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"I know you're doing it from [a] historical point of view, but it’s geographical as well": Complicating walking along the Leam.

Written by Kevin Molloy.

This contribution to the History of walking focuses on a pathway proposer’s preparations (2020-2021). The proposer’s preparations involve examining the feasibility of linking existing path and bridle ways close to the River Leam (the Leam) into a coherent Leamington Pathway similar to the Thames Path. Sections one and two contribute to Ruby Koshar’s calls for complicated interpretations of leisure.[1] Section one outlines barriers to leisurely mass mobilisation along the Leam. Obstacles including the application of Riparian Law to the Leam and walking hazards, such as vehicle traffic, complicate leisure practice along the Leam. Section two highlights the relationships developed between the proposer, pathway organisations, and Jenny Davidson, a guidebook author. In doing so, the intricate connections involved in pathway creation are revealed. Section three historicises the proposer’s plan by comparing his proposal to Rebecca Solnit’s solemn conclusion on the progression of modern walking practices.[2] The proposer contends that his proposed path would be a positive development, since schools could more easily access the Leam for education, prevent river swimmers from trespassing, and allow walkers to access local history which is otherwise inaccessible. Therefore, modern walking developments need not always be interpreted solemnly. Overall, analysing preparations for local walking can sophisticate understandings of leisurely mass mobilisation.

Standard definitions of leisure have been criticised because they assume leisurely activities are distinct from activities of non-leisure.[3] Koshar noted that tourism, especially European Grand Tours during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, blurred the boundary between leisure and non-leisure.[4] Tourers, teachers, and onlookers could all hold differing interpretations of Grand Tour activities.[5] Leisure is therefore complicated when the boundary between work and leisure is blurred via the interpretations of differing activities.

The proposer’s work complicates the boundaries of leisure because they walk the Leam to prepare their pathway.[6] When asked what it entails to be a footpath proposer, they explained:

“[T]he main thing…[is] riparian law…I've discovered by […] walking along the Leam […] that you're essentially, for most of the time, […] on private property […]. [R]iparian law is hundreds of years old [...] [b]ut basically it says that the owner of the bank owns the river up to the midpoint […]. [W]hat it means is that a large part of the Leam from Hellidon, where it starts on the […] border of Northamptonshire, all the way down to Leamington, is private property […]. So […] I'm trying to see […] how close to the river I can get using existing pathways”.[7]

The proposer is establishing the groundwork for uncomplicated outdoor exercise by discerning the boundary between public and private property. As such, the proposer is an instigator of local mobilisation. Mobilisation here refers to the process of groups walking and encouraging others to walk. The proposer’s preparations also show that mobilisation requires easing access. For this reason, the proposer is considering physical hazards that complicate leisure along the Leam.

The proposer noted that “[y]ou can cycle…close to the river from Leamington, up to Hellidon…, but there are no cycle paths. So you’re…literally cycling on the main road…[T]here is agricultural traffic et cetera…So, part of…what’s motivating me is to enable people to get [safe] outdoor exercise”.[8] The proposer’s considerations highlight the complications of modern walking. Without discernible paths, exercisers can encounter legal and physical obstacles to their leisure. As a result, everyday walking along the Leam is a complicated practice. The proposer’s preparations are therefore important to local mobilization. His work intends to streamline mobilisation by discerning legal boundaries and reduce hazards along pathways.[9]

The proposer’s work requires developing intricate relationships. These networks become sources of information that can be applied in a proposer’s preparations. The proposer explained that Jenny Davidson’s “advice…was to use the existing path network as much as possible”.[10] Davidson is a guidebook author who has planned a pathway along the River Avon. The Proposer further explained “she's published a booklet…and she's mapped sort of half-day sequences that you can follow”.[11] Both the proposer’s and Davidson’s work show that a path is developed through leisure, while using existing paths. This process not only indicates how proposers streamline, and thus work to make local walking less complicated, but also shows that their efforts are conservational. Rather than constructing a wholly new pathway, proposers and guidebook authors develop upon what has come before. Further, the information provided by proposers is conserved by its transference between proposers. Consequently, in the process of simplifying the Leam, the proposer’s preparations become increasingly intricate.

The proposer has also made connections with organisations who manage English pathways to get advice about hazards and preparation. The proposer explained,

“[t]he Thames pathway is literally on the bank. You could be walking along and you could jump in…There's an organization that […] manages the Thames pathway and that's one of the things that I want to ask them about. What...the health and safety issues [are]…[T]hey seem to be the people with the most expertise”.[12]

Opened in 1996, the Thames Path pathway follows the River Thames from the Cotswolds to London.[13] This path is a significant connection for the proposer because “somehow […] they've [the Thames Path organisation] managed to get over all the riparian law and have a riverside pathway”.[14] Networking with a guidebook author and successful pathway organisations can decomplicate walking practice and analysing networking shows that the steps taken towards preparation require the development of multiple, increasingly intricate relationships.

