Monday, 29 September 2014

The Loop Beijing Tour: sonic journeys on Beijing's buses

LOOP Beijing is a sound system made for the Beijing public bus network that is currently being showcased in the 2014 Beijing Design Week. The idea is, you can get on a public bus and listen to a recording that has been made for the specific bus line you are travelling on. What's more, it is designed to allow people to submit their own recordings making it a platform for the sharing of sounds, whether they be music, speech or otherwise.

Beijing buses are numerous and the timetables next to impossible to make head or tail of if you don't read Chinese. They are, however, extremely convenient, if you know how to use them, and remarkably inexpensive too. The bus I took was the 731, I was on it for about half an hour and it cost £0.04. There are still one of two leftovers from communism in today's market economy. 

I plugged in my headphones and using the application Wechat (it's also possible to listen from the website) tapped in 731. At first the streaming was poor and the sound came in fits and bursts but, with 3G, it began to flow much better. The sound turned out to be a five minute piece of electronic music, not the most obvious sort of dance music but nothing that particularly stretched the ear either. I read that it was composed by a musician in London, whether or not he made it with this specific route in mind or not was not clear. When I came to think about the mechanics of it, it is quite difficult to make something very specifically for a route as the starting and ending point of the listener's journey is impossible for the composer to know, as is the time of day the listener will take the bus and the direction they will take it in. With all these variables, the possibility of predetermined relations between the outside the bus and the sound file are next to impossible so this is never going to be like an audio tour on a tourist bus that tells you, "on your right is..." 

The interior of the bus was, in any case, more present than the exterior. The bus rattled along and managed to make a racket of its own with windows vibrating in their frames, doors shaking together, the engine complaining like an asthmatic doing a marathon, and the occasional mobile phone soloing over the bus's tense rhythm section. When the bus pulled over to stop something special happened. On one of the seats on the side of the bus facing the exit door, a man cleared his throat and, with the door wide open and nobody standing between him and the exit, managed to spit clean out of the bus! I am not particularly impressed by spitting but I had to recognise this as quite a feat in precision, distance spitting. The Beijing Loop soundtrack that was playing as this happened definitely elevated this moment into something memorable, or else the spitting gave the music a special appeal.

At the risk of mixing my tours up, listening to this audio recording reminded me of A Folded Path, a concert / performance I saw a few weeks ago in Bristol. This basically worked by having three groups of audience members led through the city streets carrying speaker boxes which emitted different sounds. These were tailored to the routes that we followed and the guides, in the yellow high visibility jackets, kept the group on time so that the sound and space related as intended. This side of it worked well with some dynamic changes in the rhythm of the tour deliberately choreographed onto the streets of Bristol. What was less exciting for me was the choice of sounds which were used to achieve this: it was the sort of sound I might expect on a compilation CD called Ambient Chill Out Groove, or something of that ilk. As well as it not being my musical taste, it felt, more importantly, arbitrary and without any deep relation to the social spaces we were passing through. The same thing could have been done with a Bhangra, heavy metal or yodelling soundtrack, and it would not have been much more or less related to the space. It may be that I was expecting too much and already using the space as a trigger for the composer's imagination is sufficient. I do however hold this desire for something more so that the work succeeds or fails not only based upon you liking the music and admiring its novel form of presentation. 

To jump back to Loop Beijing then, I felt that the particular track I listened to had a similar arbitrary quality to it. I have, however, listened to a number of other tracks since then and they are quite varied with musicians considering this problem and people using the upload facility to play with the possibilities of this system in quite different ways. LOOP  Beijing has just been launched and right now only a small proportion of the city's vast bus network has been linked to recordings. I rather think this is likely to grow and people will find ways to use this platform that are difficult to predetermine. Who knows, maybe people will use it to tell stories, give directions, jam with the buses own soundtrack or even advertise their services or find dates with fellow passengers. I already had one idea of a soundtrack grounded in the social space of the bus: a periodic clearing of the throat and spitting. It's a pity I didn't get the guy on the bus with the projectile spit to make a recording for me, he was something special. But on second thoughts, maybe it's for the best I didn't, this is probably not not what you want to hear creaking through rush hour traffic in Guomao. I will in any case be following how this develops as it's a very nice concept, the infrastructure really works and the content is accumulating.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Inside Out Dorset Festival: The Alternative Tour

Yesterday I was putting the finishing touches on The Alternative Tour for Inside Out Festival. The day began with some last minute editing to get the timings precise for the audio tour element. This is modestly ambitious in that I have tried to avoid some of the things that I have often been annoyed by when taking audio tours. 

