Reading Towards Action

Informed by the writings of Paulo Freire, Reading Towards Action was kick-started in 2009 by reading Brian K. Murphy’s book Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World: An Open Conspiracy for Social Change. By reading texts together in a convivial environment, Reading Towards Action opens up a space for critical reflection and collective action on issues of personal and political concern.

In 2021 our theme is reading towards walking. We’ll be considering walking as an art practice, walking as a metaphor, and walking as a way to sustain personal and political engagement through the climate and ecological crisis.

Six fortnightly sessions have been programmed in collaboration with Art Walk Projects. A Reading Towards Walking Library has also been installed in the Art Walk Porty Hub, 189 Portobello High Street.

The meeting place for each session will vary – so please double check the location. But the form will remain the same: a two-hour session, with a text selected and introduced by a different speaker and a short walk to reflect upon the text.

To find out more or to confirm attendance please contact Jonathan here. Participants are welcome to arrive unannounced on the day but advance notice is useful for planning the sessions and respecting COVID-19 restrictions.



The six Reading Towards Walking sessions are now complete – thanks to everyone who contributed to the programme. Further information about ‘next steps’ as well as 2022’s co-design Reading Towards Action sessions will be updated, here, in December.


27th July, 7-9pm – A+E project space, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral (entrance via Manor Place)

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking – introduced by Jonathan Baxter

Reading Towards Walking

This session introduces Reading Towards Walking. We’ll start by exploring Solnit’s two chapters as a way of introducing the relationship between walking and contemporary art. We’ll then hear more about Pilgrimage for COP26 as an example of how walking as an art practice can inform our personal and political engagement with the climate and ecological crisis.

Following a discussion of Solnit’s two chapters, participants will be invited to respond to a number of ‘walking’ provocations – drawn from material found in Solnit’s two chapters. In this way, Solnit’s two chapters will form the basic material for a performance score enacted on the North lawn of the Cathedral.


10th August, 7-9pm – Art Walk Porty Hub, 189 Portobello High Street

Kerri Andrews, Wanderers: A History of Women Walking – introduced by Rosy Naylor

Text pending.


24th August, 7-9pm – Art Walk Porty Hub, 189 Portobello High Street

Karen O’Rourke, Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers // Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City – introduced by Gerry O’Brien

Temp link: O’Rourke’s missing pages:

Text pending.


7th September, 7-9pm – Granton Breakwater // See here:

Buses 19, 16 and 200 can drop participants off with a 5-minute walk to the site.

Ernesto Pujol, ‘Walking the Imagination’ from Walking Art Practice: Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths // Margaret Atwood, ‘The Moment’ from Eating Fire // Ursula Le Guin, ‘Infinitive’ from Sixty Odd – introduced by Elise Ashby and Stephanie Whitelaw

Care over Control

Stephanie and Elise will guide a slow walk within a brownfield site by Granton Breakwater. This liminal site – part of the larger Granton Development plan – is temporary in its state. The chosen site has been explored as part of Peripheri; an ongoing project with Art Walk Projects. During July this year, the artists worked with members of the public to engage in long distance walking practice, supporting meaningful encounters within derelict/peripheral places. The artists have watched this site evolve over time as well as the land being subject to alterations, they aim to bring the intention of ‘care’ to a place through their site responsive ways of working together. The walk will braid together; reading, slow walking and recording the living species within the site; forming an inventory as well as a commemoration. The texts focus on care over control, and the importance of imagination in recognising and being open to the agency of other life forms, both human and non-human.

Note: this week’s Reading Towards Walking session will be held outside for the duration so please bring appropriate clothing.


21st September, 7-9pm – A+E project space, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral (entrance via Manor Place)

Olga Bloemen, ‘Facing the Edge’ from Dark Mountain: issue 13 – introduced by Olga Bloemen

Facing the Edge

Written and presented by Olga Bloemen, this text, ‘Facing the Edge’,  first appeared in 2018 in Dark Mountain: issue 13, a collection of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. (You can read more about the Dark Mountain Project here.)  The text explores direct action as a form of walking and describes the author’s experience of walking into an open-cast coal mine in Germany alongside thousands of others to halt operations for a day, just days before the UN climate negotiations in Bonn in 2017. With COP26 hosted in Glasgow in November this year, the questions the text asks may be as relevant now as they were then: How do we act in a time when everything should have already happened yesterday? What ground is there to walk on beyond despair, madness, denial or pretence? How do we sustain and act on hope?

Note: this week we’ll reverse our normal order of reading towards walking. Instead, we’ll start with a crepuscular walk along the Water of Leith, weaving in some reflective practices from the Work That Reconnects (WTR). With roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy, the WTR has been developed to resource us to respond to the current environmental and social crises of our times. (See: We’ll then return to the Chapter House to reflect on our walk and it’s resonance with Olga’s text.


5th October, 7-9pm – location: Granton Hub, Madelvic House, Granton Park Avenue, EH5 186.

This walk will partially take place in the dark. Bring a torch and wrap up warm!

Wendell Berry, ‘How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)’, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (1998) // Grace Gershuny and Joseph Smillie, ‘Weed Table of Soils’ and a short paragraph from The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers (1999) – introduced by Natalie Taylor

Wendell Berry – How to Be a Poet (to remind myself), read by the poet

Sacred and Desecrated Places

As well as Wendell Berry’s ‘How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)’, this Reading Towards Walking session is inspired by Margaret Atwood’s observation:

“Gardening is not a rational act.  What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant.”

This week we’ll exlore our relationship with soil, that often overlooked and indeed trodden upon substance, which is simultaneously so fundamental to our existence.

Artist Natalie Taylor, who is currently sharing her fascination with soil through a creative residency with North Light Arts, will lead this walk through the soils of Granton.

Witness for yourself the changing face of Granton, a once rich farmland which was developed into the largest industrial powerhouse of its time for Edinburgh’s energy, the Granton Gasworks. The old gasworks now lies fenced off and rewilded due to its toxic legacy. Over the coming decades this place will become Scotland’s largest net zero housing project. And then what?

We will be joined by native plant specialist and medical herbalist Anna Canning. Local historian Kenneth Williamson will also tell us more about the history of the Gas Tower. 

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