The A4074 walking project

When a traveler asked Wordswoth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

Walking, a lecture by Henry David Thoreau

I am reading many good books and I thought I should share them here. Thoreau’s Walking has some important ideas in it. Out of the Woods from Will Cohu is a fun and celebratory exploration of our trees, and the beautiful woodcut illustrations by Mungo McCosh lend the book a reassuring, handmade warmth. I am also reading the London Orbital book by Ian Sinclair and spending some time perusing websites like the Sound Transit website and Richard Long’s text works.

However, the I SPY books remain my favourite books. Did you know that this is what the leaves of the Catalpa tree look like?

I didn’t. I now wish to find a Catalpa tree.

The thing is, I am searching for ways of creating portable stationery – maps, drawings, tags, envelopes for saving sounds in etc. – that can be created to accompany a series of walks I am working on. The I SPY books are the perfect reference point for this task because the mix of collecting and noticing that they inspire in the landscape is very close to what I hope to create myself.

The reason for this stationery is that I have become obsessed with appreciating and exploring the outlaying landscapes that surround the road that I most regularly drive and am keen to find a way of celebrating those places in such a way that others can share the experience. The road is the A4074 and it connects Reading (where I live) to Oxford (where I study.) When I lived in Oxford, I would regularly drive along this road to visit Mark and I estimate that if I have driven there and back along it approximately twice a week (4 times along the road in total) for the past four years, then I have driven this road 832 times at least in the history of moving to this part of the world first to do my MA and now to do my PhD. Extremely familiar to me from a motorist’s perspective, I am troubled by the lack of knowledge I have about the actual places, the villages and hills and trees and valleys that lie to either side of the route. And most often when I drive along it, the main sound that I experience is the roar of my own car engine and the deep bass thrum of other cars’ tyres on the tarmac. I crave the intimacy with a landscape is possible on foot, and so I am setting about discovering this road through a series of walks. I would go as far as to say that I feel I owe it to these places to explore them more closely since they have bourne me so many times on my way. Perhaps this is why Will Cohu’s book appealed so much to me when I started reading it.

The road takes you out of time. When you are on it, you are neither here nor there, but in motion, travelling along a corridor lined with trees that screen the world beyond… In summer the walls of the corridor are green. In Spring they are spashed with white, in autumn red and yellow. This is what you notice as you pass at 70 miles an hour.

Out of the Woods, Will Cohu

So far I have nearly mapped the first route; tomorrow I shall confirm this route and begin creating the stationery to attend it. What I can say for sure, is that the first route contains many trees, which is why I’ll be needing my I SPY TREES book tomorrow.

I love the quote from Thoreau at the start of this post because it really sums up the exhilerating effect that walking has, on thinking. I have been speculating a lot recently on what it means to be a practise-based research student (such as I am, apparently) and I think that it has a lot to do with learning through activity as well as through reading. So as a practise-based research student and fan of Wordworth’s approach, I’ll be leaving the Library and entering the Study tomorrow again, but not before I quote just one more bookish thing at you. I loved finding this so much; in the local history section of the Central Library in Reading there is a beautifully set and printed book from probably late 1800s/ early 1900s, entitled Guide to Caversham on Thames, which is where the A4074 begins. My walk actually starts from park opposite my house and will end up in Headington Hill Park, but I have worked out a route for the Caversham section and was delighted to find that it is almost identical to the route outlined in this very old guidebook;

For a very enjoyable walk in bracing air and with a beautiful view of the river Thames, the town of Reading and the wooded hills all round, go through the Churchyad, up St Peter’s Avenue and on in the direction of Mapledurhman by the Upper Warren Avenue, returning by the Lower Warren Road which runs parrallel with, and close to the river; this Lower Warren Road, generally called the “Warren,” is shaded by a row of pines nearly the whole distance and forms a picturesque and agreeable promenade.

Guide to Caversham on Thames, author unknown

7 Responses to The A4074 walking project

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » 31.14 miles: the A4074 walk part 1

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

  3. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Around the A4074: 6pm Boxing Day, BBC Oxford

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