The Wall

A Sound Walk and Installation on the Western Breakwater, Granton Harbour, Edinburgh, Scotland. 31 July 2022

Update

The developers have shut off the area – ironic (see below) – and it’s currently impossible for anyone to get to this installation. However, you can listen below and look at the photos, imagine you are walking and listening.

Artists Talk / Tour of The Wall Tuesday 20 September 6-7pm Book here (eventbrite). Free. I will post here if it looks like it will be possible to do this.

At the very edge of the harbour, bordering a piece of scrubland whose time is nearly up – it won’t be long before it is ‘developed’ – is a tall wall separating the reclaimed land from the sea. It’s hard to find out who built it and why, but I have a pretty good idea. It’s marked as Granton Breakwater on google maps, although there are in fact three ‘arms’ to the harbour: the best known is Eastern Breakwater (note that the beach, Wardie Bay, is to the east side of that); the Middle Pier (recently renamed Chestnut Street – why?); and the Western one where the soundwalk is located.

This is a spot of ‘guerilla art’, in the same vein as guerilla gardening!

Walls have been in the news in recent years and this unprepossessing one tends to go unnoticed, with the general exception of dogs and their companions. It borders the area which is, as I say, undergoing intense development, most of it for the luxury market. The plans show that there will be concrete walkways and a communal ‘garden’.

Walls serve complex functions and produce varying effects on the socio-geographical aspects of an area, an area in this case which has a rich history. The Granton community used to work and play here every day, it was alive with industry, and their voices can still be heard if you listen carefully.

Before – the site of an old railway with hooks for cables

In the meantime, small parts of the harbour have been returned to straight channels of water, and the railway line and its attendant buildings have, in the most part, disappeared.

It is a psychogeographer’s dream!

After

Keeping people in check – restrictions

The wall has a distinctive voice. It is not shy to speak, indeed it wants to be heard, it has something to say. After all, it’s another of those structures, like trees and the sea, which is always in one place, come rain, come shine, and has therefore witnessed a lot of what goes on over the ages. The southern end is still covered with roughcast, a sort of pebbledash, and if you look carefully there are fragments of crockery and other interesting hints of these lives.

(Beware the thistles! And try not to crush the chamomile, although if you arrive before midday you can gingerly remove a handful of flowers for a tisane which will taste quite delicious compared to the tea bags you can get in Lidl. The plants will simply send out more blooms in response, and their days are numbered).

Chamomile

This is a land of fences, and as fast as ‘they’ put them up, people have found ways through. Mostly. This was, after all, common ground for nearly 200 years. However, there are two places now where access / exit is impossible, making it necessary to approach the installation the long way round, past security cameras, and for no discernible reason.

Hesperus Crossway

During the past few years, place names have been changed, walls have been smoothed over, fittings removed, and ‘messy’ buildings have been redecorated so as to almost wipe out any hint of their former daily functions. The result is a gentrification and appropriation (in the name of regeneration), which erases most external reminders of the past. It must be remembered, though, that ‘the past’ was made by people, and many of those people still live in the area. Their memories are part of who they are; this past is a valuable part of their lives.

The chalk mural will disappear over time, and if a previous installation, No Birds Land is anything to go by, it may also be vandalised. These changes will be part of the duration and time-based aspects of the piece. It will be difficult to know who walks, hears and sees the installation, but by pacing the edgeland like this, learning about this liminal area and feeling the effect it gives, it is hoped that you and it will be stimulated. (Since then I have used spray chalk to redo the mural which should last longer in the weather.)

The Wall

You can locate this soundwalk and installation by taking the West Harbour Road, and turning onto Chestnut Street. There is a ‘Private’ sign. Turn left onto Hesperus Crossway, and go to the very end of the road. 

what 3 words: ///voted.cycles.impose

Slip through the fence and walk forwards. It is a dead end, and in front of you is The Wall.

There is a new fence to your left, meeting the wall at right angles, part of which has been pushed down. You can go over that into the section of scrub land and walk towards the wall. There you will see the QR code to scan with your mobile phone and can then listen to the walk (headphones will probably be best).

You will see some of the chalk drawing ahead of you, and the wall stretching to both sides with the main part of the installation to the left. Once you are listening to the audio, you can walk in each direction according to the instructions, or make your own choice. In total the sound walk is 13 minutes 44 seconds, and it could take you around half an hour to 45 minutes to explore the whole.

