Walking in Solidarity

1 April 2022 First Friday Walk

This month was my idea for the Walking the Land artists collective First Friday Walk. I had been reading about ‘dynamic stillness’, a term used by geographers and complementary therapists. Also, of course, I was following the war in Ukraine. 

I wrote, ‘Let us walk in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are walking away from their homes and home country, searching, looking for another place where they can be still, to re-find themselves and safe emplacements. We will set out from a still-point (perhaps the place where we live, where we feel secure), and search for “the embeddedness of the sensing subject”.

‘We will ask, ‘Where do we feel embedded?’ ‘Where can we find a moving or still emplacement in the walk, or in the place through, or to which, we are walking?’

Some of us walked alone and others in a group, and we were spread all over the UK.

Emplacement 1

At home

I sit in the sun and listen to the quiet, then a bee sounds by my ear and some birds chorus. When I stay myself some more, I hear the distant waves, and the odd car – one rattles, needs something doing to it. The tree has got my back. Do I feel safe here? Yes, mostly. This place is known, I’m within the boundaries of my garden, inside the gate. Gulls screech. I am grounded with my feet flat on the stones. Below them is the earth – I know that because there is a solitary primrose which has grown up through them. My sitting bones still hurt though.

On the wooden bench beside the Wheatley Elm tree

Sketching, I have a metallic taste in my mouth and frustration in my wrist as I try a third time to get the angles right. I am attempting to draw the smell of the dead brown Xmas tree which I keep meaning to take to the dump.

Dandelion heads like a bicycle wheels still spinning

1.05pm I begin my walk and am immediately struck by the fact that I am choosing to leave my home and the people of Ukraine have no choice. Yet, the dandelions are so cheery

Ominous skies and a horizontal rainbow – portents

As I walked, I thought about a story I watched last night on the Channel 4 news. A Ukrainian woman was knocked unconscious and trapped. When she came round, she dug out her husband and friend and they escaped from the bombed theatre in Mariupol. Hundreds were not so lucky. She said she felt no emotions, had no feelings. This, I know from my work, is a sign of trauma.

Doomed

In Edinburgh, I heard a woman speak on her phone as she passed me: “No time to think about such frivolous things”, she said. A child’s swing in a nearby garden squeaked as it swung.

There are no queues at the bus stop

Fallen blossom petals are strewn on the pavement. I hear a dog walker saying, “All present and correct. Have a nice day” as she leaves the park.

As I passed someone else walking her dogs, and this man repairing his boundary, I wondered if the people I am walking with in spirit had to leave their pets behind, and how long it would take them to repair their broken walls if they ever get home again

Gated for security. Will it keep out the invading forces? Protect the inhabitants from bombs?

Text 1 comes in from Richard Keating, my counterpart in Gloucestershire: “I’ve just walked a few miles from home, crossing the Nailsworth Valley and am now looking west towards May Hill. I have lived on this side of the valley for 25 years so feel very much at home here. … However the wind is cold and I’ll be glad when the pub opens its doors. Imagine how a refugee would feel as a door is opened for them. As a home is shared.”

Abandoned tank . Devastation . Clearing up the rubble

The mother said, “Grandma gave her toys to me” and her little son replied, “Do you ever see her?” And then I am aware of the importance of familial relationships, of the personal artefacts passed down, of interrupted generations and houses and possessions all lost.

Impaled

On the pavement, I am treated with courtesy and kindness as a man, wordlessly, stands aside so I can pass, and smiles. 

I heard that some Ukranian people who were only able to go to Russia, have been interned. It’s beyond my comprehension

I hear the father say “Oh you want to touch that” and he lifts the back wheels of the buggy up so that the little one can stroke the leaves of the hedge.

Emplacement 2

I am wedged between two upright logs, one on either side, and there is a solid one underneath me. I teeter – I am not as safe as I might be. I can’t see behind and would therefore only know if someone was coming if I heard them. There’s a lot of noise coming from all over the place, from different directions so I can’t distinguish if one of them is someone approaching me or not. I can reassure myself, though, because there’s not a war raging here in Scotland.

I hold on and stretch back, the sun is warm. I hear a foot meeting a ball and it clatters against the goal posts. Her heeled footsteps pace beyond the hedge. A dog barks. Distant voices, nearby cars. Smooth wood under my palms, a taste of…of…cucumber… and cedar. Is that a taste or a smell? There is a breeze. Cold at my nostrils, of air, perhaps exhaust fumes, a hint of the warm wood. I have been worried that I’m losing my sense of smell, but maybe it’s OK.

Emplacement 3

I receive a second message from Richard: “We’ve made our first stillness and are moving on. Your script has been well used.”

Warmer, wider and flatter under my bottom, I have lots of space on this tree stump. My lower back tilts which relieves the pain. I am facing north now, but I have the same awareness of people perhaps coming from behind. Cars wheel beyond the hedge which doesn’t seem dangerous because, to my knowledge, one has never driven through it into the park. Then I realise danger can come from above and see that the tree top obviously fell down, though presumably in the recent storm and not on a day like this…

Blasted tree

I can smell the sun on my skin and when I touch it, it is warm. I put my warm hand to my cold nose. The wind is coming towards me here bringing…. what? Ice from the Arctic? Again, my feet are off the ground and it strikes me that this is less safe as it would take me longer to put them down and run away. Footsteps behind me; I know they are male. They come up, go past, without stopping. The taste (yawn) is of old apple. Mhmm. And some metal.

Moving on, I thank the man who has painted the pavilion a gleaming privet-green. He’s busy clearing a thin layer of turf from around the perimeter. We chat about the public toilets they installed late in lockdown and then took away again because someone had to watch them all the time due to the vandalism. He said that there is already “a Ladies and Gentleman’s Cloakroom” in the building, so all they needed to do was to make it accessible for people with disabilities and then there would be a permanent facility. I said, no-one ever asks the people on the ground who know.

A spent shell?

Emplacement 4

I am amongst insistent birds, beside the ever-running Water of Leith, on a hard log. The brambles are intrusive. Or maybe I am. I smell humus and rotting plants, someone smoking weed. I taste coffee (a mid walk treat), and there’s the touch of cool, smooth, dry bark on this knarled trunk.

People walk right past but don’t see me – I’m by the Rocheid Path but off the beaten track. The car sound pollution is distant. The rambling couples always come back in the other direction after a few minutes because it’s a dead end.

I try to sketch the detail of the log

I wonder, will Putin withdraw, or are they just regrouping for a heavier bombardment? It sounds like he’s out of rubles but… . I am obviously carrying the story with me as I walk, snippets of it anyway. 

Tickling leaves at my neck, ants (maybe) under my thigh.

I see drops of ‘blood’ everywhere 

My scarf is getting ruined, snagging on the thorns – as if that’s a big deal, in the circumstances. When I try to wind it around my neck again later, I am scratched because portions of blackberry branches are still stuck in it. Invisibly.

I ask myself, how can I maintain awareness of these horrifying occurrences and still live comfortably here, and Richard suggests that we could focus on better understanding “this connectivity between us all”, and I know that this is what these walks are about. I’ll share the walk, invite a response, and celebrate others’.

At 15.35 I am tired and I wonder if the Gloucester lot are having tea. I try to imagine where they are and what they are doing, without the aid of a newsflash or twitter feed.

I start on my return home with the scent of wild garlic in my nostrils.

