To walk is to inhabit the world

August 22, 2011

I’ve just returned from Uncivilisation, the Dark Mountain festival. Dark Mountain is extremely hard to define, but it’s basically a journal of essays, short stories, poetry and artwork — as well as a wider social movement — exploring new myths and new narratives arising from the cultural confusion of environmental and economic collapse. They’ve published four of my short stories, and I hope to write them a piece of non-fiction during my walk to Istanbul: as an exploration of Europe’s changes — its landscapes, environments, cultures, people — this project has a definite Dark Mountain feel, especially as Europe seems to be going through various collapses of its own.

Among the many incredible people I met at Uncivilisation was Adam Weymouth, a writer and storyteller who walked from England to Istanbul last year. He followed a very different route from Paddy’s, through France, Italy and the Balkans (ie. the sunny bits!), over the course of 8 months. On a wander through the woods he talked about his reasons for the journey, and I’d like to share a few of his words with you here:

Walking into big cities isn’t lots of fun. There are all these places that are dehumanised now — unfit for walking. Places you zip through in a car, and only when you walk you realise they are real places.

During transport we’re encouraged to forget about the journey — we have the idea that good things only start happening when we arrive. But to walk is to inhabit the world. Wayfarers are not unsuccessful occupants, but successful inhabitants.

Before planes and trains, pilgrims had to return from their destination by walking. Constantinople or Rome was the journey’s centre point — your real destination was your front door. 

He also talked about Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist who analysed the structure of myths to identify the basic narratives that underly all cultures. A mythical journey, Campbell says, does not end with the slaying of the beast, the apparent achievement of the quest — it ends when the hero returns to integrate the knowledge he has gained into everyday life, to ‘bestow boons on his fellow man.’ In recent times, we have forgotten the importance of the return.

How does this relate to my journey? Will Istanbul be my centre point, before I turn round and walk home?  To be honest, probably not. I am not undertaking a pilgrimage, and if you ever catch me referring to myself as an archetypal hero on a mythical journey, please give me a hefty slap. What I can try my best to do, though — without sounding too ridiculous — is to bestow boons on my fellow man through the writing I bring back. Europe is changing, the world is changing, and the stories we tell are important. Paddy’s words are my map on this journey… perhaps my words can be a map for something else, who knows?

One Response to “To walk is to inhabit the world”

  1. […] summer, before I started walking, I met someone else who had walked to Istanbul, though by a different route. He talked a lot about pilgrimage, and […]

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