Analysing the preparations of one pathway demonstrates how intricate walking practices can be because of the precedents proposers intend to build upon. Like Davidson, the proposer intends to map the paths along a river. Likewise, the proposer intends to consult the Thames Path organisation about riparian law and hazard mediation. Whilst this is a process of simplifying the landscape, the intricate considerations and connections that the proposer has developed in their preparations show how complicated local walking practices can be. Future walkers may not realise it, but they walk on the work of multiple individuals. Subsequently, leisure is not simply a dichotomy of work and non-work.

Solnit noted that ‘walking has a history, the history trod out by […] poets and philosophers and insurrectionaries […], but whether it has a future depends on whether those connecting paths are travelled’.[15] Solnit sombrely reflects on the walking history she has told, noting that the general trend is toward automobilization and suburbanisation.[16] Whilst walking was once an act of ‘resistance’ employed by Romanticists of the eighteenth-century, Solnit now considers the routes once walked to be disappearing, for walking to be conducted only when necessary, and for technological innovation to be preventing modern Western walkers from properly observing nature.[17]

In contrast, the proposer’s preparations demonstrate that the future of walking need not be considered wholly negatively. The proposer notes that their proposed footpath would positively affect communities around the Leam. He explained: “I would be very interested in getting local schools involved in using river walking as an educational tool, both in terms of land use […] and […] in the rivers”.[18]

Further, the pathway is intended to prevent wild swimmers from trespassing. The proposer explained:

“I do [not] think [that there are] a lot of the swimming areas [which] you can drive up to a car park and immediately start swimming. So, there’s some […] issues about whether you're trespassing on farmland to get to the swimming areas”.[19]

The final development of the proposer’s preparation is enabling exercisers to access history which the public would otherwise be unable to access easily. When asked if there is a history or historical sites that only walking can give access to, the proposer stated “yes. The abandoned village [in Wolfhampcote, Northamptonshire] […] can only [be] access[ed] […] by walking. And […], [t]here's an abandoned church near Offchurch, […] and you can only access that by walking. So absolutely, that's a yes”.[20]

While Solnit sombrely reflected on the end of prior walking practices instigated by the development of technology, such as trains and treadmills which have led those who use these technologies to reconceive the space that they travel through, when walking is examined within a local framework and with specific attention to modern practices, it appears that walking and its routes may have a future. The proposer’s preparations highlight how walking along the Leam can become more accessible. In doing so, the proposer decomplicates the Leam’s current paths, thus paving the way for local mass mobilisation. Examining the preparations for leisure and understanding how leisure is involved in these preparations illustrate how walking itself can be complicated. Issues of hazards, legal and physical, are taken into account, and these are overcome by developing increasingly intricate networks with guidebook authors and pathway organisations. In this way the proposer intends to simplify walking for three specific groups: exercisers, educators and their students, and tourists. Consequently, in preparation and practice, walking along the Leam draws complication with every step.


[1] Ruby Koshar, ‘Seeing, Traveling, and Consuming: An Introduction’ in Histories of Leisure, ed. by Ruby Koshar, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2002), p. 3. <https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=243452> [accessed 19 December 2020]. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[2] Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: : a history of walking (London: Granta, 2014), pp. 257, 291.

[3] Koshar, ‘Seeing, Traveling, and Consuming’, p. 3.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, pp. 9-11.

[6] For Walking as leisure see Koshar ‘Seeing, Traveling, and Consuming’, p. 3 ; Joseph Amato, On Foot: A History of Walking, (New York: New York University Press, 2004), p. 14; Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman, ‘Introduction: Modern Walks’, in Walking Histories, 1800-1914, (eds.) Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman, (London: Palgrave Macmillan , 2016), pp. 3-4.

[7] Interview, 20 May 2021.

[8] Interview, 20 May 2021.

[9] During our interview the proposer explained that to warn exercisers of flooding along the Thames Path, the Thames Path organisation has erected ‘notable quite regular notices warning people not to walk along…[the path] if…[there is] any floods’. For further examples of hazard reduction including online public notices see Sustrans, ‘Research, monitoring, and evaluation’, a webpage dedicated to outlining the charity’s process of hazard reduction, Sustrans <https://www.sustrans.org.uk/for-professionals/research-monitoring-and-evaluation/> [accessed 16 June 2021]; Sustrans, ‘Get Active’, a page which has numerous articles outlining how to overcome personal and external obstacles to exercisers such as cycling whilst pregnant, cycling in the dark, and preparing routes so that exercisers travel through low traffic neighbourhoods, Sustrans <https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/?location=null&theme=null> [accessed 16 June 2021]; Anon, ‘Kinghurst Brook Improvements’, an explanation of how the Kinghurst Brook in Solihull has been modified to encourage local wild life to thrive and reduce flood risk, People, Place, Nature <https://socialsolihull.org.uk/peopleplacenature/projects/kingshurst-brook-improvements/> [accessed 9 June 2021]; Further, during our interview the proposer explained that there is currently a debate about whether quad biking should be allowed along pathways in the Lake District. Both physically, digitally, and legally, persons and organisations are taking steps to decomplicate walking routes and reducing hazards to make pathways safe.