Shattered
Double graves
Trapped
Impaled
Clinging on

I pick off an individual leaf of lavender and squeeze it between thumb and finger tip. I inhale for the pleasure and calm.

Sending our best wishes to the people of Ukraine, that they might find safe and still places to become embedded once more
Finding Refuge, Looking for Shelter by Lucy Guenot

In Walking the Land, we connect with each other via computers and phones. You can imagine these ‘meetings’ as emplacements, still places in which we innovate, stabilise and share our ideas. Then, see how we move out into the landscape on our walks, dynamically. If we stay in touch with each other as we walk, using What’sApp maybe, or even tweeting with a hashtag #, we remain in contact via a collective still-point while we move at the same time. If we post on social media after the walk, representing the body movement in ‘stills’ and fixed words, there is a further version of this ‘dynamic stillness’.

If you have work to share in response to this walking prompt, please send it to tamsinlgrainger@gmail.com 

#walkingtheland @walkingartists1

Lament for the Scots Pine

Broken branches, fallen boughs, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Location: The John Muir Country Park near Dunbar, Scotland

Event: Keeper of the Soils walk, event by North Lights Arts rescheduled 13.3.22

The Keeper of the Soils cloak, walking the Pilgrimage for COP26 October 2021

Preparation: I asked everyone to pick up a cone and practise playing it like a thumb piano, and a dead branch (for snapping when the time comes).

Natalie Taylor (@artforalluk on twitter), Keeper of the Soils, had chosen one of the trees which fell down in the storm. Half the group stood at the head of the tree and half at its foot. This is following an old burial tradition in which half the mourners would stand at the deceased’s head and half at her feet while the lament was sung.

A collection of Scots Pine still standing, John Muir Country Park, Scotland
Spoken version of Lament for the Scots Pine c.TamsinGrainger March 2022

Lament for the Scots Pine

“We stand at your head”

“We stand at your feet”

“And I keep watch over your trunk”


Hail Scots Pine!

Straight your stem

Contained, your goblet of leaves,

Slate-grey your coat

Needles the green of the waves,

We see you

We see you.

Scots Pine cones

Hail Scots Pine!

Silent you lie

When once the wind sounded you,

Woodpecker knocked

We play your cones with our thumbs,

We listen to you

We listen to you.


Hail Scots Pine!

Rough your bark

Cold to my palm your branch

Dry your scales

Stroke the smooth lumber inside,

We touch you

We touch you.

Lewis playing the fiddle, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Hail Scots Pine!

To sniff your scent

We must-break one of your boughs

Clearing my nose.

Fragrant the resin which oozes.

We smell you

We smell you.


Hail Scots Pine!

Bitter my tongue,

Salt in the air and through you.

Peppery mint,

Sweet honeydew loved by wasps.

We taste you

We taste you.

Jane Lewis leading the community singing, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Tasted ocean,

Listened to Hedderwick Burn

Smelled the river,

Watched gulls and deer.

We applaud you

We applaud you.


Tickled by squirrels,

Rain wetted your canopy.

Shivered by snow,

The wind blew you right over.

We mourn you

We mourn you.

Natalie Taylor collecting the soil sample for keeping in the cloak, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Grown from seed,

Might have lived 7-hundred years.

Closely planted

Could have grown-more-than 1-hundred feet.

We keen for you

We keen for you.


Pinus sylvestris

All identical ages

Shallowly rooted

All same species together

We respect you

We respect you.

Lexi Douglas reading to launch the event, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Heated by sun,

We rarely view from above.

Cooled by sand

We don’t usually see under.

We learn from you

We learn from you.


‘Timor mortis conturbat me’?

No, fear of death does not trouble me,

Because

‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life’.

Fallen tree with sap oozing, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

Quotes

‘Timor mortis conturbat me’ from late Medieval Scottish Poetry. A phrase from the Catholic Office of the Dead, it was used notably by William Dunbar in his ‘Lament for the Makars’. See also ‘Timor mortis conturbat me’ by Diana Hendry

‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life’ John Muir

The park is by the sea, the mouth of the Firth of Forth, East Lothian, Scotland

Publicity

A contemplative walk round the John Muir Country Park trees following the effects of storm Arwen. Including live fiddling from Lewis, a community song from Jane Lewis, new poems from Rita Bradd and Tamsin Grainger, and soil sample collection by the Keeper of the Soils, Natalie Taylor.

Event to lament the Scots Pine, John Muir Country Park, Scotland

52 More, score #21

Blake Morris, in New York, works together with another psychogeographer to make a score for a walk and it is then made available to anyone else who would like to walk it in whatever way they like, wherever they are.

I walked Score #21 ‘with’ Blake and Jody Oberfelder. Here’s the link to the score.

Jody’s score #21

8th March 2022 Edinburgh, Scotland

Even before dawn I spend time practising to breathe, the springboard to living. I seem to have forgotten to exhale, or maybe I was never very good at it.

A casting of a half-dozen rainbow circles – red, blue, orange, yellow, purple, green – and a flag of blue and yellow. Found singly and made into creative collections.

Women in 3s who already existed before I saw them, mythical crones they will one day become, prepare for the wild swim of the year on International Women’s Day 2022. We had a minute’s silence in solidarity with the women of Ukraine and Russia whose countries are at war.

I and 700 other women of many nationalities, cultures and backgrounds are all celebrating together by running into the water beside a sublime sunrise.

The cold water took my breath away.

Ukranian flag on a lamp post, Portobello, Edinburgh

I want the flag to open up conversations about nationality and migration. I question nationality because of its association with borders. Borders divide; they are used as a tool for power and control, and can destroy freedom of movement which is a basic human right. Freedom of movement exists but only for some people. It depends on your passport—if you are European or British you can travel easily. If you decide to go somewhere for work, for the weather, for love, you just go. So many freedoms. For other people, it is not the same.

Iman Tajik

Afterwards we drank a shot of icy sea buckthorn juice, kindly donated. It was a satisfying deep orange colour and very sharp to taste.

Wild Sea Buckthorn growing near Edinburgh, Scotland
The ultimate orange sphere, sunrise, Portobello, Edinburgh

You might also like Score #16 (Winter Solstice) plan and walk, Score #17 (Paris) and the one I made with Blake, Score#9.

Green chalk on concrete

Winter Solstice Walk 2

22.12.21 Please refer to the previous blog before reading this one as it explains the premise of the walk and my plan. Phrases in bold refer to the walking score prompts.

As we move towards a repeat of last winter’s restrictions on movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I took my Solstice Walk #52More No.16 as a collective endeavour – remotely with Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris who devised it, and with my friend T. We had planned to lunch at a café with our daughters (6 between us), but the Scottish guidelines changed on Monday to a maximum of 3 households at any one meeting, and B and A both wanted to limit the possibility of picking it up in case Xmas and New Year plans are jeopardised. So, T and I could not do away with the outside; instead, we had to do away with the inside – and brave the cold.

The walk, Silverknowes, Edinburgh

We met at Gypsy Brae and walk towards Cramond, through Silverknowes, a notoriously windy and exposed stretch of Scottish coastline.

I was invited to walk through a book and I stretched that a little by using an app called Tsubook which I contributed to a few years ago. It shows the Shiatsu channels on clever body maps which can be tilted and turned so that you can see all aspects and angles. There are views with bones, muscles and the internal organs to enable the practitioner to identify the location and relationship of the acupressure points in as much detail as they want.

