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.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


What other walking adventures did I have to in London?  Well, I went walking in Little Ilford Park in East Ham, which may have been the inspiration for the Small Faces song “Itchycoo Park,” although it may not. 
“What did you do there?”  Mostly I discussed map/territory relations and Victorian notions of public good, with Travis Elborough.  More about that later, probably.

I went for a walk along the Regent's Canal from King's Cross, past Gas Holder Park (which surely could be an inspiration for a song), to Camden Lock and beyond.  I was with members of the Royal Photographic Society, who do that kind of thing.

         It was a good walk but I sometimes felt uneasy about the narrowness of the path and the imminent threat of silent but potentially deadly cyclists.  Signs like the one below weren’t really very reassuring.

And in Walthamstow I did see this bit of (I suppose you’d have to call it) street art -

“Not all those who wander are lost,” is a line from Tolkien apparently, though I didn’t know that at the time.  It’s undoubtedly true, although equally I’d say that not all those who are lost do any wandering.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


 So as you perhaps saw in the previous post I went walking in Dunwich with national treasure Clare Balding for the BBC radio programme “Ramblings.”  And she asked me, the way you do, “So what is psychogeography, Geoff?” and I was ready. I had a bit of paper in my top pocket with Guy Debord’s dreary old definition written on it: "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”
       Clare wasn’t much impressed, and I didn’t expect her to be.  I said, as I’ve said before elsewhere, that I think this is just a fancy way of describing what most walkers do all the time without having to be in any way aware of the term psychogeography.  Different views are no doubt possible.

Our radio walk was intentionally “improvisational,” i.e. not very well planned, and we’d already come to a couple of places where we had to make a choice between one path and another.  In each case we’d both immediately agreed which path to take.  And I said that’s kind of how it always is, you get a vibe and you decide to follow it, you choose one way rather than another, and you go the way you like the look of.

And Clare Balding said, and I’m paraphrasing here, yes but isn’t it different for each individual?  Some people would choose one way, some would choose another, implying that there aren’t actually any precise laws at work here, just personal tastes and preferences.  I couldn’t have agreed more.  OK, hold that thought.

I was staying in London, in Highgate with Martin Bax, a very old friend indeed.  Martin’s a bit the worse for wear these days, but he was still able to walk with me to and from the Tube station at the end of the road.  He did it partly as exercise, partly just to get out of the house and partly to be friendly.  It wasn’t a great expedition, maybe 20 minutes round trip, but I was glad to see him still mobile even if he isn’t moving vey fast these days

But here’s a thing: over the years I must have walked between the Tube station and Martin’s house a hundred times or more, but every time I’d done it I always walked on same the same side of the street, the south side, the side  that connects more directly the station entrance.  But now when I walked with Martin he insisted we walk on the other side, the north side, the sunny side of the street.
         This didn’t signal any antagonism or ideological difference between Martin and me, but it did suggest that we weren’t responding to any precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment; Martin just liked to be warm.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Just so you know, I was in England and I walked and talked around Dunwich with national treasure Clare Balding for the radio series Ramblings.  It was good, I think.  I’m told we both came over as likeable, which is not what every writer in the world is looking for, but I’m happy with that.

And since not everything that happens on a walk can be captured by radio; this is me having just found a puffball:

And this is Clare Balding and the producer Lucy Lunt, with the same puffball:

The show’s available as a podcast.  Just click on the link below:

Saturday, October 8, 2016


You know me, I like maps, and I like people (in the appropriate doses).   And more often than not I carry a map with me when I’m walking somewhere.  And as I also meander through the interwebs I often find myself downloading images of people and maps, and how the two relate to each other.

Fact is, people carrying and consulting maps can signal all kinds of different things.  Sometimes it indicates being lost: if you weren’t lost why would you need a map?  You don’t have to answer that. 

People look at maps and scratch their heads look frustrated, look like losers.

But then again consulting a map may indicate that you’re footloose, happy to explore new places, happy not to know exactly where you are, happy to light out to new territories, just so long as they’ve got a map.

Which may be similar to an interest in and engagement with the world, much loved by politicians of many stripes.

And pointing at a map is always an indication that you mean business.

Because yes, sometimes maps are very serious business indeed.  Guys (I'm sorry, it does tend to be mostly guys) study them, lean across them.  There may well be some frowning and chin scratching “We got us a problem to solve here boys.”

