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 birdlife.org

Some of the tunnel information came from forgottenrelics.co.uk

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.

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

http://www.newport.gov.uk/documents/Leisure-and-Tourism/Countryside/Measuring-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 https://walklistencreate.org/ 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

Bonnytoun

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) https://www.livescience.com/3210-childbirth-natural-deadly.html

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 glynngen.com).

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.

Sources

The Edinburgh Gazeteer

Christine Hoy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beacon-Our-Town-Story-Hospital/dp/0951373900

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 http://www.glynngen.com/plantations/elizafield.htm and https://mesda.org/item/collections/dr-robert-grant/1194/

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

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. (https://cgeomap.eu/adifferentlens/)

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

A May walk -Touching with my eyes (only)

May 17 2020, 7.10-10.10am 

This walk was inspired by a prompt from Alisa Oleva and The Resident’s Association which went like this: ‘Go out on a walk, take photos of all the things and surfaces you would like to touch, but don’t touch them.’

I tried, I really did, but I failed at the first and last hurdles (and several in between if I’m honest). Who would have thought it would be so difficult? Although, given I touch for a living it’s not so surprising. I can’t give Shiatsu because of the Covid-19 virus restrictions, so this brief is apposite. 

It was my phone I touched at the off – to take photos. Smooth and cool and about the weight of a nice big juicy apple, it quickly heated up in my hand. I was on a walk I have done once before which ended on a road (link) so I wanted to find a better way back. 

Stinging nettles

As soon as I started I wanted to reach out and feel the difference between the nettles and the dead nettles, even if one sort would surely sting me. It didn’t take long for my toddler instinct to kick in – ‘But I want to touch!’ I resisted.

When a wall reared up in front of me, my protesting teenager was taunted – ‘Just cos you say I shouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I can’t!’ Though I was grown up and I didn’t.

Buttercup (Ranunculus)

As I passed the buttercups I could imagine the smooth, silky petals. I’m a tactile person. I have honed my sense of touch to a very sensitive degree over tens of years. The mere sight stimulated the part of my brain which remembered the feel from before (as it does with most people) – my brain’s sensory cortex.

“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,’” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of a study into touch.

“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”

Rick Nauert on Psychcentral.com

Hollow stalks with rough ends
Ivy like a rattlesnake coiled around a tree
Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

I saw stalk ends which I was convinced would be dry and rough. The torn-off strands might feel like threads, but I couldn’t be sure. The gnarled tree, all crooked and twisted, must feel just as dessicated, I conjectured, but harder. I was pretty sure I could lean into it and it wouldn’t fall over whereas the stem would have, of course. Colder than the trunk, the Hedera helix (a better monica than ‘common ivy’ in this case) would feel the least substantial, but the shiniest. Isn’t it fascinating that we use visually descriptive words like ‘shiny’ to describe the feel of something?  

While it is customary to assert that we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears, we live in a simultaneous universe where sensory events and their constituent elements have a natural tendency to overlap.

Brain World
Undergrowth still covered in dew where the sun hasn’t yet touched

The undergrowth to my right was still opaque with dew, its wetness indistinguishable from its colour. But I didn’t touch; my eyes just feasted. (There’s another of those sensory comminglings). As I wandered on, I wondered, can you feel a colour? Would that pale grey-green feel the same as the vibrant gloss-green of that ivy I had just passed? It would be impossible to subtract the wetness from one in order to compare I reckoned.

My feather collection

In this part of the countryside, the cascades of hawthorn are over now, their slightly feathery, petally droplets have fallen. Black crows were feeding, sharp-beak first, in the field. I would certainly like to touch their glossy feathers – I have been collecting feathers every day on my walks. If I hold the white tubular calamus, or hollow shaft of a long corvid’s plumage and twiddle it, the vane catches the light and gleams. There was a matching black horse lying down nearby and she observed me, haughtily. I might not have been brave enough to touch her.

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) or ‘Sour Ducks’, red-brown between the buttercups
Yorkshire Fog

The wet grass touched my boots – I could see, but not feel. My legs brushed past the seedheads and they tickled my shins. They touched me, I didn’t touch them. In the same patch, I was alive to the contrast between the sorrel, which I knew would be bitty like toast crumbs between a thumb and forefinger, and the emery board, might-cut-you blades of grass. I remembered how I like to slide up the sheath of the softer Yorkshire Fog, just turning to seed now, gathering a mini bouquet before spilling the seeds up in a fountain and spraying them all around. I could just ‘feel’ the imprint of it on my fingertips.

I had to edge behind the tree with my arms in the air

I crossed the first stile which I’ve been not hand-touching for weeks anyway, so I am practiced at that. I had to steady myself for a moment or two at the top before ‘jumping’ down off the second. Then at the next hurdle, I had to slip around behind the tree because the gate was shut. It was, I admit, impossible not to touch the trunk with the edges of myself, but I lifted my arms up as I squeezed through.

There was the familiar parp of the train as it approached the first of a ring of level crossings, making its announcement. I couldn’t touch that train even if I wanted to. I spotted the first chamomile and stooped to collect a feathery stem and have a sniff, transported back to my allotment where I grew swathes of it for medicinal purposes. It was not until the end of the walk when I scanned back that I realised that that had been a touch I didn’t even think to forgo. 

Wild dog rose (Rosa canina)

I feared to reach out to the wild roses in case I dislodged their fragile petals, so that was no problem. Before I knew it, I scratched my nose because it felt like a fly was crawling there. Damn! Turns out that I’m not great at this game.

Goslings and their parents

I took a detour and there were the goslings, much more grown up, motionless on mirrored water. So still were they, that I assumed they were asleep, but then a parent dipped her beak and very slowly rotated to face her brood. The sun was behind, low, and I saw a drop dripping off. Mid way, it sparkled as the light shone through it, refracting into a star as it fell. Without actively moving she sailed closer to them, the space narrowing, and then she nudged the nearest chick. 

It was the second hour and others were waking up and walking their dogs: a puppy scampered towards me and jumped up, so there was a wet-tongue touch without a by-your-leave. The owner and I forgot to move to opposite sides of the path two metres apart. Not so the woman with the stick – she avoided me like the plague as we have been instructed to do.

