways intersect my route and carry others on different paths to other destinations. All of these have their own distinct rhythms and functions. As Edensor acknowledges, ‘all spaces are dynamic and continually pulse with a multitude of co-existing rhythms and flows’ (2011, p. 200). In my car, the rhythm of the road takes precedence as my ‘insulated mobile body’ remains oblivious to everything else (Edensor, 2011, p. 200), but this walk allows me to seek out, sense and immerse myself in multiple rhythms including weather, seasons, animals and people who use and inhabit the landscape that the road cuts through. As I approach Symington, there is a brief moment when I can see the A77, the Firth of Clyde and a Ryanair plane taking off from Prestwick – routes and rhythms coexisting.
I arrive in Symington just as the service at the beautiful old Parish Church comes to an end, sending smartly dressed worshippers onto the pavement alongside me. The village is full of character and history and I am tempted to stop off at the the Wheatsheaf Inn for an early lunch but as I approach I notice that staff are still setting up for the day so I resolve to walk for an hour or so further before I rest. A couple stop their car beside me and wind the window down to ask for directions to the caravan park. All that I can tell them is that they are heading to the A77 and they seem not to trust me as they continue regardless. Five minutes later, they pass me in the opposite direction.
I emerge back on my commuting route at the point where some large-scale road works are taking place. While a new bridge and junction are constructed, the northbound traffic has been filtered into a single lane and this creates a curious slow procession of cars allowing drivers and passengers to make eye contact with me – a quick succession of unexpectedly intimate connections. On my countless drives back from Ayr, I have often seen pedestrians on this long stretch of road and I have speculated about who they are and where they are going. I would like to be able to talk with some of these people and tell them how far I have walked, but we are only able to exchange brief smiles or nods.
To my right, I can see the Isle of Arran, which I have never noticed from the road at this point. A little further on, the distinctive mound of Aisla Craig rises from the sea; an ‘axes of orientation’ that I have come to look out for to mark the final stage of my commute (Edensor, 2003, p. 156). In the field next to me, a tractor scores grooves in the soil, ploughing the terrain in preparation for the spring crop. It has a clear, steady rhythm and leaves a definite mark of its progress. My own journey is lighter and leaves fewer perceptible traces, but in my own way I am also marking a route along which I will return time and time again.
I stop at the Brewers Fayre restaurant at Dutch House Roundabout and while my phone charges, I eat a greasy beef burger. Children excitedly leap around the impressive play complex and families devour roast meat and vegetables from the carvery. I feel uncomfortable and out of place so I leave half of my meal and continue on my journey. I avoid the busy road and walk towards Monkton, past an old tower standing alone in the middle of a field. As I reach the centre of the village, an aeroplane passes overhead with an unavoidable omnipresent roar. The timetables of budget airlines must have an impact on the patterns of life here – brief pauses in conversation, interruptions to daily routines. At the other side of the village I walk along the perimeter of the airport, observing the stationary aircraft through the high fencing with its prohibitory signage.
At the entrance to Prestwick airport, multiple rhythms converge as an enclosed footbridge crosses the A79 from the railway station to the airport. The routes of pedestrians, drivers, car, rail and air passengers, weave together into a complex web of convergence and divergence, stasis and motion. As a walker, passing through this place on foot, I am one of the few who arrive here and leave by the same mode of transport. Most transfer from train to aeroplane, or from foot to car, shifting the speed and scale of their mobilities.
I follow the road south through the town of Prestwick and I am soon firmly within the second urban bookend of my journey. I have walked fifteen miles in five hours and I am getting tired but my proximity to my destination spurs me on and I pick up the pace as I follow the A79 continuously through the centre of Prestwick and into Ayr. I experience the same sense of conspicuousness as I did back in Glasgow and several people double take as they notice my outfit and pace is out of sync with the drivers and shoppers who inhabit the high street. Not for the first time during this journey, my intention to explore the multiple textures and stories of the places I walk through comes into conflict with the simple desire to move on. I am nearing the end of my journey, moving faster and noticing less. I am being folded back into the pattern of the commute.
Prestwick segues into Ayr and I am not sure where one ends and the other begins, but there comes a point when I am definitely in the latter. I expect a moment of relief or catharsis but I still have a mile or so to travel and I am locked into a focussed progression towards the bridge across the River Ayr. I pause here for a moment and look up the river towards the university and down towards the sea. After miles of walking through areas with sparse population, the town streets feel crowded, busy and unwelcoming. I hurry along High Street to Burns Statue Square. When Phil Smith led us on a walk round Ayr in 2012, we stopped here to read aloud the names of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (Overend, 2012). Today, I walk straight past the statue and on to Carrick Road and the Carrick Lodge Hotel where I check in, shower and fall asleep.
A couple of hours later, I am joined by Victoria, who has driven to join me from Glasgow. There are still a few hours left of the day so we wander round Alloway and down onto the Ayr Beach. It is an evening of beautiful sunshine reflecting from the wet sand. Back at the hotel, we eat a delicious meal and enjoy the chance to be tourists in the town where we both work. We talk about the practicalities and possibilities of moving here one day. We are under the spell of a perfect spring evening.
Victoria departs before me with my rucksack and boots in the car and I check out and leave the way I arrive – alone on foot. On my walk to the university, my feet throb with painful blisters and my legs ache. For the first time on this trip, I open the email application on my phone and I read the deluge of messages that have flooded in over the weekend. I walk and read at the same time, crossing back over the river and absent-mindedly passing the turn off to the river path to work. I back track and pass Ayrshire College and the last fence of the journey, which borders the college’s race track. And finally, I arrive at work. I nod to colleagues across the canteen and deposit my bag in the office. Then, I gather my papers, buy a coffee from the machine, and head down to the Performance Studio for a morning’s teaching.
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