I chose the Lung meridian story. The points all have Chinese pinyin names which have been translated into English, and they sound surprsingly similar to the names on Elspeth Penfold’s Map of the Forbidden City which she used for her walk. In addition, we were walking and asking, ‘how does walking function as a storytelling mechanism?’ and these channels have a sequence about them. The Yin meridians often begin close to the central core of the body, and as they flow along, carrying or containing the chi of the Organs which give them their name, the points or access places along the way reflect the journey that the chi takes. From large spaces (in this case, a Palace) through rivers and ever smaller tributaries, they move outwards along the limbs to the small bones of the fingertips and the border between us and the outside world, the people whose skin we touch with ours.

Chi

We struggle to adequately translate this amazing word because it contains so much. It can be thought of as energetic vibration. In earlier times, people were better tuned into this aspect of themselves than most of us are today.

Many centuries ago, the Chinese believed the body was sacred and should not be cut up. Even if it was damaged through an accident or illness, the aim was always that it should be repaired sufficiently so it could eventually go on to meet the Ancestors in as complete and whole state as possible. They didn’t dissect each other, nor examine their insides, but instead relied on how they felt, using metaphors and comparing the sensations to what they knew well, which was the natural environment in which they farmed, fished and lived.

The names of the acupoints are poetic and descriptive, encapsulating their individual and collective function (including that of the Organs) and the location. Thus, the sensation of the radial side of the arms, the internal sensation of the flow of chi which emanates from the lungs, which changes through our lives and at different times of the day according to our activities and the weather and external pathogens, is alive, it’s an on-going story.

From Elaine Liechti’s book, Shiatsu

I have known T for many years, since before the children were born, and we keep in regular contact. I consider the relationship with her to be one of the important ones in my life, and so it was good to share this time with her. When any of us walk, we don’t walk in isolation, not from each other, not from the landscape we walk through, and not from the world-situation in which we are situated.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar ‘Palace’, Zaragoza, Spain

Central Palace

The Central Palace is the translated name of the first point on the Lung channel, and it relates to the importance of the lungs. Their domed ceilings, interconnected corridors and meeting chambers play a the vital role in keeping us alive. It is in the lungs that we exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and maintain a balance of gases. From an emotional and spiritual point of view, their function can be extrapolated to encompass the quality of our communication with each other, the literal noise we make enabled by the air passing through the throat, and by extension the gestures and movements we use for the same purpose, whether speakers or not. They are associated with our corporeal existence, represented by the breath which situates us right here in the present, and consequently the loss of the ability to exchange, and the absence of the breath which characterises death. Covid challenges all of that, affecting the respiratory system (coughs, sore throat, runny nose, the struggle for breath), and our exchange with the environment (smell and taste) in addition to our need or instinct to withdraw from each other and feelings of alienation.

Lung 1 – 4

Our walk-story begins from our central location, home, and the travelling homes which are our metal cars, in other words our Central Palace. (I would usually walk there but I was going on to make a large Xmas food shop). Shiatsu practitioners and acupuncturists touch or needle this point to sedate the Lungs, to calm and smooth the Lung chi in cases of coughing. T and I are saying ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ and catching up with each other. We walk on stone, beside low walls where small dogs trot, and Cramond island, separate and stately, stands out in the sea mist. The air is fresh in my nostrils and I take a series of deep breaths.

Cormorant and Cramond Island, Edinburgh

Cloud Gate

Above our heads is cloud, a lid of unform grey which has been low down for days. Cloud Gate is an acupoint which descends and disperses the Lung chi, giving the body the chance to redistribute excess phlegm away from where it clogs and stops us breathing and communicating. T and I are swapping work stories now, the busyness of the end of term, and the urgency of the festive deadline. A solitary cormorant stands on a single rock.

The distinctive shape of a cormorant (from a distance)

Celestial Storehouse

Other brave walkers stroll and cycle past us in the opposite direction, and ahead is a café, a Storehouse for sure, but Celestial? Its musak is only just audible from a distance, and we hadn’t yet got close enough to see the Buddhas which decorate it. The surround-sound, high-pitched voices of gulls intersperse our family chat – who is doing what and going out with whom. It has been noted that Lung 3, as we prosaically call it, assists with depression, characterised by isolation and lack of communication, as well as the familiar respiratory disorders. The towering and distinctive Scots Pines which we walk under have a dark, olive canopy drawing our gaze heavenwards.

Silverknowes Scots Pine On another day when the sky was blue!

Cubit Marsh

By the 5th stage of the walk, we are onto the topic which sadly still dominates, and T told me that her G is ill with it in Glasgow, meaning she can’t join them for the holiday. We use Cubit Marsh, found in a small indentation at the elbow (cubitum), when someone is suffering certain types of pulmonary disorders. It is useful to think about the body having an internal weather system – prone to Heat and Cold for example – and, in this case, the acupoint is said to deal with Damp, something which is injurious to the Lungs, hence the name of Marsh, a wet and boggy place. It isn’t hard to understand why it is beneficial for infections, then, where there is discharge and snot. The water we are walking beside is very still, it barely circulates, and the Oyster Catchers simply sit, floating very slightly. Brine hangs in the air and the cold stings our cheeks.

Lung 3 – 11

Collection Hole

Reaching the café, we choose hot chocolate and wait at the hatch for our steaming drinks. The man who attends to us wears his neckerchief over his mouth and nose and serves at arm’s length, pushing the card machine across the surfboard which doubles as a counter. I tap without touching and try to make eye contact to say ‘Thanks’.

Down to the water’s edge

Broken Sequence

The Lung meridian now diverts to converge with the Zen Bladder channel (from the water element) and unblocks any stuck chi. At Silverknowes there is access to the foreshore where railings and steps break up the homogenous slate sea, leading down to the rocks and sand. Wind surfers like this spot and in the past I’ve watched them grasping the tow-line attached to a speed boat which zips and angles giving them the impetus to sail suddenly up into the sky, spray flying. It’s an exhilarating spectacle. We stop walking and choose a wooden bench, hoping it will be warmer to sit on than the metal ones. I had Covid recently and got off lightly with only a cold and a scratchy, irritable throat and tightness at the occiput (back of the top of the neck), which Lung 7, Broken Sequence, was very useful for.

Looking eastwards

Channel Ditch

Missing out no.4, we continue with the sense of depth that the Marsh at no.5 brought and the story continues with the second of four wrist points. With the prosaic chat now out of the way, T and I talk about matters close to our hearts and we turn tail under the spitting rain. We see the same landscape from the west now, the bay curving round to a finger of land that seems to reach out to the Kingdom of Fife. We are flagging a little as daylight thins and the haar descends, moisture palpable on jeans and bobble hats.

Lung 7 – 11

Great Abyss

The 9th point on the Lung Meridian goes even deeper, hence the name. It connects with the Po, often called the Corporeal Soul, the Lung spirit in Chinese Medicine. It connects with the spiritual aspect of ourselves.

the Po [also] allows for a tricky balancing act of living life as a human being, namely that of being a creature of spirit inhabiting the body of an animal.

Acupressure.com

T and I are nearing the end of our walk and we start to reminisce, remembering walks we took 30 years ago and relatives who have since died. It is satisfying to be able to connect with someone who knows my background so intimately. It stabilises me and gives a sense of shape to my life.

John Kirkwood continues,

Lung 9 is able to go down into the abyss, to the depth of the soul. It can retrieve a person who has lost their way, calm one who is manic, stabilise someone who feels like they are cracking up or losing control. In short, it can reach down into the very depth of a person.

