This is a film of care, a cleansing ritual of body and place.
Using the elements of fire, water and earth, She scours, washes and smudges with sage, preparing the ground and clearing the air above it. She buries the white seed, and lays the path for a walk through the spiral of life. The walk leads to the centre of things and She goes barefoot as pilgrims do.
This film is inspired by the part of every day life in a convent, anchorage or hermitage when prayer, prostration and chanting is paused for cleaning, sweeping and planting. This backyard ritual seeks to bring the mundane and the sacred together. Meditation in a beautiful temple, silent and still, is a long way from the basic movements of everyday life, particularly for many women. To carry out these activities with mindfulness is a challenge, though there can be a beauty in them, and they are an essential part of walking the spiral of life.
If you are not in Edinburgh, you can also walk alone or organise a group in your urban area and walk with them.
You can choose whether to walk at the same time as we do (walking together in time if not space) or at a time of your own choice before the online meeting.
Age and ability: You can do this walk and the associated activities whatever your age and ability. Please adjust it to fit you and your circumstances. You may need to find a proxy to walk your route for you, directing them to certain trees and talking with them about what you are feeling.
Making a record of your tree-feelings: Throughout this walk you will be encouraged to record your tree-feelings using any medium you want. Please choose the ones you like, or want to experiment with. Further down this page you will find a list of ways to record.
The online meeting
We are part of a tree’s ecosystem. What does the tree offer us? What do we offer it? We will have a conversation about this and refer to our feelings and sensations to do so.
What will the online meeting involve? We will listen, talk to, and share our tree-feelings with each other. We will start with ‘Standing Like a Tree’ a very simple chi gung exercise (2 minutes) to root ourselves and a few moments of sitting quietly to recall our tree-time. Then we will have a conversation about:
Our symbiosis with trees: the interaction between trees and us, organisms which live in close physical association, to the advantage of us both
Our relationship with them: the way in which we are connected
How we cohabit with trees: the state or fact that we live and exist at the same time and in the same place
Our co-dependency: how we both need each other, sometimes to the detriment of the other
Our reliance: how we depend on or trust in trees and them in us, how we depend on each other
And then the plan is to draw some conclusions about the value of feelings when it comes to our respect and protection of trees, something to add to the better-known ways of relating to them – counting, describing, naming and classifying.
Date: May 22
Zoom link: Supplied by Urban Tree Fest
The overall aim of the event is
To get up close and cosy with an urban tree or trees
To find out whether and why we value them
To use our own felt, visceral, bodily experience to do this, rather than information from a book, screen or expert
To creatively broaden the remit for collecting data by using a wider variety of methods to find out their effect on us, including our sensual and personal reactions
Please keep all your information, artwork, videos and so on handy or uppermost in your mind so that when we meet online, you can share what you felt and found. We will be talking about what tree or trees you visited and sharing descriptions and images of them, and we will focus specifically on how you felt when you were with it/them.
Ways to record
Words – prose, poetry, traditional data collection methods, mind map. You can type on your phone in an email to someone you know or to the whats app or facebook group You can ask someone else to transcribe for you. You can tweet using #Treefeelingwalk and #urbantreefestival
Visual images – draw, photograph, paint, sculpt or visually depict in another way. Materials: clay, plasticine, pencil, paints, crayons, chalks, charcoal, paper, canvas
Sound – record your feelings and findings on your phone, or say them out loud to the tree or to someone else. If you don’t know where the sound recording app is on your phone, try Tools. Or you can probably download one for free
Film – video yourself speaking your feelings and thoughts, or the tree and the sounds around it
Music – sing, play a musical instrument, listen to the rhythm inside yourself or the tree and tap or drum it out (you may want to record it)
Mapping or GPS record of the route
Please note that if you want to collect found materials, please respect the tree and its natural surroundings. Don’t break parts off or remove something that another organism might need and rely on!
What to record
The tree itself: its girth, height and age – You can measure on the spot using a tape measure or a long piece of string/wool/rope that you measure when you get home. You could try pacing around it, measuring with your hands, embracing it and seeing how big the circle you make is (maybe you have to join hands with someone else). If it is tall, stand back and look up, if small stand beside it. Use metaphors! Is it ‘like’ you or someone or something else? For example, as big as a barrel, as tall as a street lamp, as small as your finger, 60 times bigger than you, as tall as that house over there, like a crane…..
Here is a pdf to help you measure and find out the age of trees pdf
The tree’s identification: If you want to know its scientific or vernacular name, you could try the Leafsnap app or other suitable one which can be downloaded onto your phone
Or look in a book. Here is a booklist published by the Tree Council
The Area Tree Composition: Describe the geographical area where your tree is situated – note how many trees there are, how close they are to each other, write their names if you know them or do a drawing of them altogether in a group (eg 2 birch, 4 ash all about 3 paces apart, planted in holes in the pavements outside people’s houses).
Draw a map of your walk, or download the route and mark or draw the trees on it.
In the trunk of the tree(s) you have drawn, note down a feeling that you had while you were there (don’t judge yourself, be instinctive!). Growing on and hanging from the branches, write the thoughts you had while you were there. Here is an example on the webpage.
Compile a ‘fact’ sheet of trees in your immediate area using some of the methods above
This blog is related to walks I have led in life and online which focus on the lives of Leith’s women. They were associated with the Audacious Women Festival.
Focus on women
I am focusing on women’s stories because as a woman and a feminist I need to know who came before me, about my backstory; it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. I have a special interest in the lives of people who are forgotten or overlooked, and especially those who were connected to the area where I have lived for so long. I took solitary and group walks to visit the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground, and South Leith Parish Church, stopping at streets between them to discover more about the women who lived there.
