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.

Friday, February 21, 2020


I went for a walk in Colchester. I hadn’t been there in years, not since I spent a year at the university studying European drama and making myself unemployable.  Inevitably some parts of the city seemed very familiar and surprise, surprise some things had changed out of all recognition.
This piece of sculpture on the High Street was a great addition, ‘Woman (walking)’ by Sean Henry – that’s a good, snappy, unpretentious title you’ve got there, Sean. 

And I walked in Castle Park, the grounds of Colchester Castle, a fine castle however you look at it, even if you’re not all that interested in castles.

The gardeners were out planting. 

And I suppose they probably plant all year round, because all at once I came upon a crowd (I’m not sure I’d really call it a host) of daffodils, and I don’t honestly know if there were ten thousand of them - counting daffodils is a tricky business - but there were certainly plenty of them.

And then, all at once, again, I came upon an obelisk.  To be fair I knew it was in the park somewhere but I hadn’t actually expected to find it.

It’s not that big as obelisks go but it’s an interesting one.  It was erected in 1892 by Henry Laver, a local dignitary, when the park was opened. It commemorates the death by firing squad on that spot in 1648 of two Royalist commanders: Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, after the siege of Colchester.

Both Lucas and Lyle are regarded as Royalist martyrs in some quarters. Lucas left a manuscript titled Treatise of the Arts of War, but it was written in cipher and was never published, which I suppose is understandable. You don’t want the polloi knowing all the arts of war, on the other hand it does rather cut down your readership.

Henry Laver was an Alderman, a Justice of the Peac, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, which looked like this. He was also the author of The Colchester Oyster Fishery: Its antiquity and position, method of working and the quality and safety of its products,  which looks like this:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


The streets of London are paved with fruit, which has been left out in the rain.  (Macarthur Park reference, should some of you young 'uns have missed it.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


I like rocks.  I don’t know much about them but when I’m out walking and I see a rock at my feet and I like the look of it, I tend to pick it up.  

Of course the question of what it means to ‘like the look of a rock’ is a strange one, and I’ve thought about why one rock appeals more than another. It’s obviously got something to do with general aesthetics but it’s also about personal taste (I’m especially fond of flint and obsidian) and maybe it’s also to do with pareidolia - everybody likes a rock that looks like an animal or a face, or not wholly like a rock.  

No doubt John Ruskin had a lot of say about it.  These are some of Ruskin’s rocks, though not picked up while walking, as far as I know.

Now, if you’re on a long walk and you pick up every rock you like the look of  you can end up carrying half a ton of geological samples in your pockets and rucksack.  So my technique (call it that) is to pick up the first rock I like and carry it with me until I see another rock that l think looks better, then I pick that one up and drop the first.  It’s not a very sophisticated process.

I never made any great claims for the originality of this practice but I also never met anybody else who did it until I was in Quartzsite, Arizona, one hell of a town, a centre for rock and fossil hunters, and depending on the day and time of year, you may find any number of dealers there selling rocks, most of which I think they’ve picked up in the desert.  I understand this is perfectly legal in those parts, though by no means everywhere in America.

Buying a rock from a dealer always seems like a bit of a cheat, but of course if the dealer is a hands-on kind of a guy he has all the time in the world to go hunting for them in the desert, whereas I’ve only ever been a tourist in those parts.  So the dealer has much better stuff.  And I got talking to one of the dealers, and without any prompting from me he said sometimes when he was walking for pleasure rather than business, his method was just the same as mine – go out there, pick up a rock, keep it until you find a better one, then swap it.  I can’t say I felt like I’d found a kindred soul but it was somehow cheering.

And then, blow me down, I was reading Richard Long’s Walking the Line and there it is on page 53, a text piece titled “Walking Stones.” This is what it looks like:

Walking 382 miles in 11 days strikes me as pretty good – over 34 miles a day - but I do wonder how he selected the stones he picked up.  Was it based on aesthetic choice or random selection or something else?  You might also wonder when does a stone become a pebble, or a rock.

