Last week Tara shared about our recent walk up and down the River Tawe in south Wales. This week I will build on what Tara shared and talk about a reflection I had on the return walk from the upper reaches of the Tawe. On my way back downstream I decided to take a different path to the one we had walked going upstream, and so walked on footpaths following along the roadway. Walking along the roadway brought different perspectives and reflections to mind compared to walking on the muddy bridlepaths and tracks we followed through this area when going upstream.
Tawe riverscape – on the left the Tawe River and on the right the footpath and A4067.
The role that technology played in my Tawe River walk experiences came to mind as I was walking along the road-side footpath from Pen-y-cae to Ynyswen. I thought about the tarmac and concrete I was walking on, and how this experience was different to my earlier experiences walking along the muddy footpaths. In mobilities literature, which I am [very] slowly getting my head around while building our work in FIRE Lab, scholars write about embodied experiences – giving form and shape to how our bodies and lived experiences are important to the production of knowledge (see Bissell 2010 for reflections on railway travel). Here, I share two perspectives from this stretch of my walk, focusing on the interchange between the Tawe riverscape (place), my walk (mobility), and tarmac surfaces (technology).
As I walked downstream, I took notice of how much quicker I moved along the surface of the relatively smooth tarmac compared to the grassy, bumpy, saturated soil that we walked on a few days earlier on the other side of the river. As I noticed the difference in my speed along the path, I thought about how tarmac surfaces also ‘speed up’ water that flows off them compared to different types of soils. The speed with which water flows off impervious surfaces like tarmac (and compacted soils) across the post-industrial riverscape contributes to the rapid rising and falling of the Tawe; something we observed during the first two days of our walk.
As I walked along the footpath, I was also reminded that tarmac and concrete are products of technological advancements, and that the production of these materials are heavily dependent on water. Water to produce and install tarmac and concrete is likely sourced from both near and far. These thoughts recalled the connections between water (from far and near) running along beside me in the Tawe, and the water (from far and near) that went into the materials passing by under my feet. While the river flowed alongside to my left, the tarmac below my feet could be perceived as still and holding me up despite all the flowing water that went into constructing it. This, another reminder of the post-industrial riverscape I traversed and the dichotomy between the energy and force I observed of the river, and the layers and layers of tarmac, concrete, and reinforcements that have been built up to try and tame it.
‘Riverside Gardens’ – a street lined with houses, blocking view of the river from footpath.
My reflections and experiences offer a perspective on how technology has sped up the Tawe (flashy flows) in one way and been used to try to slow it down (constricting its movements) in another. Further, this speeding up and slowing down of the Tawe could reflect the boom and bust of mining and industry along this river.
Thank you for reading! Next week FIRE Lab are on holiday, so there won’t be a blog post. We’ll connect with you all on 12th April!
Bissell, D. 2010. Vibrating materialities: mobility–body–technology relations. Area 4: 479-486.