Leith had grown into an independent burgh by 1833, but despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against, it was merged with the City of Edinburgh in 1920. Located by the sea, we have records of its wharfs being in use as far back the eleventh century, and know that by the fourteenth, it had become the principal port. (After that Glasgow took over offering quicker passages to the Americas). The docks in the right hand picture above (named after Victoria (Queen), Albert (her consort) etc) were built between 1817-1904. Many of the women we will be finding out about will have seen those changes happening, they and their families would have relied on it, and sailed in and out through it.
I have spent a great deal of time trying to discover information about the women buried in Leith, and have not found as much as I would have hoped. I did come across a record with the names of the women in the Leith Poor House in the eighteenth century which made very interesting reading, but very little detail about their lives, and thus I scoured newspaper cuttings, Facebook, local history groups, and online links for associated details. Nevertheless, thinking about these women I never knew, searching for details about their lives, and trying to understand what it might have been like for them to live in Leith / Scotland in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries has been worthwhile, emotionally and symbolically.
As we all know, behind the inventions and developments, the ports and ships and grand buildings which were built then, and which have survived almost entirely with the names of men attached to them, were women and girls giving birth, loving and supporting them.
The women who were buried with headstones, so that we know their name and sometimes, their family affiliations, came from monied families and/or were married to men with money. Although the language you will find on them is archaic to our ears ‘Sarah Adam relict of Alex…’ these were wives, sisters and mothers who were ‘loved and respected’ and ‘much missed’. I will continue to be interested and to listen to as many stories as I can, to unearth not the bodies but the lives of them.
One of the most famous graves in Rosebank is that commemorating Ida Bononomi (probably Italian). It reads, ‘Sacred to the memory of Miss Ida Bonanomi, the faithful and highly esteemed dresser of Queen Victoria, who departed this life October 15 1854, in the 37th year of her age. Beloved and respected by all who knew her.This stone had been placed by Queen Victoria as a mark of her regard’.
Bononomi’s job was a position of extreme intimacy with the monarch. In the Autumn of 1854, Ida had been travelling in Scotland with the Queen and stayed with her at Holyrood Palace where she fell ill. She was therefore unable to travel on with her mistress. In her journal, the Queen wrote, ‘Saw Sir James Clark, who brought me a telegram with the this sad news that my excellent maid Ida Bononomi, whom I had had to leave at Holyrood as she had become so ill, not having been well at Balmoral before – had died last night. It was a great shock to me, & I was thoroughly upset, for no one, including Sir James had apprehended any immediate danger. She was the kindest, gentlest, best being possible, & such a pleasant servant, so intelligent, so trustworthy & her calm, quiet manner had such a soothing effect, on my often over wrought nerves. To lose her thus, and so far away, surrounded only by strangers is too grievous. Everyone was shocked & grieved, for she was quite adored.’
Queen Victoria liked funerals and had an interest in the protocol of mourning, ‘a mentality as much as a personal observance’ (see below for references). It is known that she recognised the deaths of her housemaids and others with ritual in which other members of the household were require to be involved, and also that she visited Ida’s grave six years after she died.
There are, of course, many other graves of interesting women in this cemetery, and there is also one which commemorates the stillborn babies who, by Scots law, cannot be cremated and must be buried. Annie Blackie is said to be the oldest person buried here (105 years). There is a rare female WW1war grave to E G Elder of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (7/7/18) and a WW2 memorial to E W L Fruish, also of the WRNS.
Jessie Mann (1805-1867) is a strong candidate for Scotland’s first female photographer. She was known to be the studio assistant of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson and worked at Rock House, Calton Hill. Later a school housekeeper in Musselburgh, she died of a stroke aged 62. She is thought to be the photographer of the King of Saxony which hangs in the Portrait Gallery on Queen’s Street (yes! the same queen).
Turning left out of Rosebank, we can walk across the junction and along Newhaven Road. Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant (not Dr Robert Edmond Grant, zoologist). I have not been able to find out anything about her and her life – her story has disappeared, perhaps deemed less important than his, despite the fact that he would not exist if it weren’t for her, not least because birthing was such a dangerous task in the 1780’s.
Historically it [birth] was thoroughly natural, wholly unmedical, and gravely dangerous. Only from the early eighteenth century did doctors begin getting seriously involved, with obstetrics becoming a medically respectable specialty and a rash of new hospitals being built. Unfortunately, the impact of both was bad. Puerperal, or childbed, fever was a mystery, but both doctors and hospitals made it worse. Wherever the medical men went the disease grew more common, and in their hospitals it was commonest of all.
Eliza’s son was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties (1782-92) to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (USA) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, as a result of the female and male slaves who carried out the work: they were, ‘the driving force behind the success of the plantation’. (Amy Hedrick, author on glynngen.com).
Women in industry
Flaxmill Place is almost opposite Elizafield. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported from Scotland, and it was a very successful industry employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women (although the exact data is unavailable).
The Bonnington Mills, on the banks of the Water of Leith, made woollen cloth as well as linen, and much of the wool was produced by women in their own homes nearby. As the owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, they controversially introduced Flemish and French workers (who were accommodated at Little Picardy(ie), the current Picardy Place). The women and girls spun the cambric yarn (for the close-woven, light type of linen), to try and improve the quality of the cloth, but this took away the local jobs.
Before the Industrial Revolution, hand spinning had been a widespread female employment. It could take as many as ten spinners to provide one hand-loom weaver with yarn, and men did not spin, so most of the workers in the textile industry were women. The new textile machines of the Industrial Revolution changed that. Wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had previously spun, found themselves unemployed. In a few locations, new cottage industries such as straw-plaiting and lace-making grew and took the place of spinning, but in other locations women remained unemployed.
