Tales from the Towpath

Tales from the Towpath

Tales from the Towpath is a piece of immersive literature about Manchester’s waterways, accessed by walking a story trail with a mobile device. Geocaches and augmented reality Zappar codes provide fragments of story. Developed for the Manchester Literature Festival 2014, the live event included micro projections, origami boats, audience contributions, and a performance on a canal boat.

Helen Varley Jamieson, München, Germany

Tales from the Towpath invites audiences to rediscover Manchester’s waterways via a digitally-enhanced walking tour. Produced by four writers/digital artists for Manchester Literature Festival in 2014, it was shortlisted for the 2014 New Media Writing Award (hosted by Bournemouth University).

A story trail linking the city's waterways to significant locations such as The Royal Exchange, John Rylands Library and Midland Hotel takes audiences on a journey of the imagination: past collides with present, digital with print, to create an immersive reading of the city. Audiences are invited to walk new paths, to look at the surroundings differently, to slow down and make surprising discoveries.

The self-guided walking tour uses geocaching, Zappar codes; in the live event during the 2014 Manchester Literature Festival these elements were combined with micro-projection, a micro-print publication (origami boat) and a live performance to create a multi-sensory experience. The geocaches and Zappar codes remain accessible to walkers in the city, and an online version is available via the project's website.

“I enjoyed hunting for the different parts of the story. It was exciting when you found the next bit and it took me to places in Manchester that I hadn’t been to before.”

"The story trail was great fun. Reading the stories made the locations come alive."

The digital and live elements fuse to tell the story of Manchester waterways and their ecological fate. It spans the Victorian city to an uncertain future 50 years from now. Three characters circle one another across time. There are 11 episodes to find, in specific locations within walking distance of each other in Manchester. Audiences need an internet-enabled mobile device and two free apps.

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. There are 6 geocaches in Tales from the Towpath.

Zapcodes are scannable icons that add digital media to what you see through your mobile device’s camera – it’s known as augmented reality, since it allows us to see and hear more that what is actually there. You need the Zappar app to read the 5 codes.

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