31 July 2022

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

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 west 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 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 structure, 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 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 it, but by pacing the edgeland like this, learning about this liminal area and feeling the effect it has, it is hoped that you and it will be stimulated.

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.

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 am leading a community walk as part of 4WCoP22 on Thursday 4 August at 1pm in person (meeting Chestnut Street), and you can join the walk from a distance on 5 August at the same time of 1pm. Please let me know if you will be joining us. tamsinlgrainger@gmail.com

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