Pendulous Sedge (I think)

The birds were busy weeding in the arable fields, their heads bobbing. No doubt some seeds hadn’t yet germinated. A bramble scraped my upper arm leaving a long, bloody slash. Grasses caressed me and wind swept my sweaty brow – I felt it.

A fully grown tree with clusters of small, white traumpet shaped flowers (below)
What is the name of the tree (not a shrub) these sticky flowers came from?

I stood under an unknown tree admiring its flowers. I flipped through my mental filing system, took a photo, and then the tree seemed to go ‘here you are’ and one white trumpet floated to the ground. There it lay amongst 10s of others! I picked one up (again, I didn’t even notice this touch until I started writing this) and carried it uphill. After some time I relegated it to my pocket for later perusal and it was, ooh, 5 minutes before I worked out what had caused the stickiness in my palm. 

Impossible not to stroke

I did find an alternative route towards the end and as I squelched through the mud (there has been no rain for weeks but was some sort of stream running down the bridle path) and surveyed the broken branches from recent winds, I instinctively stroked the burl (a knotty growth) of a nearby tree, I caught myself at it and withdrew my hand sharpish, but it was too late.

A fine specimen of Bracket fungus

The whole thing was pretty tricky. I wanted to know if the bracket fungus was hard or squashy. I wanted to warm my hand on the wall. I was curious whether the temperature of the inside of the log was different from the outside.  I would have liked to swish through the Quaking grass. However, I particularly enjoyed the newfound awareness of how much my senses interact. And I had a beautiful walk.

Quaking Grass

If you ever see something in one of my blogs that is wrongly named, please do let me know. I do a lot of research but it isn’t always easy to get it right and I would be very grateful to learn.

Uing the soft fabric of my scarf to open the metal gate to avoid cross-contamination from ‘the virus’- there was no other way to open it

Happenstance – a Healthy walk

I took this walk in response to Unlocked walks for Spring ‘20 No 1 ‘for Health’ by Edinburgh Walking Workshop (socially distanced) and posted on Edinburgh Psychogeography. The prompt was to have questions about the links between walking and health in my mind and see what arose.

Danger! Pedestrians walking on the road

Moving away from the familiar and safe

Out of the house, I turned right instead of the usual left. I was heading towards a certain place and hoping to deviate – deviation, on occasion, being the source of imaginative instigation. 

Ahead, on the single lane bridge, was a man on the non-pavement side where there’s a ‘>’ in the wall, a ‘more than’ nick out of the road. There is more, because when you stand there and look over, you can see the river. I was prepared to walk on the pavement, to keep my distance, but he crossed back. He had a stick. I said ‘good morning’ and he seemed surprised. I crossed to the nick and leaned over to look at the water. I live by the sea in Edinburgh, but here in Kent with my mother during the Covid-19 lockdown period, I am landlocked. It is different. It has an effect on me.

A lone swan with plenty of water all to herself

I took a left at the post office. Another gentleman and I dodged right-left-right until we wordlessly worked out who would go in the road – me. We smiled, maybe murmured, I can’t remember now.

Does this shifting onto the highway to keep our distance, endanger our health?

Flood protection sandbags

My route is chosen 

I passed where the sandbags are still piled up outside ‘the pretty cottages’ from the flooding,. Further on, there were words carved in chunks of stone at the top of 2 brick gate posts – Lyngs Close. I typed it into my notes for memory’s sake, and google changed it to ‘lungs’. For once, clever google – Lyngs does mean lungs! It denotes ‘an open space in a town or city, where people can breathe fresher air’ (which I didn’t know at the time). That set off a chain reaction in my mind. 

Lyngs Close

Theme

I am a health practitioner, and when I refer to the Lungs in my work (Chinese Medicine), I spell it with a capital letter because the term encompasses both the respiratory organs and the things we practitioners have all noticed over the years that are repeatedly connected with them. For example, clients I see with asthma and other pulmonary issues, will often tell me, ‘I can’t breathe in this relationship’, or, ‘Although there is space at my work, I can’t take a deep breath when I’m there – I think it’s because my boss watches over me all the time’. These phrases link the physical lungs and the ability to breathe easily, with the psychological feelings around having enough space and freedom. 

The lyng at Lyngs Close (and Beech tree #1)

This week, the Daily Mail reported concerns that ‘political appointees are breathing down the necks of scientists’, implying that they are being pressurised to make a vaccine quickly. In ancient Chinese texts you will find references to regulations, and the setting of borders (including those between what is right and wrong) linked to the Lungs. As it is their job to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide across membranes (the borders between the alveoli, the air sacs) in order to maintain our vitality, the aspects of our lives related to rules, space and air are also connected.  We are living in a time when the government might ‘push strict lockdown rules to their limit’ and that affects each of us in different ways. I tend to rebel if the boundary is too restricted, if my freedom to create is curtailed.1

A walk theme emerged by happenstance (which I always think must be about happily coming across something). Chance is about things happening unexpectedly and about providing for the possibility of… 

Beech # 2

The Scottish charity Greenspace Scotland (2011) defines green spaces as: ‘the green lungs of our towns and cities which contribute to improving peoples’ physical and mental health…and ‘breathing spaces’ to take time out from the stresses of modern life. ‘

Gayle Souter-Brown ‘Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing: Using healing, sensory and therapeutic gardens

You may like Alice Vincent’s Rootbound – Rewilding A Life (biography, memoir, botanical history) which examines how the heartbroken can be saved by nurturing plants.

Claustrophobia and open space

Allowing walkers a strip of land

As I made my way down the narrow close, I remembered a walk I took a few weeks ago – I was directed along a foot-width path between two fences, by a farmer who did not want ramblers on his land. This expression of limitation was in the middle of a great, grassy field. I was unable to stray in any way. I recalled the signs I had photographed the previous evening – ‘Strictly Private’ and ‘Keep Out’. In Scotland we have the ‘Freedom to Roam’, not so here in England, my original home.