In 1686, the first Parliament of James VII passed an ‘Act for Burying in Scots Linen‘, the object of which was to keep the cloth in the country. It was enacted that, “hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet, or anything else except in plain linen, or cloth of hards, made and spun within the kingdom, without lace or point.” Heavy penalties were attached to breaches of the Act, and it was made the duty of the parish minister to receive and record certificates of the fact that all bodies were buried as directed. On hearing this, we can imagine that the women in the graves we were visiting may have been bound in just such a linen shroud, made right in this place.
The remains of the Catherine Sinclair drinking fountain – the first – (she was a children’s writer and philanthropist 1800-1864) can be found at Steadfastgate, Gosford Place. See the Women of Scotland site for more details.
North Leith Burial Ground
Colonel Lady Anne Mackintosh (b 1723-1787) was the daughter of John Farquharson, the chief of the clan and staunch Jacobite. She married the head of the Mackintosh(es) when she was aged 19 and was feisty by all accounts, known as one of the damn rebel bitches (the name of a book by Maggie Craig). These were women who acted as moral supporters for their men. They served in intelligence and communication roles, built support for the movement, sheltered Jacobite fugitives, and had their image torn apart by the enemy press in their attempt to discredit the Jacobite cause.
When Anne was 22, she dressed in male attire and rode around the Scottish glens to enlist men to fight in a regiment for the cause Prince Charlie. This was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart in what became known as the 1745 Jacobite uprising or ’45 rebellion’ or, simply, ‘The 45’. The numbers of men she raised are different in each account, from 97 to 200, 350, even 400!
“The ‘ladies’ all got off with at worst, a brief term of imprisonment. Some made pretty speeches to King George and got their husbands released and their lands restored. Even when in prison they were well treated, and allowed their silk gowns and nice food. This applied even in cases where they were clearly guilty of treason. ‘Common women’, on the other hand, mostly got shipped off to the West Indies as slaves for life, usually for doing nothing more than following their husbands on campaign.”
During the uprising Captain Angus Mackintosh, her husband, fought on the losing Government side at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 and was subsequently captured. He was later released into Anne’s custody. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, however, when the tides turned, Anne herself was held in Inverness for six weeks before being turned over to her mother-in-law, whose family had fought for the other side. These family disagreements were eventually forgiven and Anne and her family moved to Leith where she died in 1784 and was buried in North Leith Burial Ground which would have had a church beside it in those days. Although there is a plaque about her, he grave is not here and she probably lies under the flats to the east!
The memorial stones at North Leith Burial Ground are old (1664 – 1820) and varied. You can find grand mausoleums and individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all have engravings and carvings worth seeing. I suggested we search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh and in the process we found carvings of a long bone, angels, skulls and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).
Queen Charlotte Street
Crossing the Water of Leith again, along Sandport Place and Tolbooth Wynd is Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery (a bit of a theme emerging).
Sara Sheridan, in her book Where are the Women, tells of Elizabeth Nicol (1807-189), an abolitionist, anti-segregationist, suffragist, and chartist who “attended the World Anti-slavery Convention in London in 1840 as one of only six British female delegates. On arriving the women were told, despite their objections, they could not participate and were made to sit in a segregated area.”
Queen Charlotte was a reknowned botanist and founded Kew Gardens. Married to King George III, she had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. The painting is owned by the Scottish National Galleries. Recent articles have posed the question whether she was of African origin.
Round the corner and on to Constitution Street is St Mary’s Star of the Sea, a Catholic church and home to the missionary oblates.
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star, Guide of the wand'rer here below! Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care, Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea, Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
South Leith Parish Church
Further up the same street is St Mary’s Chapel, part of South Leith Parish Church, dating from 1483) and its graveyard. I spent some considerable time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and did manage to discover that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community.
Amongst other jobs, Patrick was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society which was formed in 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital, bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
The forerunner of that Leith Hospital was the Old King James Hospital in the Kirkgate, founded in 1614 and closed in to make room for the new one in Sheriff Brae overlooking Mill Lane in1822. You can still part of the wall close by the South Leith Parish Church.
If you were one of the very first groups of female students who were finally ‘allowed’ to do clinical training at a Scottish hospital in 1886, you would have done it in Leith – in your long skirts and tight waisted costumes.
Christine Hoy tells us about the first district nurse, Mrs Brown whose role it was “to carry out faithfully the doctors’ orders, to instruct the relations or friends of the patient in the art of good nursing and to inculcate, and if necessary enforce, attention to cleanliness”. The hospital paid for her to attend a nursing course at King’s College, London. Popular and hardworking she made 13,000 home visits in 1877 alone.
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life. Wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her father chopped her head off. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. Perhaps this is why she is invoked in thunderstorms. She is also the patroness of miners, although I am not sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams in 2019, mass graves were found. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and the bodies were smaller, showing signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the poorhouse.
The graves of Jane Eliza Mackie and Jane Smart (left)
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I made a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. This is to recognise how many women we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
Ann McRuear Relick of…
Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
These have been women’s stories, of their families, interests, occupations and deaths. They are often seen through the eyes, or in the context of men, making it hard to celebrate them in their own right, but the search to find out more about them was well worth it and is by no means over.
Walking Artists Network and Women Who Walk
Tamsin Grainger is a member of Women Who Walk and the Walking Artists Network. The network is for those who use walking in their creative or academic practice. It includes artists, writers, field historians and archaeologists, psychogeographers, academics and more.
