The C words opening was advertised as a slow travel weekend. Sustrans’ art and the travelling landscape opened their Slow Travel Agency for business, while visitors and collaborating artists were encouraged to arrive by foot, bike, boat, bus and train.
I arrived home around 02:30am on Monday morning having taken almost eight hours to travel the 300 km (180 miles) from Arnolfini to my front door. I imagine that this qualifies as slow travel.
Many people seem to believe that Bristol is in that indefinable region referred to as The South West, but for those of use who live our lives at the western seaboard of these islands it takes almost as long to reach this city as to travel to London.
At the tail end of a bustling C Words opening weekend, the first stage of my journey home was conventional enough. A group of C words collaborators sharing a ride in a friend’s van along 130 km (80 miles) of asphalt corridor, cutting through the landscape more than taking it in.
Waving good-bye to my friends I was relieved to see that my train was running late. I hadn’t missed the chance to sleep in my own bed tonight. I love travelling by train, especially late at night. The distinctive clickety-clack of a locomotive is a kind of lullaby and there is a sense of security as this comfortable bubble cuts through the inhospitable night.
I was disgorged onto a midnight railway platform 170 km (100 miles) later, high on a sense of arrival yet still 18 km (11 miles) from home. At a more earthly hour a branch line would normally deposit me less than five minutes walk from my house but the last heavy eyed branch line train had long since returned to its engine-shed, so I walked to the edge of town and stuck-out my thumb.
Late on a Sunday night there was very little traffic but soon a car stopped and offered me a lift. The two young lads in the car had just finished a shift laying a new floor at a local supermarket. They revealed that they are contractors from over 500 km (300 miles) away. I reflected silently not only on the absurdity of my own hyper-mobility but also on whether in 25 years time any of us will have access to the resources necessary to re-fit shops every few years, let-alone bring contractors from so far afield.
I got out of the car, grateful for the lift but still almost 11 km (7 miles) from home, I began to walk. Taking the old roads to avoid what little speeding late night traffic there was, I made my way through darkened lanes where the tree canopy met in an arch high above me, making an overcast night even darker. Even farm dogs slept soundly as I passed quietly along familiar roads at an unaccustomed pace. Bats darted low above my head amid the call and answer of owls, I was aware of various rustlings in the hedgerows to either side. My rucksack laden with C Words newsprint I moved slowly but – tired as I was – I progressed, for once, feeling part of the landscape rather than merely passing through it.
Arriving home in the early hours I fell into bed aware that my entire journey might take on a dream-like quality when I awoke the next morning, only the soles of my feet remembering the experience. My own travels to and from Bristol have give me much to reflect upon in the context of PLATFORM’s ‘Embedded’ symposium on 28th Oct.
Road distances from http://www.theaa.com/route-planner/index.jsp
Rail distances from http://www.co2balance.uk.com/co2calculators/rail-travel