Of course Long ended up with no rocks in his pockets or rucksack.  I, on the other hand, always end up taking at least one home with me.   In due course I get rid of them.  Over the years I must have got dispersed hundreds, some of them a very long way from where they started, but a few always remain.  This is the current selection (definitely not a collection) lined up in the Nicholson atelier:

Here's Richard Long at work:

Monday, February 3, 2020


If you’re looking for a catchy but modest (possibly faux-modest) title for your travel book then you could do a lot worse than A Walk Across Africa, James Augustus Grant’s 1864 volume, especially since it has the knockout subtitle Or, Domestic Scenes from My Nile Journal.

Grant’s book tells in part the story of his expedition with John Hanning Speke in search of the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria: they found it, more or less.

Speke was a profound, and in some sense perhaps ultimately a mortal, enemy of Sir Richard Francis Burton.  They too travelled together in search of the source of the Nile, and failed to find it, more or less.  

The two men loathed each other.  Speke shot himself (accidentally? we don’t know) the day before he was about to have a public debate with Burton.  This is Speke being chased by Somalis, on an earlier expedition with Burton.

There’s a tendency, and I share it, to find yourself ‘supporting’ either Speke or Burton as though they were opposing football teams, and I’m totally with Burton, even if I accept that at this point in history it’s a fairly meaningless kind of support.

Burton’s great memorial is his famous tomb in Mortlake in the shape of a Bedouin tent. 

Speke’s memorial, which I only recently discovered, is an obelisk made of Aberdeen red granite, which is located in Kensington Gardens, not a million miles away from the Peter Pan statue.  A plaque set in the ground tells us the memorial was sponsored by Sir Roderick Murchison of the Royal Geographical Society, and paid for by public subscription.

My unscientific observation when I went there is that the people who walk through Kensington Gardens, often with their dogs, pay very little attention to the Speke obelisk, although one or two of them did pay attention to me because I was looking at it with such intensity, and taking photographs, and they probably thought I was a nutter, so they walked on that much faster.

The memorial, as all true obelisk fans with observe, is not a true obelisk since it’s in three parts.  A true obelisk is made from a single piece.  I suppose that Aberdeen granite doesn’t come in big enough chunks.

Thursday, January 30, 2020


I’ve said it before so it must be true, that sometimes you want to walk in certain places or along certain streets just because you like the name – Ducksfoot Lane, Spanker’s Hill, Camera Place.

And so it was last week with Wormwood Street (no connection with Wormwood Scrubs), close to Liverpool Street.  The London Encyclopedia (Weinreb and Hibbert) says the name derives simply from the fact that wormwood used to grow there. It also leads into Camomile Street, which again gets its name because of the historic presence of wild camomile. But I had another reason for walking down Wormwood Street - it’s currently the site of a sculpture or installation or anyway a work of art titled ‘Bridging Home, London’ by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh. 

Wormwood Street usually looks like this, crossed by a pedestrian walkway, or even, in architect-speak, a pedway.

But now, thanks to Do Ho Suh, it looks like this:

The added structure is a representation of his childhood home, a traditional Korean house, and I’m sure the vertiginous angles say something about the instability of culture and tradition, about the inevitably temporary existence of houses, of all architecture, and no doubt about the insecure nature of the immigrant experience.  But it’s also fun, like seeing an alien but unthreatening spacecraft that’s landed in the middle of the city.  It’s also quite moving in its apparent precariousness.  I say apparent because I assume the health and safety folks have been in to make sure its not going to free itself and fall into the traffic.

As far as I could see there was no way of getting up to that walkway for a closer look at the ‘house’ and certainly I didn’t see anybody up there.  Perhaps the work of art is just too unstable.

I’d never heard of Do Ho Suh, and I assumed he was some bright young spark who’d just got a break, but that’s not the case.  He’s in his late 50s, online sources tell me he has a BA and MA in Fine Arts from Seoul University, another BA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, another Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale.
       He has work in collections at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney in New York, atMOCA in Los Angeles, The Tate in London; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo – among others.

According to Wikip he currently has live-in studios in London, New York City, and Seoul. 
This of course is nothing to hold against him, but it does suggest that his version of the immigrant expression is more singular than most.

Do Ho Suh is not a walking artist but he does create works that you can not just walk around, but also walk inside. Though not, it seems, in Wormwood Street.