Walking and Re-Creation

How can we ensure that walking is accessible to all? Can experimenting with different forms of walking change our view of society, health, and history? This research seeks to explore how progress through space can affect and effect social progress.

During the early modern period, to go for a walk was a recreational activity, but it was also to literally re-create oneself. Heating the body up enabled the evacuation of superfluous humours, with profound physiological effects on the Renaissance individual. Elaine McKay argues that according to early modern thought:

“recreation refocuses the mind and creates a sense of ease and wellbeing […] people undergo a physical, mental or spiritual renewal which not only incorporates a reconstitution of health, but also offers opportunities to regenerate, or recreate, a sense of themselves as individual and unique personalities.” (2008, p61)

As McKay’s research shows walking was both an activity, and also “the regeneration that such an activity would bring” (p64). This insight lies behind the project ‘Walking and Re-Creation’ . This project develops the ideas and methodologies initiated during an ‘Ideas Exchange’.

This research team considers walking to be a form of exercise and cultural performance that is socially conditioned, unites health-based, political, and creative perspectives on walking, and wants to ensure the regenerative benefits of walking can be accessible to all Bristolians. The project is grounded in a shared concern across the worlds of public health, performance and activism that walking and outdoor physical activity is a form of ‘ecotherapy’, which can help people to live well in a connected and healthy way, alleviating the stresses of modern life and creating communities.

The team wish to continue to address the historical and contemporary inequity of walking investigated during the ‘Ideas Exchange’’: developing ways to counter the prohibitions placed upon walking, using walking itself to resist the erasure of ground-level histories in favour of top-down narratives, and continuing to assess the impact of cultural identity upon walking access, specifically in relation to gender and race. This project will therefore enable the team to test the ideas that we developed within their ideas exchange and to create concrete outputs as well as feasibility studies for future work.

What is being created?

Through three walks, the research team will disseminate walking as a form of re-creation as well as recreation: of history, self, environment, community and city.

  • A guided comic walk exploring the unofficial histories of Bristol as part of Walkfest 2022 that will perambulate overlooked, unknown sites. It will excavate stories nevertheless central to the city and its inhabitants, resisting the routes inscribed by authorised history and writing the city anew.
  • ‘Walking with Toddlers’ a comedy audio walk .While children may frustrate efforts to walk in a healthy way, they also encourage us to engage mindfully with our environments; to walk in a way guided by process rather than destination.
  • With Steppin Sistas the research team will create a community of 30 women who will use walking to occupy spaces from which they are excluded. A feasibility study will be conducted using an exploratory night walk in Bristol.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Suzanne Audrey’s (Health Sciences, University of Bristol; Walking Alliance; Walkfest) research shows that walking is a key way to fulfil guidelines for physical activity but remains under-valued as a mode of transport.
  • Angie Belcher (Facilitator and stand-up comedian) has experience in writing and performing guided walks in order to address inequalities.
  • Sophie Brown and Ruth Pitter (Steppin Sistas) are part of an all-black, female Bristol hiking group who are changing perceptions of walking at a grass-roots level, and asserting the ability to occupy public space as a black woman. Not only have Steppin Sistas benefitted from positive mental health effects, group walking has enabled collective safety, wellbeing and sisterhood – especially as black women are not generally expected to be ‘seen’ walking.
  • Jan Connett (Bristol Health Partners) Audrey and Connett’s research as public health experts and connections to Bristol walking organisations therefore enable the project to evidence the continued impacts that affect the inclusivity of walking today, as well as providing routes to promote our outputs.
  • Eleanor Rycroft (Theatre Studies, University of Bristol) researches into the early modern staging of walking historicises the inquiry, specifically how frameworks of class, gender, ability, and access have conditioned who has the right to walk, when and where.

What's next?

The researchers will host a feedback session following the project to evaluate its success and potential for further development.