Making Ebb and Flow

Our creative process

Below is a description of our working methodology in creating this walk and how we tackled our central creative challenges:

  • How to create space for various themes to run through the walk
  • How to strike the balance between being educative and theatrical
  • How to blur the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ so that people feel comfortable but not coerced to join in

Week 1: 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 wished to entwine several stories at once. Fiona is fascinated by the story of the geology of this place and the stories of movement across deep, geological time; and Paschale has an interest with birds and the value of the mudflats for both resident and migrant communities. We decided to chop and change between these themes with slightly different approaches. Fiona was presented as ‘The Geology Expert’ who presumed that she was part of a documentary and had a habit of presenting herself in dramatic position against the background of the landscape. The group were asked to imagine themselves as migrating birds, each selecting an identity card which described the vital statistics of birds that travel Northwards from this place each year – the oystercatcher, dunlin, sandling and curlew. And these two strands were interrupted by occasional conversations between the group about the human experience of walking.

We created an extensive pile of notes – information we wished to share with people, ideas for ‘scenes’ and interactive creative exercises. And once these were tested on site, they were arranged into a timeline and transposed onto a map. Our notes became quite information heavy and at times we had to consider how to keep things light and entertaining. Here’s an example of our approach…

300 million years ago, the Earth beneath our feet was 9,000 miles away from its present location and was part of a super-continent and near the Equator. We wanted to relate this epic story of almost unimaginable scale of movement and change but how could we do this in a way that was fun and comprehensible? Our response: walkers listen to epic music on headphones (the kind of music that you’d hear in a fantasy, block buster movie) while following the guides into a large, windblown landscape; and one of them runs around with a series of placards displaying the facts and shown in time to the music. The intended effect: curious and ridiculous in equal measure.

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 hope 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…

Week 2: Braunton Burrows

It was time to redesign the walk, exchanging the pebble ridge for the vast sand dune system of Braunton. It was fascinating to see how certain scenes or moments in the walk fell into place quite easily in a new context, while at other times it was like bashing a rogue jigsaw piece into place. And, as is often the case, it took us a while to remember that if you stand back and consider what the place offers, then the solutions became clear.

One of the most obvious differences between the two was in the way we incorporated a Sound Journey made by Ed Jobling. In Northam Burrows, the group listened to the sound over half way along the journey – so it served as a welcome break. The group looked out towards the point where the Estuary meets the sea and heard a recording that Ed made on this very spot, tuning into sounds of his footsteps, the edies of the water and the noises made by dogs and people passing by. The effect in Northam was unexpected – as a listener, you couldn’t help but transpose what you heard onto what you saw. So someone walking along the beach in the distance became the person who you were listening to. And a dog rushing along the path beside you became the dog in the soundtrack. In Braunton, the equivalent resting place, at a similar position along the route, wasn’t available. Instead, we listened to the sound while lying at the bottom of a huge sand-dune. Our vision was taken up by sand and the sounds of the sea fed into a contemplation of the journey of these tiny sand particles which were at some time washed by the waters of the sea.

While the ‘other side’ is facing its own story around sea level rise, the situation in Braunton, or its vulnerability to the ravages of the sea, is much more demonstrable. We incorporated the remains of an ancient light house. This was built on firm land in 1819 and what’s left (in 2019) is a kind of portico – you can stand underneath where the sand would have been and imagine the missing building above. When we started our work on the site, we used a huge tree trunk that had imbedded itself in the sand as a stopping point to consider the Great Flood of 1607 that stuck the Estuary. By the time of our last public walk, the trunk had disappeared!

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.