Crossing the bar and, metaphorically, the wrist crease, we amble eastwards, an easy, flat trajectory which allows the focus to be on what’s said and on the feelings expressed, rather on the terrain. The short day (it being just after the solstice) closes in around us.

Walking west

Fish Border

We leave the edge of the Firth of Forth, home to cod and pollock where the tide is now receding, and head towards a gift exchange. We hug and make plans for the week between Xmas and New Year; T suggests we come to sit around their fire pit and drink mulled wine which sounds delightful. The Lung channel is nearing its end and the fresh air has renewed us. Our walk-story has merged interior and exterior, past and present, day and evening, sea and land: Yin and Yang. Two friends met in place, and in spirit I was with Elspeth, Blake and the other Solstice walkers, telling a tale.

Cramond Island

Winter Solstice walk

In response to Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris #52more no.16


Choose a book, follow the score and see where your walk takes you.

Here is the link to the blog which explains Elspeth’s thinking behind her and Blake’s walking score.

Map of the Forbidden City taken from Elspeth Penfold’s blog

In response to the Map of the Forbidden City with its Gate of Divine Prowess and Hall of Imperial Peace, I will use Tsubook (it’s a Shiatsu app) and specifically the Lung meridian map.

Each acupressure point which is located along the channel has a name translated from the Chinese. It starts at Central Palace in the chest, passes through the Cloud Gate, Celestial Storehouse, Cubit Marsh, Collection Hole, Broken Sequence, Channel Ditch, Great Abyss, and Fish Border. I have chosen 9 of the 11 points (the points where I use my thumb or an acupuncturist would use a needle), because those relate to place and tell the story of a journey.

Illustration from Shiatsu by Carola Beresford-Cooke


Here are @ElspethPenfold prompts, rearranged and collaged from @BlakeMorris score:

  • A collective endeavour,
  • Do away with the outside,
  • Consider the relationship,
  • Function as a storytelling mechanism,
  • If walking is akin to a speech act, then it can also craft stories of space
The walking score devised by Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris

@ThreadandWord #52more @blakewalks thisisnotaslog.com link to A Different Lens, award winning project by Elspeth Penfold and Thread and Word, which I made a small contribution to. This is my walk #16

Precarious

‘Precarious’ is part of a collaborative film called Watermarks, which is Walking the Land’s contribution to The University of The Highland and Island’s (UHI) Edge Conference.

I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number of deaths of young guillemots who unusually massed along this part of the coast of Edinburgh and then found they did not have enough to eat. This piece is part of a larger body of work looking at the effects that climate change is having on the bird population of the UK.

‘Watermarks’ is a collective response to the UHI’s theme of Edge, and was made by a group of different types of artists from around the country who worked together collaboratively over a period of a year. My two minutes is a part of this whole. Here is the link to the whole assemblage / film with details of all the artists who made work and their links https://walkingtheland.org.uk/?page_id=147

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said that while the exact cause remained unknown, the climate crisis was exacerbating the factors that lead to falls in seabird populations.

Clea Skopeliti in The Guardian

The guillemot (RSPB site link)

Guardian article about the investigation into the deaths of these guillemots

Guillemot wing, Portobello Beach, Edinburgh Summer 2021

Many thanks to Bea Parsons and my mum for watching and commenting on drafts, and to Richard and the team for compiling all the two-minutes into a great Watermarks film.

Lost Species Day 2021 – Passenger Pigeon

In the sound poem which is part of my No Birds Land installation, I mourn the death of increasing numbers of British birds and list some of the reasons we are causing their demise. In Clipp’d Wings, I celebrated the Carrier pigeon and pigeon feathers in general, giving them our wish-messages to keep safe during these Covid times. On the day of remembrance for lost species 2021, it therefore made sense for me to spend some time with the spirit of the Passenger pigeon.

Passenger pigeons, Ectopistes migratorius. Photographed at the National Museum of Scotland

Ewan Davidson and I met at the National Museum of Scotland to listen to Luke Jerram‘s Extintion Bell which sounds at random intervals, just once, approximately 170 times a day, indicating the number of species lost worldwide in every 24 hour period.

Luke Jerram’s Extinction Bell at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Occurring in huge numbers in North America in years gone by, Passenger pigeons were extinct in 1914. They had been hunted for meat and as pests, and their habitat was destroyed. Martha was the last of her species, and she died in captivity.

Martha, the last Passenger pigeon, died 1st September 1914 at Cincinnati Zoo. Photo https://ebird.org/pa/news/remembering-martha-the-last-passenger-pigeon-lessons-from-the-past/

The Passenger part of the pigeon’s name derives from the French passager, to pass through, referring to its massive migrations. It connects to the Peregrine falcon, where ‘peregrine’ is said to come from pèlerin, the French for pilgrim, also on account of its migratory habits. It’s a description I sometimes give myself.

Common pigeons, Edinburgh

[the Peregrine falcon is] the world’s most widespread raptor, and one of the most widely found bird species. In fact, the only land-based bird species found over a larger geographic area is not always naturally occurring, but one widely introduced by humans, the rock pigeon, which in turn now supports many peregrine populations as a prey species

Wikipedia

Before that, these birds lived en masse. They fed, swarmed, perched and roosted in large groups, and in their absence, I spent some time in Nicholson Square in Edinburgh. I sat and watched the antics of the Common pigeons / Rock doves and Wood Pigeons (Columbidae family). I observed them stepping fast, balancing on each others backs in what I might term excitement as they ‘fought’ each other for the seeds which the kids were feeding them. They flapped off at the slightest human gesture, though individuals were clasped and carried carefully by one child when he could manage it.

Their movements could mostly be described as ‘nervy’ and ‘agitated’. (It’s interesting how easily the vocabulary of human behaviour comes to mind when I attempt to describe them. It’s a symptom of our tendency to refer to others (other people, and other-than-humans) through our own eyes, using our own terms. In one way its inevitable, after all I only know me, and if I’m being generous, I could say that I am trying to identify with them, but if I caution myself to describe, rather than liken, then I get some distance, can see more clearly beyond my own realm.)

So, I will start again, to help you see what I saw more objectively. They make short, forward and backwards, staccato pecks, with their necks; sometimes they waddle, the fattest part moving side-to-side. They take fleet running steps, gently bump into each other, but don’t seem to mind, and they do sudden take-offs. They flutter a few feathers occasionally, change direction often, and have their heads, their eyes, down most of the time. Every now and then they make a quick exit.

Collective escapings happened several times when I was there: a great, almost but not quite simultaneous, lifting and clattering. (I keep returning to this word to describe the noise of a pigeon quickly leaving a copse or pavement. Though it’s not the metal saucepan kind of clatter, it is a more irregular, continuous noise and rhythm made by wings batting the air down. You can sense the effort and impetus behind the action.)

Then they are whirling above, and I’m less aware of individuals and more of the group shape, shifting and coordinating seamlessly. They sweep around and around, their elipse becoming a sphere, really like bees swarming, the spaces between them widening, closing. Sometimes their mass is raggedy and I fear they will come right apart, but somehow they gather back in before settling on the roofs of the tenements opposite. One, two, three, five, seven, eleven, hundreds. In a second they’re still, perhaps jostling, a little preening between vanes to put everything in order. And they wait until the coast is clear before reversing the whole process to resume their feeding frenzy on the ground.

