At 8.30am on Friday 6th January, 2017, a handful of us set off from Folkestone Quarterhouse on the first of a series of silent walks. It was a cold morning, and cloudy. Tontine Street was still just waking; a scaffold stood empty, a single yellow truck clattered past, one or two people ambled slowly along in heavy jackets.
Heading seaward, we crossed the cobbled foot of the Old High Street. A herring gull stood watchfully to one side as we went. Walking as a group, it can take a bit of time to establish a pace that suits everyone. In silence, it seems to take even longer. You can’t ask if people are finding the pace okay. Instead you must go with your intuition, guided by each other’s body language and breathing.
Still finding our pace, we bore west across the large flatness of an empty car park that joined with the flatness of the sea beyond. In that space lies the Rotunda, a former fairground site on the seafront named for the round building it was once home to. It now stands empty, scattered with tufts of grass, sedum, sea kale, and other small plants that live there, in the openness, year round. We moved through it quietly, drawn further along the coast. A breeze bit at our ears and noses, the dry grass shivered.
Our pace finally began to settle as we took the promenade route by the sea. It’s a strange thing, walking in silence with others. It takes some getting used to. But it feels good. In my experience walking has a way of breaking down barriers, of opening us up. Often, this leads to free and easy conversation, even between relative strangers. But on a silent walk there is no conversation to be had.
Instead, perhaps, we open to each others presence, and the presence of what surrounds us. Together, we engage in a shared sense of space. Heading in from the promenade towards the cliff path we passed through the Coastal Park where we found a quote from H G Wells, once a local. It read: “It was one of those hot clear days that Folkestone sees so much of, every colour incredibly bright and every outline hard”.
We climbed the cliff path slowly, noticing several flowers in bloom on the way. At times we gestured to things we wished to share with others, at others we were content to enjoy them by ourselves. Without talk to occupy us, our attention goes elsewhere – outward or inward, or both. So together we walked, and our attention wandered with us.
There were punctuations in the silence. Some deliberate, others not. It’s hard not to return a “good morning” that comes from the occasional passerby. But we also set out knowing that, now and then, we’d pause to read a few brief poems. The poems we read all reflected on the act of walking, and came from the same collection: In Praise of Walking by Thomas A Clark.
As our walk drew to an end, we came to the harbour and paused one last time to read. Stood above the fishing boats on the edge of the harbour wall, we read aloud these final lines:
What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance than what I discover along the way.
If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 3rd February. We meet in the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 8.30am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking