No Birds Land

A site-specific sound-art installation in the Trinity Tunnel on route 13 (Trinity to Granton) of the Edinburgh cycle path network where it goes under East Trinity Road #nobirdsland

Now in place! August – November 2021

Introductory video on Vimeo

Full video on Vimeo

The installation team. Thanks to Andrew and the team who were taking a walk and kindly stopped to offer their assistance. It was much appreciated

Find it here: ///hands.calculating.wiping (South end)
wins.trial.preoccupied (North end) 55.976045, -3.203276

This is the link for the sound poem which you can listen to as you walk through the tunnel. You will need headphones to hear it. It is hosted by soundcloud and this link will take you there:

No Birds Land soundpoem on Soundcloud

You can also access the sound poem from the QR code on the signs at either end of the tunnel if you have a smart phone.

Our wildlife is key to our environment, and, with so many of our iconic bird populations in decline, it’s vital that we invest in supporting and protecting them. It’s a unique piece of art and I’m looking forward to visiting it. I’m always excited in art that explores wildlife and our environment. I will be heading to the unlikely location of Trinity Tunnel where I will stop, relax and listen to the birds.

Scottish Greens MSP for Lothian, Lorna Slater
Downloading the sound poem onto his phone from the QR code at the entrances

In the poem, I am not pretending to be a bird, nor reproducing or emulating realistic bird sounds and song. I am acknowledging how easily we attempt to wield power over other species and appropriate others’ languages without their permission.

Sometimes it’s only when you don’t see them that you notice they’re not there.

Amanda Thompson

The Trinity Tunnel is a disused railway tunnel that is now part of the extensive Edinburgh cycle path network. Before and after entering the tunnel, the air is full of birdsong; inside there is little or none. This sound-art installation recognises that no birds land or alight there (although occasionally one flies through), that it is a sort of ‘No Man’s Land’ for birds, though humans built the sandstone structure to transport goods and each other between Granton Harbour and the rest of the city.

No Man’s Land originally denoted contested territory between fiefdoms, even a place of execution. It is now often remembered as a WW1 area of land between two trench systems which neither side wished to cross due to fear of attack and death. Except, that is, on Christmas Eve of 1914 when it is known that British, French and German soldiers came together to smoke a cigarette, carry out joint burial ceremonies, and have a chat – somehow communicating in their different languages.

In this place of cold stone where moisture trickles and calcite forms weird shapes, no birds land and no birds sing.

Hooks on the west wall of the Trinity Tunnel before the bunting was hung
Bird bunting hanging over a metal hook on the inside of the Trinity Tunnel, No Birds Land Edinburgh. Lift the flaps -do they really say….tweet, tweet, caw, chirp, cluck?

You will find signs saying ‘Stop! Listen to the Birds! at the two entrances to the Trinity Tunnel which is 183 of my paces long (146 yards, 390 foot). A double track railway ran through here from 1842. Above your head is an elliptical or horse-shoe shaped roof with new, brighter lighting (thanks to the council).

In the tunnel itself there are a series of hooks on the west wall (as you are walking towards Granton), which were for cables and wires when the tunnel was used by the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway before it ceased operations in 1986. Festooned along them is a length of bunting made of found materials with illustrations of birds. On the reverse of each pennant is a word which aims to recreate a bird sound, an explicit appropriation of an other-than-human ‘language’. A pennant is a commemorative flag, used historically, but I prefer to call it Bunting, a word that has been used since the 14th century for a lark-like bird which we know as yellow-hammers. Yellow hammers are said to sound as if they are saying ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Try saying it fast!

RSPB Yellow Hammer info and song

The birds you see are sketches and impressions, they’re not real. The sounds you can read on the reverse of the pennants are rough translations of what are actually rich varieties of tone and timbre. They have been translated into the less melodious, simplistic human words. The only bird sounds you will hear in the tunnel are these approximations: tic tic tic tic – the Robin’s warning call, chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff, tweet tweet tweet, you know how it goes – chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp. I cannot play you their songs in this place, even if, as in the Japanese shopping centres, they might calm you, bring a smile to your face.

This is no place for the birds; this land, like so much of the British Isles and elsewhere, is inhospitable and uninviting to them.

Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.

