1. In Shropshire, 2. Around Newcastle, 3. To Aldermaston
Perambulating is a very typical psychogeographic word for walking wildly, and widely, radically, and consciously. The book “A perambulation of Kent”, however, was written in 1576 (by William Lambarde)! How about some Shakespearean psychogeography then? We would certainly enjoy the comedy of walking ‘errors’ when walking somewhere wildly, then finding something unexpectedly, and thereby coming to a point – or an edge, or a boundary, as the case may be.
The triple trip I did, however, was far beyond Kent, more like a perambulation of England almost, walking into Wales, and close to reaching Scotland. I covered tiny bits of the West Midlands, the North East, and the South. Criss-crossing country, ‘triangulating’ places. Not walking all the way, by far of course, but taking trains in between places, which went much further than I did on my own. Trains, indeed, and the lines they run on, the network they make, are always important to my travels.
So here are the three chapters of my trip – two of them ‘tripped’ together, and the last one later by itself.
- In Shropshire:
I had been collaborating with Andrew Howe, who is involved with VAN – Visual Artists Network – in Shrewsbury. We had met at the Psychogeography Conference in Huddersfield last September, and had exchanged ideas since then, which led to my participation for the Encounters exhibition, which is about putting words and images together – i.e. poets respond to artist’s work and vice versa. More on his blog here: andhowenow.wordpress.com. Andrew also worked together with Kate Innes and Paul Baines as well, and there’s a lot of other artists and poets in the exhibition, so there’s a lot to see and read, so definitely worth a visit: a must-see, a must-read! The exhibition is still on until the 28th April, so go to Shrewsbury and see it, it’s in a great converted sort of warehousy space but it’s really centrally located, just past the High Street So if you have the railway station on one side of the High Street, VAN is on the other side – but they are all in a straight-ish line too! VAN is definitely the vanguard of Shrewsbury!
Topics that Andrew and I got talking about were the river and the border. The river Severn makes an amazing impression with its many looping circles, and the border is an interesting to explore because it’s so nearby: Wales is not far, and the border is soft.
I had been to Shrewsbury only once before, and remember that I was curious as to which of its two bridges I would reach first without looking at a map: the English Bridge or the Welsh Bridge. And I reached the Welsh Bridge first! Ha, enter the dragon (me too!), and it’s a sweet one!
This time round I discover much more: the Quantum Leap sculpture ,in honour of Darwin, hadn’t been there before, and now I see the round church, St. Chad’s. It amazes me: it’s the only church I have ever seen which is round! This very unusual design was built apparently by mistake, when one design was confused with another. That happened in 1792, which makes me smile: the fresh air of the French Revolution at that time causes new, innovative things to happen!
Now I go back to it, and more, entering Shropshire via Birmingham, from where the Shrewsbury Express runs, via Telford, Shrewsbury’s interesting counterpart, and partner on the (train) –line. Here the train is advertised as going to ‘Shrowsbury’ whereas in Telford, it will be ‘Shoesbury’, like an inverted turning of the linguistic Shrew, where it gets better, the closer you get.
Looking at a map, Shrewsbury Is surrounded by places with intriguing, and past-is-looming, sort of names. As the swinging Severn loops out of town and into Wales, about half-way there, its biggest loop is called ‘The Isle’! So ths might have been an island down the ages, closer to the time of Lake Lapworth perhaps, which spread in England and Wales during the Ice Age. There’s a little tiny lake (Isle Pool!)still there inside the loop, and the whole loop could almost pass as a peninsula.
Then there’s the legacy-of-conflict-and-border’ place names: ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Loggerheads’. ‘Trench’ sounds like it too, but apparently a trench used to be a clearing in a woodland; wow! Then there’s funny names ike ‘Nobold’ and ‘New Invention’. There’ also ‘Little Ness’, making me think of Loch Ness, and there’s ‘Great Ness’, making me thing of greatness! Then there’s ‘Wem’, ‘Grimpo’ and, most spectacularly and historically ‘Ruyton of the Eleven Towns’! And then there is, quite apart from the famous ‘Ironbridge’, also ‘Isombridge’. Isom!
