Walking from Dunning to the Common of Dunning: First Response

Published on 10 October 2020 09:41 AM
By Rose Ferraby
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This has been a comfortable walk, I realise. Perhaps not for Michael, who suffered some damp weather, wind, bog bouncing and sheep poo. But I enjoyed following the journey, my mind furrowing into the nature of the land that was gradually revealed along the way.

There is something poetic about the title of this piece, especially the grounding repeat of ‘Dunning to the Common of Dunning’; an echo of the sagas or old stories seeped in place. It conjures a journey, a journey of the self as much as anything else, appropriate for Michael’s journey as a way of understanding the way we walk, the way we understand place by our journey through it. The idea of walking in a landscape to connect in different ways is a path well trodden in archaeology, cultural geography and anthropology. We walk to think, to connect, to give our minds that freedom to roam. On this journey though, I’m intrigued by the question of how we walk as archaeologists – is the journey about the material past landscape, or about understanding people and the past through reflecting on the self? As archaeologists how does our walking permeate temporal boundaries, reflections reverberating across time and communities? How do our particular forms of attentiveness as we travel allow us to understand the land in different ways?

Michael’s notebook observations are familiar; not in terms of the place, but more the terrain they rove across: they are the thoughts of an archaeologist. And this, I realise, is what makes this walk comfortable for me: I am accompanying another archaeologist. There is a language we speak, even if we aren’t aware of it; a rogue mixture of the technological, topographical, geological, ecological and temporal. There is a way of looking at landscapes that constantly zoom back and forth between geographical and temporal scales; between ancient features, what a student said, the wind, an oatcake. Narratives navigate between strange way-markers. And there is an attention to detail, a keenness to represent things with a clarity and explanation. The observations also reveal our disciplinary musings on how we integrate aspects of technology into archaeological processes, and how these might add to, or take from more subjective responses to the world around us. I was intrigued how Michael’s narrative and his memories of bringing new students to this landscape, revealed the cumulative habits we learn in our experiences of archaeological fieldwork. Walking in transects becomes the norm for ‘coverage’, eyes flash between the detailed ‘down’ looking for finds, and the open ‘out’ to check context and position. For those of us who have done geophysics, this is made more intense by a linear, regular pace of walking; an awareness of gait.

The idea of paths is also discussed in Michael’s narrative. He is following the modern map – the formal route – whilst aware of the old ways sunk by the hooves of generations of transhumance, and more recent, temporary human and non-human tracks that weave through the grass along the way. Thinking into the tread of those who have gone before requires a close, attentive observation of the ground – an earthbound geography (Lorimer 2006). To think about a route is to recognise that you are not the first to walk it; a recognition of the various communities that inhabit and pass through it, and you are therefore just a small, interconnected part of its story.

There is recognition here of the connections to wider communities and attention to other voices at play in this landscape. This acts to firmly take the writing away from the territory of ‘A Lone Enraptured Male’ (Jamie 2008). For those of us seeking to respond to and communicate our relationship to landscape, we are forced to consider the nature of our encounters, our particular gaze. Here, in the journey across the hills, Michael negotiates this by openly puzzling the pitfalls of voice, temporality, change. It becomes part of the wider reflection on this act of journeying, including how technology develops particular ways of seeing, such as the habit of his GoPro to capture his yellow hat in every shot. By vocalising these problems, we are invited to participate. The walk becomes an inviting set of questions, rather than a neat set of answers.

And I guess that is what archaeology is all about: curiosity, wonder, piecing things together, working in a team, asking questions and listening. Archaeology can be – should be – an attentive, grounded, thoughtful and kind process, reflecting empathy for the land and everything that connects with it.


Jamie, K. 2008. A Lone Enraptured Male: The Cult of the Wild. London Review of Books 30:5

Lorimer, H. 2006. Herding Memories of Humans and Animals. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24: 4: 497-518

Cover Image 'British Library digitised image from page 12 of "Walking in the Light.' British Library

Masthead Image Fieldwalkers above Keltie Wood, August 2009 (Michael Given)