I went out at just before 5pm, weaving my way through concrete until I finally hit grass. Grass became woods became ferns became hills and sky – so much sky, stretching gloriously wide and gloriously blue. The wind juddered at my ears. I climbed the final stretch, red-cheeked and out of breath, heaving myself onto a rock to stare at the town I’d just climbed out of. We over-use the phrase “on top of the world”, but here it was apt: capturing what it feels like to stand, elevated above everything, aware of scaling this huge mound of rock and earth that, from down there in the valley, seems boundlessly large; to know that to anyone in that valley glancing out of their window up at the hill, right now you’re a tiny dot – a match-stick speck on this spine of green.
Two days later and I was in London, weaving my way through the streets as I moved from Holborn to the Tate Modern to Embankment on foot over the course of several hours (later to skip on to Tower Bridge for an event with Red magazine and then on to see friends in Arsenal via tube: it was quite the day). I lingered in the LRB Bookshop, dawdled along Drury Lane, poked my nose through the door of vintage shops, and paced my way over Blackfriars Bridge. By evening my blistered toes were impressive, but it had been worth it.
On another recent trip I saw Clissold Park for the first time in bright Sunday sunshine, elated to be exactly where I was, observing and walking and reveling in all the people going about their weekend business. To repurpose Woolf, it embodied what I loved; life; London; this moment of late September. I carried on to have coffee with my friend Rosie. Together we spent an hour in Abney Park cemetery, scrutinizing the ivy-clad gravestones, before moving on to London Fields - chatting all the way about bodies, identity and fashion blogging. It was perfect, made all the better by London having her best clothes on: streets decked out in sunshine and the odd orange leaf.
As you may be able to tell, I like feeling out places on foot. It’s how I move best: connecting up things through motion, through that very simple action of putting one boot in front of the other (for it is, nearly always, a boot). If I can walk around a city, I will. I want to nose down side-alleys and duck into bookshops and work out where the streets connect. I’m slightly uneasy until I’ve got a vague understanding of the space.
This last month I’ve not only paced my way through London, but also Brighton, Oxford and Dublin: two well-known cities, two new. Each yielded up their own offerings: clothes rails, book stalls, racks of fabric, glimpses of living rooms, shop windows, beautiful buildings (and ugly ones), crowds shifting and ebbing. I’ve also spent time rambling around the much more sparsely populated countryside. Pavements and ferns. Streets and narrow, stony paths. Buildings lit up at night and trees with the slant of sunset on them. I love them all equally. Very different environments, but all experienced with the same set of principles: curiosity in the new, comfort in the familiar, and joy in the very simple process of being able to just stride and observe.
This last month I’ve also thought a lot about walking: mainly thanks to reading Lauren Elkin’s marvelous, marvelous book Flâneuse. It’s a delicious read, charting the history and implications of women walking around cities. Elkin lingers somewhere between memoir and cultural criticism, interlacing her own wanderings with thoughts on Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Sophie Calle, and plenty of other interesting figures. Most crucially, she wrestles back the narrative of urban exploration from the men: talking with wit and insight about the ways in which women have moved through space, marked it, made it theirs and, sometimes, been rejected by it (for indeed, who among us hasn’t felt that surge of panic while out by ourselves late at night; suddenly, frustratingly aware that it’s easier for men to stride around without thought after dark?)
Flâneuse is a glittering account of female street haunters, lingerers, ramblers, stompers, and marchers; an examination of looking and being looked at; a meditation on being lost, for better and worse (on that note – also go and read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City similarly dazzling prose/ thoughts/ analysis); a celebration of being inquisitive and open to whatever lies beyond the next corner; and a manifesto for pulling on your shoes and just having a good old nose around. As she writes, the flâneuse is "a figure to to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own. She voyages out and goes where she's not supposed to; she forces us to confront the ways in which words like home and belonging are used against women. She is a determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk."
Since reading it, I’ve made more of an effort to walk consciously – to not just gallop along listening to music (as much as I love having my own personal soundtrack), but to properly listen, and properly look. It feels different. It feels richer. I’ve been more willing to idle and move around without the little blue dot on google maps tagging along, to just enjoy the scenery and snatches of life caught in passing: or in the case of the hills, to enjoy the total and utter solitude for a brief while. As I said, I’ve been putting one boot in front of another. And sometimes – as shown here – my feet have been clad in gold.
These gold boots are by CAT. They sent them to me more than a year ago, and I wear them with astonishing regularity. They've taken me through mud, grass, and Edinburgh streets. The dress is a brilliant vintage number my mum bought online and then (begrudgingly) gave to me. Maybe this would have been better illustrated with images of me wandering around a city - but, well, it wouldn't be a proper blog post without some gorse and heather in there.