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Performing Wild Geographies


A selection of images from a two-day creative workshop that took place at Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex in October 2017. The Estate is home to Knepp Wildland Project, a large-scale conservation initiative established in 2002 by the landowners, Sir Charles Burrell and Isabella Tree. Adopting a model for grazing ecology promoted by the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera, the Estate’s fields have been gradually taken out of arable farming production in favour of ‘a “process-led”, non-goal-orientated project where, as far as possible, nature takes the driving seat’ ( In place of traditional human-led systems of land use, free-roaming herbivores such as old English long-horn cattle, and Tamworth pigs, have been introduced to drive habitat change. This approach is now commonly referred to as ‘rewilding’.

This event aimed to explore this complex and dynamic site through a transdisciplinary collaboration on site at Knepp. Bringing together a disparate group of artists and academics the project involved a series of presentations, walks, workshops and discussions between sixteen participants, joined at various points by Burrell and Tree, along with Knepp’s Resident Ecologist, Penny Green. This event was intended as the starting point of an ongoing project led by Jamie Lorimer (Geography, University of Oxford)); David Overend (Drama, Theatre and Dance, Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL)); and Danielle Schreve (Quaternary Science, RHUL). We were joined by a group of theatre practitioners and scholars, human geographers, paleo-ecologists, conservationists, visual artists, and journalists. The project aims to combine specialist knowledge of Quaternary history (the last 2.6 million years), with a creative sensibility to possible futures in wildlife conservation, in order to inform the way that present publics engage with concepts of wildness and wilderness. More documentation from the event will appear on this site over the next few weeks and months.

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The Elephant in the Hedge

9 February 2017


I have been spending a lot of time on my own recently, taking a regular journey by air between my home in Glasgow and my workplace in Surrey. This hasn’t been entirely unpleasant. Suspended miles above the landscape, or responding to emails in the reassuring universality of airport lounges, it has been easy to detach myself from the succession of personal crises that I am struggling with just now. Nonetheless, I am heartened to receive an invitation from Jamie Lorimer to join him for a morning walking in the Chilterns. We will discuss our new project as we explore the area around Christmas Common, followed by lunch at The Fox and Hounds. We are looking for elephants in birch trees and hedgerow.

We have been thinking about the ghostly presence of past inhabitants of the British countryside. If you know where to look, and what to seek out, there are myriad traces in the fields and woods. Signs of species that are no longer with us. They are there in certain bark colours and features, patterns and fissures that would break off if a large herbivore attempted to remove a strip. They are there in the tough wiriness of smaller trees, resistant to uprooting and snapping. And they are there in the impenetrable tangle of flexible shoots that comprise the quintessential English hedgerow. I first learnt of these hidden clues on reading George Monbiot’s work on rewilding. Monbiot reminds us that ‘wherever we go, we walk in the shadows of the past’.[i]

One of the most successful rewilding projects in this country was the reintroduction of the red kite to this area in the early 90s. Apart from a small pocket of survivors in Wales, these magnificent raptors were hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century, and it took a foreign delegation to re-establish regional populations. Quarter of a century later, these European immigrants, released for several years across this hilly area of Southern England, are thriving. We are walking through red kite country and as we set off from our meeting place in the pub car park, Jamie recounts the brazen theft of his wife’s sandwich by one of these majestic opportunists. The intrusion of unpredictable wildness into an innocent family picnic. Today, they are a constant presence on our walk, circling and swooping through the wide-open skies, stirring up the smaller birds to frantic alarm calls, and occasionally dipping below the tree line, perhaps in search of carrion.

Weaving around the theme of our walk, the kites send potential victims diving into the cover of the surrounding woodland, and as we follow roads and pathways into the trees, we note the otherworldly lustre of the silver birch guarding the way into the beechwoods. As we walk we move through places and subjects. A theatre maker and a geographer, searching for parallels and convergences in our fields. We want to explore the potential of creative practice to contribute to rewilding; and to find out what theatre and performance might learn from contemporary approaches to conservation. We will start slowly, inviting a disparate group of artists, scientists and conservationists to think and create together. And in time, we will plan a larger scale project. It will be called The Elephant in the Hedge.

Walking gives way to talking and on several occasions, I realise that I have stopped looking around me, lost in trains of thought about cultural geography, performance theory and natural history. Most contemporary walkers claim their practice as a way of relating more closely and attentively to the landscape, but I wonder how honest they are about those moments when, walking with a companion (or indeed alone), they tune out and follow some conceptual tangent, periodically travelling inwards rather than gazing outwards. It takes a particular feature of the route to jolt me back into the world again, usually prompted by Jamie’s attentive navigation and guidance.

We reach a borderline, where the beech clash with another interloper: the conifer. Planted for timber and spreading quickly throughout the twentieth century, these fast-growing conical trees serve a functional role, but drive back native species such as oak, ash and cherry. A project is now underway to remove conifer from ancient woodland, opening up areas for wildflower growth and encouraging greater biodiversity across the Chilterns. At every turn, I see that wildness is a human decision, and that it is only one possible option. We could walk through annexed monodominant forests, our sandwiches intact, but our lives would be lesser for it.

As we complete our loop, we pause briefly to investigate a circle of chalky mounds, which Jamie suspects may be the work of badgers. Then back to the pub, which is now open and warmed by a welcoming log fire stoked by a friendly proprietor who we had passed earlier, walking his dog in the opposite direction. Here, we eat well and quickly and capture some of our thoughts and plans on paper. Then we bid farewell and leave this remarkable patch of countryside to the collaborative ecologies of the kites, the beechwoods, and the walkers.

I park my car outside my office later that day and as I gather my bags, out of the small strip of protected woodland that borders the carpark, a couple of small skittish deer cautiously watch me from the shade of the collection of rare trees that the University has gathered from all over the world. The rest of the day seems to have been intentionally preparing me to find profundity in this encounter and for several minutes, we simply watch each other. I will a vestigial wildness from my being, and it might be a vast Mesolithic elephant staring back at me from the undergrowth for all the meaning that it conveys.

[i] George Monbiot, ‘Thinking Like an Elephant’, June 2015. (accessed 11/01/17)

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The Sea, The Sea, The Sea

At the end of 2015 I interviewed residents of Dunoon and the surrounding areas asking them questions about their experiences of living by the sea, what “the sea” means to them and what part it plays in their life to create a short video called The Sea, The Sea, The Sea. The video includes contributions from pupils of Toward Primary School (which is situated right on the water, looking out to Bute), students at Dunoon Grammar School, a sea captain, a naval engineer, an artist, a geologist, employees at local businesses as well as residents who practice open water swimming, who boat and sail for leisure and who have lived on the water for all or part of their lives.

I hope that the film will show a snapshot of how people of a range of ages and experiences from a seaside community of the West Coast of Scotland speak about the sea and the part it plays in their life. It has been really enjoyable to speak to people in the community about the sea that we share and I have been struck by some of the common elements that people refer to: the smell, the ever-changing colours and moods, the memories and the enjoyment of walking by the sea. I asked people for their own “sea-words” and these have been really valuable as part of my enquiry about the sea and language. Thank you to everyone who has given up their time to be interviewed for this project, it is very much appreciated.

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“Walking, dancing, pleasure: these accompany the poetic act. I wonder what kind of poet doesn’t wear out their shoes, writes with their head. The true poet is a traveller. Poetry is about traveling on foot and all its substitutes, all forms of transportation.” Helene Cixous Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing p64

As part of my research leave I have been walking frequently along the coast as part of my creative practice. Here are some documents of my walks/writings/thoughts:

Seaweed Walk:


Performing Writing (Seaword):

Morning Fire:



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“Reimagined Journeys” Everyday Commuting Excursions was displayed at the Lighthouse in Glasgow as part of the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities Showcase on the 25th June 2015.

I collaborated with a designer, Rachel O’Neill, to create postcards which encourage others to reimagine their everyday journeys. These postcards were distributed to commuters on the Argyll Ferry between Dunoon and Gourock which is one of the stages of my journey to work. I wanted to explore the relational aspect of the everyday commute and to further develop my understanding of the possibility of creative engagement in the spaces between home and work.



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In 2013 David Overend (UWS) and I began a collaborative research project exploring our everyday journeys between home and work and how the commute (from the Latin word commutare meaning “to change, transform, exchange”) could be conceived as a fertile ground for creativity, productivity and transformation.

Over a period of eighteen months David and I embarked on a series of experimental commutes undertaken in the west of Scotland by foot, bike, boat, train and swimming. Drawing on the nomadic theory of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Rosi Braidotti, our aim was to develop a performative ‘counterpractice’ that employs the metaphor of nomadism, and the ‘creative becoming’ the myth of the nomad encapsulates, to reimagine quotidian and functional journeys. Striving to develop a performative engagement with landscape, we consolidated this exploratory mobile research by developing a series of ‘strategies’ for reimagining the daily commute. These take the form of a list of prompts to performative action within the routines and spaces of commuting. We offer them to anyone who regularly travels to and from work to employ or develop as they wish.

To both disseminate and develop this research I have collaborated with a designer, Rachel O’Neill, to create postcards which encourage others to reimagine their everyday journeys. These postcards have been distributed to commuters on the Argyll Ferry between Dunoon and Gourock which is one of the stages of my journey to work. I wanted to explore the relational aspect of the everyday commute and to further develop my understanding of the possibility of creative engagement in the spaces between home and work. Over the coming weeks I will post the responses to this on this site.

This work will be shown at the Scottish Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities research showcase  at the Lighthouse on the 25th June 4-7pm.