Rachel Carson from Silent Spring
The Trinity Tunnel runs under East Trinity Road on route 13, and is easily reached on foot (approx. 10 mins) or by bicycle (approx. 5 mins) from the Granton end where it can be accessed from where Trinity Road meets Lower Granton Road near the sea front

In the Trinity Tunnel there are no ledges nor perches, no nooks and crannies to nest in. There is nowhere here to stand and preen feathers or sing from. We are replacing old barns and houses which had eaves and rafters, with edifices of vast glass windows and metal corners, but birds cannot live or raise their young in and on them. We are clearing hedges, spraying pesticides and extending fields so far to the edges that birds natural habitats are destroyed and poisoned. In the UK, we have created places where birds used to, but cannot now thrive. This has resulted in drastic changes in avian behaviour and deaths. There is more info on the RSPB site here.

In the 2 minutes it takes me to walk through the tunnel, it is believed that 2 pairs of breeding birds will disappear. (See below for source).

If we listen, tune in to birds, we can learn. Mozambican people can whistle to honey birds (or honeyguide birds) and understand their calls. The birds tell them where the bees are, the people harvest the honey and this lets the birds get the wax and grubs afterwards. It benefits both – it really happens.

scientists have now discovered that the birds can be attracted out of the trees by a distinctive trilling sound that local hunter-gatherers use while looking for honey. According to the researchers, hunters are taught this special trilling noise by their fathers.

Jules Howard in The Guardian

In other parts of the world, women and men have learned to flute and trill like their native birds, so that their voices carry across dense forests. They are amplified, making sounds that are far bigger than we are (like wrens do closer to home).

There are some who recognise the difference between a warning call and a serenade – think of that! If we all knew and taught our children, we could choose to keep out of the way of birds when they are nesting, and delight in their courtship rituals. We could be warned, too, that a hawk is overhead or a fox on the prowl down below.

In the absence of birds, we would have to create them, to create our own version of them, their song, and appearance. But I ask you, how long will it be before we forget what they sounded and looked like, before we have to rely only on recordings and photos? Will we lose the memory of what delights us about them, will we forget our felt sense of how they really were, how it was to be in the same world as them?

In the silence of the Trinity Tunnel, you don’t have the privilege of being regaled with their songs.

No Birds Land on Vimeo

No Birds Land Video on YouTube

The sound poem was inspired by Gertrude Stein’s If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso (1912) and the quotes are by Stein and Gail Simmonds’ in The Country of Larks

This project has been entered into Sound Walk September and added to Soundcloud. It will shortly be available via the Echoes app.

Twitter @WalkNoDonkey #nobirdsland

Instagram @TamsinShiatsu

The information about bird statistics comes from

Some of the tunnel information came from

Here is the Guardian source in the quote above

No Birds Land is in partnership with the RSPB and Sustrans.

With thanks to the City of Edinburgh Council and the following people: Ewan Davison, Ken Cockburn, Cosmo Blake from Sustrans, Erica Mason and Nick Hawkes from RSPB, Fiona Underhill of the City of Edinburgh Council, Eleanor Bird, Jim Campbell, Amy McNeese-Mechan, Logan Rutherford, Alan Moonie, Stephen Knox, Cammy Day, and Alice Cockburn.

Found in the Cracks

Celebrating the small; grown from a Twitter series (@WalkNoDonkey) early 2020 during lockdown #one.

I was with my mother in Kent and she has a wonderful garden. She has always loved to allow her plants to seed themselves, finding little places they can inhabit. Here is evidence of the resilience of nature, of which we are a part. Much has been written about that attribute during this past 18 months, and if you look with an eagle’s eye, you will find that some of these are once again popping their heads between stones, a year and more on.

Self-seeding violets, Viola odorata in the paving slab cracks 15 March

Resilience is the ability to withstand, to stay healthy in the face of adversity to bounce back. It is borne out of a stable environment and it can be eroded by continued stress. Someone who shies away from noise and horror, senses that their resilience levels are low. Perhaps they never had the stability they needed.

Grief affects our ability to be resilient. Almost all of us find that our sense of resilience is affected by bereavement (whether due to the death of someone, or losses such as moving house, leaving home, divorce and other life changes).

On the 4 April 2020 the BBC reported:

‘A five-year-old child with underlying health conditions has died of coronavirus. The latest figures showed 4,313 people with the virus have died to date in the UK – up by 708 on the previous Friday’s figure. There are now 41,903 confirmed cases, according to the Department of Health.’

We will not forget those people.

Forget-me-not, Myosotis 4 April

Resilience means that we can be strong and are able to stay that way, even in distressing situations, however, we notice that we cannot necessarily do this all the time. This implies that it is a specific trauma which affects our ability to maintain a level of calm at certain times, and with particular people. Moreover, it can be unpredictable. Being less resilient is not a weakness, nor anything to be ashamed of. It is real and can cause a raft of symptoms from the physical through mental and emotional to the spiritual.

