Walking the Long Way Round

Most people have an inner map that guides them. It might be an instinct that says ‘go that way’ or a memory of a place and a route taken previously. I am not most people and I get lost, ridiculously lost, all the time.

Part of the problem is having no sense of direction. I might recognise where I am but have no idea which way to go next. As a neighbour once said, ‘it might be on the right, or it might be on the left. It depends on which way you’re coming from.’ Which is fine as long as you know which way that was.

Google Maps has, in recent years, been something of a saviour. I can see exactly where I am within a tangle of streets and watch my little blue dot as I take yet another wrong turning. I can plan out a journey in advance, taking note of a couple of different routes and choose the easiest route to take. And then I can watch my little blue dot accidentally deviate from the blue line I should be following. I have similar issues with SatNav in the car.

You might find this infuriating and some of the time I do. I am annoyed when I am 1 minute away from a rehearsal with 5 minutes to spare but I’ve taken a wrong turning and now have to find somewhere to safely do a 3-point turn. This is why, on most occasions, I am at least 10 minutes early – I have to leave this time for the probability I will have to backtrack and try again. You learn to plan for these things.

But most of the time, if I have nowhere pressing to be, I don’t really mind that I’m walking down a side-street full of bins when I should be walking through a shopping arcade. It may not quite fit the ideals of a scenic route but there is intrigue and possibility here.

I was walking through Manchester yesterday to Albert Square. Temporarily forgetting that my internal map is faulty at best, I thought I might have found a shortcut. Obviously, what I had found was a meandering route that was leading me almost, but not quite in the right direction.

Ambling down a back street, narrowly avoiding being run over by an unexpected bus, I took in my surroundings. It wasn’t much but an alleyway led off to the left with a winding set of fire escape ladders trailing up a dusty red brick wall and the firmly closed doors on the buildings either side were intriguing enough. If JK Rowling had walked down this particular alley, she might have hidden a full magical world behind these doors.

With the main road now in sight, I continued on my way, feeling sure that I would soon have some of what little bearings I could muster. I was pretty sure that Deansgate must be around here somewhere, it was just a case of looking. But just before the road, a little past an empty barber’s shop, a window caught my eye.

The rest of the frontage seemed to be boarded up, though there was a sign above. It was curious. In the window there was a globe on top of several old books, an interesting arrangement. I stopped and looked for a few minutes. Was it a bookshop? Was it just a window display? The sign didn’t give much away. I looked back up to all the closed doors and the fire escape and felt like I was on a movie set waiting for someone to shout ‘action!’

It’s these little findings that make being lost quite enjoyable. When you leave the beaten track, you experience sights and sounds that are normally hidden. That little creative spark is more likely to trigger. It makes you look, really look, at what is around you. Drink in what you see and hear and feel in the space.

In New York, they say you can tell who the tourists are because they are the ones looking up. Well, call me a tourist in my home town. Wherever I walk, I behave like a tourist. So far, it’s helped me to find a couple of new favourite bars and coffee shops and a lovely route home along the canal. It won’t be long before the inspiration for a story comes along too.

Take your curiosity with you wherever you go. And remember, you’re not lost, you’ve just taken the long way round.