Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Minor Paths

This essay by Alan MacPherson describes a community using a gentle or minor walk to renew a minor path. 

It was originally published as booklet by Deveron Projects. It was written during a writing and research residency investigating the relationship between walking and art in Huntly over a two month period during the summer of 2012. 

Thanks to Alan and Deveron projects for allowing it to be republished here. 

Many times I walked over the bridge on Bogie Street in Huntly, going to or coming from the station. Invariably I looked over the side at the water and followed its course back towards the Bleachfield bridge; always hoping that I might catch a glimpse of a fish.

With no visible path along this stretch of the river, it was just out of sheer inquisitiveness that my wife and I, one night, decided to see if we could make our way along the bank. We found the old gate at the bottom corner of the playpark at the corner of Gladstone Road and Bleachfield Street and, it being stuck, squeezed through between the gate and the post and picked our way downstream. In places there was a visible track but at several points, along what is only a 400 metre section, it disappeared. It was April, and the undergrowth was still down, but even still, as we neared the Bogie Street end we were just tramping over undefined ground. Any trace of a path that connected these two points along the river had been overcome by regrowth or washed into the river with the bank in a previous flood.

In The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot Robert Macfarlane writes: ‘The eye is enticed by a path, and the mind’s eye also. The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land – onwards in space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and its previous followers’ (p. 15). Looking first to the second sentence of this statement, history has not been my concern in this project. By this I mean that in setting out to look for and to collect minor paths in and around Huntly, I have not been concerned with tracing their history or beginnings. Sometimes I have heard about paths from others, and there is an implicit history that goes along with recollection of a path walked-on. But while I am interested in the stories that people may attach to a minor path, my concern has been to find and locate minor paths, and to collect and document them. 

The path by the Bogie that I walked on with my wife, and subsequently set about organising to re-claim in a group walking action, traces through Huntly history. The Bogie was the location of the bleach-fields, the brewery, up to seven mills and the dye works. There must be a fascinating social history attached to its banks. There are people who can tell us all about this, but I am not one of them. Rather, my concern is with the first phrase of the first sentence in my quote from Macfarlane: ‘The eye is enticed by a path’. The idea of walking a path (back) into existence is not new. Richard Long’s A Path Made By Walking (1967) is an iconic and hugely influential work of twentieth century art. It is also a significant point of contact for this event. Take a group of people and have them walk in single file back and forth along the line of the discontinuous path until a continuous line becomes visible in the ground. There is an emphasis, as with Long’s line, on walking as the means of producing the mark. There is an ephemerality attached to the process; a line made in the ground in this way will soon be reclaimed, in turn, by the undergrowth. Unless it continues to be walked.

A line on the ground is inviting, it shows a way taken before, represents a history, and legitimises and encourages the act of walking. By walking along this line in an organised event and, indeed, by referring to the walk as a path re-claiming action, my feeling was that not only would some people – some of the handful of participants – walk on this line for the first time, but that others might follow in the future. To produce a visible line at the Bogie Street end of the section, a line, however faint and however temporary, that might be seen by passers-by on the bridge, would entail, by way of a legacy, an invitation: an enticement to the eye, and ‘the mind’s eye also’.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came for the reclaiming action. We walked in line back and forth three times over an hour and a half. The result was a clearly discernible path – a ‘trod’ Murray (Swapp) informed us later –  but for now I’ll stick to minor path.

We then gathered round in a circle of log seats under the trees and ate the delightful food that Daisy had prepared for us. We talked about paths, about the spectrum of path-making, about the relationship between path-making and art, about the potential to make future paths and the potential also for paths like this one to return to nature if no one walks them.
If the reclaimed path by the Bogie River is the legacy of this project and my contribution to the Deveron Arts’ Town Collection, then I like the fact that it is suspended, always with the threat of dissapearance. And yet, it may prove to be just that – a legacy. Maybe it will encourage someone to walk there. In this way, as with all minor paths, its future will be decided democratically, by the feet that walk it.

These posts are published as part of a year-long artist in residence, funded by Paths for All.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Day of Access and Month of Access

Day of Access and Month of Access are a program of place-aware events offering disabled people access to wild land.

The original program, scheduled for May and June 2020, is likely to be affected by Covid-19. I will post updates to reflect this when the situation is clear. 

I still intend to publish maps of the locations we will be visiting and do what I can to explore the concept of access to wild nature, which is even more urgent now that so many people are find themselves in some form of isolation. 

For now the original post below remains unaltered. 

This blog also features work from my residency with Paths for All, which will also be affected. My aim is to publish creative responses to the Covidvirus crisis and offer suggestions for simple practices that will help people, especially those in isolation. Please send your own suggestions. 

The experience of people with chronic illness is going to be important as we all adjust to this new reality, as communities and a society.

Alec Finlay, 17.III.20

This post outlines the concept of Day of Access and offers some initial information. The aim is to create a month-long program of events dedicated to place-aware activities for the disabled and people with constrained walking, working with partners across the UK. 