Restricted parking sign
Leaves cleaning our air on our behalf

It’s like the world’s northern forests become a giant vacuum cleaner, scouring the air, sucking down the CO2 till around November

Robert Krulwich, National Geographic

Nature breathes, we all breathe. Or not

The way then opened up and there was a huge beech tree, one of earth’s 3.1 trillion ‘lungs’, with lobe-shaped leaves. (See the link in the box above for the source of that statistic). By the tree, at the edge of this oval patch of green for everyone to share, was a sign telling me that parking was for residents and their visitors only. I manoeuvred between the cars and came upon an even bigger Green, surrounded by houses and vehicles of varying shapes and sizes. I don’t have one, haven’t had for years, but I remember shutting myself in mine, in a secluded spot, to cry or scream, sleep or read when the children were at school and it all got too much. Here, it was momentarily clear, no exhaust fumes clogging up the air. I wondered if more cars were ‘at home’ than usual – that our new rules were going some way to liberating the planet from exhaust fumes.

There was a murmur of voices, slamming of doors and then a thrumming as an engine started up. It couldn’t, it tried again – the machine was coughing. 

Dry tracery of tracks and mud

I had already strayed from my path, wandered off the tarmac onto grass and the crunch of dry sticks breaking. I took a big deep breath and blew at a dandelion clock. Under my boots, a dry tracery of tracks and mud; above, birds warbled. Avian creatures are the only species with a syrinx, the air passing across these thin membranes to produce their songs. Sometimes, like the Song Thrush, there are 2 windpipes and so 2 tunes can be sung simultaneously. It’s known as ‘duetting’. (How Do Birds Sing, CelebrateUrbanBirds.com)

If they stay there long, the grass will die

I noticed two bins on the grass which I knew would starve it of light if left there for very long. Without light, as every school child is taught, it would be unable to photosynthesise, to process carbon dioxide and water and convert it into oxygen and glucose to be able to thrive.

Dandelion clock

I mused on a Facebook story: A friend living in Peru reported, ‘Six weeks of no physical exercise, except for 2 minute walks to take the rubbish out, or check the mailbox, or walk from the car park to the pharmacy…’ Another, from Scotland, wrote, ‘I have felt a bit up and down emotionally this week, wondering….when I shall see my children and grandchildren again.’ Starved of light and sunshine, of physical contact and face-to-face time with friends and family, the health of we and our environment is threatened.

Outside the Village Hall, a man and a woman in a stationary car were smoking with the windows open and the engine running.

There seemed to be cars in every shot, stealing the focus from the lilac

Alone and together

Now I was back on the main road by the bus stop. A cyclist sped past, the dynamo humming. Four-by-fours raced, causing a wind to ripple my trousers. For a moment it was me and the birdsong before the next one. As it pulled away my nostrils filled with toxic vapours. A child stamped so he could hear himself, questioned his parents. He sang a snippet of the tune in his head, aloud. It was boiling (April) – I was ‘warming’.

Sweet chestnut blooms (plus a speed restriction sign and a car)

There were the wings of a pigeon, whirring; there, the straining neck of a blackbird dashing; and there, the candelabra of the chestnut tree. I remembered that they give some people hayfever.

People have trodden an illegal path

On my right was a track, and a gate with just enough space to squeeze around. ‘How do I know where I am not allowed to walk if there are no signs?’ I caught myself wondering. I went anyway. It took my fancy. 

The pheasant hotfooting it away

There was one single crow high up in the clear blue sky; further on a solitary cat in the forage; a pesky pheasant in the stubble, its red head and plumed tail quite evident. Until it spotted me, that was. Then it ducked. If I had been a hungry buzzard at that moment, that pheasant would have seemed to be a clod of earth – cunning. A buzzing insect intercepted me and my camera. I ignored it because of the game and my thoughts. It was me and them. It smelled of hot, cut grass and faintly acrid chemicals.

8, 12, 4 birds flew around in ellipses, making a 3d spirograph of smooth circling, their wings catching the sun and glinting like morse code. I watched some more. No, the signalling came from their white bellies being exposed between wing flaps – hidden, shown, hidden, shown – around 3 x per second 2, 70-95 mph3 Notably, they choose to expend extra energy in order to fly together, adding an extra wingbeat per second in order to have compatriots to home with.4 I have brought Sara Baume’s book ‘handiwork’ for a walk with me. She writes that birds migrate with other species sometimes, if they share feeding habits. I didn’t know that. I like to think I could join a flock of others who have the same needs as me for company on the long journey. 

If I am not allowed to go there, I can’t help them

Over and over again, as I walk, I am faced with limitations and the knock-on effect of them. As I turned a corner, cars were relegated to the distance, birds and other unidentifiable noises took precedence, but I could not investigate because of the fence. On Saturday morning it was the same – I think it was a distressed duck I was hearing (perhaps because of my concern over the mother of the 2 dead ducklings the cats brought in the day before), but I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity because of the wire and wooden posts. Nor could I help, even if that had been possible. (This is another topic – the crossing over the road to avoid contact, thereby missing the opportunity to be close to another, strike up a conversation, smile into their eyes and help if need be; the secluding which precludes neighbourly chats and offers / receiving of support; the ‘Keep Out’ signs which stop me reaching the scene of the problem – none of it healthy). I realised I was walking the outside perimeter of someone’s garden. They were on one side, me the other.

Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata

The wood pigeon gurgled her underwater sounds; the sweet smell of hawthorn was like incense in a mosque. Two rabbits ran out onto the path and turned towards me. I realised they don’t know I was there. One turned off close by, the other froze. She seemed to be unsure. A pigeon errupted from above my head, and I startled. That scared the bunny away.

Lush hedgerows and official footpath sign

Nearing the end

This was the front of the sign I got stung to see …

A woman’s voice I couldn’t quite hear, interrupted my peace. I saw the phone ringing and I didn’t answer. Before I knew it I recognised where I was and glanced at the time – it was getting on. 

I was on the official footpath, but it was the back of a sign that was towards me. I got stung by nettles trying to read it, and, although I generally think that homeopathically that does me good because I respond well to the properties of Urtica dioica, drink it every day (it’s good for the health of my joints and blood), nevertheless this is another danger inherent in rural walking!