A First Friday Walk – March 2021. Wardie Bay, 5 minutes from home
“We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape … into ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently.” that exists “even in familiar landscapes: ….. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographics, leaving known places outlandish or quickened,”
Can I help you find a term for those places? Shall we go somewhere where that happens and feel what it’s like, enquire into the difference between not-beach and beach, and see if we can come up with one?
My usual way onto Wardie Bay is up the wee slope and though the stoneledges. I leave the busy road that’s been there for nearly 200 years, and has known me for 12, and at the top I get a salty blast to the nose which dismisses the fumes. I spy a man, a long way off on the sand. He has a big rucksack and he stoops, probably looking at his phone. He’s almost a silhouette against the-place-where-the-tide-is-out. I see and inhale where I am going.
I begin the transition carefully. I turn my shoes sideways, peering down to avoid slipping. Not looking at the beach or the man, I only see my feet, one by one. I fit the long sides of my trainers into the angles where the earthed slope meets the uneven stone strips.
For a second I still. Half way. I feel the presence of the sea on my shoulders, the sky touching my hat and the wind on my ungloved hands which are stretched out at the sides of me for better balance. Something is already happening.
I run the last bit at the bottom which means that my heartbeat matches the pleasure I feel at being there. I am assailed by the wave-sound, the sea-odour and, finally, with the soles of my feet as I step from the large-rasping-pebbles onto the little-grainy-sand – I sink slightly, tilt, halt.
Now it all embraces me in one big hug, the noise, scent and feel of the beach’s surface that I like. I look out to sea and my lungs take a great deep, heaving breath.
Quite soon I lie facedown to photograph the smell of crab in the seaweed. I screw up the skin at the nape of my neck where the cold gets in, to try and stop it doing that. The bladder wrack under my elbows as I balance the camera, is dry and brittle. I am in another world and I try to capture all the wonder but I know from experience that can be tricky.
Yes, the sand. When I stand again it reminds me of velvet. Through my trainers and two pairs of socks it’s delicious. I swivel and furrow and it’s like when you sink your hands into the strands of a ball of merino wool and squeeze the softness.
I am on an expedition to find something out, so I rewind – I stare at the horizon and in my mind I start again from home. When we go somewhere we bring our anticipation of that place with us, the idea of what it will be like. I brought the way the beach was before – all the befores – layers of previous times when I had visited – with me today. And in my body when I got to the top of the steps, were the traces of everything else I had lived through up until that moment. And not only that. The beach, itself, had an imprint on it, of all the people (including me), and activities and weathers that had happened there, all accumulated in that second when I entered. I suspect that this previousness influences the way that we feel and think when an ordinary place becomes ‘quickened’.
I lie down on the sloping, freezing rock, blue-sky with white-cloud above. I shut my eyes and smell the fish. Under my closed lids I can see the shells and stones I had been looking at before.
What IS that place called, not where-I-was, and not where-I-am-now ? We know about journey, about being in transition, skimming or flying across lands and high skies to get somewhere. What do we call that place we just missed, the one we whipped through unawares? My tummy flurries when I’m approaching, the ground underneath me is altered when I arrive, but in the blink of an eye I am here, not there.
Fingers fold over cold thumbs and how smooth my skin is. I nearly sleep but the chill interferes. I rest still, not wanting to get up but knowing I’m going to.
The name of the place where I make the ‘transition’ might depend on which direction I take to get here and how I arrived.
If I chose the flat way from the street, the stonewalls very tall at the sides of me and feeling very small going between them, I would be coming upslope. At the corner I would be on a level with everyone and their dogs, able to see diagonally across to the rocks. There, hovering, no-one would notice me. Then I would run off the cobble, do a hop, skip and turn cartwheel on the sand, and land in the middle of the ring with a flourish.
Propping myself up on my elbows to look, I think. It would not be the same if I approached from the air, if I was a gull flying down, folding my wings back and stretching my thin legs out, landing on both my webbed feet at the same time. Landing lightly, making hardly a mark, the wind at my back, I would run along and get on with my search until someone disturbed me. I can’t know if some places are more special for birds, but I do see when there are suddenly hundreds not three – something is exceptional or there wouldn’t be so many at one time, they wouldn’t be so excited.
If I were a wave from the north, I would turn over calmly, spreading, rolling, on to the strand. I would canoodle and stroke and she would offer up her treasures to me willingly. Or I might come faster, rising and rising then crashing. I would buffet and pummel and she would be covered with my offerings, and our meeting would be rousing.
Yes, I am sure that the direction we take and the way we enter, influences the magic when we get there. I launch up at last and stride towards the breakwater.
There are lots of stories about transitions into other worlds that might give us ideas for this place name we are seeking. They involve complex feelings which may help us focus: There is Mary’s secret garden, found through a door under some hanging plants; Lucy’s Narnia – she went through two rows of coats with her arms stretched out in front of her, so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe; and Alice’s Wonderland which was of course accessed via a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
Mary, “… took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly—slowly. Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.” (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.)
Lucy, “… felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well.” When she felt snow under her feet and on her face, that was when she realised she was somewhere else. (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis.)
Alice has a long, slow-motion fall down “what seemed to be a very deep well”, meaning that we readers get to see, think and feel her transition. She was “not a bit hurt”. Indeed, it seemed to heighten her ‘outlandish’ response – things got much more curious as a result. Later, she got tearful when she couldn’t get through the too-small door to the garden. Her feelings on the threshold, and during the shift from one place to another, were different depending on whether it was a matter of choice or if she was catapulted there. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll).
