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Ebb and Flow is part of our package of events for the 2020 CBA Festival of Archaeology, speaking to the theme of Climate and Environment, the film sees us following Geoarchaeologist, Claire Mellett and Artist, James Aldridge, as they take a walk alongside the River Avon through Salisbury. 

This was our Plan C. With so many revisions and alterations we changed our plan for a third time in order to fit in with the latest Covid-19 guidelines. There was never meant to be a film, rather a public engagement day, based at the Arts Centre with a series of river walks, talks and opportunities to be creative.

Ebb and Flow a walk by the rivers of Salisbury Ebb and Flow a walk by the rivers of Salisbury

We met on a cold rainy Thursday in early October, myself, Claire, James and our videographer, Tom Westhead. James and Claire had never met each other in person, there was no script, we hadn’t had the lead-in time to practice anything, but we knew what we wanted to achieve; to capture genuine conversations about the river from the two different points of view.  

James and Claire had a conversation about what they’d like to get out from the day; an understanding of the river and of each other’s work, the effect the river has on the city, the impact climate change has on the river and how we can record our experiences of the river. We also wanted to explore the connection to wellbeing and how the simple act of walking and noticing can improve this. 

“Within ten minutes of meeting James we realised we both love maps! This is obviously quite niche so I was so happy to find a fellow map lover and I knew straight away we would have lots to talk about.”                                                                                                                   

Claire Mellett, Geoarchaeologist


Filming a conversation whilst maintaining physical distance outside is not without its challenges, there were several times when Tom and I could see James and Claire deep in conversation walking ahead of us, we worried about what they were saying, what drops of knowledge and insight were we missing? Turns out it was quite a few and I lost count of the times we said, ‘that sounds like something we need to put into that film, you need to say it all again please’.

Conversation turned to the impact people have had on the river over time and Claire noticed that the river was currently in flood and whilst this was evident when we were in the countryside, structural constraints in the city meant that it was unable to flood – great for the city but this only means that the problem is pushed further downstream. They spoke about the interconnection between the river and the plant life, noticing the dendritic patterns that are replicated in nature, and the presence of large flint nodules within the chalk bedrock of the river, left behind when the river water dissolves the chalk.


Ebb and Flow social distanced conversations by a riverside Ebb and Flow social distanced conversations by a riverside Ebb and Flow social distanced conversations by a riverside

We walked through the weather, wind and rain turned into blue skies and dappled sunlight. We passed through rural spaces, into built up urban areas and back out into the countryside. Along the route we stopped to listen and record, draw, take rubbings, and to breath in the fresh air. 

The walk, “Completely changed my view of what art is. My view was based on school and it wasn’t a negative view as I loved art in school, but it was a view that all art is judged the same and you have good art and bad art. I learned from James that art is what you make of it, if you like it, it doesn’t mean everyone has to like it, and visa-versa.

Also, art is not just the end product, it’s the process, similarly science isn’t defined by the great discoveries, it is the years of exploring and failures that lead to those discoveries, I’m sure artists can relate to this.”

Claire Mellett, Geoarchaeologist

A few days after the walk we were fortunate to visit James in his studio for a bit of reflection and to record the four video shorts which detailed the creative suggestions. To be honest, we were rather distracted by James’ puppy, the aptly named River, but it was refreshing to have a conversation with James about his experience on the day.


“The Ebb and Flow walk provided me with an opportunity to learn from Claire’s professional experience, as she explained the formation of the geology underlying the river, and I in turn supported her to respond to her direct sensory experiences, in an exchange of knowledge and skills.

Together we explored the role of mapping in art and science, and what each could learn from each other. The conversation between us flowed naturally as we walked. There was real synergy between my concerns about the future of rivers in the light of climate breakdown, and Claire’s knowledge of how rivers change over time.

Often in my participatory work I will be concentrating on leading a group, and modelling ways of exploring/recording to each of them. With Claire, although we planned to work directly with a group  too, the restrictions resulting from Covid-19 meant that it was just the two of us walking and talking, which enabled us to go deeper in our conversation, and really explore the interrelationship between our river-related practices. I think this resulted in a much more meaningful dialogue, with learning on both sides, and a richer experience for the viewers of the film.”

James Aldridge, Artist


The film has received a warm reception and we have been delighted to see many responses to the creative suggestions. Viewers have taken walks along their local river, recording their journeys as they walk.

“Thank you so much for sharing - lovely to see sensory, embodied responses to place in action. Great messages about slowing down, noticing and feeling connected".

Wonderful video! I really enjoyed listening to the conversation between Claire and James, it has inspired me to try different ways of engaging with my surroundings.

As an engagement and wellbeing resource Ebb & Flow is already showing its worth. It has been sent to some of the participants who have taken part in the Lost and Found project to an enthusiastic response, so much so, that one of the groups wants to meet up again in the new year and do the walk altogether.

I also need to mention all of the hard work Tom did on the film postproduction. The weather on the day was at times testing and kudos to him for the sound editing, along with the way in which his editing skills brought at 6 hour walk down to a 49 minute thoughtful and insightful film. 

The impact of the day stayed with me for a long after time afterwards. I hadn’t appreciated how much I need to get out of the house, to meet with colleagues, to be creative, to learn new things and to laugh. I needed to do something like this for the benefit of my own wellbeing. Where we started the day off as relative strangers, we finished it as friends and under normal circumstances we might have gone to the pub to carry on our conversations. Alas Covid-19 put paid to that idea as well, but when the restrictions are lifted, we have a plan to do just this. It will be our Plan A, our Plan B and our Plan C.

You can find out more about the work James Aldridge does here and read his blog to learn more about his experience on Ebb & Flow project.


By Leigh Chalmers

Heritage Inclusion Development Specialist