Exploring Plymouth Psychogeography


Psychogeography – Exploring Plymouth:

We mapped our route from a printed map of Plymouth City Centre by drawing around the base of a glass to create a circle where we plotted the edges via the streets.

The transition between the university “safe” quiet campus onto the busy streets was a harsh break.  The street was noisy and the sounds of cars made us feel threatened.  We had to shout to hear each other and we had to take a subway to feel safe.  The cars rule our city.


We then followed the map and plotted where we went.  We diverted from our route on occasions because we were drawn by certain features.

In the subway we were in a relatively calm area.  Peaceful with sculpture. At night this same place frightens me and I walk quickly through – hands in pockets and head down. Now we amble and talk. It is a place of communication as it is quiet.

We are then back on the noisy street and turn into a cobbled lane.  It is warming to see that a lot of Plymouth’s cobbled streets are preserved and found in unexpected places, not just the tourist areas of the Barbican.  We are on a back lane. The bins are out and the rubbish is piled high.  We have a feeling that we are intruding on other people’s lives.  We are in their “back yard” hidden normally from visitors.

Further down the road we come across an open space, a shoe lies on the grass.  What happened? Its a nice shoe. Only one lies here.  Where is the other? Why is it still here?

It is still quiet and we pass a microwave on the wall. We see cats, trees, bulbs in the ground starting to break through with the first signs of Spring.  I am always drawn to snowdrops and can picture them in various places I have lived.  The hawthorne is flowering too. A tree that always heralds the end of winter.

We are soon back on the main road.  We wait for the traffic lights to cross. Safe in their protection from crushing, damaging vehicles.

Frankfurt Gate an area that I am fond of for its querky shops and odd out of the way cafes.  We pass an American diner.  How funny to see this here out of context. Where is the Fonz?

Round the corner I am drawn to another area. I remembered a rundown but beautiful art-deco building in a car park at the bottom of town.   The area has always fascinated me and I wanted to share this bit of unknown Plymouth with the others.

The building is a great example with steel windows, curved bays and straight lines reaching for the sky. It is reminiscent of a by-gone age.  I once saw a play here where the actors took us back to those days by playing 30’s music, danced in the street and performed in front of this building.  The play was a tribute to the building, now forgotten.

Wlad was drawn to the Polish shop and Curtis and I had not been in one.  We found great stuff! And an insight for us and a feeling of home for Wlad.

Interesting how emotional links took us to different places.  Residential areas were quiet, undisturbed. The city was loud, rushed and impersonal.  The highlight was stumbling into an exhibition of melting shoes, those of abused children. Very poignant.

Setting a task to plot a route and then follow and find your way without just “following a map” gave Plymouth a different dimension.  There is a level of engagement that we take in unnoticed when we are just on our way from one point to another.

Plymouth is a place to shop and go to university. I explore the Frankfurt Gate end of Plymouth often and the market. The residential areas are unexplored with their cobbled streets and variety of houses.

We were now in Union Street. There were memories for me here too.  I went to see “Madame Butterfly” in the theatre here. We sat in the “gods” with my Grandmother.

Union Street was a dangerous place on a Friday night.  (it still is not the safest place!)  Now clubs and burger bars replace the many pubs and shops that used to line this street.  The ice rink stands on a place pulled apart after the war as further destruction of Plymouth’s past.

We stumbled across an exhibition of frozen shoes on plinths representing abused children. The shoes were left to melt.  It was both moving and poignant.  A part of Plymouth’s under belly.  Like every city it has a dark side.

We now step into modern Plymouth with its large stores.  It is different from the bottom end of town. It has a different character.  We could be in any small city in England. The shop names are familiar here as they are in Bath, or Bristol or Birmingham.

The mall is humming with shoppers.  Here there is music piped through speakers.  We passed several buskers who’s task is to entertain. Here the music is to lull us to shop.  Maybe the musicians playing on these tracks in the mall part-time as buskers too.  Perhaps a busker on the street in Plymouth is a backing singer or session musician on one of these “elevator tunes”!

We followed the route back to the university going via city scapes and public places. We are now back in the safe environment of the university.  Food keeps in the Roland Lewisnky building for a short time.  All this psychogeography made us hungry!

On our return we loaded the map into photoshop and added arrows that linked each area of our walk by emotional ties and area types to produce the following grouped areas.

Our photographs that showed our discoveries and the emotional links between different areas of Plymouth.  The main areas were the residential, the art experiences and the city/road scapes.

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