It seems to have been a long time coming but finally, today, we kicked off the first of the four Art Walks running the length of the Sefton Coastal path. Today’s leg took us from Waterloo to Hightown not much more than four and a half miles but it took us over six hours.
Rather than ‘walks’ they would be better described as meanders, with time to commune with the landscape and natural history. We are in no hurry and the group share thoughts, knowledge and experiences relating to both art and the natural environment.
My brother Mike is leading the project with a small team of artists responding the the walks in their own disciplines. There’s myself, Jake Campbell, a poet from the North East, but now living in Chester and Rob Strachan who is a sound artist. To really understand the area we’ve invited local natural historian John Dempsey to help interpret the coastal path. We also were fortunate to have Alex Piggot, RSPB reserve warden at Marshside where we will end the series of walks next weekend.
There are no preconceptions about what the outcome will be, each artist and participant (the walks are free to the general public having been funded by HLF, Sefton Coastal Partnership and WALK) responding both intuitively and with an underlying understanding of what they are walking through and discussing ideas with each other.
I’m also documenting the physical activity of the event as well as producing a set of images over the four walks that are my response to the landscape and natural history. Mike and I have walked the coast path many times during our early years, but both now live away so it’s a bit of a home coming for. To see it as we’ve done today, through the eyes and extraordinary knowledge of John Dempsey has been a really fascinating experience.
Mike, whose work relies heavily on the nomenclature of plants and birds, was telling us about their coloquial names, which often relate to habitat, form and function and local knowledge of the species. Rob talked about soundscapes and we were all invited to listen, through headphones, of the ambient sound of the beach. The experience was akin to walking into a surround sound studio and a thus into a new space. Jake explained his process of working and we were encouraged to find links between thoughts prior to and during the walk and to further this later in the evening when we reflect upon the day. I talked about how the experience could be translated through photography and we were all on hand to talk to the group about how we articulate our experiences through are own disciplines.
We were lucky with the weather, and although the bird life was a little thin on the ground (something we were expecting due to the time of year) the plant life and butterflies more than made up for it. The highlight for us all was when John found a year old Natterjack toad, something of a speciality of the area which holds over 40% of the UK population. There were also some plants, notably the Isle of Man Cabbage, that were even rarer then the Natterjack and Grey Seal showed itself amongst Gormley’s men, pretty high up the channel.
Conversations developed during the day about invasive species, walking or waiting for wildlife (something Mike and I will take up properly sometime soon), sound and words and what it means to be immersed within the natural world. Personal cameras, notebooks and sound recording equipment were used and lists made.
It was a really good start to the project with a great group of folk, who all added something to the day. Tomorrow we start from Hightown and end at Freshfield, if it’s half as good as today we’re all in for a treat!
The images here are a bit of a mix, some showing the group participating during the day and other images that I’m beginning to see developing as something that I can work with during the remaining walks. There’ll be much more on each individual walk later on after the completion of the series next week.