The principal one of these annoyances is the structure of most audio tours whereby you look at the map, walk to number 1, press play and listen. When that's finished you look at the map, go to number 2, press play and so on. I instead made this tour continuous so that you it walks with the listener throughout, both giving the guiding directions and the commentary. This way makes for a shorter, more intensive sort of audio tour. It does however take quite some work to get there.

This is the slightly glazed look I had when done with the recording and editing. The village  was empty then and has since been transformed by the festival infrastructure; there is some serious event management going on. One part of me would prefer to see the place in a quieter way but I know that if you have 2000 people coming, you need to be able to deal with them, and their cars, which now swell fields designated as temporary parking spaces.

I am on a three performance a day schedule, which is pretty heavy, particularly as the tour is a little longer than anticipated, even though it only uses nine locations. It covers Nelson, 1983, The Tour de Manche, lost Danish students, an alcoholic cricket team, an electric bike tour, stones circles, the Parish book, genealogy and magic mushrooms! Not bad for 40 minutes.

I did manage to see some of the other work in the festival such this giant hare. It is very nice to see it transform as you approach it from the side. At first it is an abstract shape but as the position shifts it comes into focus and reveals itself fully. Nice. There's plenty more going on too, so if you are in Dorset do pop down this weekend.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Stone Seeker Tour of Avebury

The Stone Seeker Tour is a tour given by author and guide Peter Knight, who is based close to Avebury. He offers a range of activities and tailors his tours to the group or individual. I did not come to this tour with an especial interest in pagan religions and ancient sites, though I should also add, I am not against them either. I would count myself as one of the curious who has visited a few stone circles, mostly in Scotland, and once by chance ended up at a Beltane festival in Wales where I found myself in a sweat lodge with the great unwashed whilst shamanic drummers deep in psychedelic revelries circled the flimsy structure connecting with the ancient ones. At least, that is what they said they were doing afterwards, while sitting around a fire, smoking up a storm. Today's tour was to be a good deal more proper; I was, basically, getting an Earth Mysteries 101 tour of Avebury and the West Kennet Long Barrow. 

The tour started inauspiciously enough at Chippenham train station. It was a short, 12-minute ride out of Bath but it felt like a significant step in terms of atmosphere. Whereas Bath is very cosmopolitan and urban, albeit according to an 18th Century design, Chippenham felt like it belonged far more to the countryside.  

My guide, Peter, picked me up in his car and we drove to Avebury. The stones are accessible free of charge to visitors and not fenced off at all, unlike Stonehenge. This meant we could walk amongst them, touch them, sing at them, perform magic with them, check their auras, ley lines and everything else that was on this afternoon's esoteric agenda. He told me that while he was not such as fan of the restrictions at Stonehenge, they were probably necessary to deal with the sheer volume of visitors. For the type of interactive tour that we had lined up, Avebury was clearly the better location.

We began by looking at the stones with Peter explaining his theory of the stones being gendered with alternate masculine and feminine stones. He knew from which angles to best observe them from, having taken many pictures of them himself.

We noticed these impressively large mushrooms and this provided the cue to discuss the role mushrooms might have played in the rituals that took place here. He said there were no less than 12 varieties of psychoactive mushrooms growing in the area, back in the day. While it is tempting to say that such speculation and ritualistic use of drugs is more a product of the present, such as the Beltane I witnessed, some things in people, like the desire to get out of your head now and then, are, I suspect, fairly constant. What's more, we were not talking about a Friday night down the pub sort of scenario, we were talking about  the use of hallucinogens within sacred rituals.

The next thing we did was to look for faces in the stones, such as this stern face looking out to the side. It is a human capacity to find faces in abstract shapes and the idea here was that the people who constructed the stone circle chose the stones and positioned them such that there would be faces everywhere. I had the feeling the way he had developed his theories had been to read the literature, as it existed, and then spend a lot of time around the stones coming up with ideas of his own and connecting his observations to alternative beliefs from related fields. As such, it all hangs together because it comes from a consistent position but it would be difficult to say with absolute certainty that much of it is definitely true. That is one of the beauties of the stones, that their past usage has been lost in the depths of prehistory and then rediscovered through a mixture of scientific study and contemporary sacred practice. 

