Raja Shehadeh wrote in last Saturday’s Guardian about taking 48 international writers for a hill walk north west of Ramallah as part of the second Palestine Festival of Literature (the third starts today). If the very existence of the festival is sticking a neck out, the walk represented a challenge in a place where Palestinians ‘have no control over time and space’ and driving ‘a mere 20 mile journey might consume a whole day’. The hilltop watchtowers, the blockage of ancient routes by new Israeli settlements and checkpoints, meant this group walk was not just an exploration, but an act of solidarity, confirming of an old order by the laying of footprints; a protest of sorts.
His piece also includes beautiful insights into the geophysical and human origins of the paths: ‘the land is like an open book on which nature and humans continuously write.’
The frustration, threat of violent encounter, lack of freedom to roam, contrasts with Hamish Fulton's latest walking project, written up in the Scotsman last week. He’s currently on a 21 day walk in the Cairngorms, making the plan up as the days go by, with no commitment except to arrive at Glenmore Lodge at the end of it. The Cairngorms are considered one of Europe's last wildernesses, and thus provide the 'Room to Roam' that he seeks both mentally and physically. The journey itself is the piece of art.
Before he set off from Huntly he choreographed a walk for 30 or so people, a silent procession lapping the same block in single file with a two meter distance between each person. He'll be leading something similar at Glenmore Lodge on 9th May.
For 40 years he's made works of art relating to walking. He makes no interventions in the landscape as Richard Long does, but produces minimalist responses, often in text. He's walked for Tibetan Freedom and to the summit of Everest.
His choreographed walks are a new departure and brought to mind another spectacular procession which will happen on Glasgow Green on 29th May. 111 bicycles will dance ‘A breeze’, a piece choreographed by Argentinian composer Mauricio Kagel. Part of a much bigger project about ‘Dummy Jim’, a deaf and dumb man who cycled to the Arctic Circle in 1951, who has two Glasgow musicians cycling in his tracks this summer.
In July this year I'll be walking some old roads in the Cairngorms myself. This time I’ll not be alone, but in company with fellow walkers who are part of Speygrian. Poets, artists, educators, ecologists, adventurers, a band of us will be travelling with pack ponies. I imagine our cavalcade like a pilgrimage party, noisy with story and shared incident, ragged and un-choreographed, but strung together by joint purpose. I will report back.