Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog 7: Portobello. 21 October 2021

Beach of Dreams

The public highlight of our Portobello stay was the Saturday morning Beach of Dreams installation by Kinetika, led by artist, Ali Pretty.

Beach of Dreams, Ali Pretty and Kinetika, Portobello, Edinburgh

This art installation is made up of 500 silk flags flying from poles which were planted on the beach, each representing a mile of the Essex coastline. A new pennant was created for each of these miles by Kinetika artists in response to photos or other images which were produced by people living in this edge-country, people who are witnessing the disintegration of the ground on which their houses are situated.

Setting up Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh
Preparing for the installation of Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh

Beach of Dreams was an epic journey to walk 500 miles over 35 days (June to August 2021) along the east coast of England. The purpose – to explore how we can take care of the environment, take care of the coast, take care of the community and ourselves.

from the website

The flags were initially positioned in lines parallel to the Portobello breakwater, but as the sea came in, volunteers hurriedly moved them, re-sinking them in the sand higher up the beach and creating a tide of people and artworks rushing away from the approaching waters.

In danger from the incoming tide, Portobello, Edinburgh

These flags represent the dreams of the people of Eastern England for the future. Like urgent messages to us here on the east coast of Scotland, they tell of the vulnerability of our coastlines as sea levels rise. Moving, literally and emotionally, they are fragile, though steady, ephemeral but made of real stuff. They flutter and flap in the wind, prompting questions, ‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’ 

‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’ Portobello, Edinburgh

The poignant sound, as we lay under them and watched the subtle lemon and rose against the cerulean sky, was a constant reminder that things are changing. The irregular flick-flack of the fabric responding to the capricious breeze wouldn’t let us drift away contentedly. Their beauty contrasted awe-fully with the origin of their message

View from underneath, the Beach of Dreams Portobello, Edinburgh

Hospitality

We stayed for two nights at St Mark’s Church where we were cared for with much-appreciated heat and facilities. Even a short walk like this focused our minds on the luxury of having a roof over our heads and a floor to sleep on.

Portobello, Edinburgh

Walking the labyrinth

The full programme of events continued with a labyrinth. Set up by Ali Newell with red candles and autumn leaves, we were first given a short introduction to to their origin and useage over the centuries and then invited to take something from her basket and enter, one by one.

Labyrinth, Ali Newell

The minute I started, I felt such sorrow. Was it the music by Arvo Pärt, or the accumulated feelings of the group? Was it my grief at the state of our world, or a more personal sadness rising up into my throat? One stained glass window showed a man with his arm around a child, another depicted men embracing, with the words: ‘The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David’ as a caption. That tenderness was one trigger for my weeping.

I lived in Estonia for a short time, where Pärt was born, and memories of those times bubbled up. I was writing a book about death and loss, and each day I walked the forest paths. I remembered the shock of turning a corner and coming across a large area of deforestation with trunk stumps all jagged and broken.

Pines interspersed with silver birch because the foresters know that these trees grow better in community than alone, Estonia
The trees are grown to be cut down, but that doesn’t make the sight any less distressing when you come across it. Estonia

Around the labyrinth I slowly walked, doubling back on myself, at once facing centre, then away from it, moving nearer, then seeming to be distanced. The narrow channel between the lines gave a sense of safety and the golden leaves encapsulated the passing of the year. Eventually the tears dried up and there was something like peace, or at least calm. The sun was shining and it threw shadows across us and the room. Conscious that I was passing shoulder-to-shoulder with others who were on a similar journey to mine, I saw others with wet cheeks. She walked with her arms crossed over her chest, he with his hands cupped in front of him, my friend had her arms raised up, palms to the ceiling as she walked. In this way, we almost-met, we didn’t stare or speak, however we were all in it together.

And then I saw, ahead of me, the entrance, not the centre. I stopped dead. I must have made a mistake because I was almost back where I started. I traced the way in with my eyes; how had that happened? I hadn’t crossed a line, hadn’t cheated.

I decided to step out of my passageway into one which would take me on, along the way I had been going, and then, no! That wasn’t possible somehow. So I followed the direction my path was taking and found myself right where I began, ready to start over again. There, at my feet, was a battered magpie feather.

Magpie feather

I hadn’t seen it earlier, even though I am collecting one per day (see my first blog of this series) and so my eyes are attuned, and so it was somehow special to find it at the moment that had I been ‘sent’ back. I picked it up, took a deep breath, turned around and carried it with me as I re-negotiated the labyrinth. Though I took it faster the second time, there was a second onslaught of grief. It reminded me that we walk round our lives, spiralling outwards from our birth, but coming back through key elements of it, being given the chance to go through them again with our accumulated wisdom. I hoped I was wiser.

The spiral of life

Many of the fallen leaves had wafted onto the paths. They seemed to represent people I have known. Sometimes, unwittingly, I stepped on them, sometimes over, left them behind. Someone came along behind me and picked each one up and put it back in a safe place. I began to feel so weary, I wobbled, even once overbalanced into an adjoining track and had to step back. There was a small, wooden African sculpture in a corner, on the piano, of someone reaching down to touch a baby, similar to one I had at home. Again, it touched me deeply. Would it go on for ever? I needed ‘stamina, endurance, resilience’ (Liz)

Entrance and centre of the labyrinth, Ali Newell

As I got closer to the centre, I feared I might not make it and I noticed that I wanted to get to the end as soon as possible. It was like my relationship to death; in the past I have willed it, later I decided against it and pleaded that it wouldn’t happen soon.

