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The Beast - an art piece by Man in the Woods
The Beast, the Sun + the Mump. Artwork by Man in the Woods

If you go down to the woods today…

Let's go for a Friday walk... We catch up with the folk artist taking Instagram and Tiktok by storm, Man in the Woods.

In the realm where tranquility intersects with a quest for self and spatial understanding, the mysterious and devoted folk artist, Man in the Woods, finds his sanctuary. His journey is not dictated by the conventional norms of a destination, but rather by a continuous, unbroken, and earnest curiosity that has propelled him through an estimated 1900 miles of the British countryside over five years. Every Friday since September 2018, without an end destination in mind, he has meticulously stitched a path through numerous counties, intertwining his soul with the verdant hills, whispering trees, and the silent yet vibrant stories encapsulated within them.

These screenshots are from the Google Maps file that Man in the Woods has used to document his Friday Walk since 2018.

This isn’t merely a walk. It’s a pilgrimage, a deliberate and introspective journey weaving through Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset, and beyond, that seeks to unravel and intimately comprehend every facet of the terrain Man in the Woods inhabits. From the neolithic long barrow dubbed the Giant’s Grave to the witches’ trees where tributes mysteriously appear, his path has been punctuated by tales and experiences that only the keen and patient observer is privy to. The Friday Walk, as it’s known, is more than a physical endeavor; it’s a spiritual and cultural exploration, an attempt to entwine his existence with the very fibers of the land beneath his feet.

In the undulating rhythms of his journey, Man in the Woods crafts artefacts, or “little stories,” which not only depict his experiences but also resonate with a larger audience, sparking a collective yearning for connection, nature, and tranquility amidst a chaotic world. His creations, often shared as 90-second visual snippets of his walks on social media platforms, occasionally making into his self-curated Museum of Mump, transcend mere observation, offering viewers a brief escape into a world where every step is a dialogue with the earth and every artefact a token of its silent stories.

In a society often entwined with instant gratification and hurried lives, the tale of Man in the Woods invites us to pause, to reflect, and perhaps, to step outside and embark on our own personal pilgrimages. For, in the deliberate act of slowing down and truly seeing the world around us, we may uncover the hidden tales and truths that have quietly awaited our discovery all along.

Tradition is not the worship of the ashes but the tending of the flame

Man in the Woods

You’ve mentioned that people are interested in nature and the old ways. Do you have a theory on why that might suddenly be happening in greater number now? Do you, for instance, subscribe to the idea that it’s a reaction to climate change? Is there more to it than that?

I suspect that most people interested in things that are folk are also concerned about climate change, but I don’t think that most people who are worried about climate change are interested in folk. I think what a lot of people want is connection: to community, to the land, to something that might loosely be described as spirituality.

Two world wars, centuries of enclosure acts, and the success of capitalism have really separated us from the land and the rich local culture that once lived there.

And then the decline of organised religion has left another void in our communal and spiritual lives. The great thing about the world of folk culture is that it offers us a chance to reconnect to all of these things. And I think that is what people are after.

Has this stuff always been of interest to you, or is it something that has taken on new meaning as time passes?

I could string together a really coherent narrative about enjoying my mum’s old stories as a child, choosing to watch Time Team instead of Robot Wars, the deep interest in the past I developed pretty much as soon as I decided not to do GCSE history… I could even mention my time at art school where I became obsessed with the idea of British identity and what that meant, and the half-hearted project I did on morris dancing back in 2010.

But really, I had no idea that any of these things belonged to a bigger cosmology until much more recently. I started sharing my interests in standing stones and hillforts and pubs and morris dancing and history and storytelling and ritual on social media around 2017. And I think it was only really through finding a community of people with similar interests that the penny finally dropped and I realised I was into the folk world very, very deeply.

Was there anything or anybody that influenced you in what you’re doing?

Just about everyone and everything influences my work. I’m constantly in awe of the world, and I think it’s really important to consider the broad spectrum of what might be considered folk culture. The working men’s club, the boarded up Wilko, a depressing meal deal, and a pint of Thatchers. To me it’s all as important as the things that are traditionally thought of as ‘folk’ and I can feel very romantic about it all.

