31.14 miles: the A4074 walk part 1

I have written several times here about a project I’ve been developing that I’ve referred to as The A4074 project. The A4074 is a road that lies between Reading (where I live) and Oxford (where I work) and I drive it very often – sometimes 3 or 4 times a week. To make a conservative estimate, let us imagine that I drive to Oxford and back or – as was the case when I lived in Oxford but visited Mark regularly in Reading – from Oxford to Reading – 2 times per week. That would mean travelling the full distance of the road 4 times per week. There are 52 weeks in the year, and 52 x 4 is 208. Considering that I have been driving this road this regularly for about 5 years, we can suppose that I have driven it, in total, about 1,040 times; let us round that down to 1,000 because there were some weeks when I didn’t drive along the road at all, and many times when I took the train instead.

The A4074 at Crowmarsh, near Sheepcote farm.

Yet in spite of having driven along this road so many, many times, I still know relatively little about the landscape that surrounds it. I have been curious over the past few years about where the oft-glimpsed paths that truncate at the edges of the A-road lead to, about what lies in the outlying fields beyond the hedgerows, and about the kinds of places that may be found around the A4074 if I travelled along it at a different pace.

An underpass that runs beneath the A4074 between Warborough and Overy.

The idea for the project is a mix of curious influences including the elation that followed the 20-mile walk Mark and I did to Newbury, and a happy accident on googlemaps where I inadvertently entered ‘walking’ as my travel method – which resulted in full instructions on how to walk from Reading to my parents’ house in Croydon (45.2 miles in case you were wondering.) These experiences – plus my growing physical confidence with the amazing results of the anti-TNF drug – started to feed into the realisation that I could put one foot after the other and trust my body to get me pretty much anywhere.

I decided to begin investigating my regular commute with the eyes of a tourist or an explorer. I am interested in what happens to the soundscape of the journey when one travels it outside of a car, and in the commute as a sort of internalised extension of domestic space and a context habitually ingrained into the fabric of daily life.

The gas-station at Benson where I have so often filled my car.

I decided to make a radio show about this process, and I am working out the best way to do this both near roaring roads, and in impossibly quiet fields, in places where all you can hear is the occasional stamping of a horse or snapping of a twig.

The approach to Pithouse farm, Mapledurham, through barley that rustles when the wind blows through it.

Me road-testing sound-recording devices a few weeks ago along the Icknield Way near South Stoke, trying understand their suitability for my purposes.

I have made a few small forrays into the landscape, but this weekend I decided to just walk the whole way, to find the footpaths closest to the road, and to get a feel – with my feet – for the places that so far I have mostly only known from my car window and which I have mostly only seen while travelling at 60MPH – which is the speed limit for most of the A4074.

Tea break in Woodcote, and the edge of Hammond’s Wood.

One thing I can confirm is that the land looks very different on foot. And the effort of walking the 31.14 mile route that I took, is much greater than the effort expended in what is normally a 1 hour drive.

The road in Autumn, near Dorchester.

I tracked my route on WalkJogRun in 2 separate maps; Day 1 of A4074 walk and Day 2 of A4074 walk. Please to forgive the unimaginative titling; this is a work in progress…

…I recorded hours and hours of audio on my trusty EDIROL R-09, and will condense this into the first of many features exploring walking, place, changing soundscapes, the wildlife of Oxfordshire and the process of becoming a tourist in your own town – or indeed on your own commute.

I didn’t manage to photograph the muntjac deer that I startled in Lackmore Wood, near Exlade Street, or the hare that scampered across my path near Sheepcote farm. But I did manage to capture:

Sheep grazing at Ipsden.

Great red swathes of poppies in bloom over at South Stoke.

The different greens of barley (more yellow) and wheat (more blue) either side of the path from Warborough to Overy.

This exuberant inscription on a bridge crossing the A4074 near Dorchester. (Have you noticed that wherever you go in the UK, you can count on seeing a graffitied cock?)

Some appalling path maintenance near Nuneham Courtenay (can you see where the path is in all those nettles? Me neither – and I have the stings to prove it.)

There was more… a lot more. But much of that is held on the EDIROL, in sounds and words I noted along the way.

The road certainly looks different on foot and there are the makings of some rich radio along it.

Me at Reading Station at the start of the walk.

What happens next is some editing, some production-scheduling, some reading, some writing, some emailing, some interviewing, some rucksack contents review and happily – more walking.

9 Responses to 31.14 miles: the A4074 walk part 1

  1. Liz T. says:

    Congratulations on your epic walk. I bet you burnt off all that cake from last Wednesday 😉

  2. Wendolene says:

    What a clever project–and a lovely stretch of road! I’m incredibly impressed that you walked all 31 of those miles. Good for you!

  3. Fi says:

    Stopped lurking to say – I too drove that road nearly every day for five years (and for the two years previously about twice a week) and had the same curiosity about the landscape surrounding it, some days – I remember amazing hoar frost on the hedgerows one December morning – it was very hard not to call in sick halfway to work and go for a wander around the fields…I’m looking forward to hearing how it all sounds.

  4. Kate says:

    hurrah for fields, hedgerows, and penis graffitti. Sure was a long walk – I do hope there were some tasty MEATS on offer at the end of it. Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about this great project…

  5. jeannette says:

    i’m thrilled your meds have created this fab oppty. love the blonde too. happy trails!

  6. Claire says:

    Big thanks for sharing your first hearing of the recording with me yesterday.
    Looking back at the posts now I’ve heard the walk gives my reading a wonderfully rounded experience, the pictures feel more alive today for having heard the walk yesterday. Cx

  7. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Soundwalk 2: The Nocturnalist

  8. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » The wind that shakes the barley

  9. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Around the A4074

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