With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Why spend my sabbatical in 2007 walking the M62? Eliot's verse offers one reason - travelling back home to Liverpool having spent two months slowly taking in the life and culture of Hull, Goole, Leeds, Halifax, Manchester, Warrington, and points inbetween, may just illuminate my thinking about my own context just in time for what should be a rich time of conversation, Capital of Culture year 2008.
The reason I've given my employers - the Church of England - and the grant-giving bodies I'm hoping will support me, is that my walk will be an investigation of An Urban Theology of Place in Northern England today. And that's certainly another part of it.
Readers of my other blog know that I have spent the past two-and-a-half years since arriving in Norris Green doing what I call parish walks in our area, sometimes alone and sometimes with others, recording my observations and reflections, inviting on- and offline dialogue with the various readers - practitioners of urban walking, former or current residents of our parish, psychogeographers, street performers, urban theologians, and friends trying to extract some sanity from this mad business I've made my own.
I have presented papers on this experience to the Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield, and groups of colleagues in Liverpool. In April 2005 I ran a week's retreat on Iona on the theme Healing Places. In 2006 my reflections led me into producing a series of talks / workshops on Reading the Everyday which variously ended up on mp3s from Greenbelt and as an article in Third Way.
So the M62 walk seemed a natural progression. The idea - to take two months walking back home from Hull roughly along the M62 corridor and to find people most days who will guide me on walks around their own area. They may be fellow-clerics, they may work in industry or commerce, they may be geographers, or psychogeographers or social historians or schoolchildren or journalists or bus drivers or artists. The idea is that through travelling and conversing with them I shall build up a rich picture of life along this route today. And then I'll spend a further month collating all these reflections into a publication of some sort.
So that's some way towards explaining why walk. But why walk the M62? Many people given the chance for three or four months away go somewhere exotic, you know like the Far East. But I've become increasingly convinced (helped by philosophers of travel like Alain de Botton) that the exotic is not a physical place but a state of mind. It's not where you go so much as your mental attitude which determines your perception of a place. That's how I can walk purposefully around the very ordinary streets of this Liverpool housing estate and find each time some new insight, new observation, new learning. And why the Far East of Humberside is as good a place as any, I reckon, to begin my exploration. Oh, all that plus the Bill Drummond thing:
I ... got out of Hull and on to the most alluring, powerful, even magical motorway on our lump of an island. Even saying its name fills me with a longing. The M62. The greatest motorway ever made. Chuck Berry can keep his Route 66. Kerouac his two-lane black top, Paul Simon his New Jersey Turnpike, Billy Bragg his A13. Give me the M62. Driving it east to west is always best, especially at the close of the day into the setting sun....