Wilding

Raspberries gone wild

Before the cherry orchard, I came across raspberries which have been allowed to go wild. Not over excited, although maybe they are because they have grown in exuberant, prickly arches, more monumental than the brambles. (Do they compete? I wonder). They have been left, free to go their own way. Kids who ‘go wild’ are said to be having fun, they squeal and scream, their voices filling the air with their freedom of expression. I go a bit wild when I walk: I dismiss pretence and constraint. Not quite feral, not ‘gone mad’, but I have wilded. 

The voices behind me were getting louder. Closer therefore. ‘You don’t want to do it on a day like today’, he said with a forbidding tone. I stood to the side to let them pass.

I wanted to stay out until I wanted to go back. I knew, now, where I was and how long it would take to get home and guaged it was perfect timing to speak to the kids on Zoom. (Actually I was late and the youngest messaged, ‘Where are you all? I am here on my own. I could be outside.’)

Offstage, a child screamed. A fatherly voice said, ‘Calm down, don’t panic, if there’s a problem, tell me’. Then I was back on a road. They cycled past. 

So, be careful, you have been warned
You can’t do this, or that, nor the other

As I crossed the Lees, there was a procession of us, socially distanced. We were strung out, hopefully not ‘strung out’ – nervous or tense – after our walk. One woman wore headphones, cut off; a couple were knee deep in the undergrowth; a what-I-call ‘proper hiker’ was focused forwards with his baton jauntily over his shoulder like Dick Whittington (I said hello, but got no response); a friendly woman with a walking stick smiled and nodded. 

Most of us were well spaced out – these 2 must have been living together

I did go where I had intended to, but I got there an unfamiliar way. I came across a lot of warnings, but survived. My health was all the better for the open air and the Spring green.

1 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8256435/Brits-emerge-lockdown-new-figures-rise-people-outdoors.html accessed 26.4.20

2 https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v064n04/p0619-p0620.pdf

3 http://blogs.bu.edu/biolocomotion/2011/11/14/pigeon-power-dynamic-wings-improves-capabilities/

4 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190618140201.htm

Walk This Weekend – words and images

30 Women and men took a walk on the weekend of 4/5 April 2020 when most people around the world were vastly restricted in their movements for the purpose of limiting the spread of the corona virus. They took 30 minutes of exercise, as encouraged by their governments, staying close to their homes and collected feelings, sounds and images while they were out.

These were made into a video / audio, a soundtrack of photos, to share with those who were unable to leave their homes – individuals who were isolating and the peoples in Spain who were told to stay at home, for example. People took walks in Israel, Greece, France, Iceland, the US, the Czech Republic, Scotland and England. 79 joined the Facebook group (including the 30) over 48 hours.

Here is the full video of the sounds which were collected by the people above, for you to watch when / if you are stuck inside, or if you would like to hear what it sounds and looks like in different parts of the world.

I have selected one photo per participant for this blog. The other photos mentioned in the commentary below will be in the film. Guidelines were set for the walks and they can be found here.

The Pentland Hills, Edinburgh, LG

LG wrote: I started from home wearing gloves as there are a few gates and stiles to go through before gaining access to the hills near my house.  I did have to speak to one woman who commented on my walking pole, wishing she had one. She had just come down the steps in my photo, they are very steep. I climbed the steps then made a right angled turn up the side of the hill where all Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth come into view below – not a great photo it being my old smart phone, but it is amazing whatever the weather.  I walked up to the brow of the hill, the larch are beginning to flower, hard to capture, it was quite windy up there, and the fence posts all have moss hair! I sat for a while to admire the view looking east and south towards Allermuir Hill. Down across the boggy bit to the lovely stone seat erected as part of a woodland planting initiative commemorating the First World War, where I sat again to listen. Wood pigeons, chaffinches, two magpies, a flat-footed hill runner, a mountain biker struggling up the hill, lots of silent intervals. Down to a small burn, took a short video. Back along a different path and across a field through the woods to my street. Love this tree, someone once carved a heart, it has grown with the tree and the tree has formed its own heart above it ❤  This is a favourite short walk, which since my hip replacement last autumn, I can now enjoy again. I’m so lucky to have this on my doorstep – think I’d go crazy if we were confined to our homes!

Video on Facebook – click on Liza’s photos within her post and you will see her video of a beautiful burn.

Graffiti – Chichester, England, KL

KL wrote: I had a slightly belated, long, tiring and enjoyable cycle ride yesterday, but on Saturday a short suburban walk.  Space to observe normality and uncertainty, fears and opportunities, isolation and society . . .

Kim’s audio on Soundcloud 4.4.2020 – 04:04:2020, 12.40

JW sent videos – from herself in Edinburgh – Wind Murmuration – and from a friend of hers on Holy Isle off the south west coast of Scotland.

King’s College, Aberdeen, GC

GC wrote: I went for a walk around the block today that led me to Aberdeen university. I loooove that area. So nice and full of old building, lovely houses, little cottages. It’s the old Aberdeen 😍 Daffodils are in bloom, Seaton park was deserted and it all felt so peaceful. It was 3. 4km and bird and bells were ringing at 6pm. Bliss ✨⚡️#walkgowild

Yellow Gorse in Musselburgh, EP

EP wrote: I walked by the coast with my dog on Sunday afternoon – my daily walk towards Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. Lots of birds chirping in the warmth of the sun, so fortunate to have the Forth estuary on my doorstep. The sea soothes me. Seaweed in abundance, daffodils in the scrubland, bright sky sunshine – so good for the soul. I love yellow – gorse on the hill. Healing our world.🌎

Magnolia blooms, Harrow, London, CS

Carmen S wrote: It was a late evening walk, beautiful light, extraordinary blossoms, spring is here.