I then had a go at dowsing. Avebury, he told me, was on the Michael and Mary ley line which crosses Southern England. He said that it was possible to detect this line using dowsing. I had a go myself and something certainly happened, namely, at a certain point the metal rods pointed together and then, taking a few steps further, returned to a parallel position. This they did without me directing them at all. When he was telling me about the ley line from Cornwall to Norfolk I immediately thought to myself, "that would make a great tour!" I have since noticed that The Avebury Experience already offer an 8-day tour of the line line. Alternative tourism is a definite niche business. Peter did say that he sometimes shows dowsing groups around Avebury and they can spend a full hour on just one small part of it, so much is this a central point on their map. 

This brought us to the so called 'Devil's Seat.' Spending some time with Peter I had the impression that he was quite well suited to being a guide. He knew his stuff, which is a first pre-requisite, and then he also quite liked answering questions. I was a bit afraid I'd say something very dumb but he was easy going and made a few jokes here and there which made things relaxed. 

At this point a group of Americans on some sort of pagan package tour appeared out of the ether. They were mostly women of a certain age with one or two men in robes tagging along. They were clearly here on a mission: three of the women were carrying metal swords. They seemed to be circling the stones but then took a wrong turn and were backtracking looking for a way to cross the road that annoyingly bisects the circle. Peter put them on the right path and then told me that he gets significant interest in his work from the USA and from time to time flies over to give talks or workshops. California, it seems, is where the greatest amount of interest in this sort of stuff is to be found. It was interesting to note how the US has ancient religious sites of its own but that these belong to the people the settlers have largely displaced. Peter, to his credit, said he recognised this and tried to incorporate these into his talks and work when over there as he viewed these cultures as being essentially alike. I am usually rather sceptical of essentialist beliefs, in the sense of we are all one, as they usually conceive of this oneness in very particular terms. Still, I understand the impulse in this case and I wouldn't be surprised if there is something to it. 

At this point we had a go at testing the acoustics of the stones. Many of them had cavities and Peter would speak and make sounds into them. Of all the parts of the tour this is the one which, to the outsider, must have looked the most puzzling.  

There were quite a few other groups visiting the stones for different reasons. There was a school group having their lunch there and I spotted another 'alternative' looking group pounding the ley line. Peter told me that at mid-summer it can get very lively indeed and look a bit like a fancy dress party. I want to go!

Stepping away from the stones we went to the National Trust cafe for lunch. It was strangely normal. We did see some of their guides who were showing the sort of people sitting at the tables here around Avebury. I suspect their tour was very different to mine.

We then drove a short distance outside of the circle to look at a double row of standing stones that branch out from it. Again they all had faces and I was put on the spot by being asked, what do you think this one is? I was quietly happy when I guessed correctly that it was known as the shark stone.

We then drove a little further and stopped close to Silbury Hill. This, I was informed, was a man-made structure and another one of the sacred sites in the area. A huge truncated cone, it is, apparently, a special place for dreaming. Sadly, I didn't have the time for an overnight stay to put that to the test.  

We walked up a gradual hill to the top where the West Kennet Barrow is located. A barrow is a burial chamber and I had seen many small round ones but this one was something else as it was long and narrow one which, happily, is open to the public. 

Again checking the acoustics of the stones, Peter built up a rhythm with his drum and then invited me to stand in front of the stone. He played the drum in front of and around me, I could feel the vibrations moving through my body. This built up over a few minutes and where I was at first rather self-conscious I relaxed into it. This is a tour which itself blends into action, I was no longer just the observer but also the observed and it was all the better for it.   

An elderly couple then entered and asked us to be quiet. Peter told me that this was the first time in the fifteen years that he had been coming here that he had been asked to stop drumming. It's a pity I didn't get a decent picture of how the couple looked, they had the countenance of those who like order. In fact I think they probably prefer order to the barrow: they sniffed around for a couple of minutes and then left. When we were leaving a little later we did some informal cleaning; there were a good few tea lights and the remains of rituals past. Seeing how popular Stonehenge is and also how flat the experience can be, I'm surprised that more people don't try this sort of tour. I daresay there is some marketing and communication issues which conspire to make things how they are, but with just a little effort there is a great deal more you can experience at these ancient sacred sites and the Stone Seeker Tour is a great way to do this which does not demand you be an initiate or anything, you simply have to turn up with an open mind, ready to see faces in stones.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Tour of Britain: the lycra warriors come to town

I'm not going to write too much about this one as I am in the final stages of making a Tour of Tours here in Bath and need to spend time on that. Yesterday, however, I did watch the start of stage 6 of the Tour of Britain, and it deserves some mention.

First thing to notice was the health and safety treatment the city centre received. This was one of my favourite installations.