These pigeons had to be constantly aware of human activity whilst feeding as much as possible

The Sixth Extinction… has accelerated massively since the start of the industrial era, when our ability to wreck havoc on the non-human lifeforms that share our planet has reached awesome proportions.


Nick Hunt, A Bell for Lost Species, Dark Mountain 2015

Roll call for the pigeons and doves which are now extinct

Mauritius Blue pigeon, Alectroenus Nitidissima
  • Tanna ground-dove 1800
  • Norfolk Island ground dove 1800
  • Lord Howe pigeon 1790
  • Spotted green pigeon 1820s
  • Norfolk Island pigeon 1839
  • Mauritius blue pigeon 1840
  • Réunion pigeon 1850
  • Rodrigues pigeon 1850
  • Choiseul pigeon 1904
  • Thick-billed ground dove 1927
  • Ryukyu pigeon 1936
  • Red-moustached fruit-dove 1950

What must it have been like for one, solitary Passenger pigeon to be singled out, captured and die in a small cage alone? The flocks of these wonderful birds were said to measure 4 miles by 1 as they flew, to take two hours to pass overhead there were so many. They were massacred and trapped for commercial reasons and to, apparently, protect crops. Ironically, shortly before there were none of these birds left, the Lacey, then the Weeks-McLean Acts were passed in Iowa to prohibit trade in wildlife. They marked the start of conservation as we know it today. In 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed which protected the eggs, nests and feathers, as well as the birds themselves. (source: Barry Yeoman audubon.org 2014).

As I left Nicholson Square on Lost Species Day, there was a dead pigeon in the gutter

Our English word ‘bell’ comes from the Saxon bellan, meaning to bawl or bellow. Spending quiet time with other members of the Columbidae family resulted in some bawling in grief, a fitting response I think to the whole-scale extermination of Passenger pigeons.

You might also like this article from the Smithsonian Institute

Pilgrimage for COP26 – Bo’ness to Falkirk

This day was led by the Reverend Willie Shaw, Rector of St Mary’s, Grangemouth and St Catharine’s, Bo’ness Episcopal churches. 27 October 2021. Approximately 10 miles through Grangemouth, his parish.

This blog follows on from the previous Pilgrimage to COP26 – South Queensferry to Bo’ness

Industrial landscapes and ecological regeneration

The theme is Industrial landscapes and ecological regeneration, though the latter was going to be hard to focus on in the face of the intense piping, cooling towers and wot-not of the space-age area. There is nothing fantastic about it, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Bo’ness local history

We leave Bo’ness (formerly known as Borrowstounness) around 9am as usual, going downhill one more time, crossing the old Bo’ness to Slamannan railway to Glasgow and rejoining the edge of the Firth of Forth. (The line was usurped in 1842 by the intercity one we now use, and is used for the Bo’ness and Kinneil Heritage Railway. There is also a large Museum of Scottish Railways, and the facilities here were used for the testing of a new hyrogen train. More about the UK eco-train plans here).

Here we are met by the day walkers who included Ian from the Friends of Kinneil House, built by the Hamilton Family. The Friends help to promote and develop the Estate and the foreshore of Bo’ness where we will be walking this morning.

The port was recognised from 16th century, ranked as the third most important in Scotland in the 18th century, and the area was a hub of industry. Harbour construction started in 1707, and was closed in 1959 due to silting and the demise of the coal mining industry. Later, the port was the site of shipbreaking, with the ships being sailed as far up on the shore as possible, the bows nearly reaching Bridgeness Road, which must have been a sight.

There were 96 pits, one of which was connected across in Fife by mining under the river, and we are told about the bell pit that was sited in nearby Kinneil woods, now a nature reserve. The pits were closed by 1983 and lots of the remains were put in the river, including medical waste, and chemicals such as arsenic. There is a James Watt (b.1736, of steam engine fame) Supper at Kinneil House on Burns Night to look out for!

Maria Ford, the chair of The Friends, said: “Probably very few of us have a copy of Rabbie Burns’ Complete Works in our homes – but nearly everyone will have lightbulbs measured in Watts.

https://kinneil.org/2011/01/19/remembering-james-watt/

Mussels were gathered and eaten by our mesolithic ancestors, as evidenced by archeological finds near here, middens of oyster shells, for example, which have been found along these shores. Salt panning, ironstone and clay mines, potteries, whaling and gas were all local industries.

Scottish Mining

Bo’ness Mining on the Visit Falkirk website

Bo’ness Pottery

Nature and The Lagoons

We started walking the Forth river Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), stopping often to learn about the area, much of which is recently reclaimed industrial land, and we admired the lagoons and reed beds owned by the RSPB. Short-eared Owls, Kestrels and Buzzards have been sighted, reeling through the skies. We asked, what is needed to improve it for wildlife, and Billy replied, “Nothing, leave it alone. We hope that there is enough local interest to keep it like this.”

Looking across to Culross, Fife, the birthplace of St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow, where we are headed
Stopping to appreciate, identify and learn about the birds of the Forth in light of climate change. With Billy and Gillian centre stage
Soil Ceremony #1 with Cath as the Keeper of the Soils displaying the pockets which house the soil samples

There were two soil ceremonies today. This was the first and Liz read out a quote from Wendell Berry‘s The Unsettling of America:

the soil is the great connector of lives… Without proper care for it, we can have no life

Wendell Berry
The Spanish camino directs pilgrims with large yellow arrows like these. I have my eye in for them still! Where would we go if we followed them I wonder?


You had to have a pass to walk in this area during WW2 as they were making torpedos here.

Early sightings of Grangemouth dominating the landscape


We come to the site of the former 18th century Bo’ness Distillery (almost at Kinneil Halt (station)) and are reminded that it, too, produced effluent, discharges which seeped into the Forth. The Pottery was nearby (at one stage in its long history, Alexander Cuming gifted it to his 12 year old nephew, James, and at another it was inherited by a 3-year old boy). We are told that it burned down in 1963. We could clearly see old bricks on the shore, as you can also see in Granton a few miles further east where we had walked earlier in the week.

The tower of Longannet Power Station opposite


We see Godwits reaching for worms deep in the sand with their long, scimitar-like bills, and hear the plaintive piping of Curlew (their bills curve downwards). We move past delicate grasses, moody bulrushes, and stems of orange sea buckthorn berries highlighted against pale, sage-green leaves. The intense silver-white softness of the rosebay Willowherb contrasts with its rusty foliage, and the slim Salix stream in the wind above Hypericum, wild Stawberries, Brambles, and spiky Teasle. The Gorse sports both dry black pods and bright yellow flowers on the same bush.

A system of moving water between the Firth and the inland wetland area to account for the tide.

The landfill attracts Redshanks, Lapwings and Shelduck, and the absence of people during the early Covid period was advantageous for them. It is noted that the Shelducks (brown necks) moult here, a sign that they are feeling safe (they can’t fly when that is happening). The bigger issues, now, as at the reclaimed land we walked over in Musselburgh, are uncontrolled dogs off the lead.

Scop or Scaup ducks, Chiswick Park, London


By way of explaining the change in wildlife in the local nature reserve as a result of cleaning up the waters, Billy explained about the Scop or Scaup (ducks) who used to live here alongside the molluscs and mussels. The sewage actually helped and now there is less, they have disappeared. However, when the refinery flares at night and the tide is at the right stage, Redshank feed at night, so there are more of them.