A successful pilot event was held at Heart of Scotland Forestry Partnership on June 16, 2020, the official founding date of the Day of Access movement.

‘Day of Access fulfils a dream of mine, to gather together a team of partners who will support people with constrained walking, allowing them to once again reach wild places. From these shared experiences we will create a series of place-aware maps and written descriptions which show that disabled access benefits everyone. I’ve been delighted by the support the project has received already from John Muir Trust, Forestry and Land Scotland, and other partners, and look forward to working with new organizations to make the 2020 project a great success.

– Alec Finlay

Day of Accessis a collaborative project conceived by artist and poet Alec Finlay. It will feature innovative events, workshops, short walks, exhibitions and talks. At the heart of the project is Month of Access,programming a series of small-scale Days of Accessacross the UK, in which hill tracks and off-road vehicles are used to allow disabled people to experience wild land.

As an artist with constrained walking Finlay has developed creative place-aware ways to further access over the past decade, including photography, drawings, manifestos, micro-navigation, and sharing forms, such as ‘word-maps’, ‘word-mountains’, ‘conspectus’ place-name visual poems, and ‘counterpane blanket landscapes’, some of which feature in the current Travelling Gallery exhibition, also titled Day of AccessThe project offers ways to represent and relate to landscapes, enrich views, and ensure disabled people feel that they belong in wild places.

This introduction is an invitation to help make up Day of Access events happen at public and private estates in 2020. These will blend together disability perspectives of landscape, creative approaches to viewing, and progressive strategies about ecological remediation. The successful pilot event was held in Perthshire on June 15, 2019 and featured on BBC Scotland

We are looking for public and private estates, disability organisations, patient groups, and interested individuals to help us realise the project. 

Our main focus is currently on fundraising. We are looking for partners across the UK who can fund the core costs or individual projects and provide venues, vehicle(s), and/or drivers. We would also like to hear from individuals/groups interested in participating. 

Day of Access events were conceived for anyone who has difficulty accessing hills, including the disabled, people with chronic illness, pain, or constrained walking. Our main focus is on chronic conditions – for example, M.E., M.S., fibro-myalgia, lupus, or the effects of old age. We try to offer events that are accessible to any condition, within the limits that the nature of the terrain imposes. 

Each local event is unique – mountain, hill, moor, saltmarsh, woodland – and we intend that in the future organisations and individuals develop their own version of Day of Access. Anyone can plan an event for June 2020. Our focus is inclusion, working with partners to share creative place-aware strategies and ensure this becomes an annual UK-wide event. 

The project promotes the positive use of vehicular tracks to encourage access, but it doesn’t promote the creation of new tracks. We have had positive discussions with John Muir Trust, Paths for All, RSPB Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, Balmoral Estate, NTS Mar Lodge Estate, and Falkland Centre for Stewardship, who are supportive.

Contact us to help or be added to our mailing list for further information:

Below are images from the pilot event ascending Meall Tairneachan, and comments from participants and partners.

What people said about Day of Access

For me the Day of Accesswas about the practicalities of making the event fun - as well as comfortable and safe - and the weather. We were able to make Alec’s idea a reality thanks to the generosity of our drivers, Graeme, Gareth and Jez in giving their time and vehicles.

There was lots of interesting discussion about current land management and - through interpreting place names – a sense of how it might have been used in the past. Weather-wise, the Day of Access was cold, but the cloud lifted and views opened up. Thinking about the weather made me reflect on a comment that was mentioned on the day – ‘Why a disabled person would want to go into the hills?’ Why wouldn’t they? After the birth of my son, I needed to use a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk far. It was a challenging time, but what I missed most was going out in the rain. No one wanted to take me out in the wet and actually, as long as I have the right waterproofs on, I quite like going out in the rain. Happily, I recovered and I can get out into the hills again - I feel incredibly fortunate that it’s part of my job.

Our Day of Accesswas an opportunity for people who wouldn’t often get up into the hills to have that chance. It would be great to have access every year, when existing tracks are used to bring people out for a new experience. I hope the experiences from this pilot event will inspire future events. We will never be able to count on the weather, but we can count on the power of people working together in partnership to bring together memorable days.’

– Liz Auty, John Muir Trust, Heart of Scotland Partnership

‘In the first ten years of M.E. I wasted a lot of time waiting to get better. That’s the natural impulse isn’t it? Curl up, head down, let the storm pass. But what if it is like one of those two-hundred-year storms on Jupiter? In the second half of my M.E. career – and it is a career, I decided to be ill in other places. I’ve passed out in Amsterdam, been removed from planes in Edinburgh (panic attacks) and, more recently, cycled twenty-two miles on my electric bike to Rosslyn. That Rosslyn escapade for a pot of f*@%!*g tea took on the significance of some early Amazonian expedition. It was myKilimanjaro!

Last week, pumped full of codeine and carbs, I joined other professional exhaustives near Schiehallion – and was taken higher than I would possibly be able to reach unaided. Much of the journey there and back was with noise cancelling headphones with my eyes shut. On arrival, I got my DSLR out and photographed 200 images in a well-practiced burst of energy efficacy. 