A considerable amount of resources went into hosting this cycle race which runs overs eight stages, spread over England and Wales. Hardly a tour of Britain in the manner of say Dafoe's, but then again, Scotland has the wee matter of a referendum to deal with so this race might have seemed irrelevant even unwelcome north of the border. Still, these sorts of events are a way in which the state is made visible so it is telling that Scotland was omitted. This is where the cones lived. 

The city centre was to be blocked off for an hour or so for the start of the race. As I approached the starting point I encountered more and more race paraphernalia.

And here they were: the racing bikes just sitting on the pavement. This was not formula one grand prix: the whole outfit simply rolled into town the night before and set up on the street this morning. There was no clear separation between frontstage and backstage of the operation: the backstage, as it existed, was the interiors of the various support vehicles that accompanied the cyclists.

There was some celebrity buzz about the race, with the autograph hunters out and a last minute scrummage around the starting line. Not knowing one cycling celebrity from another this seemed entirely arbitrary to me. At this point I started to really notice just how many cars there were within the tour's supporting infrastructure.

This Team GB pram with dogs was one of the more daft things I saw. I couldn't help but wonder if this might be the last time that this banner gets used. If Scotland votes for independence next Thursday this banner, made for The Olympics, will become obsolete. Come to think of it, it's already gone to the dogs.

Keeping some semblance of order around the start were professional events management staff who travel with the race. One prerequisite of the job is having a loud voice so you can clear people from the road when the cars and occasional bikes come through.

The vehicles just kept on getting bigger and bigger. The racing teams had coaches like this one which were their mobile headquarters. 

On the street the crowds gathered to watch the cyclists pass and free advertising was handed out in the shape of these inflatable batons. I noticed these are sponsored by KLM. I  had a truly horrible experiences with them that, still to this day, they have not resolved. I wish they would spend just a little bit more on a honest customer service department and not funnel it all into advertising. They are scoundrels and should be avoided. 

I took my position on the route and soon after, the cavalcade approached, headed up by police motor bikes and followed by a police car. Going back to Dafoe, it is interesting to read that when he visited Bath it was a building site with The Circus, in the background, just one third completed and still featuring a pond in the middle. With each update of his tour (pages 293-297) he had to revise this and many other descriptions of Bath, as the city was changing rapidly at that time.

Following the police came the race controller in a shiny car and some cameramen. The technology to broadcast and edit this stuff live must be quite complicated. Behind them the cyclists themselves finally came into view.

It was striking that they were not really racing at this stage. They were tightly packed and were instead making a circuit of the city centre for the benefit of the camera. In this sense, this race functions as a tourist advert: it shows a route through the city that includes all the must see locations. 

That's not to say they were going slowly, they had some pace but nothing exciting. This seemed like a warm up and when they got onto the hills out of the city, the race proper would begin.

As a keen cyclist myself I looked at these bikes and cyclists and felt strangely indifferent. The whole thing seemed completely removed from my world. I use the bike as a practical means of getting about and as a source of pleasure and exercise. This was something else.

Just as there were a number of vehicles preceding the bikes, so too were there many more following them. First was the cameraman on a motorbike. 

This was followed by more cars and the cars also got a cheer from the crowds, who lined the streets. Seeing as the bikes were all gone in 30 seconds they needed something else to make some noise about.

Up above a helicopter hovered over the city. No doubt this had a camera inside and was gobbling up some of the architectural porn which was a good half of the point of having the race come to Bath. The ending point of this stage, Hemel Hempstead, is altogether more puzzling to me. There must be some race logic behind this to do with distances, gradients, location of the following stage, logistics, projected size of crowd and degree of support from local authorities. Still, Hemel Hempstead hardly inspires as a destination. It's not like a cycle race to Edinburgh or, more ambitiously, the Paris Dakar road race, which sets the imagination off. I've been to Hemel Hempstead several times, my brother used to live there and there's nothing terrible about it, it's simply a nondescript satellite town with a weirdly large roundabout. I could imagine a couple of teenagers in Watford racing each other to Hemel Hempstead on their scooters, but that's about the sum of it as a race destination.

With the stream of vehicles that then followed, much much longer than the pack of bikes, I had to stop and consider how this sort of racing is really highly dependent on the motor vehicle. If I were to imagine a more militantly cycle-centred race, I would design it around a completely different logic so that it would consist of bikes and just two cars: one at the front and one at the back. These cars would time the cyclists and they'd be there if there were road accidents. They could each contain a journalist but that would be it. Everyone else would be on the bikes or at the side of the road. Of course such a race would be near invisible in comparison to this media circus and maybe that's the thing that troubles me slightly about it all. It feels like the cyclists are the decoration and the vehicles are where the real substance of this outfit is to be found. 