Today’s group of pilgrims walking to Glasgow COP26

Grangemouth Oil Refinery

And then we turn away from the water and head inland towards the Grangemouth Refinery. Grangemouth port was founded as a result of the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal (which we are scheduled to walk beside later today), in 1768. Grain and timber came in there, and coal went out. The first factory in the area was making soap and glycerine (1897 Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society), and paraffin started to be produced from shale or coal in 1919. Then, as the Polish oil wells opened up and the prices for Scottish products went down, treating and refining became the focus.

Grangemouth Refinery, a skyscape of sci-fi appearance
Getting close to the Grangemouth Refinery. There was a terrible smell and someone kindly lit a stick of incense
The sloping metal and cooling towers of the Grangemouth Refinery, quite a contrast to the area of natural beauty we had just walked through

BP, former owners, sold up in 2004 when there were difficulties, and now the Plant is part-owned by a Chinese company and the greater part by Jim Ratcliffe, the richest man ‘in England’ (he lives in Monaco, “a move that it is estimated will save him £4 billion in tax”). Ratcliffe is the CEO of INEOS which includes Grangemouth as well as refineries in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and Canada. Petro-chemical processing is a lucrative business, earning him an official Honour and wealth reputed to be worth £21.05 billion.

Leaving the estuary and heading inland

Wikipedia writes, “In February 2019 it was announced that Ineos would invest £1bn in the UK oil and chemical industries, to include an overhaul of the Forties pipeline system that is responsible for transporting a significant percentage of the UK’s North Sea oil and gas. On 1 May 2019, Ratcliffe criticised the current government rules which say fracking in Britain must be suspended every time a 0.5 magnitude tremor is detected, which has led to a de facto ban on fracking. He said: “I think the government has been pathetic on the subject.” In fact, although the Scottish government states “no support for unconventional oil and gas” (in a report which strongly resembles the spoofs in ‘Yes Minister‘), and has the reputation for banning, or at least not renewing or accepting new licences for shale (fracked) gas, it is important to note that it is still imported from the US (Pennsylvania) into INEOS right here.

One of several times that the police stopped their cars and questioned us

Before we entered Grangemouth, we were stopped twice more by police. One man told us, “I’ve been brought up from South of the border to join the COP26 security forces here. Are you the minister who’s going to bless the land?” Our reputation as a peaceful lot had proceeded us.

Road-walking in the mud and rain
Site of a section of the Antonine Wall just as we are about to trun right and head through Grangemouth, West Lothian

We are reminded again of the Roman Antonine Wall which runs from Carriden, near Bo’ness, and which sports a 2nd century fort at the eastern end. It stood near this roundabout for 20 years, though it was supposed to be there for ever.

My last photo – we were asked not to take any after this

I am struck by the drear of the utilitarian and inanimate lengths of piping. Wide-diameter, above-ground conduits run the length of the road and the few desultory trees and mini-‘gardens’ don’t make up for the carbon that is produced in the petro-chemical works. These are not kilns for making beautiful pottery, not repurposed gas works recently used for art and music, but hydro-crackers involved in making products that most of us use in the form of health and pharmaceuticals, food and beverage packaging, and construction and utilities. Phasing them out means a change in what we expect to do and have, and we had plenty of silent walking time to ponder on that.

Blockade 23 October by Extinction Rebellion. From the Shropshirestar

In March 2019 INEOS said it would close its Middlesbrough manufacturing plant unless it was allowed to ‘defer compliance’ with EU rules designed to prevent air and water pollution. An analysis of data from the Environment Agency (EA) also reveals the plant clocked up 176 permit violations between 2014 and 2017. An EA spokesperson said: “air emissions are well over legal limits and this poses a risk to the environment”. INEOS director Tom Crotty said the firm “cannot justify” the investment required to comply with EU air and water pollution rules due to come into force in the coming years.

The World in Planisphere, from the Bo’ness Pottery circa 1800. The world is inscribed ‘From the Latest Discoveries’ and shows North and South America.

The engineering is, of course, state-of-the-art, but there is disparity between the shiny exteriors and the black-black oil which I knew was pumping inside, or the high-pressure gas contained within them. There were tin sheds and poles with what looked like guy-ropes stretched from their tips to the ground, and crows-nests at the top of them. I felt a sort of deadness in the air. The words of songs we had been singing sounded in my ears: We are a gentle, quiet people (1978, Holly Near), and our anthem for the Pilgrimage, Another world is not only possible (2021, Jane Lewis)

Granton Gas Works during the Hidden Doors Festival 2021

Tea, glorious tea

Wet and rather subdued, we were most grateful for a cup of tea and a sweet thing at St Mary’s Episcopalian Church in Grangemouth town. Thank you for those who made that for us, and in doing so, for counteracting the energy of the businesses that try to make even more money by changing pension rights for their workers.

Arriving for a very welcome and steaming cup of tea
The bedraggled feather of the day. (I am collecting feathers and stories that connect walking and grief as I am on the pilgrimage)
And we’re off again! Grangemouth

We put our wet clothes back on and set off for the 40 minutes’ hike to our next stop.

Crossing the South Bridge, Grangemouth
Footpath beside the River Carron. The sky was crying.

The Lungs in Chinese Medicine are associated with grief and sadness, and it is said that our tears are like their melt water

Joyce Vlaarkamp
Heading towards the Helix and the Kelpies along the River Carron

The Helix and the Kelpies

The Kelpies
Friends of the Earth Scotland join us in the rain

They stressed that the way we manage our energy needs must change, but that it is vital that people are redeployed in equivalent level jobs once their current ones have gone.

Climate justice recognises that the industrialised countries of the ‘global North’ like Scotland have grown rich over the past few centuries through polluting the atmosphere while at the same time extracting resources from the ‘global South’ under colonialism. It recognises that those on the sharpest end of climate impacts in the global South have done least to cause the crisis, and are often without adequate resources and technologies to deal with its impacts. Therefore countries of the global North bear a far greater responsibility for addressing the climate crisis.

Friends of the Earth, Scotland
Along the Helix boardwalk (see Kelpies link above)
Walking the glassy path. We had to do it over and over so the photographer could get a good shot for the local papers

He got some better photos than I did! The Falkirk Herald

Smiling despite the rain. Photo by Michael Gillen, courtesy of the Falkirk Herald
Olga dancing with Cath in the squelching. Photo by Michael Gillen, courtesy of the Falkirk Herald
The Freedom of Mind community choir who waited for us and then sang so beautifully in the rain, Falkirk
‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ and the wonderful children who stood in the rain with the posters they had designed and made, at the Helix
Stitches for Survival banner at the Helix

It must be said that the final stretch in the dark, up and into Falkirk’s town centre, in the really, seriously pouring rain was a hard one.

Our doughty electric support vehicle which carried the bulk of the rucksacks and food to St Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church where we spent the night

Falkirk

We spent the night at St Francis Xavier’s Hall, arriving wetter than it is hard to imagine any group of pilgrims could be, and presenting quite a challenge to the very kind folk who welcomed us, provided hanging rails and upped the heating before preparing our evening meal.

Alisar made a contribution to our soil collection. She is a New Scot, Syrian by birth, and had gathered it from her mother’s garden in Falkirk. Our food was cooked and served to us by members of the Muslim and Interfaith community in Falkirk, and it was delicious.

Here are some of the replies to ‘What keeps me Walking?’ read out at the Pilgrim’s Ceilidh on 22 October 2021.

