Walking into Place: a towpath view of Manchester
‘Below the hills a narrow river (the Irwell), which flows slowly to the Irish sea. Two streams (the Meddlock and the Irk) wind through the uneven ground…into the river. Three canals made by man unite their tranquil, lazy waters at the same point.’
Alexis De Tocqueville (1835), ‘Manchester’, from Journeys to England and Ireland
‘I had no difficulty in finding my way, since everything in Manchester had essentially remained the same as it had been almost a quarter of a century before. The buildings that had been put up to stave off the general decline were now themselves in the grip of decay, and even the so-called development zones, created in recent years…along the Ship Canal…already looked semi-abandoned.’
W.G. Sebald (1996), The Emigrants
‘It was in Manchester, during the Industrial Revolution, that the suburb came into its own… Men commuted to work and women to shop by private carriages, then horse-drawn omnibuses (which, in Manchester, were priced too high to accommodate the poor), and eventually trains. In fleeing the poor and the city, they had left behind pedestrian scale.’
Rebecca Solnit (2002), Wanderlust
Walking up Oxford Road, from All Saints at MMU towards the Palace Theatre, is to participate in a Richard Scarry cityscape, with cars and buses and trains and bicycles and pavements packed with students. To drop down to the canal is to enter a different timeframe, where layers of history and development can become apparent. Rivers dictated the location of the original city of Manchester, as represented by the three blue lines of the Irwell, Medlock and Irk on the city’s coat of arms; canals brought about its second incarnation, as industrial powerhouse. Both forms of waterway have been left behind as the city marches on.
I use the water to navigate my engagement with the city, and walking as a practical means of transport. Walking is integral to my writing about place, combining the immersive experience of being-in-place with the way in which the rhythm of walking triggers the creative process. Emerging out of my creative-critical PhD on writing Manchester’s canals, this participatory session will explore a creative engagement with place on foot: from the central thoroughfare of Oxford Road, along the Rochdale Canal to Castlefield, and then along to the point at which the River Irwell becomes the Manchester Ship Canal.
There will be stops made for creative prompts, the sharing of historical fragments relating to particular places, and trigger questions to stimulate discussion about our relationship with place. These will allow for creative responses in a range of literary forms and that will be recorded in situ on index cards. The cards will then be curated into a (semi) coherent whole piece at the conference base camp, to be displayed on a large-scale map of the walk itself. As my research interests open up the waterways to the workshop participants, so will there be a symbiotic return: the more I walk along these watery routes - and the more familiar they become to me - the more I am inclined to view them from my particular viewpoint. In gathering impressions of, and ways of engaging with, this particular environment from the other participants, I will be able to deepen and enrich the response I myself create.
The walk itself will take approximately one hour, there and back, with a maximum of 15 participants. With the creative stopping points, it will probably be best suited to a double session, though the itinerary could be adapted to fit within a 75-minute session if necessary. There are steps leading down from Oxford Road to the Rochdale Canal towpath, but there is an alternative access point with no steps.
Sarah Jasmon (PhD student, Manchester Metropolitan University)