Posting a photo of pulmonaria in early April was rather apt, sadly, given the high numbers of people suffering lung issues as a result of Covid-19 in April 2020. This is in memory of those who lost their lives.

Lungwort, Pulmonaria oficinalis for the lungs – see those white spots. 6 April

The same occassion can be one of joy to some and stress to others. If empathy is not felt with the one who is feeling stressed, acceptance must nevertheless be the response, at least if we aren’t to cause a re-traumatisation.

Primroses, Primula polyantha 7 April

Peace and quiet and being amongst plants and wildlife is often a place where people can build up their resilience. In general, these places offer the opportunity, less of a threat, and so give our heart the chance to rest, but not always. For some people it may be the opposite. We can only listen to find out, not make assumptions.

Violets, Viola odorata. My grandmother’s name-sake, the Sweet Violet 8 April
Purple Grecian windflower, Anemonoides blanda opens her wee face to the sun 10 April

How many of us have a habit of trying to keep things inside, buried?

The beginnings of columbine or Granny’s bonnets, Aquilegia 12 April

Mum and I were two people living together who were not used to doing so. Not since I was 18 and leaving home have I lived so long with her. However much love we had between us, there were a few cracks and out came the niggles, some serious, some not. There were weak places in our relationship where things leaked out. We didn’t argue about leaving the lid off the toothpaste tube, but often it turned out that I was acting on expectations and assumptions. I didn’t realise, but I was falling back into following rules of behaviour I thought I had learned as a child, daughter with mother, thinking they still stood, that I should do x or y in a situation. It turned out that no, that wasn’t expected of me. It transpired that the many years that have passed since then, meant we have changed. Of course we have, obviously, but old habits die hard!

Quite a lot later the aquilegia had reached a great height and, though attracting greenfly, were in bud

We managed to talk about the difficulties afterwards, painful though they were, and we apologised to each other, and managed to keep on going together with love. The pandemic meant that we had to, we couldn’t get away from each other – thanks, pandemic. That’s the way to build resilience in a relationship and every now and then it was tough going, however I think we learned more about each other in the process, and overall, I look back on that 5-month period as a wonderful time, a way of getting to know each other as adults in a different way. We had fun together.

By May 21 the aquilegia were out

This flower is thought to be named because part of the flower resembles the talons of an eagle (aquila). Eagles are far-sighted and powerful and they have talons with which to grip fiercely. Tenacity is something which has also been talked about with regard to the pandemic. The tenacity to keep going when so much of life’s normality is threatened, tenacity to see what is important – maintaining contact (even electronically or from the garden gate), and random acts of kindness (like getting in the shopping for someone, or sending a thoughtful note).

Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis making their way into the world. You can clearly see that they are of the asparagus family. 13 April

When I look at these photos, I think of life between tower blocks and plants growing between paving stones in cities and towns, whether welcome or not, sometimes weed-killed, more recently near my home, allowed to flourish. Thorny brambles sinew between railings onto the pavement, and tree roots break through concrete. In Chinese Medicine, it’s the upthrust of Wood energy.

And here they are sporting their scented white bells

Then I imagine my nerves threading between vertebrae in my spine, linking the central nervous system to the periphery. I think of broccoli between the teeth – isn’t that so annoying! Of hernias, pockets of our internal organs escaping through openings, like the stomach poking through the oesophageal sphincter, for example, a hiatus hernia.

Stinging nettles Urtica dioeca. The first thing I drink in the morning, for my joints 15 April
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis for soothing stress and improving the mood 16 April

In April 2020, so many people were struggling (and still are) with isolation and the various difficulties brought on by restrictions in movement (then, it was recommended that we stay within a 2 mile radius in order to stop the virus spreading). I used lemon balm because it is refreshing and restorative as a herbal tea, and sometimes I just rubbed the leaves gently between my fingers and had a good sniff!

Periwinkle, Vinca minor stretching her neck. Soon to be lavender blue. 17 April
St John’s Wort, Hypericum androsaemum. Tutsa, known as Balm of the Warrior’s Wands. 18 April

It was at this time that we were standing outside our houses once a week clapping the stalwart NHS ‘warriors’ who now , in 2021, need support more than ever after such a long slog without a break and the emotional strain. Many are exhausted and I know that I, and my fellow Shiatsu practitioners, are hoping that we can support them in hour-long, gentle touch sessions for relaxation, stress and rejuvenation.