It seems that we might hold or expel our breath, run or move slowly across the divide, feel very inquisitive, excited or upset as we go. Time may pass quickly, so that we gloss over the feelings we have there, or slow right down, giving us a hyper-real sense of it, even space to ruminate.
The birds wheel and cry, a dog races past me and splashes after the ball. I have reached the other side and have to turn back.
When we are at the portal we are half one thing, half the other; leaving and approaching at the same time. We are momentarily inserted, midway. We are about to ……… .
So, it’s decision time. What will we call it? I am back home now, balancing on the edge of the bed-base in the attic room so I can reach the sill and look over it at the beach below. I can see the place where not-there bleeds into there, and I have vertigo with the strain of it all.
‘Crossing’ or ‘passing over’ has too much redolence of death, though there is always a sort of loss associated with leaving, and, like a pilgrimage, it is really the journey that is important, not what you call it. No, I have a suggestion. The name of the place I went through, where something changed so that my familiar beach became something other, is the in-between. What do you think?
Today I walk an imaginary line around my house. My feet don’t leave indentations to show I have done it, not since the recent snow, and when that melted, the trace was gone. Home and back, I pace and pound my boundary line, a pathway that returns to itself, reconnects, reattaches, brings me back to the garden gate.
Terminalia is a one day festival of walking, space, place and psychogeography on 23rd Feburary. Terminalia is the festival of Terminus, Roman god of boundaries and landmarks so if there was ever a god and festival for psychogeography this would be it!
They say that people walking somewhere can change a place, that the land alters because of us. Of course, it’s clear if we wear down the mountainside or trample wildflowers underfoot, if we make a desire path, flattening the grass just enough that the next person who comes by can see it and tread it afterwards. But I’m talking about the idea that the nature of a place adjusts as many people cross it for a specific reason (such as pilgrimage, religious or secular), that an ordinary location becomes imbued with a special significance after it has been walked upon by people with a shared aim or sensibility. If that’s true, do my streets, the streets which bear my weight daily, still feel me when I’m gone? Do I rub off on them somehow? Can I say I belong there?
Or is it the air above a path that is disturbed by my body moving through it, affected by my presence, retaining a whiff of me? Then, what happens when the wind blows and displaces it – have I been whisked away, or am I still there? How exactly does it work, this treading of Terminus, deity of the marking of our territory?
A crow breaks the quiet with a piercing caw on the turret, the wind finds crevices in my clothing, the odour of fish and chips invades my sense of propriety. Someone has etched into the tree’s bark and graffitied the bridge’s stone. A trickle finds a way through, waves breach the breakwater and ride roughshod over rocks. We must leave a gap or the wind will blow a solid fence over, a river bring down a protective wall. In so many ways, boundaries seem to be there to be broken – at least that’s when we notice them.
A few of us meander along the ribboned edge of the bay, the constant interruption of land by sea. We talk to no-one, we stand and watch the water. I feel sad and the waves sound melancholy too. Only the other day it was like satin, now the surface darkens and shifts as the wind messes it into mackerel patterns. Sand clouds rush past me in such a hurry, disintegrating as they haste towards Fife. Uncharacteristic ripples sweep out to Inchcolm island where the disappearing rainbow arcs (between real and unreal). While I was there I had that golden luck and the rain never reached me, I who have hot sun on my calves. One by one, we stoop and pick what catches our eye. I chase dry seaweed as it billows across the beach.
Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals
I am concentrating on my own boundaries of time (too little for my own projects) – noticing how they get eroded, how I let them, allowing myself less. And on the amount of space I have (too much room in my house now the children and lodgers have gone) – somehow ending up with more than I need. As I pace the liminal wetness, the seam, I mourn the freedom I didn’t have (I was raised to think about others before myself and it has stayed with me) and the shells I am inadvertently crunching underfoot. The sea doesn’t stick to its limit. I see it constantly pushing them. I stand close by until it unexpectedly breaks the rule and surges at me. I have to stumble back out of the way or get wet.
There are fewer birds than usual on the strand, though later I see them swarming, their blanched bellies catching the sun as they swoop en masse. Over the blue they go, alighting on the pontoon quickly, one after the other, then taking off just as swiftly, an avian Mexican wave.
I muse on how everyday habits break down fear by reassuring us what will happen; then equally how they cause it, how we become nervous about being spontaneous and managing sudden change. I have been at home so long now, moving steadily around my immediate area – 5 miles in each direction – that I wonder how I’ll manage to go further afield. Will we all spread out across national borders again, back and forth over timelines and zones, or will we be more circumspect, stay closer to home, on our own territory? I have no plans.
Incidentally, Terminalia is also a tree genus (upwards of 200 species) including the Terminalia catappa. Found in Madagascar, tropical and subtropical Asia and the Pacific (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/171034-1), the leaves are to be found at the very end – terminus – of the branches. Types of the tree (bark) are used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart conditions and diarrhoea.
Time has turned and days have passed. We can barely remember January now. It is no longer March, it is December. The old year will end tonight, and 2021 will be there on the other side.
This year has not been the same for everyone, but for many, it is too long since we have seen our loved ones. Relatives and friends have died. Business has boomed or collapsed. We may not have worked for months, or perhaps our time has been full to bursting with home-schooling, zooming and on-line meetings. Maybe we have been alone when we wanted to be with someone else, or in closer proximity with them than is healthy. We have walked through empty streets, donned masks, and cleaned our hands more than ever before. With our backs against the wall, secluded behind closed doors, we have been locked in, and these things cannot be undone. There is no going back.