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On Contemplation: A Dawn to Dusk Solo in a Wilderness Setting

Dr Laura Bissell, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


Figure 1: Knoydart

In March 2013 I attended a week long residency in Knoydart in the Western Highlands of Scotland. This area has been called “Britain’s last wilderness” and it is used by the Natural Change foundation as a site for leadership training which “catalyses social change for a fair and sustainable future” (Natural Change, 2014). The curriculum design of the Contemporary Performance Practice BA (Hons) Programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has been influenced by Natural Change processes (Kerr and Key, 2013) and I travelled to Knoydart to experience an embodied understanding of this. My pedagogy has been influenced by bell hooks’ vision of “transformative education” (hooks, 2003: 181) and Rachel Naomi Remen’s assertion that “we must have the courage to educate people to heal this world into what it might become” (Remen in hooks, 2003: 181) and I was keen to see how this “reflexive practice” (Kerr and Key, 2013: 5) in a natural setting could influence my teaching. During this cold but bright period in March I spent in the wilderness with colleagues and with strangers, I stepped away from my usual life for a week and found time and space for contemplation. I undertook a “solo” and sat from dawn until dusk alone on a small isolated beach and for the first time in a long time, stopped. It has taken me until now – almost two years later – to process and contemplate what that rare experience of stillness and contemplation was and how it has affected my practice. Here I attempt to communicate and illustrate this experience through my notebook entries and my more recent reflections on it.

On Natural Change, I thought about:

The world and my place in it

How a day lasts a whole day

The challenges of being still

Home, the sea I see every day and the coastline I am familiar with

How small things can get bigger

The fact I have never spent a whole day from dawn till dusk outside

My family, my friends, my work, my life

How experiences are translated through writing (and sometimes not)

How old the rocks are and the tirelessness of the sea

My body in the landscape









This experience of being quiet in the landscape of Knoydart was the first time I have maintained stillness and solitude for this long. I reflected that the week before I had been travelling back from Australia and had spent a similar amount of time (around 15hours) in stasis on the plane as I travelled, but that this transitory time of being immobile while being moved through the air, did not lend itself to contemplation in the same way that this immersion and stillness within the landscape did.

My spot is between three large bits of rock with a large rock sticking up in the middle of the space. There is a small rivulet of stagnant, still water leading to the bay. Seaweed lines the walls of this. The colours are blue, purple, brown, green, sand, rust, white, slate, black, pink and yellow.

My intention is to find/explore stillness and I hope this spot will help me to do this.


Figure 2: Beach on Knoydart where I did my "solo"

When I arrived I built a small pile of stones at the “entrance” to my site. I touched these and asked the land if I could sit here for a while.

The light was very pink on arrival with cotton wool clouds. The sun is now up but not in my spot yet. As it is so sheltered I don’t think it will be the sunniest spot so this will be different from my experiences over the last few days.


Figure 3: Pile of stones at the entrance to my site

On the journey by train to get the boat from Mallaig to Knoydart snow began to fall and the landscape became concealed with white as we travelled north. I thought about being outside in the snow for long periods of time and how frail and vulnerable the human body is and how naturally inept it is to exist within the elements. This experience was about being "in nature" and I was glad that on arrival the weather was crisp and bright and that my day of stillness from dawn until dusk was about contemplation rather than survival; meditation over endurance.

Sensations in Stillness


Wind, the occasional bird, very distant waves – a single boat engine.

(no tree noises, no animals, no voices, no footsteps)


Fresh air

(no flavour, no food, no sweet, no bitter)


Fresh air, sea air, hint of acridity from fire.

(no flowers, no perfumes, no fumes, no bodies)


Paper, stone, wind on face and fingers, nylon.

(no metal, no skin, no synthetics, no moisture)


Rock, water, weed, stone, shell, heather, snow, hills.

(no people, no boats, no planes, no man-made structures)


At the start of the day I found myself making lists of tasks I had to do on my return and feeling unable to quiet my mind. As the day passed and the light changed I began to adapt to my situation and to enjoy a feeling of contentedness within my environment. By sitting and thinking and occasionally writing I refused to adhere to my normal processes of productivity and constant thought and found this to be an exhilarating experience that felt very creative and restorative.

Word Association – “Stillness”

Calmness, peace, not moving, thoughts stopped or paused, contemplative, water, air, static, soft, death, sleep, safety.

It is still snowing which makes me unsure of how to work out the time. I don’t feel distressed at not knowing, I am just curious.

Over the course of the day I drift in and out of consciousness and am only aware of the changes in weather and the subtle shifts of the light. This freedom from the constraints of time made it easier to relinquish my thoughts to things other than tasks, work and commitments and have encouraged me to “observe” myself and my thoughts from a different perspective. At times I do think about work, but more about the ideology behind my practice and my teaching than the minutiae of everyday tasks.

The facilitators on the Natural Change process call these individual experiences of finding a site and spending long periods of time outside a “solo”. I have been thinking about the term “solo” and how it seems to be a term rooted in performance and I reflect on the performative nature of what I did yesterday. The distance from the stone circle, north to the water was 40 of my steps. In the time I was sitting on the rock by the sea I had to move back three steps, then another two to avoid getting wet. I liked the fact that my movement is determined by the tides and I used this as a sequence for East, South and West too. By performing these movements as part of a ritual, a choreography occurs and my “performance” is observed by the rest of the group at different points. Today on “solo” thoughts of performance are with me as I look at nature and observe myself on this small beach. Who am I doing this for? How will I take this forward into my own practice? What are the links between performance and nature? How can performance be sustainable? What are the contradictions/confusions between the live (ephemeral) and the sustainable (that which can regenerate)?

During this period of contemplation many questions came to mind about many aspects of my life. I did not feel any urgency to respond to these questions on that day, but many of them have lingered with me and have made their mark on my consciousness. My memories of this contemplative and creative time and my reflections on the questions that this period of stillness encouraged me to ask have travelled with me. My understanding of my embodied practice and pedagogical approach that aims for “freedom” (of thought and of educational experience) and “wholeness” (hooks, 2003: 181) (of life and of people) was allowed to develop while simultaneously considering and contemplating our place within the natural world. Like the traces of me that I left at the site (a small pile of rocks, an arrangement of shells and glass shards worn soft and opaque by the sea, my shape in the stones) this day of stillness and contemplation has left its mark on me.


It is harder than it looks

To be still

It is not about just doing nothing

It is about stopping

The constant thoughts

Of actions to be done

And allowing the body

To drift while in stasis.


Figure 4: Arrangement of found items left at the site after my solo.



hooks, bell. (2003) Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. Routledge: New York.

Kerr, M.H. & Key, D.H. (2013) “Evidence of Natural Change - Case Studies from the Scottish education sector”. Natural Change Foundation: Edinburgh.

Natural Change (accessed 29/12/14)

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Research on Display


On 22nd May David and I were invited to curate aspects of our commuting project for the first Research on Display event at the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. We delivered a paper on "Rhythmic Routes" and the display was exhibited for a month in the library.

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Laura Bissell

(Be)Coming to Glasgow: Reimagining my commute

“One must start by leaving open spaces of experimentation, search, transition: becoming-nomads.” (Braidotti, 2011:164)

The idea of reimagining my commute initially seemed driven by the desire to propel myself from the starting point of my home in Innellan, Argyll, to my place of work, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Since September 2013, my colleague at the University of the West of Scotland, David Overend, and I have been working on a collaborative research project exploring commuting as a performative practice. Our research into commuting has indicated that while the mode of this is often a repeated journey for a particular purpose (normally to travel between home and work), as Tim Edensor asserts: “commuting time is not dead or neutral time that simply links more meaningful spatial contexts” (Edensor, 2011:194) but can provide a time and space for creative possibility. By completing the journey that makes up my commute (a 10-minute drive, a 25-minute ferry journey, a 45-minute train journey and a 10-minute walk) using only my own physical means I hope to reimagine this familiar and repetitive journey and experience anew the landscape through which I commute on a daily basis. I want to move through these spaces rather than be moved. My methodological approach is practice-as-research and is informed by Rosi Braidotti’s theories of nomadic subjectivity and Henri Lefebvre’s discussion of rhythmanalysis. I am interested in how the repeated rhythms of the everyday journey (the commute) relate to the wider critical discourse around nomadism. Braidotti claims that: “the point of nomadic subjectivity is to identify lines of flight, that is to say, a creative alternative space of becoming that would fall not between the mobile/immobile, the resident/the foreigner distinction, but within all these categories” (Braidotti, 2011:7). The etymology of the word “commute” is from the Latin “commutare” which means “to change, transform, exchange” (OED) and it is this process of “becoming” through the change in time and space that a journey permits that I hope to explore through my alternative commute.

My original plan to walk the 5.5 miles from my home to Dunoon, swim across the 2 nautical miles of the Clyde Estuary between Dunoon and Gourock and then walk the 27 miles from Gourock to Glasgow has been postponed due to inclement weather and the need to train sufficiently for the sea swim. On the 26th March 2014 I undertook a walk which represents the final two stages of my commute, the train journey from Gourock to Glasgow and the walk from Glasgow Central station to 100 Renfrew Street. By altering the pace of this two-hour commute to take place between 7am and 7pm – the hours of my usual working day – I intend to open this journey up to creative possibility, diversion and interruption. I hope to “become” something different through this process of journeying and employ Braidotti’s “myth” of the nomadic subject to “move across established categories and levels of experience: blurring boundaries without burning bridges” (Braidotti, 2001:26). I hope to learn something about my journey by undertaking this task, and for it to become something other than a functional and transitory commute through the spaces between home and work.

