CoolTan Arts Largactyl Shuffle: Summer Solstice Midnight Walk.

July 8, 2012 5:45 pm

On Saturday 23rd June 2012, I attended a walk organised by the South London based charity CoolTan Arts, an art organisation for people experiencing mental health distress. Their aim is to help people channel mental health distress through positive artistic projects. They hold a monthly fund-raising walk (called the ‘Largactyl Shuffle’) but the midnight walk I attended only happens once a year during summer. This was a walk I absolutely had to attend as there’s nothing quite like seeing London during the moonlight hours. The weather was against the event from the start and as I was getting ready to leave my house I did have seriously thoughts about not attending; the rain outside had started to come down very hard. Regardless, I dragged myself out and made my way there.

The meet for the event was outside the Tate Modern Gallery on South Bank and the finish would be the Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill. Luckily, I had put on a waterproof jacket which my dad had lent me for the night and I had my umbrella (admittedly not in the greatest of shapes!) but I was a little concerned for my camera; the rain was heavy now and I had never used it in these kinds of conditions before. On arrival at the Tate, I was happy to see a great welcome from the event and walk leaders and I was pleasantly surprised at the turn out, given the weather. There were at least thirty of us and before heading off, the leaders gave a pre-walk talk. Introductions were made and glass jars with fairy candles inside were lit and handed around. It looked so pretty and was such a good idea, but sadly I couldn’t carry one as I’d assembled my camera, ready to snap away and capture the magic of the night.

A soaking wet London.

The walk was well organised and had a structured route, with short stops along the way for people to listen to brief snippets of information or hear stories read by some of the walkers. It was also a good chance for people to catch their breath! Our first stop was a relief as it was under a bridge and we were all a little wet by now. The momentary talk given was on night workers and was really informative and we then moved on to the Cross Bones cemetery in S.E.1. It is an ancient cemetery and here we heard a short ghost story written by Charles Dickens. All the stops we made along the way was like this and at every place the information or story read was relevant to where we were.

By now the rain was at its worse and all the pretty glass jars containing candles had gone out and were unusable in the wet. This didn’t dampen our spirits though, and the attentiveness and encouragement of the walk leaders made the walk enjoyable and memorable.

We had made it to the middle of Elephant and Castle, SE17, and by now my feet were a little sore, I was almost completely drenched and I was left wondering how I would complete the rest of the journey. We had stopped in the subway island of the Elephant and Castle itself which contains a stainless steel box-shaped structure designed by architect Rodney Gordon. It commemorates Michael Faraday’s importance as a scientist and was placed there as his birthplace is nearby in Newington Butts. The structure contains a London Underground electrical substation for the Northern Line and Bakerloo Line. At night-time there are amazing coloured lights lighting up the structure itself, so stopping here was really quite beautiful. We were all handed a sheet of paper with the lyrics of a very old London song written upon it and everyone joined in singing it; it wasn’t my usual kind of thing but I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were then given a brief history about the structure itself by CoolTan Arts founder Michelle Baharier.

A talk given during the walk. (Photo from the CoolTan website.)

 

By this time it was around 3:55am and we had all endured an immense battering from the wind and the rain. We were heading towards the CoolTan Arts Unit on Walworth road SE17, but just before we stopped again for a short period and heard a short historical talk about Florence Nightingale. I have always had an interested in Florence Nightingale so I enjoyed the talk very much. After the talk we made our way to CoolTan’s Units and Office where the charity had laid on a delicious spread of food and refreshments; never had I welcomed a hot drink so much in my life. We took the time here to dry off, gather our thoughts and enjoy some food and drinks. The walk hadn’t finished yet as we still had to make our way to Denmark Hill but the stop off was very much appreciated and even more so with the weather. During the rest, a few decided that owing to the rain, it was time to call it a morning. Many had just gotten too wet. I had decided to pack my camera away before we set off again as I hadn’t been able to shoot much and I didn’t want it severely damaged. Starting again, we headed towards Denmark Hill, lighter in people but still determined to last until the end.

The walk through Walworth Road and Camberwell proved tiring and though I was really looking forward to finishing, the walk leaders and organisers proved really beneficial, encouraging us all the way. We had two more stops and talks before we made it to Denmark Hill and one of those we made was on Camberwell Green where a bench made by the accomplished sculptor Rossen Daskalov had been placed. Here we listened to the history of The Summer Solstice as the rain began to subside slightly and the light was beginning to break through the darkness. We then trotted onwards up Denmark Hill and then to the Maudsley Hospital itself. It was great to have finally made it and despite the horrid weather, the tiredness and the cold, we were finally there. It felt like a fantastic accomplishment. We were greeted with kindness by the hospital staff and despite it being 5:34am, we were shown to a room where we could rest finally and dry off slightly, and yet again the CoolTan team began making us all refreshments to warm us up.

I stayed for a little while before I decided to get home and get some much-needed sleep. I was also soaked through- my Dad’s jacket wasn’t so waterproof after all. Typical. When I finally made it home it was around 7am and I had never been so glad to be indoors. The whole event, not only the walk but the hospitality from CoolTan had been wonderful, it was just a shame that the weather that night had been so horrid and against us. What else could we have expected from a Great British Summer?! When dried off I headed to bed; very tired, a little sore, but very, very proud of myself.

 

CoolTan Arts is a registered charity.  It believes that mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity. It is a charity run by and for adults with mental distress.

It holds walks called Largactyl Shuffles once a month and everyone is welcome. It also holds a Sponsored Walk once a year. The Midnight Walk I attended is only held once a year. If you are interested in attending or finding out more about CoolTan Arts please feel free to check out their webpage www.cooltanarts.org.uk

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