Wood in Shropshire, SJ

SJ wrote: Today’s walk next to my house 🙏 

‘Close’,Greece, Maria G

Maria G gave her photos titles: Walk and sense all dimensions! Far, close, hug, and Leia.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, GI

GI wrote: My favourite walk and I am so lucky to live near by the Arthur seat, Edinburgh. I could not resist to walk with the bare feet, the Earth was so warm even thought the sun came out later on – such beautiful day, very grateful for moments like this. My daughter was climbing the tree, I got the beautiful hag from it and some fresh nettles to brew the tea and we collected white fluffy feathers on the way home to be creative 🙏/ Sunday around 5pm. The concert from all the birds and gentle wind were so refreshing.

I appreciate the old bridges over the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes, Catherine S

Catharine S wrote: A stroll in the local park in Milton Keynes – along the canal, and then back along by Caldecotte Lake, up a bit to Ouzel Valley park, and back onto the Grand Union, and home.  Traffic noise is possibly less, but still pretty noisy – not too much bird song to pick up, so no audio. Pub is closed, which I notice means later on less light pollution from the sign, allowing for a bit more vision of clear, starry nights. I appreciate the old canal bridges over the Grand Union in Milton Keynes, and the good looking moon.

Danson Park, London, SS

SS wrote: Danson Park for 30 minutes this afternoon after 4:30 pm. Her video on Facebook is here. A few from me. I had a quick walk for 20 min between 14:00 and 14:20. With the first photo, I just fell in love with the bright green. The third was all about sky and sense of space. And the last 2, color, delight for the heart.

Near the Water of leith, Edinburgh, Catharine T

CT wrote: I went for a walk at about 16:00 along the Water of Leith with my husband and then, half an hour later, kept walking on my own in our communal gardens below our street, which face onto the river. I see a magpie settle on a tree. I listen to the birds, trying to identify them from their sound (I’m so bad at that) and the river flowing below. I look at the blossom across the river from the old orchard. I’m looking at the trees in the garden – can I see a tree creeper, that I haven’t seen for the past two years but I know are in the gardens? It’s very peaceful, people walking along the river, minding their distance and enjoying being out.

Reflections, Edinburgh, Catharine T

Walk 2: I walk up the steep slope in our gardens. I’m not good at birdsong but think I can hear the see-saw sound of great tits and the more mellifluous robin. I meet someone also looking for a tree creeper – they’re very hard to see, so I’m trying to learn what they sound like. I’m also looking for a wren; there are lots in the garden but you don’t often see them.  I see another two magpies – one for sorrow; two for joy; three for a girl … I’m looking down on a pigeon! it just flew away. I hear a bird give a warning sound – is that a blackbird? I’m not quite sure. Past the badger’s hole. I finished my walk down onto  the public footpath and then a brisk stride up the 140 steps from the river to our street (no landings for the first 111 steps – done without a break!) to get my cardio-vascular exercise for the day.  Catharine’s video on facebook is here.

Maria Shi-Fo sent videos of Plaka and Akropoli in Athens – autumn within Spring, Saturday morning. They are on Facebook here. She has another one taken on Sunday afternoon, not very far from Athens

Near Dalry, North Ayrshire, South West Scotland, EL

EL wrote: I walked behind the house today.  The flowering currant is in memory of our first pony Benji, wind turbines were noisy, good views and interesting lichens. 

France, KL

KL wrote: Our dog Ruby was a little too hot, so we ended up doing lots of stops to cool down pottering in the streams and river. Ruby was a thirsty girl! She has dodgy hips so finds it very hard to go up and down that particular slope – hence the encouragement from my partner! Here is the video of Ruby

We went for a walk – a familiar route, straight from the front door, down to the river Le Noireau in the valley down a decline of 20%. Keeping to the required distance from home (1km in France) and only 1hr for exercise. The full loop is about 5km and usually takes us an hour. It was quite warm today.

Leith, Edinburgh, CM

CM wrote: On Saturday around 3pm I went for a walk with my granddaughter, aged 5, along the Water of Leith. We started at the Shore, she was on her scooter and I was armed with a long stick, at her request. We meandered along to a place we could feed the ducks and splash with said stick in the water. We played and sang along the way, and back. The simplicity of the walk was truly joyful. The sounds of the birds, the water, and our own chatter. The small things in life are often the most precious. 

Newcastle, England, ML

ML wrote: I cycled to Jesmond Dene, still early. The sound of the burn and birdsong. No idea what birds were – made mental note to learn. Of all the Buddhist teachings I’ve studied over the years, the most simple is the most profound; present moment, wonderful moment. A beagle sits refusing to budge not even when a spaniel pup offers him a game of chase.

Just back from a walk through Jesmond Dene then back home via the streets of suburban Newcastle upon Tyne. I forgot to do the 5 mins note taking but recorded 1 minute of sound.

Shenandoah National Park, USA, Nathalie Meyer
Daisies, England, JT

JT wrote: A blustery, wonderfully warm Spring day in my local park. Lovely to hear the wind in the trees 🌳 🌲 Berries are out … Berry Hill Primary School closed for the foreseeable future 😔 … so Schools out – possibly ‘Schools out for summer’ 🧒 👶 I’m sure there’s a song budding there 🎶 🎤 🏫… 💃 Her video on Facebook is here

Granton Beach, Edinburgh, LS

LS wrote: We set off from the house at about 1635. We headed down the hill to the sea making a new friend en route, and bumping into old ones. It was strange keeping a distance and not giving them a hug. (Sorry it would have been rude not to chat!). We chose a circular route; gentle walk down to the seafront and back up the steep steps to our road. It was interesting to see the groups of people on the beach keeping their distance and many more people walking along the quayside than normal. I wondered if all the groups were from the same household, or whether they had arranged to meet friends at the sea front. There were four people stripping off for a swim and I wondered if they were from the wild swimming club? I admired their bravery; the sea looked cold even though it has been a very mild day. I took a photograph of the quay from above because it made an interesting geometric shape into the sea. The terraced garden enchanted me because it is an achievement to create something so attractive from scratch on such a steep embankment. The colours of the car matched the Fisherman’s cottage and made me think of the limited palette used by the artist Whistler. Most of these Fishermans cottages have screens or net curtains at the window to prevent prying eyes. I was delighted by this display, carefully arranged, inviting people to pause and look in. A reminder of Spring and hope for all of us. The woman strode out into the surf, but it was the dog who had second thoughts. It’s usually the other way round! 