I leave my house at 7am, the usual time, and drive to my parent’s house on the West Bay of Dunoon near the ferry terminal. I had intended to cycle this leg of the journey but a flat tyre means that I have to make the decision to forgo the cycle to Dunoon or risk having to get a later ferry and starting the main walking leg of the journey behind schedule. I decide to take the car and console myself with the fact that I have walked, run and cycled this part of the route many times before, and will be able to complete this when I do the sea swim later in the year. I have a cup of tea with my parents and we discuss my plans for the day. They try to dissuade me from undertaking the entire journey and I placate them by telling them I will hop on public transport if I am tired (although I have no intention of doing this). I board the Argyll Ferry at 8:20am with a nod to the regular crew.

On the ferry I sit inside for a moment and then climb up the stairs on to the top deck. It is very blowy and no-one else has chosen to be outside. I think of Kathleen Jamie’s reflection in Sightlines about the temporal nature of the world and the enduring nature of the elements I am encountering: “The wind and sea. Everything else is provisional. A wing beat and it is gone” (Jamie, 2012: 242). I am aware that the boat crew have greeted me with quizzical glances as my normal work attire has been replaced with walking trousers, a turquoise waterproof jacket, a woolly hat and a backpack. My garments suggest “hillwalker” rather than “commuter”. I take some photos of the landscape as the boat speeds away from Dunoon and across the water towards Gourock. The Cowal Peninsula has a larger area of coastline than France and the intricate weaving of the shoreline around the various crags of land framed by the mountains behind makes for a stunning view, even in the early morning half-light. On my right I can see the Cloch lighthouse from where I will swim in June and I am aware of how I have looked slightly differently at the body of water I travel on every day since I decided to make the attempt. The triangular roofing of the new Gourock train station comes into view as the boat passes the outdoor swimming pool and the boat engine cuts out as the crew prepare to dock. On my usual morning commute there is little time to travel from the ferry to the train and often the rhythm of these moments is frantic and hurried as the commuters rush up the ramp and towards the station. Today, I head away from the station, and as I am about to walk around the cordoned section to allow me to move towards Gourock, the woman in front of me undoes the catch on one of the metal gates, opens it and walks through. Channelling Phil Smith’s renegade attitude to site as explicated in Counter-Tourism (2012) I follow her lead, glad of this minor transgression of the authoritative paths and designated walkways that the area by the water assigns.

In the short walk from the ferry towards the main street of Gourock, I find myself taking numerous pictures of the sea, the vessels on the water, the dilapidated pier and the row of boats lined up against the sea wall. I try to take a photograph of the Gourock sign but the sun is too strong and the sign keeps appearing as a black square against a luminous sky. The urge to record this experience is strong and I have to remind myself to allow the journey, rather than its documentation, to take priority.

Throughout the walk, the road signs and names of places signal the specificity of a recognisable place, but are often surprising in terms of my perception of the boundary or my expectation of where the area began and ended. I realise my usual journey is demarcated by the train stations and it is these place names that act as what Delueze and Guattari would term “points” (1988) and which punctuate the route. I find myself looking out for the train stations as signifiers of the progress I have made. I am reminded of Henri Lefebvre’s description of a day in Rhythmanalysis:

The use of time fragments it, parcels it out. A certain realism is constituted by the minute description of these parcels; it studies activities related to food, dress, cleaning, transport, etc. ... Such a description will appear scientific; yet it passes by the object itself, which is not the sequence of lapses of time passed in this way, but their linking together in time, therefore their rhythm (Lefebvre, 2013: 85).

The rhythm of my usual commute is determined by the four stages of travel, the different modes of transport and the associated pace/rhythm/environment, but within its four distinct sections there are sub-rhythms. For the train journey, the stations demarcate the rhythm of the journey in terms of the time and space between stops (initially long periods of travel and infrequent stops and then towards the end syncopated with short bursts of travel and frequent stops). While the pace of my walking remains largely the same, I still look to the road and rail signifiers to assert my sense of rhythm for my alternative commute.

Another key element that I encounter is the textual signage that provides information on location and direction along the route. Braidotti’s focus on process and “becoming nomad” is analogous to looking for a marker on a road or path: “the nomadic subject is not a utopian concept, but more like a road sign” (Braidotti: 2001:14). For much of my early route, particularly in the Argyll and Inverclyde stages, the road signs are supplemented by another with the Gaelic version of the town name. Often there are four signs which read as a list: district, town, PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY, and the Gaelic version of the town name. I notice that a large number of the signs also have stickers on them, added by people. Signs are objects that invite us to look at them for information or guidance, but these have been augmented by the public, creating an alternative meaning to that which was intended.What the signs are signifying is also in a state of becoming, the meaning malleable and open to interpretation, obliteration, and subversion.

8964283656?profile=originalThe journey from Gourock to Greenock is familiar, as the road on which I am walking is the vehicular route to the ferry. Although I have travelled it many times before, the pace of walking allows me to notice details such as street names that I have not previously discerned. COVE ROAD and CONTAINER WAY are new, while the familiar FUNWORLD sign on the side of an old warehouse seems bleak and ironic against the industrial brick façade. I am enjoying the act of solo walking through this area, although I feel conspicuous in my hiking gear, an interloper, a trespasser on these normative streets; a usurper of the everyday rhythm of this commute. My awareness feels heightened as I notice intricacies and details that I have previously missed and become aware of the specificity of this journey. A forlorn balloon (HAPPY ANNIVERSARY) in a bush catches my eye, the first of many manmade objects in the landscape that seems dissonant, the juxtaposition of colours and textures jarring yet not unpleasant. Moving through Greenock, the landscape is industrial and there are numerous decaying buildings, wastelands and areas fenced off (RESTRICTED AREA). There are multiple pieces of public art in Greenock, as well as further on in Port Glasgow, and I think about the choices that have been made in terms of the objects created for these sites and their relationship to the town and community. As though offered as a salve to the numerous Tesco outlets that permeate the area (four within five miles, two of which are superstores), the metallic sculptures of Andy Scott’s “wood nymph” and “Ginger” the horse seem somewhat incongruous alongside the other street fixtures and mixtures of architecture. I am struck by the sense of being able to see the sea at the end of every street that runs perpendicular to the main street of Greenock – this makes the journey more appealing than the public art that purports to “improve” the Inverclyde town centres.


8964283683?profile=originalI make good progress and pass Fort Matilda, Greenock West and Greenock Central rail stations. At the large roundabout at Ocean Terminal, there are signs to Wemyss Bay and the Rothesay ferry and I notice how frequently the place names in this area reflect the presence of the nearby water. The large Greenock spire is visible above the roundabout and the squat buildings that house Carpetright, KFC and SCS sit in stark contrast to the decaying and decadent Victorian architecture on the opposite side of the road. There are two lone daffodils in the wasteland next to the Tesco superstore and I think about nature persevering in this urban landscape. In Greenock there are many fences that separate the pavement area and derelict space. Signs read RESTRICTED AREA and DANGER OF DEATH and the metal bars are topped with barbed wire. The intention – to keep people out – is clear, but what goes on in these desolate spaces is less so, in these metallic containers discordant against the backdrop of sea and sky. As well as the constant presence of the sea throughout this stage of the journey, the large metal structures of the Greenock cranes remain visible in the distance for the first hour of my walk.

8964284065?profile=originalMy partner Callum had intended to meet me off the boat but is running late and we have a number of phonecalls and text exchanges as we try to synchronise my walking time with his train travel time. I think I will probably arrive at Greenock Central at the same time as him, but I realise I am making speedier progress than anticipated. Callum disembarks at Cartsdyke and I walk up to the roundabout to meet him. He waves to me from across the roundabout and I wave back. He is on the phone and I walk in silence, holding his hand looking at the large steel-blue crane and yellow McDonald’s arches against the blue sky. Callum is surprised how far I have come in the first hour and I feel pleased with my progress. We walk along by the noisy road passing car dealerships and Cappielow football ground where we watched a Greenock Morton versus Hamilton game last weekend. We notice the simplicity of the street names here: PORT GLASGOW ROAD and OLD GREENOCK ROAD (the old road to Greenock which is now the A8, running alongside the busy M8, which I will follow almost all the way to Glasgow).

8964284284?profile=originalWe arrive in Port Glasgow via a backstreet behind another Tesco superstore and find ourselves in the town centre. I recognise this as where the McGill’s bus from Dunoon to Glasgow stops. We pause at a circular bench for a sandwich (Callum has had no breakfast) and to use the public toilets. PORT GLASGOW TOWN CENTRE adorns a pebbledash wall with a Farmfoods shop underneath. I comment on what an ugly town centre it is. Callum reckons Motherwell is worse and I say I think Cumbernauld is officially the worst in Scotland – all examples of “new” town centres, built in the latter half of the twentieth century. Ahead, there is another piece of public art. This sculpture denotes a ship, a nod to Port Glasgow’s ship building heritage; now declined to almost nothing while the area surrounding the water is littered with the detritus of the era.

As we leave Port Glasgow, the next roundabout (NEW ROUNDABOUT AHEAD) offers the first point at which we have a choice of route to take – either along the A8 with no visible walkway, or along Glasgow Road. I am tempted by the shoreline and see a cyclist disappear along a makeshift path by Newark Castle. I think of Rebecca Solnit’s claim in A Field Guide to Getting Lost that “NEVER TO GET LOST IS NOT TO LIVE” but I am mindful of our time restriction as Callum has to work in Glasgow later. A look at the map reminds me that at this point we are supposed to cut up Glasgow Road towards Langbank. I resist the temptation of the waters by the “long bank” and we move away from the shore for the first time. Glasgow Road is very quiet and leads us away from the noise of the traffic and into a more residential area. There are a series of tenement buildings along this road and Callum and I are struck by how the clean and presentable red sandstone facings contrast with the open back close areas that are desolate, derelict and littered with rubbish, white walls streaked with dirt. What should be hidden is exposed, both to the road and the train line.

