STEPPING OUTSIDE: Appraising Landscape’s dérive in Cheltenham

According to Wikipedia, a dérive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.

This was part of the idea behind Tuesday’s Appraising Landscapes session. The day was cold and clear, good walking weather, and we set off initially through the serried ‘artisan’ streets of St Paul’s. We noted the new street art, associated with Cheltenham’s Paint festival, the varying brick bonding styles which help to estimate building age, and the general lack of street vegetation (limited if any front gardens).

Pittville Park was being well used by dog walkers, exercisers and what we agreed were detectorists plumbing the depths of the lake for interesting finds. The hummocky area next to the leisure centre was explained in design terms: in the 1960s Geoffrey Jellicoe, former president of the Institute of Landscape Architects created this part of the landscape. He took as his inspiration the classical world’s notion that the well-rounded person is both an artist and an athlete which he saw as the product of an education in fine art and sport in the local colleges (now the university). He also used the notion of a romantic-classical landscape, one in which landscape not buildings is dominant, and he chose to invert the river valley (Wyman’s Brook) in a “topsy-turvy” fashion to create a hill, which “for good measure” he called Mount Kronos. In Greek mythology, Kronos is occasionally interpreted as Chronos, the personification of time, and in Latin he is named Saturn, who is depicted in Goya’s famous painting devouring one of his sons.

Following the Honeybourne footpath, a former rail line between Cheltenham and Stratford, we observed more graffiti paintings on the old bridges, then our dérive wandered off into Winston Churchill gardens before finally ending outside Waitrose (on the former St James railway station). A short but informative dérive. Hopefully motivating the students new to Cheltenham to explore the town for themselves.

Bob Moore 19th January 2023

walk, promenade, stroll, saunter,stride, tramp, march, amble, ramble, hike, lope, swagger, strut, wander, potter, shuffle, hobble, limp, trudge, meander, drift, lope, pace, march, foot-slog, skulk, dawdle, mooch, totter, gad, mosey…

Route taken as shown by GPS

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