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.
Showing posts with label Foster spragge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Foster spragge. Show all posts

Monday, November 12, 2018


“Presently, with an excuse, he left me, asking me to put all my papers together. He was some little time away, and I began to look at some of the books around me. One was an atlas, which I found opened naturally at England, as if that map had been much used. On looking at it I found in certain places little rings marked, and on examining these I noticed that one was near London on the east side, manifestly where his new estate was situated.”

The “he” in that passage – you probably guessed - is Count Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been on my mind because I was walking again with Foster Spragge, a woman who draws rings on maps. Although perhaps to be more precise she probably uses the rings to create maps of a unique kind, but either way you understand the connection.

Dracula, like many a well-heeled immigrant before and since, moves to England and starts buying up property – a house in Piccadilly and another in Purfleet – that’s the place that’s “near London on the east side,” and that’s where Foster and a group of us walked – from Rainham to Purfleet, both in Essex – a mere five miles, but a vital and final part of Spragge’s 150 mile walk - Drawing Dialogue London Loop.

It was a terrific section of the walk to be on – starting early afternoon and ending at dusk, by which time the light was extraordinary and I was thinking of the opening of Heart of Darkness:

"The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun."

Along the way there were giant sheds and giant hogweed: 

Cats (more than just this one):

Outsider art: 

Concrete barges:

And much more besides.

Better scholars than I have asserted that there isn’t and has never been a house in Purfleet that fits the description of Dracula’s property there, named Carfax.  However I did see this place which with some modifications might be turned into a very cool, quasi-industrial home, though I suppose you'd have to work pretty hard to give it the Gothic qualities Dracula was looking for.

In Chelsea the next day I took a walk past Bram Stoker’s former digs at 188 St Leonard’s Terrace.  That didn’t look very Gothic either.  

Zoopla estimates its current price as £9,183,000 which is strangely precise for an estimate, and seems a bit steep even for Chelsea, but what do I know?  

These are the kind of things you think about while walking in Chelsea, actually while walking pretty much anywhere, these days.  Of course that doesn’t necessarily stop you thinking about the Undead.  

This is Dracula walking in the streets of London in the 1931 movie:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Last Sunday I walked from Uxbridge to Moor Park, Tube station to Tube station, most of it along the London Loop, much of it along the Grand Union Canal.  That’s not my usual kind of walking territory, which was an attraction in itself, and another attraction was that I was walking with Foster Spragge who is sometimes described as a walking artist, and at the very least is an artist who sometimes uses walking as part of her “practice.”  This is her:

The overall title of the project is "Drawing Dialogues on the London Loop," and it’s connected with an organization named tickbirdandrhino, the brainchild of Mat Clum, who was also on the walk.  It says on the website that Foster’s “current work involves a series of drawings created whilst investigating, walking and/or swimming in real time through specific environments - making marks that resonate within her sense of self and place.”  Sounds about right.

We met at Uxbridge station, which is quite a destination in itself.  Is it the only London tube station that has stained glass?  Surely somebody will tell me.

I was on Walk 9.  There are 15 walks most of them in 2 parts of about 5 miles each, though the last walk is 3 parts.  I’ll be there for at least some of that.

The project is partly about mapping.  We were following maps created by Transport for London and as we walked, Foster held a clipboard which made her look like a council official doing a survey rather than an artist, which in some way seemed a good thing.  It certainly stopped people asking questions.
On the board was a sheet of paper, marked up with a line of marks or holes.  Every 7 minutes as we walked she used a compass embedded in a clear plastic ruler with 2 circular holes in it (of nautical origin I imagine), and centered it on the spot marked by a hole, drew a line marking the east/west axis, and a couple of circles.  This created gorgeously inscrutable images that will, I believe, ultimately be used to inspire a different work of art.

We agreed that it would be possible to use this as a map to, as it were, reverse engineer the route, but why would anybody do that?