8964284664?profile=originalAs we walk I realise that a property I viewed when I was house-hunting lies between Glasgow Road and the water. I point this out to Callum. People pass walking their dogs and the sun beats down, reflecting on the water. Although this street is quiet and residential, many of the houses look uninhabited. We can see the train line and we soon pass Woodhall station, another marker on the railway route between Glasgow and Gourock. Across from this, there is a cemetery behind a high wall that must be hidden from the train as I have never noticed this before. The sign reads PORT GLASGOW CEMETERY and it is peaceful – we are the only people here. Next to the cemetery is an abandoned housing estate where the windows of all the buildings are boarded up. The place feels desolate. A sign to LANGBANK indicates that it is 3 miles away and we move on, excited by the prospect of lunch and a rest. As Glasgow Road rejoins the main A8, the noise of traffic is reintroduced as we walk along a narrow path that runs closely parallel. This area of the Clyde Estuary has some of the most beautiful views when travelling by car, but on foot the road is the dominant visual element and our conversation is hampered by the loud and incessant traffic. There is a sheer black cliff face along our right-hand side, on our left the busy A8; this part of the journey feels oppressive. The rock face is covered in a wire fence, assumedly to stop small rock falls landing on the path or road, but the impression is of the rock face as caged in, and the natural landscape as contained by a manmade metal grid. The rock formation is fascinating, with a smooth area of rock stretching horizontally along the jagged face. I wonder what natural processes over the years led to this striking aesthetic effect. There are a number of waterfalls and hundreds of almost open daffodils on the grassy verge beneath the rock face. It is very beautiful, although the noisy environment makes this part of the route more stressful and the traffic makes the rhythm of this section feel frantic.

8964284883?profile=originalWe walk past Findlaystone tree nursery with multiple conifer trees in various sizes, as well as cherry blossoms and fruit trees. At the end of the field there is a beautiful cherry tree, flowering early, the pale pink becoming more vibrant as we move towards it. This stretch of the A8 feels long, and it is a relief when we pass under the bridge at the final corner and can see the pretty village of Langbank on our right. We cut in to the village, moving away from the busy dual carriageway. We move past picturesque houses and well-kept gardens through quiet streets away from the busy A-road. This street also offers a slight elevation and there is a beautiful view of the Clyde estuary in the sunlight. Dumbarton Rock as a visible landmark is in sight now and Callum and I reflect on when we had driven there for a football match a few weeks ago. The car journey took 90 minutes from my house and we talk about how far we have walked already and how the morning has passed pleasantly and quickly. We can see Langbank train station and I point out a number of other houses I considered buying when I was relocating to the West Coast. I eventually moved much further out of Glasgow than I had intended and my current commute is substantially longer than the 36-minute train journey to Langbank and includes crossing the body of water visible now. As we walk through the village, I think about how much of my personal history is entwined in this route and how many autobiographical moments and memories have come to me at various points along this journey. Mike Pearson discusses the relationship between site and memory in In Comes I: Performance, Memory and Landscape (2006) and I think about this now as I show Callum a home that almost was; my offer was rejected. There is an empty space in the garden; the asbestos garage I intended to tear down has been removed by someone else.

8964284699?profile=original8964285456?profile=originalWe stop for lunch at the Wheelhouse in Langbank. Callum and I have a burger and a pint and enjoy resting our legs after the morning’s walk. We check the next stage of the journey online and discuss Callum’s departure at Bishopton; he is working in Glasgow city centre at 4pm. We set off refreshed for the hour-and-20-minute walk to the next railway station. The road begins to move away from the water and up an incline, elevating us above the estuary. The views are lovely and we walk above the train line now, the cables at our eyeline as we look back towards Dumbarton Rock. It has been a landmark for so long that as the image of the rock recedes and we move further inland, there is a sense of making progress as we move towards Bishopton. This section of OLD GREENOCK ROAD is very quiet and pleasant and signs for FARM TRAFFIC punctuate the quiet road nestled amongst rolling green fields. Approaching CHESTNUT ROUNDABOUT, I can see Bishopton in the distance as the fields transform into residential areas. The walk though Bishopton seems long, as we try to second guess where the railway station is, checking my phone (Callum’s ran out of battery in Langbank) and looking for electric cabling. We both are aware that Callum will be leaving soon and I will be continuing the walk to Glasgow on my own. When we find the pretty Victorian train station at Bishopton there is a 15-minute wait for the next train to Glasgow Central, so we sit on a bench and I take my boots off to give my feet a breather and organise the rest of our snacks for Callum to take to work. Callum asks how I am feeling about the next stage of the journey and I say I am feeling fine. The morning has been pleasant and I have been glad of the company. I wave him off at the station and with trepidation put my hiking boots back on, ready for the next stage of the journey. My blisters are already making me wince and I regret wearing my heavy hiking boots, as most of the journey so far has been on pavements and tarmacked surfaces. Trainers would probably have sufficed for the mainly urban terrain.

I hobble down from the station and back on to OLD GREENOCK ROAD to continue my journey towards Glasgow. Passing a FILLING STATION I walk towards the open road. I glance back and see a sign behind me that says GREENOCK 11 and I feel incredibly disheartened. I had estimated that I was over halfway along the 27-mile route, but this sign has made me doubt and I start to worry about the next stage of my journey. My feet are already very painful and as I begin to walk along the next long stage of the A8, the endless road yawning in front of me does nothing to allay my fears about the four or five hours of walking I still have ahead. This stretch of road is particularly brutal, with only a very small track next to the A8 that is often encroached on by branches and hedgerow. There is only a path on the left side of the road which means that traffic is coming from behind me and the whizz of vehicles means that I cannot listen to music for fear of being caught off-guard by an articulated lorry. Along this route there is also a lot of debris from car accidents and as I negotiate a path through broken wing mirrors, hubcaps and smashed glass along the grassy verge, my sister texts me, trying to convince me to hop on the next train and meet her for a beer in the sun. I think about how easy it would have been to get on the train to Glasgow with Callum, having completed around half of my usual commute by foot. This is the lowest point of the journey so far and I begin to doubt if I can complete the task I have set myself. Prior to doing this alternative commute, I had tried to convince myself that if I attempted the journey and failed it still would have been interesting in terms of my research and useful for our project, however I know I have also not really considered the possibility of failure until this moment. As I limp around the BARRANGARY ROUNDABOUT I decide not to stop again until I can’t go any further and persevere along the route. Fields stretch into the distance on both sides of the narrow road and I notice how different this landscape is to the seaside towns and hilly vistas through which I have passed so far. A blue traffic cone seems incongruous against the landscape, but I feel I am noticing these things less as my physical tiredness and discomfort becomes more pressing. Walking on the grassy verge is easier than walking on the hard surface and for the rest of my journey I travel on natural surfaces where I can, avoiding pavements and designated tarmacked areas for the sake of my tattered feet.

8964284480?profile=originalThe road rises above the M8 and I am struck by the familiarity of this section of the route, which had moments before seemed alien. Feeling like I have got my bearings I try to move forward with more gusto, telling myself that I must be near the airport. Sure enough, I see a plane taking off to my right and the road veers away from the M8, across country, towards Renfrew. Callum phones to see how I am getting on and I jokingly tell him I am packing it in, although I am sorely missing the company and my morale is low. His words of encouragement and claims that I am nearly at Inchinnan spur me on and I continue along the long straight road. Signs indicate I am at INDIA DRIVE and the landscape retains the fields on one side, while the other becomes an industrial estate with clean, white buildings running alongside the A8. At the end of one of the fields there is a large barn that looks like a church, enormous diamonds of stained glass glistening in the sun, which is still high in the sky. I can see a bus depot in the distance and even from far away I can tell that it is the McGill’s bus depot. McGill’s run a service from Dunoon to Glasgow; the bus picks up passengers in the town centre and then embarks on the Western vehicle ferry, before driving along the M8 from Gourock to Glasgow. When I told my dad about my intention to reimagine my commute, he suggested I walk for a bit and then get the McGill’s bus the rest of the way as he felt the journey was too long. I chuckle at the thought that I have inadvertently followed the bus to its depot on OLD GREENOCK ROAD. As I move through Inchinnan, there is more of a sense of the industrial and residential becoming visible within the landscape, as large buildings appear beyond fields and I notice the first shops and pubs I have seen since the Wheelhouse in Langbank many hours ago. I check my phone and realise that I am near Black Cart Water, a subsidiary of the Clyde and I feel a sense of achievement as I cross over first this river, and then another to enter Renfrew.


                                                                                  Arriving in Renfrew gives me a false sense of being near completion, as the sudden presence of pedestrians, shops, eateries and homes makes me feel as though I have reached my destination. I ponder at a queue of around 40 people outside a chip shop in the town square and move towards the pretty Alexandra Park, past some lovely floral scents and well-kept gardens. The residential area gradually recedes and the railings I pass have more rust than paint.

8964285287?profile=original8964286262?profile=originalAll of a sudden I realise I am in Braehead, and the large PORSCHE showroom glistens in the waning sunshine. Manoeuvring around the multiple roundabouts at Braehead makes me contemplate how this area is designed for vehicles and not pedestrians. As I wait at the traffic lights, I think about how I have not seen another walker since Callum and I left Langbank. The A8 does not lend itself to ramblers but I have encountered multiple cyclists all along the route. Braehead jars after the sleepy feel of Renfrew, as the rush hour traffic becomes noticeable and the concrete and metal of the environment permeate the landscape. There is also a considerable amount of rubbish in the areas around and between the roundabouts and the evidence of human existence and waste is much more noticeable than it has been at any other point. As I tramp past the DIAGEO factory, I become aware that I have rejoined the path of the M8 and the familiar motorway from which I had diverted after Bishopton has reappeared and is heavy with early evening traffic.

