Ebb and Flow: creative walk of the estuary

We were delighted to work with live artist and performance maker Katie Etheridge to develop an interactive walk through the ever changing landscape of the Taw / Torridge Estuary. This was developed in Northam Burrows in June and developed for Braunton Burrows in September, thanks to support from Northam Burrows Country Visitors Centre and Christies Estates.

The walk is a unique, shared journey, through the ever changing landscape of the Taw / Torridge Estuary. It considers the shifting earth beneath our feet, the routes of migrating birds and the human impulse to travel beyond the horizon. This was designed for audiences of up to 20 people, who were led on a 2-3 mile long walk, with frequent creative interludes – talking, finding objects, listening to recorded sounds and looking at things sideways.

  • Walking Guides: Fiona Fraser Smith and Paschale Straiton
  • Outside Eye: Katie Etheridge
  • Sound: Ed Jobling

What is a creative walk?

We love walking and we love playing and we wondered what it would be like to combine the two and how we might invite other people to join us.

Walking outside is a calming pursuit and somewhat meditative as your steps reflect your rhythmic heartbeat. Walking with people is connecting. People often begin to synchronise their steps and strangers already have something in common as they share the present, unique moment and are relieved from regular conventional chat. There’s no expectation to ask ‘what do you do?’ and little direct eye contact that some people can find difficult.

So if when you layer creative activities or performance onto walking, the performers are likely to have a conducive audience, that are relaxed and open.

As a company, we are interested in blurring the edges between the performer and the audience and work carefully to encourage people to interact playfully and creatively with the subject matter. The structure of the walk considered what we wanted to achieve – that is an appreciation of the ever changing and therefore vulnerable nature of the landscape and the creatures that live in it. The landscape has changed dramatically over geological time, through the process of continental drift and the ravages of Ice Ages but the sand-dunes and mud flats can change dramatically overnight. Migrating wading birds have to undergo lengthy and dangerous journeys as they travel North in the Spring and return in the Autumn.

The central challenge was how to ensure that people who join us have a deep connection to these ideas. If walkers were asked to consider themselves as birds, who had to prepare themselves for a journey, considering their size and the distance to their destination, would they feel a deeper sense of the danger they face? If walkers spent some time carrying sand and found themselves in the middle of where an extensive sand dune was only 60 years ago, would they feel a deeper sense of a changing world? If they spent some time considering their own personal and imagined journeys – long journeys that they have made, times when they have been lost, what they would take with them if they had to leave at a moment’s notice, would they feel a personal connection to the overall context of movement?

How we made the walk

We spent 1 week developing the original walk for Northam Burrows. Spending all day outside in a windswept landscape is wonderful and tiring so our time was divided between being ‘on site’, deciding the route and the best stopping places and being inside, where we could have more focused conversations and time for writing, assembling and making props. We created an extensive pile of notes – information we wished to share, potential scenes and interactive creative exercises. And once these were tested on site, they were arranged into a timeline and represented onto a map.

Like all performance, you never know exactly what you’ve got until you share it with a group of people who’ve not been ‘in on’ the creation process. What will they like, what ideas will hit home? When do people begin to lag or become distracted. As such, we generally like to have a dry run, for a bunch of invited people who we believe will give us useful feedback. We had a dress rehearsal for with this project and after some adjustments we were ready for the public.

4 months later, it was time to redesign the walk for Braunton Burrows, exchanging the pebble ridge for the vast sand dune system. It was fascinating to see how certain things fell into place, while at times it was like bashing a rogue jigsaw piece into place. And as is often the case, what we had to do is remember to respond to what the place was offering us and the answers became clear.

We are proud of the walks we made and were happy to share them with about 80 people, mainly locals but some from further afield. We look forward to sharing these walks again and developing creative walks for other outdoor spaces in this wonderful part of the world.