trace no trace

“trace no trace”

“trace no trace” was two sound installations linked by a common underlying set of ideas. Together they offered the opportunity to consider movement through time-space – the mundane and routine action of walking and how, by my walking in unusual sites, landscape, in its broadest sense, shapes this.
Each walk was the subject of a sound installation –
“No. 1: trace” (installed at Allenheads Contemporary Arts in April 2018) presents walks in a lead mine and on the fell above the mine whilst following the route of the underground passages;

“No. 2: no trace” (installed at Cheeseburn Grange in May 2018) presents two walks, each one upstream and downstream, along a common route, in a river.

The thinking behind the installations was informed by Ingold’s taxonomy of lines. Interested in lines and their relationships to surfaces, he suggests that there are three main types of line – the ‘thread’, the ‘trace’ and a third category of ‘surface ruptures’ (Ingold, 2007, pp. 41-52). Surface ruptures are cuts (deliberate or accidental), cracks (usually accidental) and creases (which require a pliant surface) – but Ingold’s main interest is in threads and traces. A thread is “a filament of some kind, which may be entangled with other threads or suspended between points in three-dimensional space … threads have surfaces; however, they are not drawn onsurfaces.” A trace is “any enduring mark left in or on a solid surface by a continuous movement … most traces are … of two kinds: additive and reductive. A line drawn with charcoal on paper … is additive, since the material of the charcoal forms an extra layer that is superimposed upon the substrate. Lines that are scratched, scored or etched into a surface are reductive, since in this case they are formed by removal of material from the surface itself.” In addition, Ingold identifies that some lines are neither additive nor reductive offering the example of Richard Long’s ‘A line made by walking’ (1967). Here the line is made by the artist’s repeated footfall and nothing is added nor taken away; the line is marked by the altered reflection of light from the blades of grass bent by the artists boots.
But do a series of footsteps constitute a continuous movement or are they a sequence of marks? Ingold (Ingold, 2007, p. 93) argues that whilst they are the latter they are also the former – “like the embroiderer of running stitch, whose thread continues even though it’s appearance on the surface takes the form of evenly spaced dashes, or like a boatman who continues to row even as he lifts his oars from the water, or … like the walker who does not cease to walk as he lifts each foot, alternately, from the ground. Thus, footprints are not fragments … (t)hey are not broken off from the line of movement but enplanted along it.” Seen from a distance a series of footsteps may look like a continuous line and the repeated tread of many individuals may mark out a linear path through common usage but, underlying these, it is not the series of marks but the act that produced them that unifies a series of footprints into a line.
Where to walk?
“No. 1: trace” took place inside and above Smallcleugh Level, a drift mine, in Nenthead[1]. The remains of a Deputy’s house stand next to the entrance and looking around from the mine entrance the scene is of barely grassed spoil tips, slag paths, mine entrances and a single valley bottom stream flowing down to the former ore processing site. Smallcleugh Level is entered through a low, arched, stone-lined entrance tunnel out of which flows a steady stream of water; once past the initial flooded passage the rest of the mine is dry with a mix of natural spaces within the rock and stone or wood lined tunnels.
The landscape feels scarred and industrial. The mine walk is out of sight but the mine’s associated spoil heaps and ore processing dominates the small valley. The fellside walk is within clear sight of the mining valley and is linked to the mining activity by flues, a chimney and a number of mine shafts; it is also managed for driven grouse shooting. The land is peppered with white-tipped sticks that mark the locations of medicated grit boxes; the road up the valley beyond mine entrance is maintained to allow the parties of paying guns to quickly and easily get to the shooting butts. Both the mine and the fellside walks, in differing ways, offer examples of Relph’s observation (cited in Tilley) on a paradox of modern landscapes “they are dehumanising because they are excessively humanised” (Tilley, 1994, p. 22).  When working, the Smallcleugh complex of mines would have been a series of noisy, smelly, dangerous places – the efforts of human industrialisation created a landscape that required intense human activity yet was dangerous to humans; the current state of the valley still reflects the shadows of this. Previously perhaps seen as barren or only good for sheep grazing, the fellside is currently a landscape managed as a killing field for grouse. Human activity imposes unnatural numbers of a single species solely to allow it to be shot for profit[2]. To achieve sufficient numbers of grouse they are medicated, perceived competitor species are persecuted, potential predators are trapped and killed. As in the valley below, what is apparently ‘natural’ feels unbalanced and conceals a high degree of human manipulation.
“No. 2: no trace” took place in the River Pont where it flows inside the estate boundary of Cheeseburn Grange. Having formed the north boundary of the estate for a couple of miles, the river enters the estate to the north west of the house as it flows under a stone-built bridge carrying a minor road past the site of a former water mill; it leaves the estate half a mile to the east, part way along Warlage Plantation. For much of the way it is flanked to the south by ‘The Captains Walk’, a path favoured by Captain Ralph Widdrington, owner of the estate in the early 18thcentury.
The river feels like a hidden, or lost, feature of the estate; it is shielded by trees, flowing in the shade of yew and holly, flanked by low vegetation and for about three quarters of the length it flows below a 30-foot bluff upon which the house and gardens stand. This invisibility is examined through the act of walking the river.[3] To walk in a river is to move and leave no trace.
The river makes its own trace, a ‘reductive line’ inscribed into the landscape (Ingold, 2007, p. 43), an apparent constancy yet, as suggested by Heraclitus – “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow” (Graham, 2015) suggesting both change in the river whilst also implying that there is change in the person stepping.  Thus, an interpretive translation could perhaps be derived as “the same person can never step in the same river twice”. The river appears constant, yet its constituents change, indeed, are in constant change. The walker, stepping into the river, is in the same state of flux – apparent external constancy yet perpetual internal, physiological and psychological, change – but, unlike the river in the landscape, the walker in the river leaves no trace. In amongst ‘other and other waters’ no discernible trace remains of the walker’s passing, not even their scent.

