Tough Soles

The red girls by ellie berry


This land felt cold, and never ending. It was worked for a purpose, and this was built just for passing. It was fen and fey and wild. It was wet. 

I heard the story of the red girls the second evening of the walk; they lived out here in the bog. We would pass their stretch of land soon, and we'd know we were there when the canal rose up above the wetlands,  showing the dismal greys and rich deep browns of the ground swallowing the horizons.
They had all lived together, these red girls, out in this empty place. They were called so for their burning bright hair. I was told they used to do their washing in the waterway, or just walk here, waiting for passers. The made others' journeys pass quicker, with wit and charm and chat as they wandered the banks. 

As we walked these long, open sections in a constant rain I thought of them, in such a monotonous and lonely place. My clothes were slowly being soaked through, drops rolling down the sides of my hood, falling off the ends of my sleeves. Yet after a while my lips dried out. The air tasted of damp acid. I thought of the red girls, and I daydreamed of leaving this banal place, of colour, of dance, of dried lips, and then of lipstick. I imagined colouring in this unchanged landscape, mixing it's textures and masking them with others. 




There is rarely silence while walking by ellie berry

There is rarely silence while walking - hiking boots crunch through layers of leaves; breaths heave on the uphill stretches; backpacks gently, but relentlessly, creak as the weight shifts from shoulder to hip. Wind blows branches, rain pelts hoods. However, within this amiable cacophony,  the most consistent noise machine would have to be one's mind.

It can go unnoticed, the noise a mind can make. While living in a loud, constantly changing environment like a city, the mental chatter you have with yourself nestles into the background sounds of everyday life. It disguises itself as to-do lists, and reminders for events you’ve forgotten to write down. But while your legs are burning, feet gently sliding in the boggy soil (somehow found on every mountain on this island) your mind will keep talking to you. It builds elaborate plans for when the walking ends, or maybe dissects the language used on a single sign many miles back.

And then I look up, panting and with shaking knees. The photo forms in front of me, and my hands automatically unclip the camera from where it’s latched as I walk. Camera is raised to eye, and for that moment there is silence.


There is a fine line between creation and research. For the first half of this project I have been creating to the rhythm of  my internal monologue. Currently, I am stationary, living in a city. I am examining what I have made during part one - a 5 month period that covered over 2,000km of walking.  All the silent moments now have the potential to create a new narrative, reflecting on the research I find, and the new voices that are sharing the space of my mind.

The above text I wrote as part of a series of research seminars I attended last November at PhotoIreland's The Critical Academy. The six seminars were based around developing research skills to help artist underpin their creative work with solid foundations. 

Big ideas and hard-bitten feet by ellie berry

Blue trails are completed trails.

Blue trails are completed trails.

Since April of this year (2017) I have been walking all the National Waymarked Trails of Ireland. These trails, 43 in total, ramble through 25 counties and encompass a combined 4,000km in distance.

This project is known as Tough Soles, and wandering all over the place with me is Carl Lange. The idea came about from previous travels, where we'd noticed a strange thing happening. The further we went and the more people we met, the more we were told what a beautiful, unique, idyllic place Ireland was. To them, Ireland represented the exact type of adventure that we were travelling to find. And so, this project was born from a desire to explore and know my home. To find the Ireland that I hadn’t experienced.

To date, we've completed 20 trails and almost 2,000km. 

We make videos, and share our experiences as we go.