8964286288?profile=originalAfter passing a sign for Govan and Drumoyne, where my mother was born, a sign in the middle of a roundabout announces WELCOME TO GLASGOW. I photograph this, as I have many of the signs, but this one feels important as I have travelled through Argyll, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire to reach this point. As I walk around the roundabout, a WELCOME TO RENFREWSHIRE sign sits at the mouth of one of the exit lanes and I think about these intangible and unknowable boundaries that divide one section of paved ground from another. I think about Braidotti’s claim about nomadism:

Nomadism, therefore, is not fluidity without borders, but rather an acute awareness of the nonfixity of boundaries. It is the intense desire to go trespassing, transgressing. As a figuration of contemporary subjectivity, therefore, the nomad is a post-metaphysical, intensive, multiple entity, functioning in a net of interconnections (Braidotti, 2011:66).

I have enjoyed noticing the “non-fixity of boundaries” and experiencing the small moments of transgression during this journey. I have also been aware of a sense of fluidity of time and space as I have manoeuvred through the landscape and along the route differently than I would in my usual commute. My relief at reaching Glasgow is short lived as I realise I am still not even at the Clyde Tunnel and have many miles to go before reaching my workplace at 100 Renfrew Street in the city centre. I recall living in the west end when I was younger, and how impossibly far the walk into town seemed. Having already travelled around 22 miles the last section seems as though it may be the part that proves impossible. I feel physically exhausted and the adrenalin that has kept me going for the last few hours is starting to wane. Callum continues to send encouraging texts and ensures that he phones on the hour, while my sister texts saying that since I am in Glasgow now I should just hop on the bus and come to her house for dinner. I message her back, saying I would be disappointed not to finish, and continue my walk, a lone pedestrian alongside the multiple motorway lanes, busy with traffic.

8964286066?profile=originalI can see Ibrox football ground in the distance and Callum and I had been joking earlier that Ibrox signalled the “home straight”, however, it seems to take me forever to reach it and my feet are not only blistered, but my left heel seems to have burst open and the pain is excruciating. I am scared that if I stop to look at it then I will not be able to continue and so I keep going as the sun sets behind me. It has been such a beautiful day and the sunshine on my face has been lovely as I have made my long journey towards the RCS. I finally reach Paisley Road West and begin a staggering run, as I find this seems marginally less painful than a walk. A look at my map indicates that this road is a lot longer than I remember and as I jog past the food shops and pubs, the smells and sounds of the city infiltrate my nose and ears. I consider a bus, a taxi, and feigning completion, only to realise that I need to finish it on foot. Passing the GRAND OLE OPRY, I know I am close and approaching the waterway that I have followed for 25 miles. Sure enough, I pass Springfield Quay and cross the Clyde via the “squiggly bridge”, illuminated in the dusky light. I walk towards the town centre and past my sister’s flat on Argyle Street (where I used to live) and head up Waterloo Street. Once again I start to run as I push myself through the final stage of the journey. People have finished work and are going home as I manoeuvre my tired body up the grid-like streets of Glasgow towards my destination. Breaking out on to Sauchiehall Street in front of Marks and Spencer I turn the corner onto Hope Street, past Jack McPhees and across the traffic lights to reach the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It is 7:30 pm and I have arrived at my place of work after a day of walking. My journey has taken just over the duration of my normal working day and I have stopped three times to rest. Braidotti claims that “hope deconstructs the future in that it opens spaces onto which to project active desires: it gives us the force to process the negativity and emancipate ourselves from the inertia of everyday routines” (Braidotti, 2011:90). I had hoped that the physical challenge of enduring a day of walking to re-experience my commute in an active and embodied way would emancipate me from the “inertia of everyday routines” and as I think about my journey and the new sights and sounds I have encountered, the moments of autobiographical connection and memory, and the ideas I have about processing this, writing about this, talking about this, I know that the “transformative and inspirational” power of the imagination that Braidotti acknowledges has been made visible through the experience of walking my commute during the course of my working day (Braidotti, 2001: 14).



Braidotti, R. (2011). Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in

Contemporary Feminist Theory 2nd ed. Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus. London: The Athlone Press.

Edensor, T. (2011). “Commuter: Mobility rhythm and commuting”. In Geographies Of Mobilities: Practices, spaces, subjects pp. 189–204. Surrey: Ashgate.

Jamie, Kathleen (2012). Sightlines: A conversation with the natural world. London: Sort of Books.

Lefebvre: Henri (2013). Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. London: Bloomsbury.

Pearson, Mike (2006) 'In Comes I': Performance, Memory and Landscape. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Smith, Phil (Crab Man) (2012) Counter-Tourism: The Handbook. Devon: Triarchy Press.

Solnit, Rebecca (2006). A Field Guide to Getting Lost. London: Cannongate.

Solnit, Rebecca (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London: Verso.

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Today David Overend and I presented a paper about our recent commuting project entitled
"Rhythmic Routes: Developing a nomadic performance practice for the daily commute". It has been a really exciting few days so far. Here is the programme for the event:

Monday 7 April – Helsinki

17.00- 20.00 Opening session at Lavaklubi (cellar bar of the Finnish National Theatre, Läntinen teatterikuja 1)

Tuesday 8 April – Train Helsinki – Rovaniemi

Board Train by 10.00
10.30 – coffee

11.00 – Real encounters with nomadism in theatre
Manilla Ernst & Willmar Sauter (University of Stockholm, Sweden): Antigone’s Diary – A Mobile Urban Performance in a Nomadic Environment
Pirkko Koski (University of Helsinki, Finland): Roots, travel and nation

12.30 – lunch

14.00 – Experimental nomadic art
Steve Wilmer (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland): Fluxus as Nomadic Art
Fiona Wilkie (University of Roehampton, UK): ‘Ungrounded and unbounded’?: reclaiming agency and difference in the performance of mobile subjects
Kristin Flade & Jana J. Haeckel (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany): Green Lines of Engagement –Nomadic Figurations and Dialogical Thinking in Francis Alÿs’ Green Line

15.30 – coffee

16.00 – New (transnational) artistic strategies
Anneli Saro (University of Tartu, Estonia): Mobility and theatre. Finno-Ugric perspective
Jurgita Staniškyte (Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania): Immobile Travelers: Strategies and Tactics of Contemporary Baltic Theatre.
Maria Berlova (State Institute of Art Studies, Moscow, Russia):
Transnationalism of Swedish and Russian national theaters in the second half of the 18th century

17.30 – coffee and relaxation (arrive Rovaniemi approx. 20.45)

Wednesday 9 April – Rovaniemi

9.30 – Welcome to University of Lapland

10.00 – Changing affects amidst developing technology
Laura Gröndahl (Tampere University, Finland): Performing mobile spaces
Annika Wehrle (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz, Germany): The Mobilization of Private and Public Spheres. Performative Evaluations of a Socio-Cultural Passage.

11.00 – coffee

11.30 – Questions of identity, attitude and cognition
Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink (Utrecht University, The Netherlands): Learning to move differently – learning to move our minds.
Mariusz Bartosiak (Institute of Contemporary Culture, Poland): From Nomadic to Fractal Identity – Cultural Performances as Cognitive Horizon for Performing Identity
David Overend and Laura Bissell (University of the West of Scotland and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, UK): Rhythmic Routes: Developing a nomadic performance practice for the daily commute

13.00 – lunch

14.30 – Nomadic Artists working abroad and between cultures
Ramunė Balevičiūtė (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Vilnius, Lithuania): Transcultural Change of Contemporary Lithuanian Theatre: The Nomadic Destinies of Rimas Tuminas and Eimuntas Nekrošius
Anna Thuring (Theatre Academy Helsinki, Finland): Japanese Nomads in the North. Hanako and a Group of Japanese Actors on a Tour in Nordic Countries in 1906.
Inga Sindi (University of Latvia, Riga): Theatre and Hybridity. The Example of the Israeli Theatre Director Yael Ronen

19.00 – Conference Dinner at Korundi House of Culture
(For this event, you need to purchase your ticket through the online registration form.)

Thursday 10 April – Rovaniemi

9.00 – Artistic Mobility in Dance and Music
Wade Hollingshaus (Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A): Going Solo: Peter Gabriel’s Theatrical Departure
Jurgita Imbrasaite (Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany): The Other Side of the Glance – Cultural Colonialism at Stake
Karen Vedel (University of Copenhagen, Denmark): Itinerant Performance and Artists’ Mobility Methodological concerns

10.30 – coffee

11.00 – Rhizomatic theatre networks
Ott Karulin (Sirp, Tallinn, Estonia): Estonian summer productions as nomadic experiences
Ina Pukelyte (Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania): Reconstructing a Nomadic Network: Itineraries of Jewish Actors during the First Lithuanian Independence

12.00 – go to Arctic Centre for lunch and afternoon session

14.00 – Sami Theatre and Culture
Knut Ove Arntzen (University of Bergen, Norway) : Sámi and indigenous theatre in the perspective of the nomadic and the notion of a spiral dramaturgy
Terhi Vuojala-Magga (University of Lapland, Arctic Centre, Finland):  Sami culture, and its modern and traditional mobility
Joonas Vola (University of Lapland, Finland): Eye, Gaze, Canon – Study on Performativity of Technology Mediated Human-animal Relation in the Arctic

16.00 – 17.00 – coffee and Arctic Centre exhibitions

19.00 – Theatre Performance:  Áillohas – son of the sun in Rovaniemi Theatre.
(For this event, you need to purchase your ticket through the online registration form.)

