This is t the first walk in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald, whose The Rings of Saturn was an account of his walk round Suffolk 20 years ago. But Phil Smith's own walk soon becomes quite as extraordinary as Sebald's and he matches Sebald's erudition, originality and humour swathe for swathe. On one level On Walking describes an actual, lumbering walk from one incongruous B&B to the next, taking in Dunwich, Lowestoft, Southwold, Covehithe, Orford Ness, Sutton Hoo, Bungay and Rendlesham Forest - with their lost villages, Cold War testing sites, black dogs, white deer and alien trails. On a second level it sets out a unique kind of walking that the author has been practising for many years and for which he is quietly famous. It's a kind of walking that burrows beneath the guidebook and the map, looks beyond the shopfront and Tudor facade and feels beneath the blisters and disgruntlement of the everyday. Those who try it report that their walking [and their whole way of seeing the world] is never quite the same again. And the Suffolk walk described in this book is an exemplary walk, a case study - this is exactly how to do it. And on a third level, On Walking is an intellectual tour de force, encompassing Situationism, alchemy, jouissance, dancing, geology, psychogeography, 20th century cinema and old TV, performance, architecture, the nature of grief, pilgrimage, World War II, the Cold War, Uzumaki, pub conversations, synchronicity, somatics and the Underchalk.
Dr Phil Smith (also known as CrabMan, Anton Vagus and Mytho) has claws in several different worlds. One, large and wide, is in performance and music theatre [he has written more than 100 plays for companies including St Petersburg State Comedy Theatre, Opera North and Perpetual Motion, and he is dramaturg with TNT (Munich)]. From site-specific performances in South Devon beach huts, lidos, tea shops and other unconventional settings, to mis-guides in National Trust properties, to counter-tours and drifts in city streets, Phil Smith has long practised what he preaches in this book. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of Exeter and at the University of Plymouth. He is also one of four core member of a group of artist-researchers called Wrights and Sites, who have generated a range of mis-guides, performances, possible cities and forests and other wonders.