The guide is an archetypal figure historically dominating the Western travel and tourism culture. Either as a person or as a book, the authority of this figure has rarely been questioned or challenged. It is a traditional attitude that we implicitly accept and reinforce whenever we entrust ourselves to a tour guide, a tour operator, or when we put our faith in a guidebook, whose leading power usually lacks legitimate evidence and has been constructed in an opaque, and often cunning and pretentious way through the centuries.
The traditional guide’s authority has been denied and replaced by self-guiding criteria to be adopted on the basis of the effects that a place has on the emotions and behaviour of individuals, as was the case of the psychogeographic approach elaborated by Guy Debord and the Situationists, and that Ralph Rumney applied to Venice. Much more social intelligence, though, is required to vest that leading authority in a group, by equally sharing guiding power and responsibility.
This is what Nicholas Albery did when he established the Saturday Walkers’ Club with a group of friends in 1997. His idea was that of collective country walks in South East England to be self-organised on Saturday, according to a rota of itineraries described and mapped in the Time Out Book of Country Walks. 52 Walks within Easy Reach of London, which Albery edited in 1997 [see photos 1 and 2 below]. The book was updated until 1999 and then, after the death of Albery in 2001, it was followed by other editions undertaken by members of the Nicholas Albery Foundation. The Club originated from Albery’s passion for walking, which, in accordance with his libertarian spirit, took a twofold approach: the first was ‘walking off the beaten track’, as he himself pointed out1, which also led him to write Alternative Gomera. Guide to a Fortnight’s Walking round Gomera Island near Tenerife (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1994); and the second was walking together, for its power of ’stimulating conversation and anarchic spirit’.2
Interviewed by the Museo del Camminare, Josefine Speyer – widow of Nicholas Albery, psychotherapist and co-founder with him of the Natural Death Centre – recounted the genesis of the Club:
‘In the late 1980’s his best friend Nicholas Saunders3 suggested they go on country walks on Saturdays with friends. Nicholas completely took to it and being a bit obsessive it became a weekly ritual to go walking every Saturday, with friends and friends of friends. He felt it was important for him to get out of the house and walk in nature, which was good exercise and good for the soul, plus spending hours talking with friends was good for the spirit. Having a huge circle of friends was useful and not everyone wanted to come walking every week. People also had other things to do on a Saturday. I was often working on Saturdays and did not come. But when I did, our son and his friends also joined us and friends brought their kids along. So it was another manifestation of Our Tribe. It was the days before the internet and Nicholas spent Sundays researching the route for next Saturday’s walk, invited everyone to recite a poem at lunch time (another of his passions) and posted invitations of this on Mondays. Every walk was a train journey out of town, walked from there to a pub for lunch and to a tea place and took the train home. We used to massage each other’s feet on the way home and back in London go to a disco at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden before going home late. It was just a very wonderful way of spending the end of the week. Nicholas spent weekdays at his desk writing and running several charities from home, supported by a couple of volunteers. So getting out and having a wonderful day with a large group of friends was just the thing he looked forward to at weekends.’4
As Albery explained in the first editions of his book, he was motivated to write it by ‘thinking of all the Londoners and tourists of all ages who would really enjoy getting out of London for the day’.5 In addition to the main walks – the length of which spanned from 11 to 23 kilometres – the book proposed rotas for specific groups: people wishing to form a heterosexual Adventure and Romance Group; men wishing to form a Gay Walkers Group; women wishing to form a Lesbian Walkers Group; people wishing to form a Group for Faster Walkers; and also an Artists Group for those wishing to take the time to sketch, take photos, write or meditate; and a Late Risers Group for those unwilling to get up early on Saturday morning.
The Saturday Walkers’ Club still functions today in accordance with its original principles: both the association and the walks have no leaders; membership and walks are free; anyone can organise a walk of their own; and walks are open to all. With its about twenty-five years of life, the Club embodies the spirit of the initial idea and provides evidence of its social quality.
Nicholas Albery (1948-2001) was one of most fascinating protagonists of the British underground culture, to which he creatively contributed through his passionate quest for a free and equitable society. He participated in the spiritual and psychedelic hippie scene of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and was a leading activist in several key London anarchist initiatives since the late 1960s. At that time, he took part in the BIT, the London-based alternative information service, in which – according to the very well-informed John May’s blog6 – he produced the first BIT guidebook, Overland to India and Australia in 1970, compiled from travellers’ tales.
In 1969, he anonymously and autonomously produced one of the most exciting and “fuck-the-system” publications of the London underground culture, the Project London Free, shown in the photos below from a rare copy available at the Museo del Camminare.