Friday 11 April – Rovaniemi

9.00 – Wandering artists and their nomadic characters
Priyanka Chatterjee (Budge Budge Institute of Technology, India): The Nomadic Self: Beckett’s Journey from Eleutheria to Happy Days
Kate Bredeson (Reed College, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A): Ephemerality and the Nomad in the Théâtre du Soleil
Hanna Korsberg (University of Helsinki, Finland): Playing Woyzeck

10.30 – coffee

11.00 – Theme of emigration
Rūta Mažeikienė (Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania): Narratives of Emigration in Contemporary Lithuanian Theatre
Sarit Cofman-Simhon (Kibbutzim College, Tel Aviv and Emunah College, Jerusalem, Israel): On the Road: Narratives of Migration in the Israeli Theatre

12.00 – Closing Session (to finish by 13.00)

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David Overend Walks Route 77

Walking Route 77

March 2014 


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.


Setting off after lunch, I 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.



Braidotti, R. (2011). Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (2nd ed.). Columbia University Press.

Collignon, F. (2011). Soft Technology. Retrieved March 02, 2014, from

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus. London: The Athlone Press.

Edensor, T. (2003). Defamiliarizing the Mundane Roadscape. Space and Culture, 6(2), 151–168. doi:10.1177/1206331203251257

Edensor, T. (2011). Commuter: Mobility rhythm and commuting. In Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, spaces, subjects (pp. 189–204). Surrey: Ashgate.

Elliott, A., & Urry, J. (2010). Mobile Lives. Taylor & Francis.

Overend, D. (2012). Misguided in Ayr. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from

Pearson, M. (2010). Site-Specific Performance. Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, P. (2010). Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways. Triarchy Press.

Yuill, S. (2012). Given To The People. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from


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Imagining Travel

Paper presented at Into the New Symposium, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Arches, Glasgow, January 2014

My journey begins with what Laura Watts (2008) calls ‘imagined desire’ - a vision of flying across the Atlantic Ocean, exploring a new city in temperatures down to the minus 20s. I am travelling as co-director of Bullet Catch by Rob Drummond; a touring theatre show produced by the Arches. Together with Rob and our Stage Manager, Deanne Jones, I have visited several new places in the last couple of years, from Edinburgh to America, Brighton to Brazil. This is the last time I will travel with the show. But I couldn’t miss out on Michigan. I have always been drawn to the snow-capped mountains and icy lakes of North America.

In the days leading up to my departure, there are reports of a ‘polar vortex’ that is gripping large parts of the north-eastern states in an ‘ice storm’. I have never heard the phrases ‘polar vortex’ or ‘ice storm’ before. I reconsider the trip. I phone Mary, the producer in Michigan, and she reassures me. It will be fine, she says. This happens every year. We’re used to it.

We fly over the north Atlantic, the tip of Greenland and South-Eastern Canada, arriving in Newark Liberty International Airport with only an hour’s delay. It feels good to be travelling – somehow an affirmation of the success of our theatre show or a way of proving to myself that I am literally going somewhere. We sit in the lounge, waiting for our connecting flight to Detroit, reading, drinking coffee and chatting about our work. As we do so, we patiently watch the delay time on the computer display stretching out into the evening until we know that there is no chance of reaching our destination that night.

The inevitable cancellation of the Detroit flight instigates a frenzy of phone calls, emails, queuing and rebooking. Between ourselves, the United Airways staff at Newark, our producer in Glasgow and Mary in Ann Arbor, we arrange to spend the night at the Double Tree Hotel near to the airport, and we are rebooked onto a flight the following evening. “There is no way you are getting your bags any time soon”, we are told at Baggage Reclaim. This is our main concern now. Without the props in Deanne’s suitcase, there will be no performances this week. “It’s not happening. We’re not pulling any bags”.

We take a taxi to the hotel and over the next few hours, various efforts are made to reroute our luggage. We allow ourselves a moment of respite and I enjoy two cold glasses of Samuel Adams Boston lager and a medium-rare cheese and bacon burger - one of the best meals I have had in a while.

The next day, we return to the airport in plenty of time to attempt to retrieve our bags. Covering all bases, I wait at the check-in desk while Deanne and Rob return to Baggage Reclaim. Both queues are long and slow moving. While I wait, I receive a text from Deanne, ‘Our flight is cancelled’. The process repeats itself - phone calls, emails, queuing and rebooking. The plan is to travel thirty miles across the city to JFK airport, where we can all be booked onto a flight to Detroit that leaves that evening.

But I have just read something about ‘frost quakes’ and I am no longer keen to reach Michigan. As the co-director of a relatively straightforward show that has been performed and stage-managed over a hundred times by my colleagues, I am an expendable member of the team at this point in the tour. Would it be possible, I wonder, to simply go home. My ‘imagined desire’ has turned on its head and I think about returning to my fiancé and my warm, familiar flat. It takes a while - an hour to be exact - but when I return to the desk, a tremendously helpful and persistent member of the airline check-in staff somehow manages to find me a seat on the evening’s flight back to Glasgow. I ignore a latent feeling of guilt about deserting my friends and we say our farewells.

On the flight home, I have three seats to myself and I lie across them, sleeping comfortably for most of the journey and watching half of Star Trek Into Darkness before we land in a dark and drizzly city. On the way home, my taxi driver asks if I have had a good trip.

Over fifty hours, in the limbo of Marc Augé’s (2009) ‘non-places’, I have taken a taxi, a plane, a train, a second taxi, then after a night in a hotel, a bus, a second train, a second plane and a third taxi. I arrive back at my flat with nothing to show for my misadventure save for an irresponsibly large carbon footprint and the loss of two days, $250 and my suitcase, which, I am reliably informed, is somewhere in the company of 10,000 other bags stranded in airport limbo.

This will teach me to romanticise travel, I think. This will teach me to ignore weather warnings. This will teach me to imagine.



So, what have I learnt from this experience? In transit, this journey was tangible, corporeal, at times exhausting and uncomfortable. But the present of travel is continually deferred, moved on and erased and the passage of time is marked by the progress of miles and the shifting land and seascapes below aeroplanes.

Beforehand, and retrospectively, travel exists as an imagined space and time. Looking back, recalling the journey in memory, I am engaged in imaginative reconstruction: selective editing, a reduction of details identified by Alain de Botton (2003) as creative process of omission and compression (15). However, this creative translation of my journey is problematic for two reasons. First, the omission and compression of artistic imaginations can exclude the most important features of international travel. The commas in my list of planes, trains and automobiles reduce significant time periods into single punctuation marks. However, as Monika Büscher and John Urry (2009) point out, a lot happens between transit, while we are ‘temporarily immobilised - within lounges, waiting rooms, cafes, amusement arcades, parks, hotels, airports, stations, motels, harbours and so on’ (108). Between ‘train’ and ‘second taxi’, we arranged a night in a Newark hotel, corresponded with our producers to book us onto the next available flight to Detroit, and tried in vain to retrieve our luggage.

These mundane details often involve problem solving - a necessarily relational practice that relies on a range of technologies, networks and systems. They are the reality of international travel, but in our memories, diaries and stories, we routinely gloss over them, forget the people who have helped or hindered us, and reduce significant experiences to commas in lists.

Second, I am aware that my ‘imaginative desire’ partly arises from a fetishisation of mobility. At its worst, this impulse to travel and my desire to physically ‘go somewhere’ is a form of excessive consumption – which Anthony Elliott and John Urry (2010) criticise as ‘the internationalisation of a consumer culture held in thrall to instant gratification, continual self-reinvention, superficiality and addictive, short-term “highs”’ (23). As we enter a new phase of mobilities, in which climate change exerts its influence, oil supplies are in decline and transport systems buckle under the pressure, it is necessary to imagine alternative futures. The main question to address is whether to maintain an uncritical position in relation to our touring practices, maintaining current patterns of behaviour because that’s just the way it is, or rather to imagine alternative models of touring, aspiring towards an ecologically responsible, culturally sensitive approach to mobility.

In many ways, the choice may not be ours to make. If we have now passed the peak of global oil supply, the transport infrastructure that facilitates our international travel will necessarily change (Urry 2013). Concurrently (and interrelatedly), climate change is leading to a new form of capitalism and the prospect of a culture of decarbonisation is becoming a reality. While the exact nature of these changes is not yet clear, the mobilities system as we know it is clearly unsustainable. There are many different ways in which touring theatre could change in the relatively near future and we need to start to imagine these possible scenarios. Bullet Catch will continue to tour without me in 2014 as the production visits Wellington, Sydney, Toronto and Hong Kong. This model of frenetic intercontinental touring is arguably irresponsible and may not be sustainable for much longer, but it will almost certainly change. Perhaps some of these issues will therefore come to be seen as more important in performance research and practice in coming years, and perhaps more work will start to pre-empt this shift? I am hopeful that others will take up this line of enquiry in productive and imaginative ways.



Augé, M. (2009). Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London: Verso Books

Botton, A. de (2003), The Art of Travel, London: Penguin Books

Büscher, M. and Urry, J. (2009), ‘Mobile Methods and the Empirical’, European Journal of Social Theory 12:1, 99-116

Elliott, A. and Urry, J. (2010), Mobile Lives, Oxon: Routledge

Urry, J. (2013), Societies Beyond Oil: Oil Dregs and Social Futures, London: Zed Books

Watts, L. (2008), ‘Travel Time Use in the Information Age Key Findings: Travel Time (or Journeys with Ada)’, [paper], London: Department for Transport. (accessed 07/06/13)

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São Paulo, June 2013


After a particularly uncomfortable and severely delayed two-day journey from Charleston to São Paulo, we slump down with a beer in a hotel bar and attempt to wind down. This is the reality of touring theatre – far from home, exhausted and disoriented, desperate for a drink. We have been travelling from place to place for almost three months now. For a few weeks in May I returned to Scotland to direct another play but Rob and Deanne have been on tour the whole time. As we adjust to our new surroundings, a television screen above our heads plays footage of police in riot gear closing in on a group of protestors. It looks like a scary and volatile situation.

