Paths for People: community, nature and landscape on the footpaths of South Wales

Soundwalks

I didn’t know it at the time, but on a walk during lockdown I was conducting my very first soundwalk. Soundwalks are a method used by researchers and research participants to help them become more attuned to their environment. As I walked through Nant Fawr Wood in Cardiff, I began to tune in to the competing noises around me. It quickly became apparent that the birds were being drowned out by the sound of idling car engines nearby. This caused me to reflect on sound pollution and its impact on nature in cities. 
 

Coychurch Paths for people Walk

Reflections from sensory experiences, such as the soundwalk, will be central to my upcoming research with Ramblers Cymru. The research looks to understand how their ongoing ‘Paths for People’ project has affected people’s connection to local nature, landscape and community. One of the aims of the Paths for People project is to create new walking routes within the community that engages with the project. The map (above) is one of the new walking routes that have been created through the project.
 
To understand the impact of the project on the communities, research participants will be asked to head out on their newly created route and conduct their own soundwalk. Whilst on their soundwalk participants will be asked to reflect on three specific topics.

 

Little Skirrid Abergavenny

Key topics: Personal connection, relationship to nature and landscape, and community engagement

First, participants will be asked to consider what the route and paths they walk mean to them personally. Here participants can take time to reflect on how the route and paths have featured in their lives. Potentially the paths, now recognised as a local walking route, are well known and reflect the participants biography and family history in some way. Alternatively, the participants might not be familiar with the paths and see them as offering a future of open possibilities. 
 
Once participants have reflected on their personal connection to the route, they will be asked to explore how their relationship to nature and landscape has changed since the creation of the route. Regardless of whether the participants are lifelong nature and landscape enthusiasts or have felt more connected since lockdown, participants can explore their relationship to the natural world. 
 
Finally, participants will be asked to consider how the creation of the new walking route has affected community engagement. A central aim of the ‘Paths for People’ project, is that communities become more engaged with their local environments. Answers to this question from both individuals that were involved with creating the route, and local individuals that weren’t, but now use the route, will provide valuable feedback on the level of community engagement created by the project.
 

How will these reflections be collected?

Walking is an embodied and sensuous experience. Unlike other modes of travel such as driving, cycling or getting the train, walking is naturally slower paced, allowing for greater interaction with the surrounding environment for personal reflection. As such, the methods offered to participants allow them to focus on their walking habits whilst also exploring the three topics mentioned above.
 
As mentioned above, participants will be invited to conduct their own soundwalks. To capture their thoughts and the sights they see and hear, participants will be offered a range of methods which they can use throughout June and July 2021. The idea being that they can try out and play with all the methods to find one that suits their needs. They can self-narrate their walk using the voice recording feature on their smart phone, take photographs, videos or just simply sketch and write notes with pencil and paper. These methods are being used because they not only allow participants to capture their walking experience in an embodied and sensuous way, but they also allow for their experiences to be captured in action. Reflections from participants walks will then be discussed in conversations towards the end of July.
 

How will the findings from this research be used?

The findings from this research will be used in two ways. The first is that Ramblers Cymru will be provided with a qualitative evidence base. Ramblers Cymru will be able to use this information to help design future community projects and funding bids. They will also be able to use the information when working with policy makers to highlight the social, physical and mental benefits of walking. 

 

Heading back to Crickhowell

Taking part

If you would like to get involved in the research project please send me an email, or get in touch via twitter. I recommend doing a soundwalk of you own! Take some time to stop and tune in to the sounds and noise that might usually pass you by. Since my accidental soundwalk back in October, barely a walk goes by without me tuning in to the environment and listening. Even if this is done fleetingly, you are sure to notice new sounds in familiar places.

The author, Rob Mathlin is a PhD student at Cardiff University and is working on his PhD in partnership with Ramblers Cymru.