We were a mixed group as we started our journey out of Hexham. Sisters aged 8 and 10 dragged along by their mum and grandad, a young Syrian man on the eve of his 21st birthday, a woman in her 70’s, a blind man and his sighted guide, a retired architect and more.   

We were sent on our way with an extract from Whitman’s Song of the Open Road read by Eilis Konstantina, one of the co-creators of our Doorstep Theatre project.  

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,  

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,  

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,  

Strong and content I travel the open road.  

 Walking out of town there was a spring in our step. 

 ……… 

 St Oswald’s Way begins at Heavenfield, a four mile walk from Hexham. We snaked our way up and out of the town climbing towards the path and Hadrian’s wall, where the trail follows the old roman road.  

Our intention was always to facilitate everyone’s walk as far they felt comfortable, so after lunch at the site of King Oswald’s victory, we bid farewell to our youngest walkers and were joined by our oldest, to walk the remaining 8 miles.  

The talk turned to art and culture and theatre. I posed the question to the walkers ‘what did culture mean to you during lockdown, and what do you want to see as things return to normal?’  

Kirstin, a lawyer from Newcastle and keen open water swimmer:  

‘Culture during lockdown meant unusual things, it meant swimming and exercise. Meeting my friends to go for a dip in the cold water. It became about the waves and the water. And of course Netflix, which was a kind of communal experience, talking to your friends about what everyone was watching.’ 

‘As we come out of this period I have been more aware of things on my doorstep, things have been advertised that are local to me, rather than having to look further afield to larger spaces and institutions. I hope that will continue.’  

‘I don’t feel much like sitting in a larger theatre right now, I’d struggle to connect to that. Things that take place in unusual spaces, where I can really feel the experience of being in a small audience, are interesting to me. Especially at the moment.’ 

Others expressed a similar desire to the get out and experience something communal.  

Richard, who works for Difference North East and is an experienced walker: 

‘The way we used technology during the pandemic broke some of the boundaries around participation that were there before. I was able to access events cultural activity that I wasn’t able to attend before the pandemic. But I feel now that all I want to do is to get out and experience something in person.’ 

‘I met with a group of visually impaired people during the pandemic, remotely. It was profound to be able to come together at Alphabetti to experience something together. I want more opportunity to come together, but to keep the zoom option so we can continue to access things in the best way for us.’  

Richard’s support worker Louise added; 

‘There is surely an exciting potential for a hybrid between digital and live.’ 

The group all agreed. 

Finally Mary, shared an experience she had during lockdown. 

‘I missed the communal experience of being in audience. I loved being able to access arts and culture from around the world digitally, but I knew I was part of a global audience ‘academically’ but not ‘emotionally’.’  

‘However just before the second major lockdown I watched the Berlin Philarmonikar live. Berlin was about to be put back into lockdown and the orchestra added a final piece to their concert that evening. It was John Cage’s 4’33” (in which the orchestra sits in silence). It was incredibly moving. That night I felt connected emotionally to a global audience.’ 

You can still sign up to our walks here. 

You can sponsor Joe via Just Giving here. 

Group sit outdoors watching theatre

 Watching Doorstep Theatre at the launch of Walk in Your Shoes at Hexham Abbey. 

Images (c) Sound Ideas Media.