Shining Cranesbill, Geranium lucidum 20 April. So delicate
Purple deadnettle, Lamium purpurium, also known as purple archangel as it shows itself around the Feast of the Apparition on May 8

According to legend, the Feast of the Appearing of the Archangel Michael (a Christian event) took place on Mount Gargano, Apulia, about the year 492, and immediately the mountain became the site of pilgrimage.

Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, from Greek meaning early (eri) and old man (geron) because of the white beard-like rays around the yellow floral disc. 1 May
Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, fine and feathery. Formerly Anthemis nobilius with essential oil of chamazulene for calming, teething babies and itchy skin. 14 May
Strawberry plant, Fragaria hybrid ‘pekan’ about to fruit despite being in rather overcrowded cracks. It’s a companion plant to borage – they benefit each other. 28 May
Borage, starflower, bugloss, Borago officinalis. Great for nappy rash in cream form

Float some blue borage flowers in your Pims or lemonade and see what happens! *

Two holyhocks, Alcea rosea, flowering despite their diminutive size. 1 July
Michaelmas Daisies, Aster, heralding the approach of Autumn. 25 August and back in Edinburgh

Though actually celebrated on 29 September, this is another flower named after St Michael and one of his festivals – Michaelmas, again part of the Christian calendar. It also includes the angels Gabriel, Raphael and sometimes Uriel. Close to the equinox (when the sun is directly above the equator 23 September and 20 March), in Medieval times, it was the harvest, the end of the fishing season, and the start of the hunting one, time to settle bills and count the livestock for planning the winter. stores

In August, in the UK, we had our first respite from the Covid limitations on movement and so I travelled back home to Edinburgh. The open nature of these blooms captures the feelings we had when it was warm enough to socialise outdoors and everything seemed more positive again.

Creeping wood sorrel, Oxalis corniculata

In the past, I tried to hide my concerns and put on the smiling face that I thought others deserved, that I thought I should if I was going to be a good mum and work colleague. It didn’t work for long. If I have something important to say, worries that need to be expressed, they just come out in other ways. Otherwise I wander towards a fault line in my mental health, start to ‘crack up’.

Knapweed, Cyanus triumfetti

Anyway, it didn’t take long to recognise that the people around me knew me well enough to sense when I was uptight and holding onto something. I am not sure that any amount of anger or resentment can really be hidden if we are in close proximity to people we love or work with. It is always about finding ways to put my feelings into words, let them out in a constructive way, or accepting when I flare with anger, apologise, and finding support from a friend or counsellor to try and work out why I did that.

Knapweed in full bloom
Rock fumewort, yellow corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea
Piss-a-beds, dandelion, Taraxacum officianale, most common, companion to nettle in my morning tea

Dandelion – bees love it (see No Mow May) – and it ‘helps one see further without a pair of spectacles’,according to Culpeper’s Colour Herbal. I take it for my liver.

Probably woodbine, do you think? A vine like Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle
Twist of ivy through the smallest of gaps

These plants all have invisible roots, they thrive in the bleakest of situations, in mere grains of soil or even the substance of the stone wall itself. They are evidence of resilience and tenacity, and photographing and thinking about them gives me strength and supports me in understanding myself better.


Chitra Ramaswamy is @chitgrrl on twitter and she wrote about nature being allowed to bloom in the corners of urban Leith, Edinburgh at a similar time.

The Royal Horticultural Society is a great resource for plants. They are @THE_RHS

Gardenista are worth following on twitter @gardenista for their sometime focus on plants like

* They change to pink

Ritual (women’s work?)

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.

Tree-Feeling Walk and Online Meeting

What do we feel about urban trees? A psychogeographic survey

This event is in two parts:

 First, a walk – together or alone, wherever you are

Then, an online meet-up

The walk

We will be enquiring into:

  • Our symbiosis with trees: that is, the interaction between trees and us, organisms which live in close physical association with each other to the advantage of both
  • Our relationship with them: that is, 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

There is a transcript of the soundcloud walking guide for your Tree-Feeling Walk here and a pdf.

Location: If you are in Edinburgh, you have two options:

You can walk with me at Inverleith Park, Edinburgh (East Gate opposite the Botanic Gardens, Arboretum Place EH3 5PA googlemap coordinates: 55.964412, -3.212967 ///power.factor.trace)

Date: 15 May

Time: 2.30-3.30pm

Book here: Eventbrite

Or you can walk alone, with friends or family

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

Time: 10.30-11.30am

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
  • Dance
  • 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).