Do you ever take people along with you on your walks, or is it a very private ritual?

My Friday Walk is my own private ritual. If somebody else was there, I’d have a great time, but I would miss out on my own connection to the place. Doing my walk alone means I can sit and watch a slug for an hour, or stop and draw every five minutes. I can hum half-remembered bits of folk songs to myself, or maybe Destiny’s Child. And I can talk to strangers about their gardens and get a bit emotional about how beautiful everything is after a pint of ale. And I think it’s really important to just have that time and space to soak up the world around you at your own pace.

Does traditional music have much of an effect on you, or is it mainly the landscape and perhaps the rituals that you’re interested in? I’m often perplexed as to why there has been such a resurgence in interest in “the old ways” but not necessarily “the old music”.

It’s a really good question. I love traditional music, but I am having to work quite hard to know it. For most of us, I think the only traditional songs that get passed down to us from the previous generations are nursery rhymes.

I love going to a carol service at Christmas. Standing in a room with other people, all singing the same songs you sing every year and feeling like you’re part of a tradition is a really special thing. I would love for more traditional music to be that familiar and accessible and communal.

Is the world of The Mump still a going concern? I ask because you don’t seem to mention it much recently, but you did in a Weird Walk piece I saw from last year.

Yes! It is still going, but I have deliberately stopped mentioning it. I think sometimes defining something too much whilst you’re still trying to explore what it is yourself can be limiting, so I’m trying to feel it out organically. But the basic idea of my work existing as artefacts from a sort of reflection of Britain is still what I am aiming for.

Over five years of walking, are there any moments that stand out in your memory?

I stopped at a pub on the northern edge of the New Forest one day and some old boys invited me to sit with them. They offered around some chestnuts they’d picked in the woods and got the landlord to roast for them and one man told this story.

“There used to be a fucking great walnut tree down on the green. Belonged to the farmer. He ‘ad a brick on a chain and every week ‘e’d come by an’ throw the brick up into the branches. One day I walks past ‘im and I says: ‘What d’you do that for then?’ An ‘e says: ‘Gotta bruise the tree to get a good crop of walnuts.’ This tree is fucking covered in them every year. An ‘e says because ‘e does it every week, when ‘e dies the tree’ll die too. Well I think: Don’t be so fucking daft.

“Anyway, 15 years pass by and one day the farmer dies. The very next day, that walnut tree is lying on the fucking ground.”

Little Avon Relic (2023) 

I’m really interested in the language of religious artefact and ritual, and how we can use it to rebuild our connection to the land in a meaningful way. This is a piece of cloth that I soaked in a sample of water I took from a beautiful little stream I found on my Friday Walk called the Little Avon. I wanted to keep a bit of the river with me, so I have.

Bonfire Night Poster (2023)

Tradition is not the worship of the ashes but the tending of the flame. A lot of people find real solace and escapism in connecting to reimagined pagan festivals like Samhain, and I think that’s great. But it would be a shame to ignore the traditions that are still going strong and then mourn them once they’re lost. This is a poster I made for an imagined Bonfire Night. Come along.

Wayland’s Smithy (2023)

If you are travelling along the ridgeway and your horse loses a shoe, leave your horse overnight – along with a piece of money – at the ancient burial mound called Wayland’s Smithy. When you return in the morning your horse will have been reshod by Wayland the Smith. You’re welcome.

I have touched the stones of Avebury patch (2023)

I’m interested in how we can reconnect with the old ways through lived experience: ritual, novelty, and just getting out there. Go and touch the stones.

the beast (2023)

I once got chased into a willow tree by a load of frisky steers, and thankfully managed to avoid becoming one of the handful of people who are killed by cattle each year in Britain. At a time when the wilds are almost completely gone, and nature is on the back foot, the idea that I could be seriously injured by something so silly and sweet and ubiquitous as a cow gives me a little bit of hope.

Keep up with Man in the Woods’ Friday Walk on Instagram and Tiktok. For more on his artwork, head to maninthewoods.co.uk.