West Lothian, Scotland, TH

TH wrote: Yesterday I walked from my front door down to the River Almond along to the Union Canal where I followed the path towards Ratho, rejoined the road at Clifton cottage and walked back round to Lins Mill where I retraced the river walk to complete my loop on a cloudy, but bright day. So many birds around chirruping, calling or singing mellifluously – various tits, magpies, chiff chaffs, blackbirds, wood pigeons, pheasants, a robin, a thrush, a woodpecker tapping away….babbling brooks and the rush of river water contrasting with the silence and stillness of the canal.  I’ve never seen so many roe deer as close to home before – a cluster of four stood staring at me through the trees for a good while, before bolting away. So many hosts of golden daffodils in varied hues. A few folk about, everyone greets each other these days even if just with a smile – we’re all in this together. Her video is here on Facebook

Edinburgh, MS

MS wrote: Short walk around Duddingston Golf Course today, around 40 minutes, left approximately 12 noon.  Warm overcast day, took a few cuttings while I was out. His video is on Facebook here

London, MG

MG wrote:  17.07 to 17.57 on April 04, 3.6 kms through Bishops Park, Fulham, London, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 I usually walk in the morning and around the bridges in the weekends (7kms), but that was before the lockdown…I thought it would be less busy at tea time as Hammersmith & Fulham reopened parks (and had dozens of volunteers help the park patrol avoid big gatherings). I enjoyed walking in the middle of the street as no one is taking their cars anymore. I sat on a bench facing the sunset, closed my eyes and enjoyed a little breeze and the warmth of the sun on my face, knees and shinbones… listening to a big variety of birds 🐦 🦅 🦢 wishing I could name them… my sense of smell is not impressed as I haven’t recorded any smell in my notes despite taking loads of pictures of blooming trees…plan for next time to try and smell more… As I listen to the birds there is suddenly an airplane ✈️ loosing speed above us, I remember the « nextdoor » chat the other day saying we « only » had 120 airplanes that day instead of the common 1200…we are on one of Heathrow landing paths! Walking back I pass a house with 2 families having an informal gathering (with respect to the two meters rule between the two groups), and I smile as our neighbours have had a few of these meetings today already… enjoy your weekend! ☯️💖 

Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, DO

DO wrote: I left my flat at 5.45pm and walked to Brighton Park in Portobello, Edinburgh. The street is quiet. I take a few photos along the way and a video of me running away from someone who is coughing loudly. At 5.50pm, all is quiet in the park except for the sound of buses on Brighton Place. Today feels like a layer of grief and sadness has been lifted. I was meditating earlier and I felt Earth’s heart. In the park, I felt Earth saying, “Thank you.” Joy and sadness. Joy at the sound of Spring: birds and a palpable sense of hope that we are entering a new phase of existence. Sadness at the irony of being enclosed indoors during a time of renewal. Feeling my feet on the ground. Grateful for this moment. And I love old trees, they have seen a lot. I miss Hampstead Heath. At 6.00pm, the church clock from the Catholic church chimed. It was very touching. Awaken, it seemed to say, we are being called to tune in to our inner being, a new tempo. 🙏 

Love in Hebrew, Israel, SG

SG wrote: My route began in midday as I stepped out of my home in Tel Aviv, Israel. I started in the front lawn of the building and continued onwards across the road, weaving through the neighbouring buildings. I listened and recorded the peaceful sounds of nature and the chirping birds overwhelming the atmosphere with their beauty. We are not allowed to venture out that much, only up to 100 meters. My walk was not very long, nonetheless it was meaningful. I took a few photos of what caught my attention: a bicycle ( a passion of mine), a tire filled with plants, a blank sign and a guitar (music and nature which I can’t live without)… The blank sign, I felt, was very much like a path of uncertainty and acceptance. I accept that life has a route for each one of us and we don’t hold the reins for the most part, so we might as well walk with acceptance 🙂 I discovered a tree stump and it automatically took me to a fovourite of mine,  Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” which has always been such a profound impact in my life. Most noticeably, I took a moment to breath in and observe my surroundings. A hedgehog accompanied me, which reminded me that this place called earth is not only my home. A photo of a sign in Hebrew that said love which always resonates within me.  I feel it is best to end with “And the tree was happy”. Thank you, be humble and be safe. 🙏 

Icefloes, Iceland, RV

RV wrote: Location: Eastern Fjords, Iceland. Town called Neskaupstadur. Walked 40 minutes, between 15:35, finished 16:15. Weather: south-western, strong winds, but sun. We had a metre of snow yesterday but today’s winds and 10 degrees has melted it all. Walked from the harbour, past the small boat harbour to the estuary where the glacial river enters the sea. Today there were icefloes in the harbour, the river has broken her icy shakkles at last. The black volcanic sand beach had heaps of snow and jagged ice, the river itself running dark grey and loud between the narrows. We walk here five or so times a week, it is never the same walk. Different boats in the harbour; trawlers, freight carriers of frozen fish, oil tankers, small boats. They have started the Lumpsucker roe season, dragging the nets weekly, but the weekend’s storm made the takings light. Migratory birds coming back. The black helmeted seagull, orange legged oyster catchers, eider ducks, black backed gulls. The Faroese say Spring comes when the oyster catchers return. The Icelanders welcome Spring with the Golden Plover. We heard the Oyster catchers “peep peep” and the “hum umm” of the eider ducks, the wind constantly in our ears. Not many cars, people walking, children, dogs, but everyone cautious, wary.