However, I hear that you might want to return to normal, get back to the way things were, and live your life the way it used to be before Covid. I am tempted to will that for you too, to make you happy. But I know that there is no old ‘normal’ to be found, no ‘way back’ now, no ‘what-was’, again.
I also know that because of what we have seen and touched, and because we have heard unfamiliar sounds and thought new thoughts, read, drunk, bled, coughed, sloughed off old cells and re-grown new ones, spotted a white hair, cut our nails and thrown away the clippings, that we have learned from this.
We know more, we are wiser. By dint of living, and of living through what has happened, we have a new perspective. That’s the way it is. We are a bit older (wrinklier? longer in the tooth?), we are sager, we have insight.
We have new opportunities.
It is true that we have heard ourselves say to each other before: ‘Here we go again’ and ‘But, but, we’ve been round this corner already’, however the ‘we’ who are going and being are not the same we. We have changed.
Some things will be familiar, it is true, they will smell and taste almost the same, but they will not be identical. The next breath doesn’t match the previous one, no following step moves in exactly the same direction, no already-given-kiss will be bestowed again.
And, if we think about it, we might say, ‘Thank goodness for that!’ For, surely we would rather not repeat mistakes that we have made, not say, again, words which were spoken in hate or fury, or cry as much, or go through the same pain. We wouldn’t really want to go back, would we, imagining it was all best then, and that’s what we need again?
So, what now?
This is our chance. We can salvage what was great from then, note what was best from that normal, and remember the before, decide what we liked about it and focus on that, letting the rest go.
We can ask each other:
What do you value, love and cherish? Where do you want to spend your time, and who do you want to spend it with? What places are good to be in, what work satisfying to carry out, and what food most delicious to eat?
Let us ask ourselves:
Will we take our fear and face it?
Can we shelve our anger and forgive?
Is our love worth following?
Is life so precious that we promise to do something valuable with it?
Is the land we live on important enough, and is the air we breathe vital enough that we are prepared to change our habits to try to preserve them?
If this makes sense to you, shall we do these things together, so that we aren’t alone? That is, together, in person, if we can be and if we prefer it (not everyone does); otherwise, with others, in another way?
I want to say: Know that you aren’t alone, that there is at least one other person, animal or butterfly, which cares for the same things you do.
And even if you cannot, or do not want to do anything with another person, remember: your thoughts are energy, and your private actions disturb the air around you, they bring about some sort of change. I want you to know that this change can, and will, be felt.
Let’s acknowledge what has happened!
Let’s move forward, not hope to go back!
Let’s make our lives, and the life around us, better!
I am delighted that the Walking Artists Network have published a blog about this project here.
During the first Covid-19 period of Spring – Summer 2020, I walked and collected feathers. This collection has grown into a mixed media project called Clipp’d Wings, which I am still in the process of completing. Would you like to be part of it?
The severe travel limitations imposed by the governments around the world affected many of us from March onwards, and I had received a number of foreign invitations to lead and co-create Shiatsu projects on death and life. Although I had booked a flight to go to Athens, I planned to return home overland: walking and meeting with people in seven countries including Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. Later, my events in France and Portugal would have involved journeying across Spain. None of these have yet taken place, maybe they never will.
As someone who has been travelling in Europe extensively during the past four years, this period was really very different. Moreover, I usually live in Scotland, by the sea, where flocks of gulls and oyster catchers wheel and glide over the harbour, crying and peeping as they settle and paddle on the shore. By contrast, the part of Kent where I was living is landlocked, and I was only able to visit the beach once in 5 months.
Many of the feathers I picked up were from pigeons. The Persians, Romans and Greeks all used pigeons to convey messages. These post pigeons were taken in cages (not planes) to where the sender lived, had a message attached to their legs, and were then released to fly home – something they did naturally.
I was surrounded by birds in Kent. White doves flew above the garden in great circles, repeatedly returning to their attic homes nearby. When I walked in the early evenings, the air was full of the cacophony of rooks, congregating and preparing for night time. Pheasants ran in and out of copses as I explored the public footpaths, and swans sailed along the River Medway, elegantly oblivious to my admiration.
In Clipp’d Wings, I have been asking people – on Twitter (obviously!) – to complete this message:
If I had wings, I would…
Perhaps you might like to shut your eyes and dream of a place you could go if you had wings, be transported somewhere for a moment. If you write it down, the internet will carry this message to me and I will write it down on a tiny piece of paper for you. I will fold, roll and make it into a tiny scroll which will encircle the shaft of a feather, an agent, a symbol of flight.
Through the ages and in divers cultures, feathers have symbolised spirituality, prayers, wisdom and truth. They were, and are, worn as part of ceremonial headdresses. Feathers have been used to flee reality, as transport to other realms, and to weigh against the human heart to see if it was ‘as light as a feather’ and therefore full only of goodness. Yours will join 49 others, gathered together in response to the frustration of lockdown in a flight of collective fancy.
While walking around the lanes of Kent, I came across a number of dovecotes. These avian homes have always inspired me, from the circular Corstorphine dovecote in Edinburgh which gave its name to the tapestry workshop and gallery in Infirmary Street, to the beehive structured Dunure doocot in South Ayrshire. Pigeon and dove families would each have their own wee cubby or pigeon-hole to nest in. Mine is made of cardboard, a sort of display case for displaying the feathers.
If you would like to complete the sentence above, write me a message in the comments box below, of what you would do if you had wings in these Covid times of restricted movement, and as some face a second intense lockdown. I will transfer it to one of the waiting feathers and let you know the result.
The photos and concept of Clipp’d Wings is copyright Tamsin Grainger and should not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. Thank you for your respect in this matter.
