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Debs, our Sales Executive at Bath's Historic Venues, shares her joy of creating journey sticks and photo journals.

28 May 2020

My name is Debs and I’m a bit of a hoarder of anything natural found on the ground in the countryside – pinecones, grasses, ferns, feathers etc. On returning home from a walk I’ll often have a bulging rucksack full of ‘treasures’ which I often make into Journey Sticks! It’s a wonderfully evocative way to describe the route that I’ve have just walked.

By using verbal and visual maps, we can more easily recount our days, and tap into those individual grains of sand that might otherwise get lost with the passage of time.  Creating a stick is one way to poetically strengthen our connection to the natural world, as they intertwine person, place, and time.  The most amazing thing about this method of remembering is its ability to capture individual perspective and personal narratives.

Aboriginal people in Australia used journey sticks to more easily recount their journeys to other people upon their return.  They would find a large walking stick, collect materials found along the way, and tie them to the stick in chronological order.  Native Americans also decorated sticks to recount their journeys and tell people about their travels. These sticks were used as storytelling and navigational tools. The collected materials and markings had various purposes.  Some things were used as markers for natural features in the land, such as tree bark to indicate passing through the woods.  Carved or painted symbols on the stick could show weather patterns, natural features, or events that took place.

Making your own journey stick

MATERIALS:

  • Stick of walking stick length – relative to the size of the person holding it!
  • Colourful wool or string
  • Pieces of plants, leaves, flowers, berries and nuts*
  • Feathers

*With all nature activities, you need to be mindful of protecting your surroundings.  If you are doing this project with children make sure you spend a couple of minutes explaining this before you start, and only collect things that have fallen to the ground.

When you go out on your walk, be prepared – bring various coloured string and scissors with you. You can either create your journey stick at home after your adventure or while you are out exploring.  

Once you have found the perfect stick, wrap various colours of string on the stick to create layered stripes of colour. This acts both as a form of decoration and a way to hold any treasures as you explore. For each part of your journey you can tuck in little physical reminders under the string, creating a visual narrative.  You can use thin string, but I would recommend wool yarn because it’s stretchier and easier to manipulate objects through.

If you create journey sticks at different points throughout the year, they can become a beautiful record of the changing seasons. 

PHOTO JOURNALLING/SCAVENGER HUNT

Everyone loves good scavenger hunt! It’s one thing that we can do nearly anywhere so if you can’t get out to the countryside at the moment this project could be a good alternative to a journey stick. You can take out a camera into your local town/city and look for specific things to tick off a list you have created at home. You could choose to create a series of images – doorways for example. Alternatively you can choose specific items (a flower, a pine cone, a piece of litter) or be vague and get creative (something that smells, something prickly, something yellow). Instead of crossing the item off the list, you have to take a photo with/of it. If you are doing it with children, you’ll see that they love being independent and responsible for the camera. It’s great seeing the funny photos and interesting items they choose to photograph.

On a recent trip to London (before the lock-down) I decided to take photographs of rooftops on a walk around Battersea. We often look ahead or downwards but rarely upwards where there are some lovely visual images waited to be recorded. Whatever you decide to photograph just have fun and look for the beauty in things that you wouldn’t normally look at!