Grande Randonee / Camino de Santiago de Compostella, Montpellier, France, CD

CD wrote: A walk yesterday in my neighbourhood of Castelnau-le-Lez, very close to Montpellier, but very quick to be in nature. 🙏 It is also a stop on the Compostella road. I like to stroll through the streets looking in the gardens, all the different trees : laurel, olive, palm, lilac, roses, pin parasols (a type of oak), thyme, rosemary, iris, wild orchids. I walk to the top of a hill where I can see the sea – so close, but too far for now. It’s the feeling of containment that give that little, but very present, pressure of not being able to … this brings energy to a point that helps good transformation of what needs to transform in the moment. In fact, it’s a present, une “aubaine” as we say it in French (a boon in English). Then enjoying space lying down in the sun in the grass full of little herbs and flowers. So good. Her videos are on Facebook here about which she wrote: No words needed 😁🙏

Sunset, Pribyslav, Czech republic, VS

VS wrote: Lovely walk on fields. Keep coming back daily to watch a sunset.So beautiful yet diferent every day. Pics were captured 19:21-19:26, a shorg video at 19:24. Her video is here on Facebook

Featured photo of the hedgehog by Shera Geller.

Walk This Weekend

#walkgoesviral March 2020. This event has now taken place and the completed film is here on YouTube and here is a link to the words and images.

Below are the project prompts:

A virus is a tiny particle and needs a host cell to be able to live and spread. If each of us takes a short walk this weekend; if we all listen and record the sounds around us and the feelings which go with them; within a 2 km / 1 mile radius; and if I host a platform for collating these – then we can co-create a record of our extraordinary times. For those who cannot leave the house or hospital, we will collect the sounds of the outside for them to hear indoors.

Share
  • You might take a circular walk, or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair, or buggy 
  • For children and adults, dogs and tortoises
  • Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude! If you talk, make a note of why and when) 

You have 5 tasks to complete

You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:

  1. Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
  2. Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home). You can make a list or be creative 
  3. Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons) 
  4. When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form
  5. Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Listen

Please note these things when you share:

  • Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at… 
  • Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…  

Here is an example:

I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose) 

Note down anything else you think is interesting, eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well. 

What is the point of doing this? 

  • To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel 
  • To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time 
  • To know that you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation 
  • For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
  • To see what happens 
  • To create a record of this event for posterity 
  • You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other 
Walk (2 m or 6 feet apart)

Social Media

The Facebook group is called Walk This Weekend

Twitter/Instagram #walkgoesviral

I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey 

Once you have shared, I will 

  • Collate the data and share in a blog
  • Record how many people walked and where
  • Make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help will be appreciated as I am an amateur filmmaker ) 

Privacy

I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else) 

The future

Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted. 

Link to the final video on YouTube

Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.

Walking Between Worlds – 3

An account of the third and final part of the circular tour of Leith in which I led ten others in celebration of the Terminalia Psychogeography Festival (23rd Feb, annually). Happily coinciding with the Women Who Walk Network and Audacious Women Festival (AWF)

In Walking Between Worlds – 2, we had got as far as the North Leith Burial Ground. So, I pick up the account there.

One of a flock of goosander on the water of Leith close by Coburg Street, Leith
Old map showing St Ninian’s Chapel, Leith
Old St Ninian’s Chapel (1675) with a golden cockerel weathervane on the top of its Dutch-style steeple, Quayside Street, Leith, Scotland

Along the road and down to the right beside Coburg House artists studios (well worth a visit) is the gloriously orange, former St Ninian’s Chapel (you can see St N (360 – 432 AD) carved onto the doors of fellow Saint, Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. Ninian represents the Picts). A 15th century bridge chapel, it is part of the complicated history of North Leith Parish Church which can be found on Wikipedia to get you started.

Back by the water, I spotted this little talisman when I did my rekkie, but it was gone when I visited there, later, with the group. It reads, ‘1 in 4 children live in poverty’.

As we crossed Sandport Bridge, I drew attention to Broad Wynd on the left, where the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society hospital and clinic were first situated (of which, more later).

Queen Charlotte in Bloomsbury Square, London

Along Tolbooth Wynd we wandered, and on to 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). The Leith stories were starting to fit into themes: Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery. Also a botanist, she founded Kew Gardens, was married to King George III, had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey and is owned by the Scottish National Galleries (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. Recent articles have posed the question, is she of African origin?

St Mary’s Chapel (1483) at South Leith Parish Church, not to be confused with St Mary’s Star of the Sea further down the road. Looking blue at dusk

At the Hideout Cafe (where I had a delicious and expensive hot chocolate on a previous occasion), we turned onto Constitution Street which is currently shut to traffic on account of the endless and frustrating tram works, but is therefore blessedly quiet to walk along. We continued on, past St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church, to the South Leith Parish Church and its graveyard.

St Mary’s Star of the Sea is the home of 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
See how this woman is named a ‘relict’ of her husband, South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

I spent some 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 discovered 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 things, he was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society (see above) which was formed 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital on Mill Lane, and 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.

Some of my information was gleaned from ‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.

The South Leith Parish Church seen through a stone arch in its graveyard, Leith, Scotland

(Incidentally, the Leith King James Hospital was demolished in 1822, and part of the wall can still be seen today, forming the boundary between the Kirkgate and the South Leith Kirkyard).

These iron gates (often seen in Edinburgh kirkyards, see how they swing on a central axis) protect the corpses and predate 1832. We know this because it was the year of the Anatomy Act which allowed medical schools to legally acquire subjects for dissection and so there was no need to rob graves after that! South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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, whose altar sits in South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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 head was chopped off by said dad. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. She is, therefore, invoked in thunderstorms and is also the patroness of miners, although I am no sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).

A beautiful clay memorial to those who were buried around the church, but in unmarked graves (2009), South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

When excavating for the trams, they found mass graves. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and everyone was smaller and showed 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 workhouse.

As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I read out a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. I was attempting to recognise how many there were who 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…
Rosemary for remembrance, South Leith Parish Church, Scotland
After paying our respects to a further queen: Victoria (see previous post), high on her plinth outside Lloyd’s Pharmacy, we made our way up Leith Walk to Robbies.

Once in Robbies bar on the corner of Iona Street and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start, I summed up the walk: It had taken us approximately 2.5 hours and we mused and meditated on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, on the cusp of the new moon; on women’s stories and how they are so often seen through the lens of their menfolk and are hard to celebrate in their own right; of the hardship of life in centuries gone by; and death, its symbols and community rituals.

I explained that I hoped to make a map which somehow denotes and represents this event, that will contain some of its psychogeography: Wikipedia quotes Guy Debord on this: psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” I think of it as a map with humanity, not simply measurements and precise locations, but including feelings, activities and conversational responses as well.