With its 28 pages and a 15x10cm format, it was conceived as a handbook for jobless and generally dispossessed people to freely appropriate good and services by challenging the law and the existing property relations and socioeconomic order. It provided information and tricks for freely accessing accommodation, accounts, dope, free shopping, social services, telephoning, transports, and many others services. The booklet had no copyright, should circulate free of charge, and ended with the exhortation: Everything is free, The rest needs liberating, Go free it! In his Rehearsal for the Year 2000, Alan Beam – the pseudonym adopted by Albery – told that 14,000 copies of the booklet were printed and distributed ‘all over London’, causing ‘quite a furore’.7
Albery was among the squatters who created the Albion Free State in 1974 and he helped the residents of Freston Road in London to resist eviction by co-founding the self-proclaimed Independent Republic of Frestonia in 1977, of which he became a minister. The Saturday Walkers’ Club project stemmed from his love of walking and the physical benefits he received for it, as he suffered of a rare type of arthritis, but it was also consistent with his inventive approach to finding new social services and new solutions to social problems. In 1985, this approach led him to establish the Institute for Social Inventions, of which he appointed himself Institute chairman and persuaded Nicholas Saunders to become a director.8 The aim of the Institute was to promote social inventions by providing ‘an opportunity to tackle social problems before they become crises, through encouraging public participation in continuous problem solving and through the promotion of small-scale innovative experiments’. 9 The Institute generously conveyed a wealth of multifaceted ideas and a series of publications, mostly edited or co-edited by Albery. To mention a few examples, Re-Inventing Society. A Bumper Book of Best Ideas, Schemes & Speculations, with Matthew Mezey (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1994); DIY Futures. People’s Ideas & Projects for a Better World, with Lindesay Irvine, Philip Buckley and Stephanie Pieau (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1996); Encyclopaedia of Social Inventions, with Valerie Yule (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1990), the subtitles of which reads: ‘Over 500 of the best ideas from around the world – new and imaginative (non-technological) visions, systems, services and projects for tackling social problems and improving the quality of life’; Social Dreams & and Technological Nightmares. A Global Ideas Bank Compendium, with Stephanie Wienrich (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1999); and Social Inventions, the Journal of the Institute for Social Inventions.
Albery personally contributed with a variety of ideas, e.g. the Spiritual Experience Advisory Service, to be established in the churches to replace the official religious services, to Saving islands from the devastations of tourism; Natural Death, which led to the establishment, together with his wife Josefine Speyer, of the Natural Death Centre in 1991 with the aim of promoting an environment-friendly burial and overcoming the superstitions that most people have about contemplating their own mortality.
With different publishers, others Albery’s key works include How to Feel Reborn?: Varieties of Rebirthing Experience. An Exploration of Rebirthing and Associated Primal Therapies, the Benefits and Dangers, the Facts and the Fictions (London, Regeneration, 1985; The Book of Visions. An Encyclopaedia of Social Innovations, with Valerie Yule (London, Virgin, 1992), Poem for the Day. 366 Poems, Old and New, Worth Learning by Heart, with Peter Ratcliffe (London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), which reflected Albery’s love of poetry and had later editions; and his last book, Seize the Day. 366 Tips from Famous & ‘Extraordinary Ordinary’ People, with Stephanie Wienrich (London, Chatto & Windus, 2001).
On a Saturday Walk, the 1st of July 2000, Nicholas Albery created the following poem10 during a creative half hour stop on top the South Downs, a ridge of chalk hills in Southern England:
On Top of the Downs
towards the sun
breathing the wind
in nature’s cathedral
It is true
are my religion
the communion of friends
and horses & bees
the shared tables
such wild beauty
so close to the city
it seems appropriate
The Museo del Camminare wants to thank Josefine Speyer, who kindly and friendly agreed to be interviewed and provided information and photos.
Cover image: Museo del Camminare, 2021.
Photos by the MdC, with the exception of photos 3-6, courtesy of Josefine Speyer. From left to right, photo 3: Nicholas Albery and Nicholas Saunders at a tea place during a country walk on 18 June 1989, while Nicholas Albery is suggesting a route pointing on the map; photo 4: Nicholas Albery and Nicholas Saunders on a country walk in 1995; photo 5: Nicholas ALbery, Josefine Speyer and their son Merlyn on a country walk in July 2000; photo 6: Nicholas Albery wearing an Indian outfit at his house in Heber Road, London, with the board for the Institute for Social Inventions awards ceremony leaning behind him.
1. Wienrich, Stephanie; Albery, Nicholas (eds), Seize the Day. 366 Tips from Famous & ‘Extraordinary Ordinary’ People, London, Chatto & Windus, 2001, p. 216.
2. Albery, Nicholas; Kelly, Hugh (eds), Time Out Book of Country Walks. 52 Walks within Easy Reach of London, London, Penguin, 1997, p. 8.
3. Nicholas Saunders (1938-1998) was another leading figure of the British underground culture. He wrote the groudbreaking guidebook Alternative London (London, The Author, 1970), and in 1976 he opened a wholefood shop in Neil's Yard, London, a small courtyard near Covent Garden that has become an iconic area of the City. Nicholas Albery told the story of the shop in his The Neal’s Yard Story (London, The Institute for Social Inventions, 1987).
4. Speyer, Josefine, email received on 5 March 2020. Email interview.
5. Albery, Nicholas, Time Out Book of Country Walks, op. cit., p. 8.
6. The Generalist, URL: https://hqinfo.blogspot.com/2006/08/alternative-society-1970s-nicholas_31.html
7. Beam, Alan, Rehearsal for the Year 2000, London, Revelaction Press, 1976, p. 38.
8. Wienrich, Stephanie; Albery, Nicholas, Seize the Day. 366 Tips from Famous & ‘Extraordinary Ordinary’ People, London, Chatto & Windus, 2001, p. 216.
9. Albery, Nicholas, The Book of Visions. An Encyclopaedia of Social Innovations, London, Virgin, 1992, p. 2.
10. Speyer, Josefine, email received on 11 March 2021. Email interview.
© Museo del Camminare 2021, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0