Drifting and striding with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020


If you happen to be visiting a patient in the Cirencester Community Hospital in Gloucestershire, you might well feel like having a walk after the visit.  If you go one way, the easier route, you’ll pass through the staff car park and see this sign:

Did you know the NHS was in the business of creating forests and orchards?  I didn’t, and I don’t think many others do either, but if you follow the signs you’ll find yourself in a gloriously ramshackle bit of land, with apple trees and pear trees, with a few benches to sit on, though nettles tend to be growing up through many of them, so you’ll probably keep on walking, and chances are you won’t see another soul.  It would be nice to think that patients from the hospital wander here as part of their recovery but I saw no actual evidence of this.

If you walk the other way from the hospital, you go through Querns Wood, where you might see evidence of guitar hero worship among the tree cutters:

And before long you’ll arrive at the Circencester Amphitheatre, a Roman creation, now reduced to a circle of hills forming a grassy bowl.  Once it held about 8000 people, now it’s a place where kids run up and down exhausting themselves while parents watch.

However if you walk around the side of the amphitheatre you can find yourself at the Circencester Obelisk, which is a very big, very impressive and slightly mysterious construction.

The sources say it’s ‘probably’ 18thcentury, and probably erected for Earl Bathurst in what was, at the time, the grounds of Cirencester Park Mansion. Alexander Pope may have had some input.  Bathurst wrote to Pope in 1736, ‘I have also begun to level the hill before the house, and an obelisk shall terminate the view’.  Pope didn’t think an obelisk was quite the right thing for that spot, though signficantly, or not, Pope did erect an obelisk as a memorial to his mother.

My trip to Gloucestershire wasn’t a walking expedition but, thanks to my plucky chaffeuse I was able to walk (after a car ride) in the graveyard of the church of St James’s, Sevenhampton (which is actually in Wiltshire), famous chiefly as the place where Ian Fleming, his wife Anne and their son Caspar are buried.  

The Flemings bought Sevenhampton Place in 1959 and spent four years having it restored and remodeled. It had forty bedrooms, a billiard room and a ballroom. Does anybody in the world have 39 friends they’d want to have stay with them? Anne love the place, Fleming not so much.  Maybe after spending so much time in Goldeneye, in Jamaica, an English country house didn’t seem so appealing.

The Fleming grave is in a beautiful spot, overlooked by a field of cows and marked by (you probably guessed, if you didn’t know already) an obelisk, which is very elegant and surprisingly modest: traits that we only partly associate with Ian Fleming.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Peter Green died recently. The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Prong Crown) was my favorite song of his.  And I also liked Oh Well because of the lines

I can't help about the shape I’m in
I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin

Did Peter Green have thin legs? Well thin-ish, I think, but not amazingly so.  It’s hard to get a really good look.  

He sometimes kept them very well covered:

Was he much of a walker?  I’m not sure.  He did have a song titled Walkin’ the Road, but then every blues player has a song about walking

And then in the Times t’other week there was a profile of Rishi Sunak the current English Chancellor of the Exchequer and by some accounts our Prime Minister in waiting.

Is Rishi Sunak a walker?  Well apparently so. One paragraph in the Times read, ‘Another (student friend) remembers bumping into him on a Saturday at the sort of time most students were sleeping off hangovers.  He was walking around with a notepad. ‘I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘My parents are coming tomorrow so I am devising a walk of interesting landmarks in the city.’'

A lad who prepares a walking tour for the aged parents is OK by me. 

Does Rishi Sunak have thin legs? If the photo below is anything to go by then yes, yes he does.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


I’ve been looking at photographs of Howard Carter walking in the desert.  Carter was the discoverer (or I suppose rediscoverer), in 1922, of the tomb of Tutenkhamun.

I notice Carter’s walking stick in all the photographs, which might suggest he wasn’t a great walker, I don’t think it was just a style thing.  But chiefly I noticed that he seems wildly overdressed for doing anything in the desert - the three piece suit – definitely herringbone, possibly tweed and of course the high collar and the bow tie, and sometimes the handkerchief in the breast pocket.  

But maybe he only dressed up like this for a photo-op; these photographs look decidedly set up, and some of the other people in the photographs look overdressed too, especially the soldiers and the guy on the far right in the picture below who seems to be wearing jodhpurs.  The guys who are doing the heavy lifting inevitably look more appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Then I started thinking about the few pictures that have been taken of me walking, and sometimes posing, in the desert.  I look overdressed too.  The one below was taken somewhere near Death Valley (I think) and I honestly don’t remember what the temperature was like, but evidently not exactly blazing.

Geoff Nicholson

And this one was taken in the East Mojave desert in winter when I know it was absolutely freezing:

I can’t say I’ve ever tried to look very stylish or dressed up while walking in the desert, but then I’m no Howard Carter.

Friday, July 31, 2020


This week, for one reason or another, I found myself walking in Frinton, part of the ‘Essex Riviera.’  It was sufficiently packed that we had to drive around for a very long time before we found a parking spot, though on a hot day in the August holidays was not in itself a big surprise.

The beach was busy, but people tended to be walking or seated or sunbathing at least a couple of meters apart. I didn’t feel at risk, but maybe I was na├»ve. I picked up a stone from the sand that looked at least somewhat like a skull.

Now, I don’t know much about religion but I do know that while I was at the seaside many believers were undertaking Haj, the Islamic pilgrimage to the Kabba in Mecca, a serious walking event, which I gather has been rather different this year than previously.

In past years it's looked like this:

Now apparently this year it looks like this:


The latter seems much actually pleasanter, though  I don’t suppose people go there because it’s pleasant.

Apparently stones, skull-shaped or otherwise, play a part in Haj.  As I understand it, I mean I read it in the paper, pilgrims usually pick up stones from the ground as they walk, which they then ‘symbolically’ hurl at the devil.  These are now being provided by the religious authorities, washed and sterilized, in ‘haj kits’ Mine was just washed by the sea. I do hope that’s enough.

Here’s a picture of our hero Sir Richard Francis Burton, dressed for his trip to Mecca.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


Walking provides endless opportunities for coming up with profundities, some of them more genuinely profound than others, though we could argue about which are which.  
And when it comes to notions of ‘The Path’ then everything gets ramped up considerably.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.’ – That’s Buddha

‘Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.’ – That’s Thoreau.

Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. Advance and do not fear the thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood.’ - Khalil Gibran

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.’   That’s Oprah Winfrey.

And sometimes you find profundity at unexpected times and in unexpected places, such as in the Chelsea Psychic (sic) Garden.