In 1972 I walked from Canterbury to Winchester, a kind of reverse Pilgrims Way,and we camped by the side of a wood. As we cooked our noodles, a wren sat in the bush and sang his heart out. I have remembered that wren for nearly 50 years.

What keeps me walking? Hope.

Freedom Come All Ye on the pipes with a lot of background noise. Footage of today’s walk

Later that night, there was a reflection circle and enjoyable, high-energy workshop about group dynamics.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Pilgrimage for COP26 – South Queensferry to Bo’ness

26 October 2021. The day’s walk is led by the Reverend Willie Shaw, Rector of St Mary’s, Grangemouth and St Catharine’s, Bo’ness Episcopal churches. . Distance: over 10 miles.

We leave the Priory Church close to 9am and walk through the residential streets and warehouse area on our way out of South Queensferry, getting a good sight of the bridges from the other side.

A great view of the ‘new’ Fife Crossing from South Queensferry

Today’s walk is in the area that is part of the Inner Forth Initiative, a collaboration between the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds); Scottish Heritage; Central Scotland Green Network Trust; Clackmannanshire, Stirling and Falkirk Councils; Sustrans; and Historic Environment Scotland. It reaches from Stirling at the Forth’s head to the Bridges at South Queensferry and takes in both sides of the estuary with beacons and markers celebrating the area’s history, wildlife and culture, including the John Muir Way which we are walking and the Fife Coastal Path on the opposite shore.

As well as the beauty and interest of the area, the Forth has many industrial sites, and as we near Grangemouth (its heart?) in a few days time, we are also getting close to areas in which fossil fuels are processed, received and disseminated.

Example of a mushroom ‘cloud’ flare from Mossmoran 13 November 2021 from top of Dundas Street, Edinburgh

The Mossmoran NGL (natural gas liquids) processing facility is located on the opposite side of the Forth. Owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, the former were fined in 2013, 2014 and 2015, with complaints made and investigated every year between 2017 and now (information source here). The plant is part of the North Sea Brent oil and gas field system, and should not flare, but does regularly, paying fines every time it does. The Mossmoran Action Group campaigns for safer communities in the area. The BBC reported that “up to 13,800 tonnes of CO2 could have been emitted from a Fife chemical plant during October 2020 flaring, according to figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).” It continued, “The Scottish Greens say that is equivalent to 9,140 people taking a return flight from Glasgow to New York. The Mossmorran flaring lasted three days from 4 to 6 October. Fife Ethylene Plant operator ExxonMobil said it was committed to minimising carbon dioxide emissions. It was the fourth period of elevated flaring at the ExxonMobil plant in 2020. Sepa receives over 380 complaints of plant flaring and Environment officers probe chemical plant flaring. Green MSP Mark Ruskell said it would take up to 13,800 trees 100 years to offset the same amount of carbon. He said the climate impact of the flaring was “catastrophic” and he renewed calls for a transition plan for the plant.”

The new Forth bridge is still just visible as we walk away from South Queensferry

We are veering between the depressing state of affairs which is evident in the form of coastal erosion and continuing CO2 emissions to name only two; and the sense that we are doing something significant by walking in this way. We are raising awareness, walking for those who also want to combat the effects of climate change but cannot leave their work / caring responsibilities, and taking the time to learn as much as we can about the reality of the situation, our place within the natural order, and what we need to do in the future. Most of us are taking annual leave or unpaid time off, simply not earning (many are self-employed) because we believe that we are doing something worthwhile. There is a history of this type of peaceful activism, and walking is one of the least injurious modes of transport, giving us time to feel, think, and discuss.

As citizens of the Earth, we have a responsibility to participate. As citizens massed together, we have the power to affect change, and it is only on that scale that enough change can happen.

Rebecca Solnit in The Guardian
Left or right? We did not carry on along the water’s side, but branched off here onto the Hopetoun Estate
Sue was Keeper of the Soils today. She takes long walks with her horse. More information on such walks can be found in the Facebook group Saddle Tramping UK
Chatting to a local woman outside her house when she became interested in what we were all doing
Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian

Hopetoun House and estate

We followed the John Muir Way and Cycle Path 76 through the Hopetoun Estate (6,500 acres including the villages of Abercorn, Winchburgh and Newton) where the house is home to the Earl of Hopetoun and The Marquis of Linlithgow lives too. The public are allowed to traverse certain parts.

Abercorn Church on the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian
Abercorn Museum on the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian

There is a cross from Lindisfarne (circa 7th century) and ancient burial monuments in the museum at the Abercorn Kirk. The chapel is said to have been the site of a monastery in 681, once the see of the Northumbrian King of the Picts. More information here, here and here.

Interior, Abercorn Kirk where we enjoyed a talk about the architecture and history.


Some random facts about the area:

  • In 545 it is known that there was a pre-reformation church here dedicated to St Serf
  • It has one of the oldest pagan festivals sites on the hill
  • Tam Dalyell, Scottish Labour Party politician, is buried here (d. 2017)
  • The Earl and Marquis are both known as Elders and they follow the ancient tradition of entering the kirk by a separate door and sitting high above the altar and the rest of the congregation in their own section called the Hopetoun Loft
  • There is a fine Romanesque Norman doorway with gargoyles.
We had a soil ceremony at the Abercorn Kirk

After a long stop to dry off, we walk on through misty riverscapes, along grand avenues of still very green Beech trees, by Sycamores which are changing colour and showing their ochre, marigold and tangerine leaves. Small stems of Ash are strewn over the path, emerald on one side and a paler pistachio on the other.

Through the greenwood past the Cornie Burn in the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian
The local landscape through which we walked
The Rev Willie Shaw in his high-vis jacket about to brief us on the area we were walking through on the Pilgrimage for COP26

Blackness (nose of black rock)

Heading towards Blackness Castle, West Lothian

Nurdles are plastic ‘buttons’, little beads that all plastics are made of and which are found all over the beaches in this area. There is more information here on nurdlehunt.org.

Along the Forth foreshore where the tide is out and the mudflats bleak, we walk to Blackness Castle, a 15th century fortress where Franco Zeferelli’s Hamlet was filmed. We have a wee seat and a cup of tea from our flasks just in time to avoid the rain. There’s a dovecot here, a 17th century pigeon house where the birds provided eggs and ‘fresh meat’ to the inhabitants.

Dovecot at Blackness

We look across to Charlestown, owned originally by the Earl of Elgin. Site of 14 massive limekilns, now preserved Grade A listed, it was one of the hubs of industrial Fife, and shipped goods to the Baltic. More information here on Fife Photos and Art.

Through the late C18 and C19, the kilns were part of a major industrial complex of the time, including coal mining, ironworking and salt extraction. Coal and limestone were brought in from the local quarries, also on the Earl’s estate. The adjacent harbour was as well built by the Earl and used for transporting the lime products, limestone and importantly coal.

Wikipedia

Just west of Charlestown are the three Crombie gantry cranes, easily seen from where we are. They are part of the Armament Royal Navy Ordnance Depot.

Blackness village – a toilet stop


Antonine Wall

We go near to the site of The Roman Antonine Wall (named after Antoninus Pius) which protected the province of Britainnia from the Caledonian tribes. It starts in Carriden near Bo’ness and runs westwards to West Kilpatrick on the Clyde (Glasgow). With 37 miles of ramparts (20 feet high), ditches (20 feet deep), roads, and approximately 20 forts, it was occupied for over 25 years. More information here (BBC).

