Since the UK’s first lockdown, many people have discovered or rediscovered the simple magic of walking, for social connection and physical and mental wellbeing.
In February 2020, a grassroots project called Slow Ways tapped into that by creating a network of urban and rural walkways that connect our towns, cities and villages. By that winter, 80,000 volunteers had registered to help walk and review more than 8,000 crowdsourced routes.
The success of Slow Ways has been celebrated in a new documentary short called The Forgiving Path, made by local filmmaker David Mathias, which follows three people on three walks in the Bristol area. He reached out to Slow Ways with the idea after being inspired by the organisation’s goal of “creating a cultural shift in people’s hearts and minds regarding the landscape”.
The documentary features the Bristol Steppin Sistas, a local walking group for women of colour which promotes diversity in the outdoors.
Sophie Brown, who enjoyed walking from a young age, set up the group: “I know walking does big favours for our wellbeing, so I thought to myself, it would be a good idea if we could form a walking group – to share the energy of nature with other women.”
Many of the Black women who ended up joining her had not experienced the nature surrounding Bristol before. But Sophie has encouraged many to join her – even though they hadn’t seen themselves represented in outdoor spaces and had initially feared that they wouldn’t be welcome.
“The original plan was to focus on Sophie’s individual walking story, but so much of that is based on encouraging other women that it became natural to extend this showing the group she set up,” says Mathias. “It was a pleasure joining one of their walks around Kings Weston House and seeing the huge enjoyment the members received, while helping break down barriers and anxieties.”
David also follows artist Hazel Mountford on her journey from Bristol to her studio in Filton. She is thankful following an accident that she’s even able to get somewhere using her own two feet.
“The doctors said to me that the operation I had hadn’t been available five years ago and five years ago I would have lost my foot,” she says. “Those words always stayed with me, I think.”