But yes, the right to be ill somewhere else. It’s nothing new. It’s part of the right to roam in my view. Usually, the ill have to be creative and make those lost horizons appear in some alchemical event at home. But you know what? Every now and then I’m awed by a simple lift up a simple hill by someone who cares.

– Chris Dooks, participant, ‘The right to be ill somewhere else’

Great day last Saturday – a real opportunity for reflection. Very good to meet you and I really enjoyed our discussions.’

– Jez Robinson, land-owner and supporter of Day of Access pilot 2019

The tag line "what would a disabled person do up there" really struck me. I have enjoyed the outdoors for around 7 years now, was about to start working as an outdoor instructor but I ruptured my ACL which meant I couldn't experience the outdoors like I used to. By no means am I comparing my recoverable injury to that of someone living with a disability, but I now have an appreciation of the barrier that can present someone and how hard it can be to answer that question.

But I’ve come to learn it's not about "doing" anything, it's a multi-sensory experience with so many different depths. It's about harvesting the multi-sensory experience for those with a barrier to access that makes it such a valuable experience. And it's wonderful that somebody is trying to bring that to those who until now haven't been able to get that kind of experience.’
– Alison Craig

‘Before the project I took for granted my ability to reach a mountain peak and reap the benefits of doing so. There is a great benefit for your mind when looking out at the vastness of the landscape of our country. To make that accessible to the less able would be invaluable.’

– Sam McDiarmid, photographer

‘Thank you so much for enabling Annie and I to participate in Day of Access.This was a tremendous experience for me, reinforced by the range of conversations particularly about the issues of: future and current land use; conservation and the environmental threats; addressing the consequences of historic degraded landscapes; and consideration of the access issues for everyone as well as the needs of disabled people. 

I was impressed by the landscape vistas themselves particularly the back of a brooding Schiehallion and the panoramic sweeping views of Lochs Rannoch and Tummel and their environs. Truly magical! As a local resident I really appreciated getting access, as a disabled person with a lot of mobility problems, to a guided travel experience about the nature and naming of the surroundings. It’s worth saying that I would not fully have comprehended or understood what was important without the inputs from Graeme, Gareth, Liz and Jez on the day. The discussions with them and you gave the day even more meaning and richness.

– Bob Benson

‘Our day in the hills, guided by Alec Finlay, and in co-operation with the Heart of Scotland Partners, was magical. I felt as if we travelled to the middle of the world, on and on, up and down to a remote and wild part of Scotland – the heart of Scotland indeed. 

To access this world in any other way but in the back of a 4 x 4 was beyond my reach. The chat; the information about what had been; the wonderful Gaelic names leading us to speculate and then to hear from the team what might happen next, all educative and vitally important in the times of global warming, 

John Muir would have been happy with our pace – OK we were being driven, but it was at a slow and “sauntering” with many stops to get out, breath the fresh air and orientate ourselves in the land; the views; the scenery. Place-names put us in the place. We also followed the code of leaving nothing but footprints (tire tracks) and taking nothing but photographs. Those photographs are beautifully evocative of the day. 

I wish Alec well in his way forward and as an artist with knowledge of working and living with disability I offer my help and support. Thank you for this opportunity.

– Anne Benson

You will see from many comments on rewilding that there seems to be a common theme of most large privately-owned estates being "the bad guys". As I'm sure you're quite aware, this isn't the case, and it's something I'm working to address. Your project sounds great, and I hope it becomes popular – and I believe there is a possibility that it's something we could be involved with.’

– Head Stalker, Highland Estate

I’ve been following your work on access to wild places for people with disability and am interested to talk with you about it – about how I might be able to get involved or help in any way. My youngest daughter has Williams Syndrome – a condition with a wide range of symptoms, both cognitive and physical. As a family we find it a constant challenge to have days out in the wild, firstly due to her ability itself but also the lack of true free access. Too often are we met with high gated fences and the like which make travel by mobility pushchair impossible. I don’t want to see wheelchair access to the wild places, as they would scarcely be wild as a result – but it would be truly wonderful if estates maintained access per the outdoor access code. 

Likewise, any movement which encourages landowners to allow travel to the wild and high places by 4x4 on occasion is something I’d not only welcome but be delighted to support in any way I can. Growing up on Deeside meant that I was able to take to the hills whenever I liked, to go anywhere and at any time – its only by seeing the hills through the eyes of my daughter that I can now appreciate that for some folk it’s a case of so near yet so far.  Thank you for bringing this subject to the attention of a wider audience. 

Please bear me in mind for an event – I’d happily chauffeur or help out any other way.

– Volunteer

photography: Mhairi Law, Sam McDiarmid, Alec Finlay, and Dr Chris Dooks; place-aware map: Alec Finlay, with assistance from Peter McNiven

Contact us to help or be added to our mailing list for further information:

These posts are published as part of a year-long artist in residence, funded by Paths for All.