Walking the Pipe with Kate Green


Following an arbitrary line is a tried and tested technique for the curious walker. The landscape and its contents will reveal themselves in a sequence determined by your line. Pick a start, an end and draw line between them. Follow that line and keep you eyes and ears open.

Kate Green spent the last year walking a line that was drawn from the Welsh mountains to south Birmingham by Victorian engineers when they were trying to figure out how to bring water to the rapidly growing city. Birmingham's waterways are a bit puny due to it being one of the highest points on the British isles and in the 19th century it was festering with disease in dire need of sanitation.

Kate and her dog by the aqueduct.
Kate employing the walking-artist's trope of pointing at things.

Thankfully the Elan Valley is 52 metres higher than Birmingham. A pipe angled at a gradient of 1:2300 will transport water over a day and half using gravity alone from the waterlogged mountains of mid-Wales. Building started in 1896 lasting a decade, and that's why we rarely have a hosepipe ban in Birmingham!

But I digress. Kate, who describes herself as a short interdisciplinary artist with dark hair, decided to walk the Elan aqueduct primarily to gather and share stories. She does this by writing and performing songs in a style that would have been popular during the build, drawing parallels between its creation and the present day. For example the navvies that built it were itinerant workers, moving their families from one job to the next. A century later the workers repairing and maintaining the pipe are predominantly migrants from Europe.

The Tunnelling Navies from the Walking the Pipe Song Book

Her project has seen her run workshops, coffee mornings, exhibitions and performances along the towns and villages near the pipe, all fed by a steady walk eastwards. They're documented in The Pipe Chronicle, a cod-Victorian newsheet.

We got to meet Kate and her infectious personality when she presented Walking The Pipe at the Plymouth walking conference in November last year. Rather than a lecture, is was wisely run as a singalong performance in the evening when beers had been consumed. We've been singing "This is the damn, this is the damn, that feeds the thirst of Birmingham" ever since.

Kate performing at an event along the pipe.
A poster for an event.

It's rare to find art that is both high-concept and high-nerdery while also being fun and accessible. Walking the pipe is a gem.

Kate has produced a songbook and zine-style collection of her newsletters. A formal Walking The Pipe book is in production. Contact her for details.