I did eventually get there, knelt and placed my stone, and, as Liz said afterwards, it was hot from my hand. Of course, it wasn’t an end at all, it was a mid point. It also wasn’t the way I experienced it when sitting beside the dying – a dwindling, a merging into another place and state – rather, it was part of the whole process of life and it was on-going.

As I walked out, I was coming in the opposite direction to others who stood aside to let me pass. Or sometimes I did that for them. It was a smooth, mindful journey, and I was changed at the end of it.

We set off one by one, but as we walked we kept coming into contact with each other. It was like a metaphor for life; people you see once and never again all moving in the same direction, all inspired by love and hope. We acknowledged each other as we passed. We were not alone.

Gareth
Front door, Portobello, Edinburgh

Even more kindness, and a change of perception

I went for a swim in the sea after that. Margaret who knows the seas, watched over me, signalling to keep away from the pipe which was invisible to me. Ruth offered me a shower at her flat, the first since leaving Dunbar on Monday, four days before, and I was really grateful for the hot water and her hospitality.

Coming back, I was struck by the frivolity of the home decoration items outside the shops on the High Street, items I usually enjoy, even covet. I was walking through such a familiar place, but my Camino shell dangled from my rucksack reminding me I was in the stream of the pilgrimage, and I felt like a different person.

Camino shell symbolising that all paths lead to the same destination, eventually


Thanks go to members of the congregation of St Mark’s for a most delicious meal, particularly as the oven failed and food had to be ferried next door and back for warming – a much appreciated effort.

Community choir

And as if all that wasn’t enough, Jane Lewis led a singing circle on the beach under the almost-full moon. She exhorted us, ‘ If we listen to the earth breathing, then we will know what to do’, and we learned her new rendering of Arundhati Roy’s words (from Capitalism, a ghost story). 

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh under the almost-full moon

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Can you hear her breathing?

Arundhati Roy / Jane Lewis

Protest in Harmony choir Another World link

A very blurry singing circle with Jane Lewis, Portobello.

Though a hiatus from the long-distance walking, this day was full of opportunities to reflect on our journey, to learn from the communities we were passing through, and to receive.

We were nearly half way through a Pilgrimage for COP26 from Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow, where the COP26 Climate Change Conference is now taking place. It was organised by A+E and many volunteers.


Pilgrmage to COP26

Blog 6: From Aberlady Bay to Portobello via Musselburgh

Listen to The king of the faeries by Matthew Crighton on the tin whistle on #SoundCloud recorded on the beach at Aberlady, round the campfire.

https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/jHju3

Sunrise as we walk away from our camping spot at Aberlady Bay, 7am
It’s only just over an hour but we have all our camping gear and what’s left of the food and water paraphernalia, and it’s very uneven ground. We walk in silence

At the car park, the electric support vehicle and day walkers are waiting for us. The group had split into two the previous evening with the others sleeping at the village hall in Aberlady. They visited Prestongrange Museum where they received a lovely welcome.

After a standing-up breakfast and use of the public conveniences (thanks to East Lothian Council for keeping them open for us), we set off for the day’s trek. The coast was stunning.

Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
East Lothian

The weather was changeable – a cool wind with sun, light then heavier spells of rain, never for too long, thank goodness.

Coral skeletons

We passed coral skeletons (tubes) which have been squashed into limestone making ‘spaghetti rock’ which date from the Carboniferous period (350-300 million years back). Craigielaw point fossils gives more information.

Cameron played the violin for us, though it was dark and drizzly then
We were invited to walk amongst the sycamore copse, to listen their the particular song of those trees and admire their personal designs
Some had fallen, revealing their age
Wandering through the sycamore glade
Francesco
Beth
Port Seton

We regained the main road through Port Seton with all the hustle of normal life – quite a contrast to the meditative pacing at the shore. The Harbour Takeaway served a good green tea and peppermint slice and the sun was warm on my back for 5 minutes before we had to walk on.

Towards Prestonpans

At Musselburgh, we had an extended stop where volunteers had been preparing a meal for us at the Brunton Theatre. We were shown a film. ‘Local Food Roots’ (trailer on Pinterest) which featured various UK projects which grow and distributed vegetable boxes (Riverford) and innovative organisations which cooked with produce from their own communities (Nottingham Hospital – yes, it can be done. They argued that buying in food that had travelled many 100s of miles from South America and Africa was not only less nutritious but also added to the already dangerous limits of carbon in the atmosphere). Sheila Dillon from the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme was a contributor. This was another example of our learning about the various ways the climate crisis can be addressed, as we wend our way to Glasgow.

Naomi Barnes, Sustaining Dunbar
We were met by rowers from Musselburgh (you can see the boat in the middle of the picture beyond the flowers) Prestonpans, East Lothian

It was hoped that the Portobello crew would be there too, but at the last minute they were short of a member, so two of them ran to meet us here, and then walked back with us (see below) with their Resilient, Sustainable banner.

The pipe band from Loretto School were also there to welcome us. Marianne was the Keeper of the Soils for the day

People seem to really understand what we are doing: they thank us and wave as we go by, and messages are coming in all the time to encourage us.

As the sun was lowering, we walked along the prom into Portobello

Keeper of the Soils cape: Natalie Taylor, artist, North Light Arts

The Pilgrimage for COP26 programme is here https://artandecologyearth.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/pilgrimage-for-cop26-programme-04.10.21-edit.pdf

@pilgrimageforcop26 #pcop26