Other activities

  • 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
  • Make a sound walk of your route and upload it to Look for Sound Walk September (the address is on the webpage)
  • And use the hashtags #FeelingTrees #urbantreefestival on twitter or instagram

Please note that if you share photos, images and/or words via social media, I will collect and share some of them for the online meeting. I will ask you first to give me your permission to do so.

Thanks to Ewan Davidson, the Urban Tree Festival and the 2020 contributors and presenters who inspired me, and to i-tree-eco-edinburgh.

Tamsin Grainger

Tamsin Grainger is a writer, bodyworker and walking artist living in Edinburgh. She holds online workshops and events, including On Death and Life, Death Cafes, and Walking and Chinese medicine.

Leith’s Women

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.

Route Map

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.


Bessie Watson aged 9 years Leith

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.

Rosebank Cemetery

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’.

Ida Bononomi

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.

Queen Victoria high on her plinth outside Lloyd’s Pharmacy, at the bottom of Leith Walk

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).

The grave stone of Sardar Mohammad – wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother


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.

Druin Burch (2009)

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

Current street names refer to the industries which used to be located in the Bonnington area

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 1887

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.

A screenshot from google earth maps of the Bonnington waterwheel

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.

Remains of the Catherine Sinclair drinking fountain, Steadfastgate

North Leith Burial Ground

Lady Mackintosh

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.”

Maggie Craig

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

Queen Charlotte in Bloomsbury Square

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.

See how this woman is named a ‘relict’ of her husband, South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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.

Sophia Louise Jex-Blake, leader of the Edinburgh Seven (Wiki)

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.

Saint Barbara

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).

Saint Barbara, whose altar sits in South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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.


The Edinburgh Gazeteer

Christine Hoy

Elizabeth Jane Timmins, 2019 and her blog for the information about Ida Bononomi and Queen Victoria.

‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.

Elizafield Plantation, USA by Amy Hedrick and

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine which has delights in it if you care to look hard enough, such as ‘[he died] At Paris, of a fever, occasioned by bathing whilst in a state of perspiration, T Palmer”

Joyce Burnette (2008) This webpage has some fascinating pictures of women spinning at home and in the factory and statistics about self-employed wmen in the eighteenth century and much more (England)

The History Press

Other links

See also Edinburgh New College and Calton Hill – a tour of the centre of Edinburgh celebrating some of Edinburgh’s famous women – based on the Hidden Heroines Tour by Carla Nebulosa.

See also Where Are the Women? A Guide to An Imagined Scotland by Sara Sheridan

and the Meet the Author event with Sara Sheridan on 1 May 2021 at 10.30am

Saltire Society Outstanding Women of Scotland

The New Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women

Quines by Gerda Stevenson celebrates women of Scotland in poetry. My review is here

There are other books about women that I have reviewed here

The In-Between

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,”

Robert MacFarlane

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.

Tobacco….drifts….merges….with perfume. 

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?

Festival of Terminalia

23rd February 2021

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.

Snow prints. Photo by Sam MacLean

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?

The wind disturbs the top layer

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.

Arbor graffiti

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.

Inchcolm Island

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.

Related blogs: Walking Between Worlds series

Terminalia – Festival of Psychogeography site

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 (, 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.

Indian almond courtesy of

There is no going back – New Year ahead!

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.

People’s Chancellor – Economics for the many (Facebook)

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! 


Clipp’d Wings

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?

Feathers collected in June 2020 for Clipp’d Wings

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.

Magpie feathers

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.

Taken from a great distance – birds sitting on rooves at Granton Harbour
Harper engraving of homing pigeons (Wikipedia)

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.

Rookery, Kent

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.

Swan on the River Medway

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.

Dovecote, Kent, England

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.

Prototype dovecote! In the making of.. housing a few feathers with messages attached to their shafts

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.

Stage 2 of Clipp’d Wings where the feathers were dated and mounted

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.

When walking the first 4 days of The Pilgrim’s Way in from Winchester towards Canterbury in July 2020, I found more feathers than I could possibly collect, so I retained a sample. This wing was one of many I came across – synchronicity in action!

A Different Lens

I am really pleased to have been involved with A Different Lens, a mapping project in Margate, Kent, England conceived by Thread and Word, the project of Elspeth Penfold.

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.

Elspeth Penfold

A Different Lens is a walking project which has been mapped so that if you are not in that location, you can explore online here. (

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

A Different Lens, Thread and Word / Elspeth Penfold

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.

Autumn and the pomegranate is bursting

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.

Autumn leaves

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.

October 2020