Elspeth is a textile artist who develops collaborative walks. In 2015, she set up the group Thread and Word which takes its inspiration from a poem written by Cecilia Vicuña in Edinburgh where Elspeth also led walks once upon a time. Vicuña’s poem uses weaving as a metaphor for people engaging with each other in order to build healthy communities. In Quechua (say kecha) the word for “language” also means “thread”, and the word for “complex conversation” also means “embroidery”. In Quechua, no word exists for a singular entity.
Each artist has chosen a book, short story or a poem written by an author who is blind or visually impaired and introduces their writing to us through a creative engagement.
My little part is a pink pin on the map which when you click on it looks like this: #Distance Drift WALKING WITH VIRGINIA AND MILTON
You will need to click on the link above and then expand the actual map, just like you make a google map bigger. It’s one of the inland ones, quite central, in a wooded piece of green, one of 2 pins (blue and pink) and I am part of the pink one.
‘All our woe’ is a quote from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost‘. I have been living through, thinking and writing about grief and loss, and so wanted to include this theme in my contribution to A Different Lens 2020. Milton is referring to the Christian, biblical story of Eden and the advent of sin, how the tasting of the forbidden fruit in paradise brought death into the world and the sadness which comes with it.
I subscribe to a different view, that death is a natural part of life. This season of Autumn is the celebration of summer’s bounty, of ageing and the falling of leaves – the inevitable, annual decline. Winter is coming, the quiet time when we are advised to snuggle in like hibernating animals do, to reflect on the year that has passed and on our mutability. We won’t live for ever, and when we die, Spring will still come with its new life and fresh beginnings. We might even be reborn! With a bit of work, we can start to appreciate our small place in this cycle.
St Triduana’s Aisle is a small, hexagonal chapel and ancient holy spring in Restalrig, Edinburgh. It is dedicated to a woman who is said to have given up her sight in order to better see God. A Pictish saint, people have also made pilgrimage to a church and loch named after her (St Tredwell) on Papa Westray in Orkney.
I hope you enjoy exploring the map like I did – there are links which have links which have links – threads and weavings of poetry, music, spoken word, video and more. Please do leave a comment below if you would like to.
While I was there I took a few walks, as is my custom.
The first was in the pouring rain from Central Station to Admiraal de Ruijterweg where I was being kindly hosted by a colleague. I was soaked to the skin by the time I arrived. Somehow the rain had seeped around the wheels and into the suitcase, as well as into my rucksack, wetting the handouts I had prepared for the students. I love walking when I first arrive, though, stretching after sitting for so long, and adjusting to a new place, its people and energy.
Getting through from one side (where the buses stop) to the other can be a challenge. Don’t panic! There are ways through on the bottom level, and if you have a bus ticket, you can tap it on both sides of the ticket barriers too.
Dick Bruna is best known for his Miffy books and although the first one was published in 1955, the famous cardboard, square ones started to come out in 1963, the year of my birth. I was very fond of them as a child. The writer and illustrator was a Dutchman who went to art school in Paris and Amsterdam and the books are instantly recognisable by their bold primary colours (he is said to have been influenced by Matisse).
In the Netherlands, Miffy is known as “nijntje”, which derives from the Dutch word “konijntje”, meaning “little bunny”.
Autumn was in the air – the chestnut leaves were curling under at the edges and turning dry and orange. Pale purple crocus stood on thin stalks, and it was much wetter than I expected it to be. I suggest you pack waterproof leggings as well as a jacket, and beware the wind if you have an umbrella!
I have to admit that I got lost as usual – googlemaps isn’t too sure about foot routes in cities, and I struggled to find tram stops which would take me in the right direction when I was carrying too much to walk. There are a lot of bridges and canals, beautiful ones which look rather similar but are probably all different once you know them well.
My session on grief, Autumn Leaves Fall, was held at the Vondelkerk, a circular former church in the Vondelpark.
I had a book stall and attended workshops in do-in dance and neck and shoulder meridians at the Beurs van Berlage, the old stock exchange. Did you know that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is considered to be the oldest in the world, established in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company? It was a way of sharing the risk involved in trading overseas for textiles, pepper and yarn (India) and cinnamon, cardamom and gems (Sri Lanka).
Leidseplein (a plein is a square) is very close to the Vondelpark and de Balie is a large pub / restaurant there which serves really excellent food (30 euros for one glass of wine, a main course, shared pudding and fresh mint tea). Max Euweplein (named after a Dutch chess player) is very close by.
The best walk was on the final evening when I discovered the calmer area of Haarlemmerdijk – chic shopping outlets, tattoo parlours, a cinema, eco cafes…
At Haarlemmerbuurt there are water jets which rise and fall
I celebrated the end of the working weekend with a glass of cold white wine by the canals and then wandered through Westerpark, an enormous area of natural beauty with sculptures, eateries, clubs, a Sunday market, festival spaces and cycle paths.
I saw lots of blue herons and several types of geese including a mum with a brood of goslings. (The photos were taken from a distance as I didn’t want to alarm her, so they are rather blurred).
Constructed in 1845, Westerpark was created as an antidote to the then industrially polluted western district. Situated around the Western Canal, it stretches north-south from the centre of Amsterdam to Haarlem.
In 2003, the vision of Kathryn Gustafson, the American landscape architect who was hired to remodel the area, was finally completed: ….with a modern pond where children can play on hot summer days while their parents rest on the concrete beach or nearby sprawling lawn. Trees were planted and alleys drawn along the historical buildings, which artistic, avant-garde momentum of the 90s was respected: the Westergas has become a powerhouse of culture and entertainment, with an easy-going and independent flair.