Picking up on the clues of translation – a few familiar phrases and recognisable images – we soon realise that these scenes are unfolding as we watch and that we are only a few streets away. Nobody in the bar speaks English well enough to explain what is happening and our beginners Portuguese is limited to asking for directions and ordering food. Thankfully, smart phone technology brings Google to our aid. We learn that a few days before our arrival, the municipal government raised metro fares to 3.20 Brazilian reals – a raise of twenty cents (around five pence). This seemingly innocuous decision fuelled an emerging protest movement that rapidly spread throughout the country becoming one of Brazil’s largest protests in decades. From the clinical universality of airport lounges and hotel foyers, we have unwittingly stumbled into something real and urgent.

Later, from the safety of a hotel room with views over concrete tower blocks and building sites to Ibirapuera Park, I watch hundreds of people drift by on their way to the centre of the action. I decide to follow them but I soon feel out of place – an imposter in somebody else’s revolution. I see nothing of the burning cars and police brutality that is currently being streamed across the globe. Instead, there is a tangible optimism driving this mass gathering. Alongside political slogans and chanting, I see samba bands and dancers, balloons, costumes and masks. And everywhere, on walls, pavements, banners and clothes, the phrase ‘320 não!’. Someone holds up a sign, ‘Brazil Woke Up’.

At the Teatro Cultura Inglesa for the next few nights our potential audience is noticeably depleted. The theatre is not empty and our performance is well received but this is a very different experience to the tour so far. As millions take to the streets in a historically significant movement against the corruption of their government, we diligently plough on with a theatre show that we have performed countless times before in venues from London to New York. For now, we are culturally and politically disconnected from our environment. The real theatre is not happening in this building.

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Deviant Practices: Technological Re-codings of the City through Radical Play

By critically analysing recent explorations into walking the city as a creative and politicised practice, this paper illustrates how mobile devices can be used as tools for radical play and to encourage subversive use of public spaces. Building on Henri Lefebrve’s Writings on Cities (1993) and The Urban Revolution, (2003) this paper will offer new types of technologised mapping as a politicised performative practice that enacts participants ‘right to the city’. Australian performance group pvi collective’s recent piece Deviator, (2012) sited in Glasgow and other international cities, demands a subversive re-coding of the city via a technological derive, live performance and play. By positioning audiences as interventionists on the streets and encouraging a deviation from the norm the social codes of the city are reimagined and participant-spectators encounter potentially transformative interactions with public spaces.

Full text can be accessed free here: Body Space Technology Journal, January 2013

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World Wide Wandering

E found that early attempts at wandering through Paris and London were frequently thwarted by the irresistible pull of the iPhone Maps application. How could e follow the psychogeographical contours of the city when the multinational data gatherers had been there already, rendering the streets and boulevards hopelessly knowable and searchable? Leaving the technology at home seemed disingenuous; a desperate nostalgic hankering for a bygone age before mobile internet. The city was no longer accessed through physical routes alone, and e had to find a way to embrace this pandemic augmentation of the urban landscape.

Attempting to find the epicentre of the predictable city, e types ‘places to go in London’ into Google and picks the first unfamiliar location – Little Venice, where the Grand Union and Regents Canals meet to the north of Paddington. Alighting from the underground at Warwick Avenue, e wanders along the leafy streets and, as the sun sets, the sound of a six-piece blues band heralds the final hours of the Canalway Cavalcade festival – a fortuitously celebratory opening to a week’s e-drifting. 

E drinks overpriced lager from a plastic glass and watches Chinese lanterns float away into the clear sky. Over a Tannoy, the wry compère announces a procession of illuminated narrowboats; an annual tradition that is cynically undercut by e’s judgmental use of a Rightmove application to ascertain local property and boat prices. Now, with the knowledge that e’s Glasgow flat is worth little more than the smallest of these vessels, the whole affair takes on a new light and a charming pageant becomes a grotesque parade of affluence.

Later, in a far less glamorous flat in Willesden Green, e trawls the internet for other Little Venices and stumbles across the website for the Department of Architecture at Berkeley University of California, where Professor Charles C. Benton blogs about his foray into kite aerial photography. E uses Benton’s photographs of the ‘Little Venice’ of Parc de la Villette in Paris as a real-world hyperlink, and two weeks later, finds the exact location of the spot where the kite camera captured a freight boat passing one of Bernard Tschumi's follies on the Canal de l'Ourcq. 

Searching the web for information about the follies, e mostly finds drawings and plans, strikingly detached from the landscape, alongside photographs of the bright red structures taken from below, framed by nothing but clear blue sky. On foot, sauntering along the canal on the warmest day of the year so far, the park feels very different. The follies are distinct from their environment, but they also have a clear relationship with it. E moves over bridges, across well kept greens and up stairs - the whole site is a huge adventure playground. At the same time, e has never been in a place that feels so tangibly designed. People literally flow along the pathways, parallel and perpendicular to the waterway. This is the architecture of human behaviour as much as landscape; a clear reminder that most of the wandering that is done in the city was planned in an architect’s studio. 

The same is true, of course, of the nineteenth century shopping arcades made famous to urban wanderers by Benjamin. E walks the length of one of these - Le Passage Choiseul - the following day and finds locked doors, boarded up windows and ‘to let’ signs. Perhaps this is a more direct example of the impact of the internet on the urban environment, as the explosion of e-commerce draws its strength from the closure of local, independent businesses? 

Leaving the manmade waterways of the Canal de l'Ourcq behind, e traces the route of the Canal St Martin above ground towards the Seine. Surrounded by monumental architecture and urban order, the river offers a very different experience of wandering through the city. Here, the gothic splendour of Notre Dame and the vast architectural grandeur of the Louvre are juxtaposed with something more mysterious and untameable in the murky depths of a defiantly natural entity: the urban river, containing both ‘the real and imagined threats which unruly natural features represent to the civilised contemporary city’ (Donald, 2012, p.222).


Standing on a bridge over the Seine, e uses an augmented reality programme to display information overlaid on the physical city. Recognising the shapes of buildings and monuments, a series of labels are generated that indicate the location of various tourist attractions. E is looking for an indication of where to go next, but there are no clear signs. Under foot, the river ripples in the sunlight. It is notably absent from the virtual data. This is the first point in e’s journey that the real seems to shut out the virtual. Perhaps that is why this whole e-drift has continually been drawn to water and guided by its routes. E stays on the bridge for a long time, trying to get a sense of the life of the river. The need to walk diminishes as the water moves things and people past this vantage point.

Returning to London, e spends some time staying on a houseboat in a floating community near Tower Bridge. For better or worse, e has missed the spectacular flotilla organised for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but there is still plenty of evidence of celebration in the days following the event. In the mornings, e sits at a picnic table that was hauled out of the River Thames and given a new home on the bow of the boat. No online furniture store could have provided such an efficient delivery service. 

Drifting along the South Bank, e stumbles across a world food market behind the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Eating a delicious Serbian kebab, e reflects on the global marketplace that has contained and defined this entire summer excursion: Google’s multinational corporation, operating from data centres in America, Finland and Belgium; cultural exchange of traditions and products - the Chinese lanterns; London’s allusion to Italy’s grand canals; the passage to France afforded by the Eurotunnel; the Jubilee celebrations of the commonwealth. Clearly, the global spaces of London and Paris extend far beyond their geographical boundaries.

Moving through virtual and physical realms over the course of these e-drifts, another realm had moved into focus, located in the prevalent processes of cosmopolitanism and globalisation. Beyond the intersection between the internet and the city, the rest of the world had asserted its constant presence. Journeys through this worldwide space could now take place both electronically (via kite aerial photography) and corporeally (via a delicious kebab). While these drifts raised far more questions than they ever could have hoped to answer, this seemed to validate this line of inquiry: to explore the connections between the physical and the virtual, to ask how we can work with and through them both to better understand the world in which we live. The next phase of the e-drift might have to reach further into this global realm.


Donald, Minty (2012) ‘The Urban River and Site-specific Performance’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 22:2, pp.213-223 

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David Overend is Misguided in Ayr


Eight walkers assembled behind the train station for the second walk of the day. A smaller group than earlier, but all eager and willing to be misguided by Phil Smith, who had never visited Ayr before. Phil selected three walkers to carry unidentified objects, wrapped in tea towels, and over the course of the afternoon three rocks were revealed. The first was shaped like the sole of a foot and we passed it round the group, weighing it and feeling the smooth texture and the heat generated by previous hands. 

We moved inside the station and explored the rich layering of nineteenth century architecture, twentieth century metal work and twenty-first century technology. And strangely, just behind the ticket barrier, was a garden shed. Attentive to anomalies in the environment and hyper-sensitive to the physical and social textures of the spaces we passed through, we departed in a different direction to the trains.

Phil introduced his work on Counter-Tourism and we set off with some of his tactics in mind: ‘intensifying and sharpening (our) perceptions - seeing what’s behind the scenes, what’s just outside the site, what’s just offstage’. Outside the station we noticed a picket fence and a grass verge, which reminded Phil of Dallas and the assassination of JFK. This was a ‘worm-hole’, a portal to another place, and when it had been pointed out we realised that there were many, many other places present in the car park, such as the vehicles manufactured in different continents, and the origin of the petrol in their tanks, which perhaps brought this place closer to Dallas that we had originally realised. 