Then there was the Telford experience: I stayed near Oakengates, which has its own railway station, but I missed it and so got off at Telford Central. This turned out to a unique experience. It’s a station you cannot get out of! I mean, as a pedestrian it is impossible to walk from the station into town. This is odd. It’s a New Town, but an extreme version of a new town. Pedestrians have a hard time and you cannot even walk to the bus station from the railway station! The station is situated by two motorways and four roundabouts! They encircle you, and so all you can do is take wait for one of the few and infrequent buses that stop here, or take a taxi. Surrounded by streets more than anything! It all sounds very well: Telford has three train stations! The other two, Oakengates and Wellington, are fine and ‘normal’, in that you walk to and from them like to would to any other train station, but Telford Central is like an closed centre, unreachable, unlike the edges, which are much more centrally located than the centre in terms of pedestrian accessibility. I think that when this New Town was created, the plan was too ambitious: the little towns that it is supposed to hoid together, are too far apart somehow.
Apparently, Telford Central railway station, and its car park, was a siding to an industrial estate, so that automatically put the station at the side of things. It was, then, off-centre, and industry-purposed, from the beginning. No wonder pedestrians have a hard time then! There is a tiny, almost wonky, bridge that crosses on of the massively noisy motorways – it moves when you walk across it! – but it leads to another industrial or business complex. Only behind this complex is the shopping centre. Difficult! Complex!
In the end I see the famous Ironbridge, the first of its kind. I have seen other smaller bridges, in Oakengates too, which fascinate me. Industrial awe overcomes me, even
when things are simple. Even when things are dire: if you don’t know how to make use
of the town, it can eat you up, abuse you, or someone will. Life, in this locality, seems under-resourced too – an all too common feature of course. I believe that with art we can overcome. So turn to art for change!
The day after the opening of the Encounters exhibition at the VAN-guard, Andrew had organised a group of us to walk to the border. There were poet and painter Ted Eames, potters and architects Ruth Gibson and Adele Mills, Andrew and myself, and our very knowledgeable guide was Mike Crawshaw. We chose a moor-and moss-region rather than Offa’s Dyke, the Welsh kind of Hadrian’s Wall.
Wall types of border: Offa’s Dyke differs from Hadrian’s Wall, in that it is built entirely of earth, not using any brickwork as territorial demarcation, but the earth itself. That can be a harder thing: the earth itself will tell you who is King… on top of that, unlike Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke is a double-wall, and so has a ditch in the middle. What a hard border that was!
So to the borderland, so to the edgeland: the bit of the border we went to was to the right side of Offa’s Dyke, which was England at the time of Offa. So Wales has moved on, especially in this area, where the Welsh border makes a semi-loop, like the Severn, no longer keeping to a straight line but curving, carving up the land. Nowadays this curving carving is so soft and gentle that it is harmless and interesting to go here. The past is concealed, invisible even, and it is hard to imagine that there was once suffering here, over the right to speak the Welsh language, and assume Welsh identity. How important peace and understanding is! Enter the dragon, please, and don’t be afraid, it brings peace!
It’s called Whixall Moss where we were, now a conservation area, recovering from former border disputes and some industrial use, and missing a railway line, which had been closed down in the 1960s. Nature has won the day here, and the mosses are so varied and special around here, one of Britain’s biggest Raised Bogs, and of international
interest: it’s a European Conservation Area. There are miles and miles of dense and fully-fledged open space here, of a kind of atmospheric emptiness that’s full of nature and rich in fullness. It’s like a moss-desert, for its wide and far views of the most beautiful monotony at first sight, and wonderful diversity when you look closer. And so now there is wonder at the border!
The border as a mirror
What amused and moved me deeply is that the occasional border-markers were low poles, saying ‘England’ on one side and ‘Wales’ on the other. Only that when you read England or Wales, you look at the respective ‘other side’. So when you read ‘England’, you are actually looking at Wales, and when you read ‘Wales’, you are looking at England. It’s all the same though. The moor and its animals wouldn’t have a clue which is which, and neither would we, if there was no marker to tell us. But when we read the name of the country we are in, we are looking at the country where we are not: the border as mirror!
We had amazing discussions on the moor, as we were walking: about pottery, earth and architecture, moss and words, psychogeography, work and story. It was so conducive, the density of the land, yet so open and free, nourished our creativity, and we will all take this back into our work, art, and artwork. It’s still in progress and there is more coming. It’s been a dip into Ombrotropia, I might say, for this is an ombotrophic meaning that it is apparently a cloud-fed – moss!
- Around Newcastle:
From Telford then to Newcastle, amazing cross-country stretch! And it’s the big Newcastle I am going to, not the small one! That is, not ‘Under Lyme’ but ‘Upon Tyne’: I am going over, not under, leaving Shropshire shrubbery: from one industrial heartland to another! And the weather didn’t turn colder, but sweet spring-sun came out.