We walked together at the new moon, just over the border from one cycle to the next.

I would like to thank everyone who came along with me. If you have information about these women, have walked a similar walk, or would like to share anything about these subjects, please do so in the comments box below.

Walking Between Worlds – an introduction

Walking Between Worlds 1

Walking Between Worlds 2

For a lovely blog on Warriston Cemetery, see Edinburgh Drift

Walking Between Worlds – 2

An account of the second part of the circular tour of Leith in which I led ten others in celebration of the Terminalia Psychogeography Festival (23rd Feb, annually). Happily coinciding with the Women Who Walk Network and Audacious Women Festival (AWF)

Route Map
Graves often have angels or birds at their tops and a skull and cross bones at their base – the body dies but the spirit soars to heaven, according to Christian tradition. The way, according to the ancient Chinese, is not so very different – the soul has different aspects to it, two of which are the Po which goes down to the earth at death, and the Hun which rises out of the top of the head and joins our ancestors

Focus on women

I chose to focus on women’s stories during this walk, because, as a woman and a feminist, it is necessary to know about who came before me, I need to know my backstory. I find that it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. There were also women’s events taking place in the city that weekend, under the banner ‘Do What You Always Wish You Dared’. I was involved in the 2019 Audacious Women Festival, sitting on a panel which looked at women who travel and move to different countries: how we support ourselves, make friends, manage the language difficulties and so on. That women-only event engendered a lively discussion with the audience, women of all ages sharing their emigrant and immigrant experiences. This guided walk was open to men and women, children and dogs, and it was something I was daring to do for the first time!

The tools of the leather workers’ trade on a grave stone in North Leith Burial ground, Edinburgh

Bonnington

After leaving the Rosebank Cemetery, we crossed Bonnington Road, a toll road at the end of the 18th century. We entered into what would have been Bonnytoun (pretty village in Scots), encompassing mills and land which was part of the Barony of Broughton (mentioned in a Royal Charter 1143). Flanking both sides of the road are modern estates as well as the much older red stone, Burns Tenements (on the right) which used to be the tannery. Incidentally, we were going to be seeing the graves of leather workers with their pincer tongs and other tools adorning them in the North Leith Burial Ground, further along the way. Using the power of the Water of Leith, there was a conglomeration of businesses in the area and there is one existing mill wheel in the mill lade at Bonnyhaugh Cottages (on the left).

Who was Eliza?

Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant. 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. Grant was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (US) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia (US) was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, due to 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 glynngen.com)

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) https://www.livescience.com/3210-childbirth-natural-deadly.html

We turned our backs on Elizafield to view Flaxmill Place. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported. It was so successful (employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women although the data is unavailable), that we know the Mills were able to loan Edinburgh Council a great deal of money. 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. The owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, which resulted in the controversial introduction of Flemish and French workers (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 (sound familiar?)  

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.

Women at work at the Burton’s Biscuit Factory, Edinburgh

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.

Joyce Burnett (2008) This webpage has some fascinating pictures of women spinning at home and in the factory

The current Chancelot Mill on Lindsay Road, Edinburgh, Scotland
Very blurred, but you can make out the yellow corn cobs on either side of the Leith flag

A little further up the road was the original site of the Chancellot Mill (now on Lindsay Place) and this was where corn was ground into flour (perhaps the reason for those corn cobs on the Persevere flag?) It was steam powered and had an 185 foot high clock tower. Producing 43 sacks an hour (twice the original prediction), it was described as ‘the most handsome flour mill in the world’!

Site of The Bonnington pub, now destroyed several times over, Newhaven Road, Edinburgh

Urban myth

They were growing cannabis in the basement of The Bonnington and it spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night, causing the whole building to burn down. True or false?

We then started to walk along the edge of a section of the Water of Leith, the border between land and liquid. Bonnington Bridge, Newhaven Road, Edinburgh

Water of Leith

I invited the group to look into the water and think of the phrase ‘time immemorial’. Legally, this refers to the years before 1189, being the date set in 1275 as the time before which no one could remember, and therefore no legal cases could deal with events before that date. ‘Time out of mind,’ recorded from the fifteenth century, is just the plain English version of the same thing.

My information came from here: https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/21/messages/258.html and http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tim1.htm

As we crossed Anderson Place, I read out a quote from the Tao Te Ching: The Master gives herself up to whatever the moment brings. She knows that she is going to die, and she has nothing left to hold on to: no illusions in her mind, no resistances in her body. She doesn’t think about her actions; they flow from the core of her being. She holds nothing back from life; therefore she is ready for death, as a woman is ready for sleep after a good day’s work. (50)

North Leith Burial Ground

After rounding the corner of the Water of Leith and meeting the confluence of the wonderful network of Edinburgh cycle paths, we mounted the steps onto Coburg Street where the North Leith Burial Ground is situated. According to The Spirit of Leithers (a Facebook Group) it is ‘The dead centre of Leith’!

Here is the plaque saying that Lady Mackinstosh is under this ground, but is she?

The memorial stones are old (1664 – 1820) and varied: grand mausoleums, individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all with engravings worth seeing. This was a good time for a ‘treasure hunt’: to search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh; a long bone; angels and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).

The graves are thicker than usual, and this one has a skeleton head on one edge and an angel’s head on the other – death and life, North Leith Burial Ground, Leith
Angel and skull, North Leith Burial Ground, Leith, Scotland

Lady Mackintosh is famous for raising a regiment for Prince Charlie’s 1745 uprising (variously known as the Jacobite, the ’45 rebellion or the ’45). It was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. 

In fact Lady Mackintosh is not here – she probably lies under the flats next door! How many people know that they are working or living over the top of dead bodies?

Sadly, it looked as if this was someone’s more contemporary (and probably rather cold) resting place. There are many homeless people who seek shelter in Edinburgh’s graveyards. North Leith Burial Ground, Coburg Street

Previous: Introduction to walking Between Worlds and Walking Between Worlds 1 

The walk continues in the final blog of the series, Walking Between Worlds – 3