On the 19th of May I took part in a walk led by the artist Tom Stone in London.
I had replied to this email that had invited people to participate:
On the 19th of May, I will lead a group of people on a continuous walk to find their walking limits. Starting from Liverpool St at 10:00am, the walk will be continuous, meandering through the city until such a point the group has disbanded and found their limit or my legs refuse to take another step. I will determine the route whilst walking, allowing the ambiance of the city to influence the path we take. Toilet breaks are permitted as and when necessary, also, food and drink will be prepared before the walk begins and carried throughout (under no circumstance can food or drink be purchased before the walk ends).
I am interested in producing work where the outcome is determined by the participant involved, so without the person who is being guided, the work cannot be completed.
I knew that one of the aims of the project was to investigate motivation - how motivated would participants be to walk with no particular destination in mind ? - particularly in London - where everyone has normally has a particular destination in mind, as they go about their business.
Leading up to the walk, I had imaginings of walking all day and then continuing throughout the night ...
So ... armed with 6 cheese and pickle rolls, 2 bars of chocolate (one plain, the other fruit and nut), 4 bottles of water and a flask of tea, I arrived at Liverpool Station, and whilst waiting for others to arrive spied Gilbert and George in WH Smiths. Later, as they crossed the station concourse I noted that not only their suits, ties and shoes, but also their footsteps, perfectly matched.
Participants in the walk totalled 10, and having been given pedometers and cameras (to record 5 images during the walk) we set off with Tom leading the way.
My memory of the route is slightly vague.
It was basically this: from Liverpool Street Station we walked through Barbican, Farringdon, and Clerkenwell (I never knew there were so many parks in that area), Finsbury, Euston, and Regents Park up to Hampstead Common, then across the Heath, down to Camden, back past Euston, along Regents Street, through Soho, past the National Gallery, up The Mall, in and around Mayfair, back down The Mall, along The Strand and crossing to the South Bank, up to Tate Modern, over the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls, and finally back to Liverpool Street Station. Various walkers gave up along the way and so only Tom, myself, and one other walker arrived at Liverpool Street Station.
My feet and legs hurt, and I decided to retire. Perhaps (and its a BIG perhaps) I may have been able to walk for another half an hour, but to be honest, that would have been really unpleasant and unnecessary, and would have made returning home very painful.
I left Tom and the remaining participant to continue. I had walked for a total of 8 hours and 48 minutes, covering a distance of 27.55 Miles. Later I heard that the remaining two continued for a further hour and a half, eventually covering a distance of 29.59 Miles.
The walk had been more pleasant than I had imagined, the conversations with other walkers helped me to ignore the growing sense of pain in my hips, legs and feet. Being 'led' by Tom took away the sense of personal responsibility and deciding where to walk next. But it was far more tiring than I had imagined - certainly no will power remained for nocturnal walking. I noticed that the most unpleasant part was walking in and around the teeming pavements of Regents Street full of countless shoppers and sightseers. Their shopping missions or leisurely ambles contrasted with our focused walking and increasingly aching limbs.
I returned home with just enough energy to eat the remaining 3 cheese and pickle rolls and bar of chocolate (fruit and nut).
I have just read that there is a series of 4 talks - 'Nightwalks' on Radio 3, commencing Monday May 28 - the first by the author Will Self.