And so we walked – just 4 of us as it turned out – and we looked around and observed, and took some photographs. Much of the walk was quite watery;

There was some wild(ish) life – a fake crocodile (alligator?) and a real cat

And suddenly, as we got near to Moor Park, the path took us right into the middle of a very fancy bit of suburbia.  There were security cameras trained on us, so obviously we waved to them.  This part was wildly out of keeping with the rest of the walk and although I’m well aware of the contested evils of suburbia, I am fascinated by that kind neatness, by which I mean other people’s, since I’m quite incapable of living like that.  I am also a sucker for topiary: 

We covered about ten miles.  I could have walked further if I’d had to, but I was glad I didn’t have to.

This is Forster Spragge’s website:

This is tickbirdandrhino

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I just got an email from a satisfied customer who’d read The Lost Art of Walking, “had a good time with it” and thought I might be interested in her artwork.  She wasn’t wrong.  That's it above and below. Her name is Foster Spragge, which sounds somehow like an anagram, and indeed is an anagram for a great many things including “far gorge steps,” which isn’t entirely inappropriate.

One of her projects is to make “Walking Drawings” that record the walks she’s done, and I’m always fascinated by the question of how we want to remember or memorialize our walking.  I know there are some walkers who don’t want any sort of record, but I think the majority do, whether it’s just making notes, or taking pictures, or marking it on a map, or in extreme cases writing books and blogs.  Of course there are myriad other ways too.

Foster Spragge writes on her blog, “Whilst searching for a venue for the installation of Ticket Cylinder (that’s one of her ‘sculptural’ artworks) I began to Walk & Draw. Mirroring the walking process, tracing a movement while allowing the mind to roam exploring new thoughts. To start each Drawing, the paper is folded so that only part of it can be seen at any one time while working. This stops aesthetic decisions, allowing the drawing to take its own shape. The whole Drawing is not unfolded until the walk is finished. 
 The initial Drawings are filled with an explorative range of marks to represent footsteps. For every step during the walk a pencil mark is made. Each time the path turns the paper is turned the same way.”

Well this all seemed pleasantly obsessive, especially the part about making one mark for each footstep.  It also wasn’t clear to me just how big these pieces of folded paper were.  I imagined she might be strolling around with a piece of paper six feet square.  I wanted too much – they’re just 59 centimeters square.

Even so, as she explained in an email, “Walking though town folding and unfolding is a challenge. What is quite amusing is people often ask me for directions.”  Then when she was doing the Square Mile Walks, a series of drawings made while walking within the square mile of the City of London, never venturing outside the city boundary, “some bikers spied me walking around the edge of Smithfields market while avoiding the rain. They asked me what I was doing, on showing them the Drawing they said I should buy myself a map.”

Well, this is interesting isn’t it?  Obviously some of these drawings don’t resemble maps in any conventional way, but some definitely do.

Above are two drawings, a diptych I suppose, titled South to North, North to South.  They record a series of London walks.  In case the caption comes out too small on the blog, I’ll repeat what Foster writes, “One day I would walk from South to North, then on another piece of paper I repeated the walk, starting where the previous walk ended and retracing my footsteps … The two drawings are therefore the same but in reverse, but not a mirror image of each other.”  

I suppose you might conclude that you can never walk in the same street twice, in the same Zen way that you can never jump into the same river twice.  The street is different from moment to moment.

Now obviously you’d be hard pressed to find your way around London with these drawings, but when you look at them you somehow know that they represent a walk in London.  A walk made in Manhattan or Paris or Colchester simply wouldn’t look like that.

These days we all feel that maps printed, or drawn, on paper are a dying form, as GPS and cell phone technology takes over.  At the same time, if you’re lost in a big city and you see someone carrying a map (or in this case what only appears to be a map) you’re far more likely to approach them for directions than you are to approach someone who’s simply carrying a cell phone.

Foster Spragge’s drawings are on show for a short time at the Westminster Reference Library in London, behind the National Gallery, Orange Street, 28th May to 2nd June.

Her website is here:   http://www.fosterspragge.com/ 

It so happens that I too sometimes walk around Smithfield market, though in a rather less rigorous way that Foster Spragge, and I’ve never been troubled by bikers.  Here’s a picture I took on one of my walks there, a much-photographed tripe dresser wedged between a classical column and a men’s lavatory.  Ah, London.