I was walking along less familiar streets of the city yesterday; places I had not visited in a decade and some I had never been down before. Modern city life does not lend itself to unfocussed rural ramblings, cities speak to the need for speed, and insist on a hurried gait -there is nothing pedestrian about a walker in the city. I feel no compulsion to potter about round town as I do when I am out on the fells, or at the coast. But yesterday I had gone into town both with and without purpose – to visit the library, do a bit of shopping, call in a couple of bookshops and then to almost purposely wander around the city streets, looking at the architecture, thinking about street scenes and views and working out how to apply some of the tasks covered in the photo101 assignments.
Some of my favourite poets, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, John Clare – the writers I read and reread – were also passionate, if not compulsive walkers. Ivor Gurney was granted moments of lucidity when Edward Thomas’ widow, Helen, gifted Gurney a map of Gloucestershire when she visited Gurney at the asylum and he was at liberty once again to wander freely as he poured over the maps. But these are the great poets of the countryside and of nature. If I want to read of city streets I turn to Dickens, the great nocturnal wanderer, and, perhaps surprisingly, Virginia Woolf, not someone one would have thought of as a walker.
Virginia Woolf”s novel, Mrs Dalloway, takes place in a single day, 13th June, as Clarissa Dalloway walks the London streets from Westminster to Oxford Street, as she prepares for a party she is giving that evening. Her walk is full of digressions, odd recollections, jumbled thoughts and memories as the story weaves forwards and backwards in time, in the same way that the streets themselves are a jumble of ancient and modern.
Every year Dublin celebrates Bloomsday, after Joyce’s novel Ullysses similarly set in a single June day. In honour of International Womens Day, I nominate 13th June to be DallowayDay.