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Guest Blog – a Sidelong walk along the canal

As part of my collaboration as Sidelong, we are thinking about our next creative walk for Nottingham, and we want suggestions!

Following the success of our first collaborative walk project, Dream Walking, as part of Light Night (see previous blog post), we are keen to create another walk with imaginative interventions in Nottingham.  At the Light Night event, one of our participants, a young man named Angelo, was keen to help out with creating other walks and suggested that we do one by the canal.  So yesterday I took a walk by the canal to think about this idea.

I have been doing a lot of projects walking by water recently.  I’m currently working on a commission to produce a map of the River Nene in Northamptonshire (the map is due to be available 21st April) and as part of this project I have spent time boating, canoeing and walking along a stretch of that river.  I walk a lot along the Great Central Way in Leicester, where I find most of my foraged fruit!  I walked a route for a project in Derbyshire along the Cromford Canal.  At one point the canal crosses the river, and further on it crosses under a road, so that you become aware of how it is cutting its own way through, right across other routes.  I’ve also been doing a project by a canal in Kettering, walking as part of a group, where we floated a small armada of paper boats on the canal last month!

Canals in this country are rich with history, which I think may have been Angelo’s original inspiration for this idea.  But as an artist I am also interested in the impressions of places in the here and now, and what I can make of them.

Waterways have their own sense of navigation and geography.  They cut through our usual notion of roads and pathways, and seem to exist as a different layer of mapping entirely, as a layer underneath our planned and mapped cities.  I read a fascinating account by a writer in New York, trying to find evidence of the paths of New York’s many underground streams,  finding signs or memories of it everywhere but never actually finding the stream itself.  Waterways seem to exist in their own parallel and sometimes hidden universe.

Even canals, which have been built by us humans, now seem to have a life of their own.  Since becoming obsolete as major transport routes for goods, and superseded by roads and rail, the routes of the canals seem to have little relation to our habitual routes these days.  They seem to take on a character of their own, a feeling almost of being suspended in time.

I walked Nottingham’s Beeston Canal on a grey, wet day, the clouds heavy.  I have often found that waterways are the domain of birdlife, and Nottingham’s canal is very much so.  The sounds of birds all around was remarkable.  Again, as I have often found with waterways, once you are on the canal path you are almost transported away from the fact that you are in the middle of a city, but the sounds change and give an atmosphere of another time and place.  Walking under the bridge near the Magistrate’s court, the sound of the pigeons nesting in there is astonishing!  Echoing under the bridge, I could see and hear distinctly tiny pigeon chicks squealing to their mother.  I will go down and record it some time.

I also heard geese, blackbirds, piercing cries from a coot and the calls of seagulls. Their sounds intermingling with the sounds of industry.

There is something in the distinct architecture of the canal that I also like.  The hard edge of the canal path with the softness of the sky-reflecting-water was beautiful.

I start to think that a walk along Nottingham’s canal created by Sidelong might be something to do with the soundscape.  Creating something that invites people to be attentive to the sounds and to weave some meaning from this.

Please post comments about this idea, I’d love to know your responses and what you think about the waterways – would you be interested in a Sidelong walk along the canal?

You can see our last walk for Light Night and follow our news on our Sidelong blog and follow us on Facebook.

About Joanna:

“I’m an artist working in the public realm.  I undertake commissions, generate my own projects and am involved in arts education.  I’m interested in mapping, walking, connections, public space, modes of travel, change, sense of place and looking sideways, using a wide range of media for temporary and permanent artworks.”



Twitter: @JoDacombe

All images by Jo Dacombe

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