Please note that there is nowhere to park except on West Harbour Road, so it’s best to cycle or walk. Or, you can get a bus to Granton Square (16, 47, 19, 200) and walk from there – it will take you around 10 minutes.

If you are not in Edinburgh or cannot get to the harbour, here is a link to the audio part.

Quotes and references are from/to

  1. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Wreck of the Hesperus
  2. Rachel Carson Under the Sea Wind
  3.  RLS ‘From a Railway Carriage’
  4. Local street names

I have tried to upload the walk to the Echoes app but it has been unsuccessful. I will try again later.

You may also like to download the Curious Edinburgh app, which will take you to other aspects of the harbour and tell you all about it. Also the Granton History and Railscot websites.

I lead a community walk as part of 4WCoP22 on Thursday 4 August at 1pm in person (meeting Chestnut Street), and you can find out more about it here.

Girona mini-pilgrimage

This was the first of three mini-pilgrimages offered to delegates of the international meeting ‘Walking Art and Relational Geographies’ and others in Girona, Cataluña. 6 July 2022

We met at the foot of the steps of the Catedral de Girona, a traditional location for the start of a pilgrimage. As we waited for the group to assemble, I asked, do you see any pilgrim signs?

The statues at the front of the building are inset with the shell motif behind them – the iconic scallop being the emblem which pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela sported.

We searched for the yellow arrows which are used to indicate the path; instead we were surrounded by the yellow ribboned loops of the Cataluñan Independence movement.

Sign of the Cataluñan Independence Movement on the pilgrim path

We were a group of approximately twelve, and I explained that I had changed the place we were walking to once I knew the start time was 9pm (sunset is around 9.20 here), and now that the city and I had started to get acquainted in person, rather than virtually from Scotland in the initial planning stages.

The title of my walking project here is Separation and Unity, being aware of the political issues that concern Scotland and Cataluña, both, in their debates and attempts at achieving autonomy from England and Spain respectively.

We performed some simple experiential exercises: huddling close, noting that we were united in our interest in walking, turning outwards to acknowledge those people around us who were not in our group or who were in groups of their own.

We began some chi gung exercises, a method of grounding and centering in the body. It became clear that we needed to take more space for ourselves in order to move individually. We were moving together, separately and experimenting with breathing in unison.

Through Girona’s city walls

Last week, I walked part of the Cami Sant Jaume alone, as a secular pilgrimage.
I was on the path with others – dog walkers, cyclists, 2 hikers. Walking part of this age-old tradition, I knew there were others who went before me and who will come after.

Now our group traced a pilgrim path through the archway made by the city walls and, despite there being no external signs to guide us, we headed downhill to the river. We left the heavy, archetypal building behind and walked in silence, in single-file, with the thick, steep walls with religious iconography on either side.

As we walked down Reí Marti, we paid attention to our connection with the elements – the paved surfaces under our feet, the air and water – indivisible.

Also to the birds we could hear but not always see, the insects we only knew were there if we looked very carefully or when they bit us, the other folk milling around the city. We were a mass moving inside and outside the city walls.

We were aware of each other walking together. Our intention was clear.

As the streets opened out, we turned left taking Carrer del Bellaire and heading straight for the river, passing once again,
underneath, though by now we were amongst modern architectural constructs. The train line ran overhead.

Around the cornerstone the left, was the Column of the History of Girona, a pillar of stone whose four sides depicted images and text saying this ancient settlement back to the Neolithic.

We were at the River Onyar and the Pont (bridge) de Pedret which formed a crossroads where the first Cami de Sant Jaume and other route signs were located.

We looked back at Cathedral
There are messages of separation ‘Libertat’, ‘Bienvenue a la République de Catalogne’ alongside theVies Verdes (green cycling / walking ‘carrilet’ route (a modest narrow guage railway) I took out of the city last week

We glimpsed the La Devesa Park where we walked yesterday.

As I walked out of Girona, I moved from the urban environment, the edge lands where people were growing crops in their hueltas / allotments, and then out of town, walking between city and towns. There were people stringing these urban places together by walking between them to work and school.

I was carrying my clothes and sleeping mat with me, crossing the country, from Osona to La Garrotxa and into the Barcelona región.  

We completed our mini-pilgrimage at the foot of the steps of Basílica de Sant Feliu, a familiar way to end a pilgrimage. Close by is the statue of la Lleona (lioness) whose bottom/ass you are invited to kiss, an 11th century folk tradition.

Basílica de Sant Feliu
La Llona

Soundscape by Ralph Hoyte Temple of Hermes