Moving, sensing
“No.1: trace”
Inside Smallcleugh moving was an explicitly conscious and effortful act. A mix of wading, walking, stepping on and around wagon rails, stooping and one sustained 100-yard crawl; moving was neither simple nor easy and in several places was frankly painful. As I moved along the tunnel, time-space became distorted. Progress was slow, space was defined by the reach of a torch beam and only existed for the surfaces the beam rested on – side tunnels passed unseen, gallery ceilings unobserved whilst I concentrated on ‘looking where I was going’. With a group, sound was a better indicator of others presence than was vision, rendering space something as much heard as seen. In the context of the scramble through a roof fall or the painful crawl along a link-passage, time became defined by space – the time taken to walk from one notable feature to the next, the duration of the crawl along the distance of the cross-cut.
The trace of the Smallcleugh route exists (and is mapped) along the mine’s tunnels, but walking is analogous to Ingold’s description of walking in the labyrinth of the underworld (Ingold, 2007, pp. 52-57). The way appears clearly defined and tightly controlled – in that I must follow the tunnel along its hewn lengths or clefts within the earth – but this is an illusion. I am walking in a world without surface, a world undefined by ground below and sky above, a world that is never visible in its entirety and one where I don’t have my ‘taken for granted’ all round vision and hearing. Only with a guide can I trace the route; unguided and unknowing, I can only walk the tunnels, lost to the outside world; only those who ‘know the way’ can hope to retrace their steps to the surface. By contrast, the overground route across the fell was (allowing for topography) visible in its entirety, but, as it crossed open moorland, completely undefined. On the fellside an infinite number of traces of my route were possible, though I chose to move along one that followed the tunnel below. Thus, whilst I ‘knew where I was’, I was free to define my path as I chose. Here the trace was the mark of the act of my moving – trampled grass, an occasional mud boot-print – and this was brief and evanescent. Richard Long’s iconic ‘A line made by walking’ (1963)(Roelstraete, 2010) a trace across grass made by repeated walking, lasted a few hours after he had gone; my trace would, in large part, be briefer.
The uncertainty of the route, invisible in plain sight, contrasted strongly with the channelling of the labyrinth below the earth. With none of the visual constraints of the underground route but only two obvious surface features appearing on the route – the entrance tunnel and a ruined sheepfold – I was judging my position against small fellside streams and distant landmarks. There was again the need to ‘watch my step’ – knee-high rough grass and heather, an overall ascent of about 400 feet over four fifths of a mile and a steep down/up valley traverse along the way. My walking did retain attributes of judging distance and time; again, this contrasted with the underground walk in that I could better judge where I was in time-space.
“No.2: no trace”
My walking in the river is primarily an act of walking as touching. The senses that predominantly guide my movement on dry land – vision, sound and balance – are blunted; the use of two walking poles turns me into a quadruped, and it is only this that allows me to move with any confidence at all. My progress is guided by my sense of touch through my feet and, mediated by my walking poles, my hands. Whilst I ‘watch my step’ and ‘look where I am going’ the reality in the river is that I can only see and hear the river’s surface. What shapes my movement is hidden from my sight and hearing, up to a metre below the water’s surface, on the bottom of the river and apparent only to the touch of my feet or the probing of my walking poles. The boulder-strewn riven bed is uneven, sunken branches snag at my boots, my balance is uncertain, walking is slow, and I have no discernible rhythm. The assumption that I can place my foot in the direction I’m going is questioned; unseen rocks twist my feet in or out, compromising my ability to bear weight and to balance.
I walk downstream and then return upstream to my starting point at the bridge. Walking upstream the external appearance of the river is changed as the different fall of the light and my reversed direction of view means that I see “differently”, offering another example of how the fall of light reveals something of a line (Ingold, 2007, p. 43). But more obvious is the difference in the sound of my walking. Coming downstream, moving with the river, my stride was often at the pace of the river’s flow and created little added disturbance. However, returning upstream, against the flow, against the push of the river, each step creates its own wave – of water and of sound. Though in both directions I am moving in plain sight, it is only as I move upstream that I am audible. As within the lead mine, sound offers a distinctive marker of my movement.
I move slowly along the trace of the river, my Artist’s Walk progressing at a fraction of the pace I would unconsciously use for The Captain’s Walk along the south bank. The space-time of my river walk is some 60 minutes, five times longer than it takes me to walk the same distance along the footpath. This is wayfarer’s time, time integrated with distance and landscape and, specifically, the river. Ingold (Ingold, 2007, pp. 72-103) argues that for a wayfarer (one who is his movement) as opposed to one transported (who moves from location to location leaving their basic nature unaffected) “It makes no more sense to ask about the speed of wayfaring than it does to ask about the speed of life. What matters is not how fast one moves, in terms of the ratio of distance to elapsed time, but that this movement should be in phase with, or attuned to, the movements of other phenomena of the inhabited world.”
Though elapsed time is stretched by walking the river, in the sound piece it is also stretched by the replication of the walk. First walked on the winter solstice and replicated on the spring equinox, three months has passed, the year has changed, the seasons have turned and all the while the river traces its same course with its ‘other waters’– and still my passing leaves no trace.

