By Lesley Eleanor Wood
At the beginning of my second year studying for an MA in Creative Practice, at Leeds College of Art, the idea of an extended solo walk emerged for my final major project. This provides a unifying frame for many of my longstanding personal interests: feminism; the politics of space and place especially ‘the North’; geography; natural and social history; conversation; the power of ‘happenstance’; and a simple love of walking and our precious, endangered environment. The open and flexible field of psychogeography has provided a useful and generative ‘frame’ for this constellation of enthusiasms.
The walk retraced the journey my family made in 1962, when I was 12, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Leeds, made in reverse in 2005 by my daughter who now lives in Newcastle (a couple of miles away from where my family lived) with her partner and baby daughter. My walk began on May 2nd, from my house, calling by at my Mum’s at lunchtime that day, and ended on May 15th at my daughter’s home. Eleanors run in the family, down the direct maternal line, either as our first or second name. The baby, Isla-May Eleanor, is the sixth. So I aimed to walk along and among the connecting threads between our four generations. Adding an explicitly feminist awareness to the mix, I also intended to extend my awareness of we four Eleanors, to the braided lives of women past and present in the places I walked through.
The walk was conceived as a psychogeographically articulated response to the awe-inspiring experience of walking those 140-plus miles, desiring, as in Tina Richardson’s description, “not only to explore the social history of a particular space but also to express it in a personal and affective way.” This quote is from Walking Inside Out (Rowman and Littlefield International 2015) which was one of three books I took with me (I was carrying everything on my back). This book (now known to me as WIO) has 14 chapters, one for each day of my walk. My daily reading kept me on track in terms of my psychogeographical intent. Whenever I felt myself being drawn into the roles of tourist or voyeur the book made sure I came back to myself and my intentions.
I appreciated the explicitness of Richardson’s personal and political position and enjoyed the chapters by the radical, ‘leftie’ contributors such as Phil Smith and Alexander John Bridger. Alistair Bonnet’s chapter on critical nostalgia, about Newcastle, was a particular delight. But the best section, for me, was by Morag Rose, written from a feminist, activist perspective. Additionally, since my main challenge on the walk was dealing with pain from an inflamed hip joint, I appreciated her description of her impaired mobility, for example, she can’t walk fast. It was refreshing so see the issue of inclusivity in psychogeographical practice addressed, in relation both to gender and disability. One of the tasks I set myself for each day was to make and place a small banner along the way. The example shown above was inspired by Morag Rose’s chapter and her comments about re-thinking fear and how it limits and disempowers us.
I came home 8 days ago and it is interesting to observe the process whereby experience mutates into memory. Everyone wants me to talk about it, to tell the stories. And I am going over the journey in my head and with all the ‘stuff’ I gathered- images, things, recordings. Over time these will be worked up into art works, 2-D pieces, hand-made books, sound recordings, a ‘mini-museum’, and other things which come to me in the early hours.
In the meantime, there are a few thoughts which keep bubbling up as important reflections:
- I felt safe all the time, I was not afraid. And I took very good care of myself.
- I was alone for almost all of the time when I was walking. It felt wonderful to be in and of the landscape.
- Conversely, I enjoyed and appreciated the company of animals and birds. Curlews and lapwings protecting their young. Ewes and lambs everywhere. Looking through graveyards, collecting rubbings of women’s names, I reflected on how much has changed in the lifetime of my Mum, who was a babe in arms when women got the vote in 1928. From the property of men, to potential US President in less than a hundred years.
- One of the reasons I felt so safe was that women were everywhere- driving buses, running shops and pubs, walking around Dales villages in red sequinned high heels.