Sloterdijk was once a separate village but has now been subsumed into Amsterdam city. My final walk was to Sloterdijk station to get the train to Schipol airport (platform 11, 4.8 euros) where I flew back direct to Edinburgh to start my fortnight’s quarantine.
Near the station were disused trains which formed another museum (possibly the street art museum)
There is a great deal to see in this vibrant, busy city. I first went there as a secondary school child on an art trip, excitedly visiting the Rijksmuseum and doing a life drawing class at the Van Gogh Museum. In my twenties, I returned with friends, and later I tried cycling with the kids (not very successful) and discovered I had bought an out of date guide book so most of the vegetarian restaurants didn’t exist anymore. That was all a long time ago.
Some tips: Etos is the chemist most like Boots, Albert Heijn are supermarkets, you can buy a 1-day, 2-day or 3-day ticket for the trams and buses but the tickets don’t have details on them so mark with a pen when you buy it so you know which is the one you are using and don’t confuse it with an old one.
Winter photos to wet your appetite for making a windy climb down from the Royal Mile and up Calton Hill for the fabulous views of Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat and more.
I took the Hidden Heroines Tour on International Women’s Day (8.3.2019) of places in the city centre where you can find out about famous Edinburgh women.
Carla Nebulosa was our tour guide and she and her team had researched and prepared the itinerary. Originally from Madrid, she delivered it in a personable, even exuberant manner. She has started to write a book of the same name and is looking for donations from the tours to cover her up-front costs.
St Margaret (1070 – 1093) was an English princess: devout Catholic; charitable; mother of eight; wife to and good influence on King Malcolm; and, most importantly, she established a ferry across to Fife so folk could walk pilgrimage to St Andrews. She is further remembered because the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, part of the Castle, is in her name.
The roots of the summer pilgrimage dates back to June 1250 when the relics of Saint Margaret were translated to a new shrine in Dunfermline Abbey following her canonisation that year by Pope Innocent IV.
The Witches’ Well can be found at the entrance to the Castle Esplanade. It is a memorial to the women who died unnecessarily as a result of the 1563 Scottish Witchcraft Act
The Witches’ Well, a cast iron fountain and plaque, honors the Scottish women who were burned at the stake between the 15th and 18th centuries. It’s an easy site to miss for people only focusing on the castle that looms ahead. During the 16th century, more women were murdered at this site than anywhere else in Scotland. Each victim was denied a proper trial.
We visited sites associated with Catherine Sinclair (novelist 1800 – 1864), Susan Ferrier (novelist 1782 – 1854), and Elsie Inglis (doctor and suffragist 1864 – 1917). Inglis was one of the first women to be educated at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, though later she transferred to Glasgow to complete. I always remember her name as I went to visit my friend Tracy in the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital (1925 – 1988), the day she gave birth to her first daughter, Gemma.
Mary Somerville, featured on the £10 note, was a Scottish scientist (1780 – 1872) and she gave her name to one of the houses at my secondary school in Tonbridge, Kent, so I was pleased to hear her mentioned.
Lady Mary Shepherd was born to the Primrose family (1777 – 1847) just outside Edinburgh. A Scottish philosopher, she wrote two philosophical books (1824 criticising the views of David Hume, and 1827 on the perceptions of an external universe) which were influential in Edinburgh philosophical circles at the time. (thanks Wikipedia)
She finds them (the main tenets of the Scottish school) unable to sustain scientific inquiry, everyday practical reasoning, and belief in an almighty deity.
You can add your signature to a petition here to get a statue erected to her, if you like.
Bessie Watson was the youngest bagpipe playing suffragette! Born in Edinburgh in 1900, she was encouraged to play to strengthen her lungs as prevention against tuberculosis which ran in the family. Look at her little pale face! She joined the WSPU, the Women’s Social and Political Union, with her mother, marching down Prince’s Street in 1909 to celebrate ‘what women have done and can and will do’.
Jane Haining was ‘A farmer’s daughter from Galloway in south-west Scotland, Jane was a Church of Scotland missionary, and went to the Scottish Jewish Mission School in Budapest in 1932, where she worked as a boarding school matron in charge of around 50 orphan girls. The school had 400 pupils, most of them Jewish. Jane was back in the UK on holiday when war broke out in 1939, but she immediately went back to Hungary to do all she could to protect the children at the school. She refused to leave in 1940, and again ignored orders to flee the country in March 1944 when Hungary was invaded by the Nazis. She remained with her pupils, writing ‘if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness’.” Her brave persistence led to her arrest in by the Gestapo in April 1944, for “offences” that included spying, working with Jews and listening to the BBC. She died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz just a few months later, at the age of 47.’ There is a fitting memorial to her on Calton Hill. There is a book about her, Jane Haining, A Life of Love and Courage by Mary Miller published by Birlinn.
Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (1851 – 1911) was a Scottish astronomer active in the United States. During her career, she helped develop a common designation system for stars and cataloged thousands of stars and other astronomical phenomena. ‘One of nine children of a Scottish craftsman and his wife, she already knew the cold reality of family survival. Her father had died when she was seven; at 14, she had become a student teacher to help support her mother and siblings. At 20, she had married a Dundee bank employee and widower, James Orr Fleming, 16 years her senior—who would abandon her and their unborn child shortly after her arrival in the United States. Despite it all, “Mina” Fleming would rise to a key position in Harvard’s astronomy program and be hailed as the nation’s preeminent woman astronomer..(classifying) by far the most extensive star compilation of the era.’
The Hidden Heroines tour took in women of politics, literature, medicine, education, witches and business and I highly recommend it if it is ever held again.