And sometimes they’re not serious at all.  Of course weather forecasters stand in front of maps all the time, and often hilarity ensues.

And of course map hilarity may ensue for all kinds of different reasons.

A lot of people like to use maps as a backdrop: as though a map itself delivers gravitas.  Sometimes it does.

Sometimes less so.

Sometimes scarcely at all.

Monday, October 3, 2016


I was in Baltimore for a wedding, so I decided to visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house at 208 North Amity Street, the way you would.  Naturally I walked there.

I didn’t, and of course still don’t, know Baltimore.  I haven’t even watched the TV series The Wire – but I’m told there’s a scene where one of the characters says, “Yeah, so we out on Carrollton, this ol' white motherfucker and his wife roll up, he's like, ‘Young man, you know where the Poe House is?’  I'm like, ‘Unc, you kiddin' me? Look around, take your pick.’”  This obviously has to be said in an accent where “poe” and “poor” are pronounced the same way. 

I didn't know about this when I set off walking, and that may have been just as well. For that matter I hadn’t read the Yelp reviews of the Poe House, many of which seem to have been written by paranoids and wimps:
Here’s one JD from New York: “warning: do not go! this is a small old house located in the middle of the ghetto, most dangerous neighborhood of the state.  we were followed three blocks from the museum by some of the people from the 'hood', probably to rob us as we were told by locals. this was in the afterboon!  we never made it - we luckily made it to a safe street with a concerned samaritan who escorted us out of the hood.”  (A lot is sics required in there).

Oh please!  If you want to see a ghetto, I can show you a ghetto, and this isn’t one.  Fact is, the Poe house is in the middle of a project – and (at least as it appeared to a man walking through on a Friday morning) a pretty decent one.  The houses I saw along the way all looked well kept; there were a few bits of neglected waste ground, but no wrecked cars, no conspicuous vandalism, and remarkably few graffiti.  This looked like a place where not very well off people led perfectly decent lives.  Why should this surprise anybody?
Still, it’s got to be said, that as I walked west from downtown it wasn’t long before I was definitely the only white man on the street.  Did I feel threatened?  No.  Did I feel out of place?  You bet.  And it definitely didn’t feel the place to start taking photographs like some rubber-necking tourist: I’ll leave that to the Google boys:

     The Poe house was built in about 1830, and is small, as 1830 houses tend to be.  Despite its name, it was actually rented by Maria Clemm, Poe’s aunt, who moved there in late 1832 or early 1833.  Maria, a woman of 43, lived there with her ailing mother, her 10 year old daughter Virginia, and of course Poe who was then aged 23 and soon developed a passion (chaste or otherwise) for Virginia.

Poe moved out of the house in the autumn of 1835, and Maria was left unable to pay the rent.  In due course she and Virginia moved to Richmond to live with Poe.  Poe and Virginia were subsequently married, when she was 13.  Don't ask.

There isn’t really too much evidence of Poe in the house – a chair, some prints, a telescope.  There’s one attic bedroom restored to look authentically lived in, though it’s not known whose bedroom this actually was.  The house is well worth seeing but it probably won’t delay you long, and then you can plunge out into the mean streets of Baltimore again.

Most likely you’ll want to walk back via the Westminster Burial Ground to look at Poe’s graves, yep two of them, a modest one in the back (that's it above) where he rested for 25 years or so, before being moved to a prominent spot with a monument that can easily be seen from the street.  
I'm not sure whether it would be good to have two graves, or whether it would just be confusing.

 It rained pretty much all the time I was in Baltimore.  That, and the distractions that go  with being at a wedding, meant that no great amount of pedestrianism  was undertaken.  I never thought it would be.  But I did enough walking to spot some nice semi-ruins - these not in the projects but in the relatively posh area of Mount Vernon:

Some great brickwork and ghost signs:

This splendidly lean building:

And these two diagrammatic walkers hellbent on a collision course:

Here’s a Poe walking story.   
      After “The Raven” was published in January 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror and became an incredible popular success, Poe would find himself pursued by gaggles of small children following him along the street flapping their arms like the raven, and he’d play along and turn around and playfully shout “Nevermore!” and the kids would run away giggling.  This seems so completely unlikely, so completely unPoe-like that it must surely be true.  This however happened in New York, not Baltimore.  Shame.