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.
Freiburg October 2017, a friendly, open-minded university town awash with complementary therapists.
The highlight of my visit was the walk on Schauinsland, a mountain in the Black Forest with an elevation of 1,284m (4,213 ft) above sea level. I was lucky with the sunshine and wandered through leafy, cobbled suburbs before starting up the hill on the left.
It was a sweaty start, stony underfoot, but some smiley ladies cheered me up. There were sweet chestnut trees and some fir. Later, a beech and the odd oak, silver birch and sycamore, delicate Michaelmas daisies delighted me, with scarlet berries heralding the winter season a few months away. The higher I got, the more wonderful the views.
The Autumn leaves were falling and there was ample signage in places. A bird squeaked to get my attention – it was black with red under its tail, very smart. Then I heard knock knock – a woodpecker? Hmm, probably a European green if it was, with its red cap. There was the sound of cow bells and blue tits seemed to be playing. I stopped for a rest and a sun bathe, closing my eyes and taking in the peace. To start with I was a little overwhelmed with memories of other walks, but I breathed deeply and let other thoughts float in and out.
There are simply miles of wonderful strolling and one could easily get lost on purpose so that it never ended, although for that, I thought, everything would have to stay the same and inevitably my feet would tire and I would have to stop.
I used my new staff, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the springy earth and piles of pine needles. Sometimes there were shush-dry heaps of fallen leaves, wind in the trees, and the slosh of water in the bottle in my rucksack.
The day had less light in it than I needed and I had to rush to get to the top so I could get back down before dark. In fact, there wasn’t time so I took 11 euros worth of gondola instead which was extremely steep and not for those who suffer from vertigo. It arrived at the official starting point where you can then take a tram into town rather than walk for two hours. I would recommend setting off at 9 am if you come during this beautiful season of the year.
More info: the drinks at the cafe at the summit are also really expensive but there are good, free toilets top and bottom. Find a way to avoid the motor bikes and serious male cyclists in all their gear as they zip past and are almost all unfriendly. You can drive or ride all the way or part of the way up. Tram #2 connects the town to Dorfstrasse. The 21 bus costs 9 euros.
I stayed at the Black Forest hostel in a 20 bed dorm for 17 euros. You need to provide your own pillow case and sleeping bag or pay extra for them. There is a good, small kitchen and friendly communal area with computers to share and board games. It wasn’t too far (20 minutes) from the bus station, but was full of football fans when I arrived. The staff at reception were very helpful.
10 mins from hostel along the pretty River Dreisam under charming cast iron bridges was the supermarket.
From Freiburg you can easily reach Colmar in France on the Alsace wine route and Strasbourg, straddling France and Germany on the River Rhine. I highly recommend them all!
Beware – there are no buses between Basel airport and Fribourg in Switzerland, or at least there weren’t when I tried to get one. If you find one, do double check that it is to the west, into Switzerland and not the east into Germany. Because of the two languages spoken in Switzerland, Fribourg is also known as Freiburg, so you can see the confusion. That was how I got to visit this lovely place and I don’t regret it, but it was quite a big mistake!
This walk was inspired by a prompt from Alisa Oleva and The Resident’s Association which went like this: ‘Go out on a walk, take photos of all the things and surfaces you would like to touch, but don’t touch them.’
I tried, I really did, but I failed at the first and last hurdles (and several in between if I’m honest). Who would have thought it would be so difficult? Although, given I touch for a living it’s not so surprising. I can’t give Shiatsu because of the Covid-19 virus restrictions, so this brief is apposite.
It was my phone I touched at the off – to take photos. Smooth and cool and about the weight of a nice big juicy apple, it quickly heated up in my hand. I was on a walk I have done once before which ended on a road (link) so I wanted to find a better way back.
As soon as I started I wanted to reach out and feel the difference between the nettles and the dead nettles, even if one sort would surely sting me. It didn’t take long for my toddler instinct to kick in – ‘But I want to touch!’ I resisted.
When a wall reared up in front of me, my protesting teenager was taunted – ‘Just cos you say I shouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I can’t!’ Though I was grown up and I didn’t.
As I passed the buttercups I could imagine the smooth, silky petals. I’m a tactile person. I have honed my sense of touch to a very sensitive degree over tens of years. The mere sight stimulated the part of my brain which remembered the feel from before (as it does with most people) – my brain’s sensory cortex.
“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,’” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of a study into touch.
“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”
I saw stalk ends which I was convinced would be dry and rough. The torn-off strands might feel like threads, but I couldn’t be sure. The gnarled tree, all crooked and twisted, must feel just as dessicated, I conjectured, but harder. I was pretty sure I could lean into it and it wouldn’t fall over whereas the stem would have, of course. Colder than the trunk, the Hedera helix (a better monica than ‘common ivy’ in this case) would feel the least substantial, but the shiniest. Isn’t it fascinating that we use visually descriptive words like ‘shiny’ to describe the feel of something?
