Kris Darby: Footwork: Expedition, Conversation, Non-Site

re-blogged from


I recently had the fortune to once again walk with the Walking Artists Network, this time a part of its AHRC funded ‘Footwork’ research group. The walk was from the University of East London Docklands campus to Dartford. Here are some reflections of it, which I should add, are entirely my own and therefore subjective.


 Why does scale = status?

It’s the longest walk I embarked on for a while and as a consequence I psychologically framed it as an expedition. It had become a bit of a running joke among friends that for a person who studied walking, I do very little of it. From conversing with others on the walk, I found that I was not the only one, with one person admitted having undergone some training to prepare for the distance.  I therefore made this walk a test, to see just how unfit I was. We were walking towards the edge of London and possibly the edge of my physical limits.

No, I don’t need to put my back in the van, I’ll carry it.

It’s a very difficult thing to shake, this idea of equating distance to a sense of status. It’s a throwback from my day’s in the Scouts, where we were expected to walk a specific distance for a specific time in order to qualify for a particular badge. When talking about my past walks whilst in London, I found myself always slipping in the length of time I took and the distance. It was not enough for me to mention the little vignettes I witnessed on my walking through Scotland, I had to make sure that I underpinned it with the fact that it was 100 miles and took me six days. This aspect became more prevalent in our walk, when, towards the end of the journey the group divided – with some getting a cab to the accommodation and the others pressing on to the end.

I was part of this second group. I cannot obviously speak for them, but for me, I stayed behind because I wanted to complete the ‘expedition’, to ride out the narrative to the end. Scale again played a factor in this. We were a much smaller group (seven to be exact), which gave weight to our journey. Hugging A roads and motorways, clearly indicated that we were not carrying on for the sights (although we did encounter some interesting ones on the way). This was a contributing factor in the drama of our final walk, as we at times struggled along the sides of the motorway with cars and lorries nearly knocking us of our feet. We jokingly discussed possible names for our group (‘The Seven Samurai’, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’), and loosely planned our arrival, thinking of the rest of our walking group witnessing our appearance over the horizon from afar (the returning heroes – who faced the M25 and won).

Throughout the evening and the next day, it became clear that two walks had occurred: those who had walked to the taxi pick up point and those who had walked to the end. Some walkers in both groups (me included) became interested in the distances of both. Despite the fact that everyone’s walk appeared different, the differences in miles had prominence. A third walk presented itself as well: for those who had walked from the first accommodation to the university. I was not part of this group (which now numbered that of two or three) and for a brief period, I actually felt that I had missed out on the ‘complete’ experience.

Since the walk I have tried to come to terms as to why there is this sense of equating miles walked to the importance of the walk. The walking party was a research group, not an expedition. It operated at a relaxed pace, not a race (why was I often at the front?). I would argue that such a mindset results from a hybrid of a sporting mentality (knowing your distance and setting a personal best) and a need for drama (a narrative of return, a quest, a journey, a pilgrimage [?]). Observing how these play off each other, either internally within me or externally within the walking group was fascinating.


A walk to discuss other walks

This brings me to my second thought, which comes from walking with a group interested in walking. In London, I found that there was a tendency to not discuss the walking we were engaged it at that time, but rather use the walking as a means to discuss previous walks. We of course discussed the view and what the varying environments we walked through reminded us of, yet I never described my thoughts and feelings as to the walking itself. There were talks of blisters, of tired feet, of inappropriate footwear (I was not wearing walking boots), but nothing of what it felt to walk this landscape. Instead, our walk became a means in which to meander into previous walks undertaken. The muscle memory of feet meeting ground, the familiar weight of a rucksack, and an unfamiliar landscape all folded in other paths and other journeys.

It was during the next day’s reflective meeting that I realised that we needed another walk in order to discuss the one we had already done. It has a pleasing longevity to it, a never-ending walk of walks. Interestingly someone suggested the need for a walk before the walk, a means to get  our introductions out of the way in order to fully engage with it.

In a sense then, a walk is both a contained event (in that I felt more comfortable talking about it retrospectively, as a complete entity), yet it is also something that spills beyond temporal and geographical parameters (my need for a second walk to discuss the previous one).


Leaving the City?

The most striking aspect of the chosen walk was how conscious I was that I was walking with my back to the city. However it wasn’t a seamless transition from urbanism to the more rural Kent countryside.  Instead It was like walking over the fingers of industry which splayed along and across the river. Although I felt as if I was leaving the city, I never felt that I had left it. This was echoed particularly by some of those within the group who live in London, who still felt as they were within its grasp.

The tendency to go out is a peripheral concern, and peripheral concerns are romantic – going out into the infinite. If you bring that back, it is more of a classical thing – it completes the dialectic. So, I am neither romantic nor classic, but working in the tension of both areas.

Robert Smithson (1996: 238)

I would argue that both London and its surrounding countryside felt non-sited here, due to this constant exiting/entering of the city. It smacked of something geological. When an igneous intrusion forms,  it does not create a sense of clear demarcation between it and the surrounding rock. Instead you get  two margins forming at the borders: a baked margin and a chilled margin. The baked margin is the area of the surrounding rock directly outside of the intrusion which becomes ‘baked’ by the intense heat of the intrusion. The chilled margin is the outer edge of the intrusion which is cooled by the colder rock surrounding it. Within these margins, metamorphosis occurs in which the molecular makeup of the rock freezes into an in-between formation of intrusion  and country rock.

There are different types of intrusions, which I feel have some pertinence to this walk:

  • Batholith: a large irregular discordant intrusion
  • Dike: a relatively narrow tabular discordant body, cuts across the bedding planes
  • Sill: a relatively thin tabular concordant body intruded along bedding planes

The city itself could be equated to that of a batholith, a large intrusion which continues to metamorphose and erode within the surrounding landscape. The sills and dykes relate to the fingers of industry that stretch beyond the city, with the former relating to those that follow the topography of the landscape and the latter, those that cut across it. I use the term ‘intrusion’ here purely in a geological sense, however like archaeology, I feel that geology can provide an interesting lens for looking at performance, with walking the land as a means to establish a cross-sectional study of it.