The Tales for Travellers and Travellers’ Tales project takes as its starting point the discovery of a hitherto unnoticed manuscript at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in 2009. Tracked down by James Loxley, Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Edinburgh, this unique document was the eyewitness account of Ben Jonson’s monumental walk between London and Edinburgh in 1618. Though it was known that the ‘king’s poet’ and celebrated writer had undertaken this journey, it wasn’t until this discovery that the full extent of his trip can be appreciated. As James has written in his blog, ‘Among many other extraordinary discoveries, it reveals something of the stories Jonson was told by his hosts in the places he visited.’
Fast forward to 2016, and James and his colleague Anna Groundwater from the university’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology launched Tales for Travellers and Travellers’ Tales. Thanks to funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh as well as invaluable collaboration from cultural and heritage practitioners, they designed a project which would visit the historic locations in Fife that Jonson himself had visited after completing his long walk to Edinburgh. There were two strands to the project: storytelling sessions would involve local schoolchildren at heritage sites in Culross, Aberdour, and Dunfermline, and a community-based ‘social’ walk would aim to loosely follow the route that Jonson took along the coast of Fife from Culross Palace to Dunfermline Abbey.
This ‘social’ walk, mapped out by Fife’s own historical walking guides at Forth Pilgrim, was a communal event and open to all. The purpose of the walk was partly an attempt to recreate the kind of walk that Jonson himself would have taken – a social, immersive one, and partly a chance for those taking part to experience walking in and connecting with the landscape through the stories we would both tell and be told. Interactive ‘way-stations’ gave individual walkers the opportunity to contribute a short presentation, be it a story, song, poem, historical re-enactment, or observation.
In documenting the walk, those who attended were invited to share their pictures and thoughts with us. All of the photographs, video, sound recordings, and creative writing on this website are the result of this gathering process, and we would like to thank everyone for their input. By hosting it on a public forum, we are able to share the experience as we reflect on the relationship between travelling through a landscape and one’s sense of place within it.
Thanks to all who participated on the day, and particularly to those listed here, who documented the walk and provided us with some memorable stops en route!