‘Desire paths’ – what a great concept! As well as being a two-word poem, it is a term from landscape architecture describing the paths people actually want to take to get somewhere, which often differ from those that have been planned and built. The Flickr photo pool dedicated to the phenomenon has many examples – paths worn in grass by the people’s footfall, holes in fences removing unwanted interruptions to the desired route, springboards to unsanctioned vistas.
An example from Maghull. The mighty engine of walkers’ desire has made a space in the fence and flattened the spikes. A scramble up the bank creates a logical route up on to a main road. Once there, you’ll be lucky to see ‘herds of wildebeest sweeping across the plain’, but a Matalan outlet and Vue Cinema are in easy reach…
Maybe all journeys are like this. I haven’t read it yet, but a book called Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener broadens the ‘desire path’ metaphor beyond its technical meaning: ‘how people actually move from place to place, whether in physical space or emotionally and psychically.’
Maybe all our significant journeys are on desire paths, with occasional detours into the wheel-ruts and bowling-alley gutters of official routes.
One thing I’ve noticed on my walk: sometimes a path is defined by the wispiest shadows, the faintest signs of tread – one feels like a pioneering Western tracker spotting ‘sign’ and hunting… something.