With the bikes and cars out of the picture, the thing to do was to then watch the rest of the race on the large plasma screen erected in the park. Some people came in their cycling costumes, their road bikes parked nearby. Theirs is a different way of cycling to mine, I now see, but I wish them all the best with it. Personally, I like to go off-road exploring canal paths and bridleways, I don't like to be a mobile advert with anyone's logos and besides, with my gangly arms and legs I look daft in lycra. There's many forms of cycling tour and I'll have to cover a few more of them when the opportunity arrises.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Bath Skyline Tour: a sunset walk of ideas

The National Trust Skyline Walk, to give it its official name, is a walk on the urban/rural fringe of Bath. It is, apparently, their most downloaded walk in the country and I was fortunate enough to be able to take it not with a few sheets of A4 printouts, but instead as part of a sunset walk accompanied by a guide from the National Trust and one of the mayor's honorary guides too.

We gathered in a grassy car park above the city. Our guide was suitably attired and gave us a brief introduction that was to the point and not laboured, as can happen. I generally much prefer it when the introduction to a tour consists of the essentials only (e.g. duration, end point, safety, cost) and other things are revealed as and when they need to be. That means a mixing of some further 'practical' information with the tour's ostensive subject matter at different points in the tour. For example, the guide can reveal their sources half-way through or explain how they came to be giving the tour. What I usually prefer, in any case, is to get some momentum, and that's just what happened here.

Our second guide introduced himself at the next stop and his thing was the history of Bath. Up in this area that meant him telling us about the abbey who owned the land, an old racecourse that was here and that this was a site for duelling. I heard similar information on the City Sightseeing bus tour, which passes this way, however, the bus had to condense everything into 20 seconds as it passed at speed whereas he could take as long as he liked so there was no sense of urgency about rounding off the story before we turned the corner. He went on to tell us that his special interest was in Ralph Allen who was instrumental in shaping the city's history and who owned a large tract of the land in this area.

For quite a distance we walked through fields and then woods with no sweeping vistas before us. I was beginning to wonder if this title the skyline tour was so well chosen.  

But then we seemed to turn a corner and were rewarded with a proper view over the city. 

With the view of the city behind him, we then had the Ralph Allen story in earnest. The emphasis here was not upon a psychological approach to tell the man's biography, his private life was largely absent from this story. Instead, we were told how his deeds shaped the city. I was reminded of how history is often told through the format of great men being the instigators of events and of the passage in War and Peace where Tolstoy argues the converse. 

“In historical events so-called great men are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in the historical sense not free at all but is bound up with the whole course of history and predestined from all eternity.”

Both ways have much to be said for them, I perhaps notice this favouring of the great man approach here because pretty much all of the guided tours of Bath seem to focus on three great men to tell the story of how they made the city and then on one great woman for how it was to live inside of it. What was also quite striking, was the difference in the way the two guides used the space. The descriptions of nature were mostly about the areas we were actually standing in whereas the historical material was, more often than not, what we could see some distance in front of us.

There were a couple of dogs on the tour, and this one prompted the following joke. "What did the spaniel say to the parrot? I'm a cockatoo."

We looked at a tree that had allegedly been set on fire by a schoolboy arsonist burning his books. The trust had done quite a lot of work to preserve the tree. I may be embellishing the story with the burning of school books but having physically abused some of my own school books, back in the day, by kicking them around the four walls of my room, I can understand the impulse though I'd never condone the burning of trees.

Rob, the guide, asked more than once whether I could feature the new bench installed along the skyline in the blog, so here it is. Someone said it would make a wonderful place to sit with friends and drink a bottle of wine with the majestic views over the valley below. The cynic in me thought the more likely fate is for it to be a spot to sit on and drink special brew, though now I think about it, it's enough of a walk from the city centre to deter the average  alcoholic. In any case, it's a nice bench and unlike the City Trail, the quotes are more significant and well chosen.

There was not so much spotting of fauna on this walk, it was more about the flora. We did however, spot a deer at the far end of the field. Not having a paparazzi zoom on my camera, this is about the best I could manage. Yes it could be a kangaroo for all I know.