While it is customary to assert that we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears, we live in a simultaneous universe where sensory events and their constituent elements have a natural tendency to overlap.
The undergrowth to my right was still opaque with dew, its wetness indistinguishable from its colour. But I didn’t touch; my eyes just feasted. (There’s another of those sensory comminglings). As I wandered on, I wondered, can you feel a colour? Would that pale grey-green feel the same as the vibrant gloss-green of that ivy I had just passed? It would be impossible to subtract the wetness from one in order to compare I reckoned.
In this part of the countryside, the cascades of hawthorn are over now, their slightly feathery, petally droplets have fallen. Black crows were feeding, sharp-beak first, in the field. I would certainly like to touch their glossy feathers – I have been collecting feathers every day on my walks. If I hold the white tubular calamus, or hollow shaft of a long corvid’s plumage and twiddle it, the vane catches the light and gleams. There was a matching black horse lying down nearby and she observed me, haughtily. I might not have been brave enough to touch her.
The wet grass touched my boots – I could see, but not feel. My legs brushed past the seedheads and they tickled my shins. They touched me, I didn’t touch them. In the same patch, I was alive to the contrast between the sorrel, which I knew would be bitty like toast crumbs between a thumb and forefinger, and the emery board, might-cut-you blades of grass. I remembered how I like to slide up the sheath of the softer Yorkshire Fog, just turning to seed now, gathering a mini bouquet before spilling the seeds up in a fountain and spraying them all around. I could just ‘feel’ the imprint of it on my fingertips.
I crossed the first stile which I’ve been not hand-touching for weeks anyway, so I am practiced at that. I had to steady myself for a moment or two at the top before ‘jumping’ down off the second. Then at the next hurdle, I had to slip around behind the tree because the gate was shut. It was, I admit, impossible not to touch the trunk with the edges of myself, but I lifted my arms up as I squeezed through.
There was the familiar parp of the train as it approached the first of a ring of level crossings, making its announcement. I couldn’t touch that train even if I wanted to. I spotted the first chamomile and stooped to collect a feathery stem and have a sniff, transported back to my allotment where I grew swathes of it for medicinal purposes. It was not until the end of the walk when I scanned back that I realised that that had been a touch I didn’t even think to forgo.
I feared to reach out to the wild roses in case I dislodged their fragile petals, so that was no problem. Before I knew it, I scratched my nose because it felt like a fly was crawling there. Damn! Turns out that I’m not great at this game.
I took a detour and there were the goslings, much more grown up, motionless on mirrored water. So still were they, that I assumed they were asleep, but then a parent dipped her beak and very slowly rotated to face her brood. The sun was behind, low, and I saw a drop dripping off. Mid way, it sparkled as the light shone through it, refracting into a star as it fell. Without actively moving she sailed closer to them, the space narrowing, and then she nudged the nearest chick.
It was the second hour and others were waking up and walking their dogs: a puppy scampered towards me and jumped up, so there was a wet-tongue touch without a by-your-leave. The owner and I forgot to move to opposite sides of the path two metres apart. Not so the woman with the stick – she avoided me like the plague as we have been instructed to do.
The birds were busy weeding in the arable fields, their heads bobbing. No doubt some seeds hadn’t yet germinated. A bramble scraped my upper arm leaving a long, bloody slash. Grasses caressed me and wind swept my sweaty brow – I felt it.
I stood under an unknown tree admiring its flowers. I flipped through my mental filing system, took a photo, and then the tree seemed to go ‘here you are’ and one white trumpet floated to the ground. There it lay amongst 10s of others! I picked one up (again, I didn’t even notice this touch until I started writing this) and carried it uphill. After some time I relegated it to my pocket for later perusal and it was, ooh, 5 minutes before I worked out what had caused the stickiness in my palm.
I did find an alternative route towards the end and as I squelched through the mud (there has been no rain for weeks but was some sort of stream running down the bridle path) and surveyed the broken branches from recent winds, I instinctively stroked the burl (a knotty growth) of a nearby tree, I caught myself at it and withdrew my hand sharpish, but it was too late.
The whole thing was pretty tricky. I wanted to know if the bracket fungus was hard or squashy. I wanted to warm my hand on the wall. I was curious whether the temperature of the inside of the log was different from the outside. I would have liked to swish through the Quaking grass. However, I particularly enjoyed the newfound awareness of how much my senses interact. And I had a beautiful walk.
If you ever see something in one of my blogs that is wrongly named, please do let me know. I do a lot of research but it isn’t always easy to get it right and I would be very grateful to learn.