Industrial areas both then. I have found another similarity between these distant places. To the west of Newcastle there’s Cumbria, of course, and to the west of Shropshire there’s Cambria, the other word for Wales! Cambria to Cumbria then it is, almost.
The towns I pass to get there from here: there is Wolverhampton, which fascinates me always. It may sound or look like nothing special at all, but it is one of the very few towns founded by a woman: Wulfruna. So here is a potentially feminist town! Then there’s Birmingham again, the underground station which always reminds me of Brussels, which is also situated slightly underground, just like this one. From here goes my train to Newcastle. My ‘mission’ here is to meet my good friend there, and to visit the new Miner’s Art Gallery in nearby Bishop Auckland. Arriving at Newcastle railway station is always an exhilarating experience for me. I love this station. It just looks good, a great peace of architecture, homeliness and arrival, all in one, all in all.
In Newcastle’s great Museum of the North, ‘The Heart of the Matter’ had opened: an eye-opening exhibition about the heart. It exposes you to the heart’s ‘parallel forms’, like forest, corals, and ocean. Then from The Heart of the Matter we come again to the issue of borders, and our concern for their softness: an EU rally was on, decamping afterwards to the Tyneside Irish Centre, where a border-poem, I had written, came in handy for performance (thanks to Bill Corcoran!). It picks up ‘borderline’ issues, and their currency has arisen anew. How do we stand up to and against borders? Train lines through borders! Another idea, and thing, I am interested in. To cross the line of the border with another line!
Next day Bishop Auckland was on the agenda. Sweet little town it is, through Durham-land. The first thing I want is a cup of coffee. I pass by a Café with a Soviet hammer and sickle, and I am thrilled, intrigued! It’s called Red Square Café. I go in and find a love
story is behind this. The owner’s mum is Russian (well, Ukrainian by current developments), dad is English, and they met in Red Square, all the way in Moscow! What a unique place/story! I said how I grew up along a train line that went to Moscow, despite being in West Germany at the time. And here it is: a train against a border: my poem/my idea, comes back to me and reasserts itself. Anyone who visits Bishop Auckland, go to the Red Square Café! It’s on the main street between the castle and the railway station! It ‘s amazing too, how things make you see other things, and parallels arise. Thinking about Russia, i am thinking about Russian traditional wooden houses, and there i saw some, right here, and looking Russian, totally amazing me.
Bishop Auckland had another surprise for me too: Stan Laurel, from the famous old Laurel and Hardy comedian pair, is from here! And on the beautiful town- and castle-square is a great sculpture by Louise Plant, looking alchemical, but is called ‘Ps in a Pod’.
The Miner’s Art Gallery had only opened late last year. What a great idea to open a gallery that tells the story of miner’s art history! A new exhibition was just opening: The Bevin Boys’: miners that were sent underground in the war. This, too, part of the war effort – underground, but not to be forgotten.
I am now continuing to write the story that I began in the ‘Mine and Yours’ blog post, and which I will present at the Mining Heritage meeting in Belgium next weekend, so wait for more on this!
- To Aldermaston:
Nowa to a peace-effort: the following weekend was the 60th anniversary of the big march for peace, and for nuclear disarmament, organised by CND, co-founded by Bertrand Russell. It made big waves then, and was supported, too, by many famous people at the time, such as top artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. I had been on the famous march once only, in 2009, at a time when it no longer took place annually. For the big anniversary of course, it was on again, and I felt itchy to go too.
It used to take four days, now its’ a single daytrip. That’s not because we walk faster nowadays but because we don’t walk anymore. We don’t walk to Aldermaston, we take the coach, and then go around it. It doesn’t cause the same publicity as it used to, back in the days of the beginning, and then again in the years of Greenham Common. But at least it’s happening. Famous old peace activists like Bruce Kent and Walter Wolfgang were there, and spoke. Afterwards we left paper peace doves on the fence. I saw a now-historic hat on a now-veteran Greenham Commoner, knitted, women for peace! May the cause of peace continue. May borders be overcome. May the structures that separate
us be successfully challenged, and the world will be as one. Imagine!
What’s the picture? Walking to edges, crossing the land, looking at boundaries, challenging borders. Using walking for peace. And discovering the beauty of the lands that may have been pushed to the edge, and the importance of our lives, which may have been decentred. Finding the rivers, the waters, following their flowing lines, the loops and the roundabouts! Challenging edgelands of a certain edge, speaking out, walking out! Angela Davis’ Let us All Rise Together could also be a ‘Let us all walk together sometimes. There is always more to say. There is always further to go, and walk, and make art, too – to collect the stories along the way.