[10] Interview, 20 May 2021.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Anon, ‘Trail Information: Find Answers to the most common questions about the trail’, National Trails, 2021, <https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/thames-path/trail-information/> [accessed 31 May 2021].

[14] Interview, 20 May 2021.

[15] Solnit, Wanderlust, p. 291.

[16] Ibid. p. 267.

[17] Ibid. Solnit made specific reference to trains changing a traveller’s ability to perceive the countryside. This is because of the speed at which trains travel. For Solnit, trains prevent the observer from properly appreciating nature.

[18] Interview, 20 May 2021.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.


Historiography/Methodology Walking

Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman contended that there are two current problems with the scholarship concerning the History of Walking.[1] Firstly, the ‘Romantic walk’ of the European middle-classes continues to dominate the scholarship.[2] Further, the predominance of Western examples of walkers and practices has resulted in the scholarship largely being Eurocentric.[3] Predominantly it is walking history from Great Britain which has been the focus of the walking historian’s analysis.[4]

Our project has both diverged and conformed to trends present in the scholarship of the History of Walking. Our interviewees spoke about their British based projects, their experiences, and the relationships they have developed from walking. Are conclusions cannot subsequently be aggregated beyond the Midlands region, meaning our project has little to say about global walking practice and its histories. Yet, the methodology that our project employed, online interviews, provided not only a means to focus on modern walking practices, conceptions, and relationships, but also therefore meant that our contribution is not dominated by the ‘Romantic Walk’.

Byrant, Burns, and Readman sought to overcome the Eurocentric problem characterising the History of Walking by including Iqbal Sevea’s study of the relationship between walking, piety, and technologies of circulation in modern South Asia in their edited text.[5] Sevea’s study identified a new discourse that emerged as a result of the interaction between piety, spiritual authority, and walking.[6] Figures such as Mahatma Gandhi emphasised the power of walking thereby cultivating a relationship between physical health and ideas relating to control of one’s own morality circulating in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century South East Asia.[7] Whilst this study differentiates from the scholarship because its focus was not on Western walking practices, Sevea’s reliance on primary sources written by Mahatma Gandhi and colonial British records means that the history of the elite prevails in non-European focused analyses.

By employing online interviews an elite history of walking can be circumvented somewhat. The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a significant shift from in-person to online work. According to a report from Statista, between July 2019 and April 2021 the number of users who use Microsoft Teams daily increased from 13 million daily users in July to 145 million daily users in April.[8] Given this trend, walkers are increasingly becoming more accessible, meaning online global comparative studies are becoming progressively achievable due to the proliferation of online communicative technology. Initially, this project intended to use in-person interviews. When the second lockdown was announced in December 2020, the necessary changes were made to accommodate the new circumstances. As such, this project’s was able to continue and using online interviews meant that recording and the production of transcripts was easier.

New problems arise with the use of online interviews however. Firstly, because of this transition to online interviews, the project’s method has relied on the interviewee having the technology necessary to participate in the interview. The absence of suitable technology can result in economic barriers remaining and thus a potential skewing of who can be an interviewee. Further, a certain degree of disassociation can occur between the interviewee and the interviewer. It may be difficult to develop a rapport over the internet, meaning certain information may be left unrevealed by the interviewee. Despite these obstacles, the use of online interviews offers practical and accessible solutions to the current problematic trends amongst the scholarship. Online interviews enables non-European walking practices and histories to be discovered without reliance on important figures, colonial archives, or focusing on Western examples. Perhaps then it is the use of online interviews which will provide a new avenue for future historians to create more globally/non-European based studies of the History of Walking.


[1] Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman, ‘Introduction: Modern walks’, in Walking Histories, 1800-1914, by Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman (edts.), (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 26.

[2] Ibid, pp. 24-25. Joseph A. Amato defined the ‘Romantic Walk’ as a journey undertaken by Romanticists who ‘sought in walking a means to find and express their real selves and often did this in conscious defiance of those who rode’, p. 100. For in depth analysis of the ‘Romantic Walk’ see Joseph A. Amato ‘Mind over Foot: Romantic Walking and Rambling’, in J. Amato, On Foot: A History of Walking, (New York: New York University Press: 2004) pp. 101-124.; Joanna Guldi, ‘The History of Walking and the Digital Turn: Stride and Lounge in London, 1808-1851, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 84, No. 1 (2012), 139.

[3] Bryant, Burns, and Readman, ‘Introduction: Modern walks’, p. 26.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Iqbal Sevea, ‘The Saints Who Walk: Walking, Piety and Technologies of Circulation in Modern South Asia’ in Walking Histories, 1800-1914, , by Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, and Paul Readman (edts.), (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 243-264.

[6] Ibid, p. 263.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Shanhong Liu, 'Microsoft Teams: number of daily active users 2019-2021', 5 May 2021, Statista, <https://www.statista.com/statistics/1033742/worldwide-microsoft-teams-daily-and-monthly-users/> [accessed 24 June 2021].