These walks have, in different ways, examined the act of walking, how I move in the world and how my way is marked. Through focussing on the act of walking they have allowed an examination of the role of my senses in guiding my progress through the world and have illustrated what it might mean to blunt or even remove some of my senses. They have also suggested that my movement in particular and human movement in general, can be more or less marked on the earth on which we walk and that movement can shape the nature of time.

Graham, D.W. (2015) ‘Heraclitus’, in Zalta, E.N. (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab. Available at:
Hrybyk, M. (2004) Smallcleugh Mine, Nenthead, Cumbria. Available at: 14/12/2016).
Ingold, T. (2007) Lines: A Brief History. New York: Routledge.
Monbiot, G. (2018) ‘Britain’s national parks are a farce: they’re being run for a tiny minority’, The Guardian (UK edn), 28th February. [Online] Available at:
Roelstraete, D. (2010) Richard Long: A Line Made by Walking. London: Afterall Books.
Tilley, C. (1994) A Phenomenology of Landscape. 1st edn. Oxford: Berg.

[1] First opened in the 1770s, Smallcleugh was mined commercially from 1787 and closed in the early 1900s, though there was a short-lived attempt to extract ore in 1963 Hrybyk, M. (2004) Smallcleugh Mine, Nenthead, Cumbria. Available at: (Accessed: 14/12/2016).I went into the mine twice. On the first occasion with a group of about a dozen others and the second was just myself and a guide (Ian Hopper of Pinpoint Adventure – The route on both occasions was along Hard Cross-cut, turning right onto the Smallcleugh Flats, into the Wheel Flats and then through Hetherington’s Cross-cut. From Hetherington’s Cross-cut we then went right, along the First Sun Vein, for about 75 yards before turning left, crossing Elliott’s String and then arriving at the Ballroom Flats; a total distance of about 1500 yards.
[2] Red Grouse normally live at densities of 0.2 to 20 birds/km2while a viable driven grouse shoot needs far higher densities; the average densities on grouse estates in England is 325/km2. (Monbiot, G. (2018) ‘Britain’s national parks are a farce: they’re being run for a tiny minority’, The Guardian (UK edn), 28th February. [Online] Available at:
[3] I walked alone in the river, starting at the road bridge then walking downstream for half a mile to the point where the river leaves the Cheeseburn Estate. I then turned round and walked upstream back to the road bridge making a total distance of a mile. I recorded each walk twice; first on the 2017 winter solstice and second on the 2018 spring equinox.