Emerging onto the pavement we walked down a short slope and as we were doing so, I heard a ugly thump behind us. Turning round I saw a cyclist lying in pain on the road. No car seemed to have been involved, except perhaps a parked one on the side of the road. One or two of our group rushed to the scene, those who knew first aid, and people came out of a house opposite to see what was going on. These hills are pretty steep and if on a bike you don't treat them with caution, you can finish this way. What the real cause was, I have no idea. It looked like a more than superficial injury from a distance and when our party returned they confirmed so but also said he was basically OK and had the good fortune to come off his bike in front of the house of a doctor, who was immediately on the scene. 

The next part of the walk was over meadows that were perched overlooking the city centre. What very particular architecture and town planning Bath has. These meadows, we were told, are extremely rich in wildflowers, though we were too late in the year to properly appreciate them. 

The route we were following was signposted and it would probably have been possible to have taken it without a map or guide, though I'd not recommend it. There were also notice boards scattered along the walk some of which advertised the sunset walk we were taking. That and the generally high level of maintenance of the route gave the impression that it was carefully managed. We were told that a small team of paid staff and larger number of volunteers work year round on the Bath Skyline.

The walk took us along another short section of pavement but even here it was beside a quiet, leafy road. The route seemed to have been made with the intention of weaving us through a variety of natural habitats, of which there were plenty, and at the same time reminding us that all this is right next to and indeed sometimes inside of the Bath urban area.

By now it was getting later in the day and the colours in the sky started a delicate dance.

Our guide explained the principles of succession by which the countryside evolves with different plants, bushes and trees colonising the land one after another with the final result, in this part of the UK, of oak forests. It is an ecological process I had not heard about previously and it got me looking at the areas we passed through in a new way. He also pointed out that there were meadow ants in the area and their anthills could grow large and be over 100 years old, though the ones we saw were younger. It was interesting to see how there is a history to nature if you know how to read it. This also made me think about the difference between the two guides' approaches: one about the man and the other about the process. They were coming at things in very different ways, finally.

He mentioned a book that looks like it should be a great read, The History of The Countryside by Oliver Rackham (1986). I have always sensed something mannered about the countryside in the UK, as if it bears the traces of many people's usage of it. This book, if I understand rightly, is the classic work that sets out and tests a history of our use of the countryside and is the reference point for subsequent research. That's another item to add to the birthday list then.

We arrived at Sham Castle, the folly perched high upon the downs, in the golden light of the setting sun. This was to be the place where we would watch it set. During a sensual moment like this most of the group fell back into the couples they arrived in. This question of how people mix within a group is one I have been asking myself increasingly, having noticed that some tours encourage it more than others. Personally, I quite like it when there is some exchange between people who started the walk as strangers but become acquainted along the way. A good part of it is how and why the people come together to take the walk in the first place and whether they have a strong, shared interest or not. Beyond that I have also noticed that tours which leave space for the people to ask questions and contribute their thoughts are the ones where the conversation more naturally spills over into the spaces between the stops.

There were then a few minutes of looking out over the city. There was talk of how the land was managed with the golf course below but that seemed like a question from another part of the walk.

We got some further history, much of it about Sham Castle itself, a folly constructed by our old friend Ralph Allen. This mix of nature and history was complimentary in the case of Bath as that does accurately reflect the walk and its views. The two guides were not at cross purposes at all, as they were most notably on the now classic reference point of mine the Dalston Conservation Tour where the two guides were pulling the walk in different directions.

With the sun almost down we were treated to a rising moon on the other side of Sham Castle. What immaculate timing. It was now time to cover some distance to get back to the starting point where the cars were parked. This, quite definitely had to be a circular walk.

For a second time on one of these tours we had a view over Solsbury Hill, which was the cue for the Peter Gabriel story all over again. From a distance, it does not look like much of a hill, more like a plateaux. Those who had been up it, however, were very enthusiastic about it and said Solsbury genuinely was a special place.

This brought us to a great last section of the walk through woods in rapidly descending darkness. We had been advised to bring torches, and with good reason. The ground was uneven and slippery in places but basically walkable. I had to really concentrate on the path ahead of me in order to make progress, this was no place for idle chat. We emerged into fields where a dim, late dusk glow aided our way and let the eyes soak in the landscape in this evocative gloom. I realised that it is rare that I have the opportunity to walk in nature in these conditions and it is something I should really try to do more, as it awakens the all the senses. Returning us to the car park, we made our goodbyes and I and two others were lucky enough to be offered a lift back down into the city. With the legs heavy from four hours of walking, the lift was very welcome. There's another sunset walk along the Skyline 28th September, or indeed you can do it anytime you please, though in company like this I'd say it's a richer experience.