Walking for exercise is all very well, but walking for a purpose appeals more to some people. The Easter Art Walk 2 – 5th April achieved both, with walking for pleasure thrown in. Plumstead Open Studios involves quite a lot of effort for those who take part. With current restrictions precluding visitors in the house, but 6 people being allowed to meet outside, Plumstead became an ‘open air studio’ instead. 35 local artists used their windows to display a selection of their work. Tidying the front garden and cleaning the windows involves less work than preparing for Open Studios!
Based on the map made available shortly before the launch, the Art Walk seemed to split naturally into two sections – from Lower Plumstead up to the far end of Swingate Lane to include the Common, and the other section to encompass Shooters Hill. Both are substantial walks, with hills to climb. By the time everyone had bumped into everyone else and enjoyed a decent chat, a couple of hours had gone.
A long time in the planning, the Tree Trail was first mapped out in the Autumn of 2014 before the leaves fell. But it was the involvement of the 6th Form Events Management students at Plumstead Manor that brought the site-specific illustrated talk to life with elements of performance. Twenty trees were graced with the presence of an attendant ‘tree spirit’ who drew attention to particular features of the tree, or deposited a clue to its identity – so the rough bark of the Black Locust tree and the characteristic leaves of the Whitebeam tree were caressed tenderly, while there was a bucket and spade by the Beech tree, and a citrus lime by the Lime tree, for example, before the spirits fled at the approach of the over thirty-strong crowd.
To put participants in the mood before the Trail started, Erik led an actors’ workshop which would prepare them for the walking and later, singing, they would have to do. It wasn’t what people expected, but then nobody knew quite what to expect as they were led around a topographically interesting route albeit in a relatively familiar area for local people. Apart from being told which features to look for when identifying the tree at different seasons, there were interesting facts to be gleaned as the tour progressed. There were also references to the myths and legends associated with some of the trees, with witches featuring recurrently. Kevin, the walk leader, was assisted by his psychic sidekick John who was identified as ‘having the gift’ after a dramatic manifestation of ectoplasm near the Rowan tree, the first tree on the walk.
At the penultimate tree, where an apparently discarded ash tray gave a clue to the tree’s identity, everyone recited the Firewood Poem after hearing about the Ash Tree’s sometimes confused sexuality. As the final tree had a German connection (Its wood is placed inside the house to protect against witches), Alison, as the only other person who could speak German, was invited to steal across with Kevin to the tree and take a few red leaves while the tree spirits were engrossed in their ritual under the boughs. Away from the tree spirits, the characteristic milky sap showed the tree to be a red variety of the Norway Maple. It was then that everyone moved across and enjoyed each other’s company while partaking of the refreshments laid on under the newly decorated tree which now sported the Norwegian flag as well as pom-poms.
Halloween Evening saw two dozen local people gathered at a secret location on the windswept Winn’s Common, where they were regaled by Kevin with the Legend of Stingy Jack, followed by amusingly shaped jelly sweets to reference the Irish tradition of leaving treats outside the house on All Hallows’ Eve to deter spirits from entering the house and stealing the bodies of the living. Then all made their way to the specially prepared area, for the main section of the evening’s entertainment where Erik read them an Edwardian Ghost Story.
The audience listen, enthralled to Erik’s Tale
Refreshments, in the form of mulled wine were served to take the chill off while they were treated to an open air performance, not in a trendy part of London but right here, in Plumstead. Mercifully it didn’t rain, and although the savage gusts of wind saw off all but the most windproof of the lanterns made by Karen and Kevin, it allowed them to shine in the dark long enough to add to the spooky atmosphere.
The setting was perfect
After tidying up, a number of us went to The Old Mill where we discussed further ideas for future events. We now know, from experience, that aside from walks acting as a hook for a shared artistic activity, and home-based workshops staged in members’ own houses, that we can organise and deliver open air performances. We are fortunate in having plenty of settings around here that can serve as a backdrop for these in the future.