Ascending the steps towards station bridge, we paused to contemplate a patch of ground behind a metal fence (a grid pattern that we would encounter time and time again throughout the afternoon). Some landscaping work had been done here, but it was half-hearted or uncompleted and the place had now been left to grow wild. Hundreds of people must pass by this spot everyday, but it seems unlikely that any of them stop to notice such abandoned, cordoned off areas of the city. 

We crossed the bridge to Burns Statue Square (named after the statue, not the man) and here we read the signs and displays of shops and bars, treating the faux-Irish paraphernalia in the window of O’Briens as a genuine museum exhibition. We examined the statue from several angles and attempted to find the exact spot where we could capture his gaze. Tracing the route later on, using Google Street View, I noticed that the face of the statue was blurred out. Impossible to recapture the stare without physically returning. Before moving on, we stood there, reading aloud the names of the Royal Scots Fusiliers who had died fighting in South Africa. Names that had possibly not been spoken for decades.


After following a narrow path between Burns House and the Odeon Cinema, by which two dated buildings maintained a close separation from each other, we paired up and tried out a counter-tourism tactic as one of us closed our eyes while the other led the way back across Station Bridge, lying about the route as we walked. Leading my new friend, Lianne, I turned the Esso garage into a neolithic farm building and the train line into a mountain stream, and later realised that we were actually passing through the old cattle market on our way to the River Ayr. Sometimes truth and fiction are closer than we realise.

We arrived at something like a fenced-off smoking area behind the Market Inn, by the Morrisons car park. A rotten gate lay on the ground next to a plastic chair and two beer crates. Phil offered reflections on the social impact of the smoking ban and the spatial relationships of twenty-first century towns. One of the other walkers emailed me the following day, ‘there were some really amazing moments of seeing the everyday in a new light - who would have thought that observing a smoking pass out at the back of an Ayr pub could become a lesson in anthropology/sociology!’ 

The fallen gate prompted us to search for other portals and we headed up Holmston Road feeling the textures of the various gates as we walked. At Holmston Primary, we examined the outline of a road junction in the playground, presumably for cycling proficiency training - streets without pavements. Across the road, we passed through the grounds of a public building, speculating about its many histories and uses. Here, we encountered our old friend, the grid. A network of crude lines were marked on the pathway, framing the ground as an area of special interest and guiding routes across it.

Phil had originally planned this route by searching for unusual shapes in the streets and paths via Google Earth. He had been particularly drawn to a bare patch of land to the east of the station. Visiting the site in person on the morning of the walks, it transpired that new flats had been built. This was a clear reminder that space is constantly under construction, an idea developed in Doreen Massey’s influential book, For Space.

8964278269?profile=originalAerial views of Mill Brae, before and after development


From the new buildings of Mill Brae, we wandered down to the River Ayr, following a pathway that traced the route of Holmston Road along to the cemetery. Here we found yet another grid - a wire fence separating the path from an overgrown piece of land, once concreted over but now returning to nature. We spoke of ‘edgelands’, a term coined by the environmentalist Marion Shoard, and adopted more recently by the poets, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. ‘Edgelands’ are those places where ‘overspill housing estates break into scrubland, wasteland’, the ‘edges’ of ‘underdeveloped, unwatched territories’. This particular edgeland was small and inaccessible, but for now it lacked a clear function and we spent some time examining its hidden details and imagining its story.



We emerged on a grass verge opposite the cemetery. Due to an impending closing time, we remained on the periphery of the site - another counter-tourist strategy. From above, Phil had seen geometric shapes, which he had traced on foot earlier that day. He urged us to return on another occasion to walk them ourselves, noticing the way that different sections of the cemetery are arranged with different patterns, inviting different modes of engagement. And here the walk ended. As we all went our separate ways, Ayr became something else; more familiar, more quotidian, but somehow changed. 



Massey, Doreen (2005) For Space, London: SAGE Publications

Smith, Phil (2010) Mythogeography: a guide to walking sideways, Axminster: Triarchy Press

Smith, Phil (2012a) Counter-Tourism: a Pocketbook, 50 Odd Things to do in a Heritage Site (and other places), Axminster: Triarchy Press

Smith, Phil (2012b) Counter-Tourism: the handbook, Axminster: Triarchy Press

Smith, Phil [online] ‘Counter-tourism’, (accessed 28/11/12)

Symmons Roberts, Michael; and Farley, Paul (2012) Edgelands, London: Vintage

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The crew of Community Spirit at the launch event in Emsworth, Hampshire

I was drawn to this project from the beginning. Following progress online, I watched the collection and selection of hundreds of wooden objects, the design of the vessel, and the collective construction process taking place in a boat shed in Hampshire. The ambition and scale of Lone Twin’s plans was admirable. Residents of South East England were invited to tell their stories and donate items that would be turned into a seaworthy yacht. After its maiden voyage along the south coast and inland to Milton Keynes, the boat would be made available for public use as a sailing and arts resource. I felt left out and decided to be there for the launch.

On Monday 7th May 2012, I took the train from London Victoria to Emsworth and arrived in a downpour. Huddling by the station wall, a crowd of people waited for a bus to arrive. Some of them lived nearby and wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and others had traveled from elsewhere in the UK - artists, students, producers, as well as those who had donated their own objects and were seeing the boat for the first time. Soon, 'I' became 'we' as the weather provided a valuable way in to conversation.

After a short, damp journey, we arrived at the marina. The rain was not showing any signs of relenting and, as is so often the case in outdoor events in this country, we arrived to find that the vast majority of people had crammed themselves into the food and drink tents, cowering under the tarpaulin. The event had all the trappings of a quintessential English country fair - a bar run by the local publicans, an art exhibition, roast meat in bread rolls and a selection of produce available to sample and purchase. David Williams' book about The Lone Twin Boat Project was also on sale - a series of essays appended with a comprehensive catalogue of all the objects and stories that went into the construction of the boat.

Eventually, we were coaxed out of our shelters by the compère. As the rain gradually relented, a local choir and a sea-shanty group provided the entertainment. The music was interspersed by short interviews with the people who had made this project happen as the compère introduced Mark Covell, the chief builder and project manager; the captain and members of the crew; Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters from Lone Twin; and several of the hundreds of volunteers and donators.

Each had their own stories to tell about their individual contributions and experiences, but more importantly, all of them knew they were part of something much bigger - a sense of community formed around an idea and a belief that working together on something would make it possible. As Whelan and Winters assembled the team and found their builder, they were driven by 'enthusiasm for stories, adventure, humour and music, as well as a convivial ease with other people' as much as by the specialist knowledge and technical skill that the build required (Williams, 2012, p.23).



Detail from the rain-covered hull of Community Spirit

 And at the centre of it all was the beautiful boat. Close up, the intricacy of the design was impressive; an apparently delicate surface but hardy enough for a voyage along the south coast:

A tiny elephant stands in the shadow of a bleached horse’s head between a tree and a spirit level. A helicopter hovers over a minute hillside house and a violin. A clothes hanger, clothes peg and rolling pin float in orbit around a miniscule train. A tiny cat stands transfixed with its back to two overlaid electric guitars. And an aardvark trundles stoically along beneath a tennis racket and a cricket bat. (Williams, 2012, p.29) 

The final result of years of planning, collecting, listening and building is a remarkable travelling museum of people's lives and stories represented by an archive of personal possessions that have been generously donated to make something new. The layers and structures of individual and collective histories is tangible and it brings together international superstardom (a shard from Jimi Hendrix's guitar), maritime icons (a piece of the Mary Rose) and personal biographies (toys, tools and hundreds of other personal possessions).



Community Spirit is lowered into the water at Emsworth Marina

 It would be possible to examine the fabric of the boat for hours but mid afternoon, as the sun crept out from behind the clouds, the crowd surrounding the boat parted to make way for the launch. This was the moment the assembled TV crews and paparazzi had been waiting for. A huge crane hoisted the vessel into the air and a slightly mistimed countdown preceded a confetti canon and a huge cheer as the boat was carefully and slowly lowered into the water.

As I stood amongst the jubilant onlookers, each stretching over each other's heads to take their own photographs of the floating vessel, the thing I was really struck by was the palpable sense of community that had developed throughout the afternoon. The craftsmanship in the boat was outstanding and the technical and management skills that realised Lone Twin's original idea was staggering. But more than that, it was the announcements to find the lost child, and later the lost old woman; the enthusiasm and anecdotes of the bar staff; the song by the daughter of the project manager. All this created a memorable event with the boat at the centre of it all.

In the lead up to the launch, a competition had been running to name the boat and earlier that week, it had been christened Community Spirit. The name captures the ethos, the methodology and the outcome of the Boat Project. Not only was the boat assembled through the contributions and time volunteered by the people of South East England, it will continue to encounter communities on its maiden voyage which includes stops in Brighton, Portsmouth, Suffolk and even landlocked Milton Keynes.

Community Spirit also reveals something about journey-based live art in the general. Like Pointed Arrow's Yorkshire Onland Boating Club and Kieran Hurley's journey to L'Aquila, Lone Twin's boat is ultimately created through ongoing meetings and encounters with people and communities. It is about working together to create something beautiful in the shared space of the live encounter. When that moment of interaction is at a point in a journey, it has a future. Community Spirit will touch the lives of many more communities as it takes on a new life as a public art and sailing resource. It was a privilege to be there at its launch.


David Williams (ed.) (2012) The Lone Twin Boat Project, Devon: Chiquilta Books.

Lone Twin (2012) The Boat Project: Maiden Voyage, Lone Twin Programme Guide.

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