As some of you already know, next year I will be walking all around Wales: from May to July covering just over 1000 miles in total.
Earlier this year the Welsh Government announced the opening of the Wales Coastal Path a new long distance footpath around the whole coast of Wales. There were several existing long distance paths covering parts of the coastline, as well as numerous stretches of public footpaths at or near the coast. However, these have now been linked, mapped and waymarked creating for the first time, a continuous single route. In addition, the existing Offa’s Dyke long distance path cuts very closely along the Welsh–English border, so that it is possible to make a complete circuit of Wales on the two paths combined.
As soon as I heard the announcement, I knew it was something I had to do, and gradually, as I discussed it with more and more people, the idea has become solid.
This will not be the first complete periplus along these paths; this summer there have been at least two sponsored walkers taking on the route. However, I will be doing the walk with a technology focus, which will, I believe, be unique.
The walk has four main aspects:
personal — I am Welsh, was born and brought up in Cardiff, but have not lived in Wales for over 30 years. The walk will be a form of homecoming, reconnecting with the land and its people that I have been away from for so long. The act of encircling can symbolically ‘encompass’ a thing, as if knowing the periphery one knows the whole. Of course life is not like this, the edge is just that, not the core, not the heart. As a long term ex-pat, a foreigner in my own land, maybe all I can hope to do is scratch the surface, nibble at the edges. However, also I always feel most comfortable as an outsider, as one at the margins, so in some ways I am going to the places where I most feel at home. I will blog, audio blog, tweet and generally share this experience to the extent the tenuous mobile signal allows, but also looking forward to periods of solitude between sea and mountain.
practical — As I walk I will be looking at the IT experience of the walker and also discuss with local communities the IT needs and problems for those at the edges, at the margins. Not least will be issues due to the paucity of network access both patchy mobile signal whilst walking and low-capacity ‘broadband’ at the limits of wind-beaten copper telephone wires — none of the mega-capacity fibre optic of the cities. This will not simply be fact-finding, but actively building prototypes and solutions, both myself (in evenings and ‘days off’) and with others who are part of the project remotely or joining me for legs of the journey. Geolocation and mobile based applications will be a core part of this, particularly for the walkers experience, but local community needs likely to be far more diverse.
philosophical — Mixed with personal reflections will be an exploration of the meanings of place, of path, of walking, of nomadicity and of locality. Aristotle’s school of philosophy was called the Peripatetic School because discussion took place while walking; over two thousand years later Wordsworth’s poetry was nearly all composed while walking; and for time immemorial routes of pilgrimage have been a focus of both spiritual service and personal enlightenment. This will build on some of my own previous writings in particular past keynotes on human understanding of space, and also wider literature such as Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful “Wanderlust“. This reflection will inform the personal blogging, and after I finish I will edit this into a book or account of the journey.
research — the practical outcomes will intersect with various personal research interests including social empowerment, interaction design and algorithmics. For the walker’s experience, I will be effectively doing a form of action research!. This will certainly include how to incorporate local maps (such as tourists town plans) effectively into more large-scale experiences, how ‘crowdsourced’ route knowledge can augment more formal digital and paper resources, data synchonisation to deal with disconnection, and data integration between diverse sources. In addition I am offering myself as a living lab so that others can use my trip as a place to try out their own sensors and instrumentation, information systems, content authoring, ethnographic practices, community workshops, etc. This may involve simply asking me to use things, coming for a single meeting or day, or joining me for parts of the walk.
If any of this interests you, do get in touch. As well as research collaborations (living lab or supporting direct IT goals) any help in managing logistics, PR, or finding sources of funding/sponsorship for basic costs, most welcome.
I’ll get a dedicated website, Facebook page, twitter account, and charity sponsorship set up soon … watch this space!