Kerri Andrews on the evolution of women walkers
Walking, for many, may seem like an inclusive activity. People of any age, race, gender and sexuality can gather to tackle trails across the UK. However, as highlighted in Kerri Andrew’s new text Wanderers: A History of Women Walking, walking has always been a male-centric activity.
Andrews decided to take her passion and determination to re-write the errors of history, and invest it into this recent project, sharing her experience with a number of keen viewers over at NCLA this month.
Whilst discussing the historical evolution of female walkers, Andrews went into great detail on her own experience walking. She spoke about the power that comes behind walking, especially her experience climbing Snowdon and how the experience helped her overcome her own personal trust issues.
This walk not only aided her healing, buthe also found it to be an exciting and intoxicating experience, explaining the enormous feeling of pride which came with reaching the summit.
Whilst traversing many significant topics, Andrews highlighted key areas in which our history has been distorted to silence these female centric narratives. With so little literature on the topic of women walkers, and some exciting stories left untold as a result of this Andrews saw something of a vocation to dedicate her studies to producing an intriguing and engaging history of women walkers.
Andrews stated hat males saw writing as a creative exercise, to console their understanding and focus their thought. However, Andrews went on to discuss many case studies of women walkers who used this exercise to their advantage.
Something I thought was quite interesting, and was hinted at as a future follow up for her book, was the story of Mary Wollstonecraft, and her travels towards Scandinavia wherehe went on numerous walks, contemplating what it meant to be a woman and birth a child into this world. This feeling of strength, individuality and freedom, which was contrasted by her thoughts on the restrictive nature of life for women, proved to be an intriguing narrative.
And one of the more pertinent arguments Andrews made was discussing the difference between male and female narratives in walking. While she commented on the vast, large landscape in which male writing occupied, she spoke of the subtle, simpler aspects to the walk that female writers often embodied. As Taylor suggested, female poets tended to discuss: “every single blade of grass”.
The conversation was followed by a Q&A session, in which Andrews tackled various questions sent in by the live YouTube audience…
Q: It was interesting to read about how women such as Dorothy Wordsworth walked without all the kit that we need today (no detailed maps etc). Do you think this has affected our approach to the landscape?
A: The mountains were only just becoming somewhere people considered going. They weren’t gruesome, gothic places. You would be irresponsible if you couldn’t read a map. She walked alone – people would tend to walk with someone who was a guide – but refused to accept any guides. She was extremely confident, independent and was desperate for that solitary space.
Q: As someone who intends to walk 300 miles of the South West Coast Path, on my own, and writing in response, do you have any walkerly/writerly advice?
A: Utter envy! Own the space but take your time as well, enjoy the experience.
Q: As a white straight male, what can I do to make walking more inclusive?
A: Asking that question in itself is extremely generous and will build towards making walking more inclusive. One thing would be to appreciate that men and women have different bodies, and try not to out-speed your company.
Kerri Andrews is a co-director of ‘Women in the Hills’, and a reader of English Literature at Edge Hill University. She is author of the book Wanderers: A History of Women Walkers.
Joanna Taylor is a co-director of ‘Women in the Hills’ and a Presidential Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester.
Thomas Moorcroft (author of this post) is a third year English Literature and History student on placement with the NCLA.