The next day Ian tells us about the Carriden (Karedyn) Estate. 900 Years ago, the monks from Holyrood Abbey were granted a tithe, the right to collect a tenth of the coal from there, around the year 1200. The property went over to the Cockburn family in 1330.

Carriden House information

From the Corbies Inn website

The Corbie Inn has a replica of a sandstone slab recording the Roman army’s building work on the easternmost part of the Antonine Wall, Bridgeness, West Lothian, 142 – 143 AD. There is a dedication to their Emperor, and the original is in the National Museum of Scotland.

Matthew was wearing the Stitches for Survival bag as we neared the industrial outskirts of Bo’ness
It was very wet! Towards Bo’ness, West Lothian
And blustery, although the silvery trees are spectacular
Ruth and Tom (with his pink umbrella) by one of Ivar Struthers’ three metal artworks on the Foreshore

Bo’ness

David and Michelle
The Bo’ness Buoy where we collect for a final information session and to say goodbye to the day walkers and those who are leaving us here. Ewan, Willie and Olga

Salt and coal, trade and taxes once made the Bo’ness rich, but the pits and mine shafts are now quiet.

Oh, it is one steep climb up School Brae to St Catharine’s Episcopalian Church where we were spending the night at the end of a good day’s walking! There we are given another lovely meal – thank you.

Today’s feathers, relics collected along the way. Some of us had a carpet to sleep on by a radiator which was heavenly

Though some complain now that no-one has any reason to go to Bo’ness, in fact we find it a lively place with an Art Deco cinema, the Hippodrome, and an acclaimed, annual Silent Film Festival. A film had been arranged for us to see there later.

Stained glass window, St Catharine’s Church, Bo’ness

The film, in collaboration with Take One Action, is Anote’s Ark. Made in 2018 by director Matthieu Rytz, it tells of the impact of climate change on the island of Kiribati, found where the international dateline meets the equator. It is anticipated that Kiribati will entirely disappear as sea levels rise. Anote Tong is the former president and he has repeatedly lobbied the international community to do something. It is a chastening watch and our mood is subdued as we go to sleep.

Spotted hanging on a post in the Hopetoun Estate

Fife Shoreline Management Plan

Pilgrimage for COP26

25 October 2021

Today I am leading the Pilgrimage for COP26 walk from the Sculpture Workshop in Leith, Edinburgh to South Queensferry. The theme is ‘The Five Phases and the Ecological Crisis – a walk using the five elements of East Asian medicine to reimagine what it means to be ecological’.

Pilgrimage for COP26 at the Sculpture Workshop, Leith. Photo Olga

There is a brief introduction by Jonathan Baxter, the organiser of the pilgrimage, to the Keeper of the Soils, the carrier of the Stitches for Survival (you can read about the latter two here), and to my walk supporters, Natalie and Ewan. Then a brief introduction to YinYang which underpins Shiatsu theory.

  • I explain how the circle represents the cyclical nature of things, a circumference of continual existence, whether in this form or another
  • The curving line which divides the circle, symbolises the dynamic interplay between Yin and Yang and the transformation of one to the other to maintain balance – the rise of those who favour respect and listening over those who opt for profit and power, for example
  • The black and white sections reminding us that we must address both sides of ourselves and our planet if we are to achieve balance, both the angry and the peace-loving, the scientific and the artistic
  • The small black and white spheres which sit in the opposite sides showing that the law of nature says there are no absolutes.

Stage 1 / the Metal Phase

We start with the Metal Phase which encompasses the lungs and exchange of air in humans and with the wider environment. The Edinburgh cycle path is sometimes thought of as the city’s lungs and we take the branch from Leith to the Trinity Tunnel, Active Travellers focusing on air pollution and how we would like it to be.

The Trinity tunnel is where my sound/art installation, No Birds Land, is situated. Sadly, on arrival it was clear that it had been vandalised while I was walking the first week of the pilgrimage and the bunting was all broken and in the mud. My pilgrim friends tried to help, but we didn’t have much time to repair.

Phyllis from the Edinburgh Reporter was walking with us and wrote about the Keeper of the Soils and No Birds Land. Her article, with links to video and audio, is here.

Many thanks to my friends Lesley and Andrew who went along the next day to repair and rehang.

We stop briefly at Granton Harbour as our numbers swell. The core group are joined by others who will come all the way to Glasgow with us and there are many day walkers too. What a jolly bunch, particularly as there was no rain!

Granton Harbour

We continue along the coast of the Firth of Forth, through the industrial outskirts and past the entrance to the Granton Walled Garden where the cape was dyed. A small group peel off to collect a soil sample before rejoining us further on.

Stage 2 / the Earth Phase

Our next stop is for tea and coffee in the corner of the Lauriston Farm, kindly donated free of charge. We are immensely grateful to Lisa, Toni and Dave for their time and generosity.

Lisa serving us much needed tea and coffee, Lauriston Farm, Edinburgh. Photo Liz.

Transforming an existing farm into an urban food production and community hub that benefits, supports and regenerates the environment and all those connected to it.

Lauriston Farm website
Second soil ceremony of the day with Natalie Taylor wearing the cape and Dave, at Lauriston Farm. Photo Liz.

Here we pause to consider the second of the 5 Elements: Earth. There is a soil ceremony and the small sample is put in one of the cape’s pockets to be carried to Glasgow. The focus for the next stage is the physical awareness of our feet on the ground, reflecting on the ‘give and take’ which is happening on this walk – the kindness and generosity of others, and what it means to be able to accept that; and the nourishment and nurturing between us and the earth. We have our first silent period and muse on the role of sympathy and empathy in the climate crisis.

The next section is along the sea front at Silverknowes and on the beach to Cramond.

Silverknowes, Edinburgh. Photo Liz.
Having a snack and taking it in turns to use the public conveniences
At Crammond. Photo Liz

Stage 3 / the Water Phase

Here we pause for a few exercises and some Water Element exercises. We focus this time on the harnessing of the sea’s power and other renewables as we flow along the River Almond path, recapping the first week of the pilgrimage, and reflecting on the fear engendered by the climate crisis – for ourselves, our children and other-than-humans.

The River Almond approaching the Cramond Brig

We wait for even more walkers to join us, say goodbye to others, and continue past the hotel and back down the other side of the River Almond through the Dalmeny Estate. Here we eventually have our picnic lunch. Thanks to Ewan for the delicious, home-made oatcakes.

Stage 4 / the Wood Phase

Moving into the woods, we take the chance for a second period of silence. In single file we appreciate the trees, the lush undergrowth and occassional glimpses of a wider landscape between boughs.

Through the woods. Photo Olga

Later, there is more dynamic discussion and expression of any anger we feel about HS2 and other developments which have involved felling trees. We attempt to harness and direct it towards decarbonising action plans.

The sun is low at this time of year, but there’s so much to appreciate when we stop to allow everyone to catch up and regroup

Everything is going well and someone makes a suggestion for a little detour. I think, why not, we’re making good time. However, we lose half the group and that means there are rather stressful phone calls back and forth as we try to find each other. Note to self: stick to the plan!

Stunning landscapes along this stretch of the Firth of Forth

Stage 5 / the Fire phase

Our final phase is the Fire element and we are very close to our South Queensferry destination.

Renewing our community spirit with a song, we practise smiling in the face of difficulty as we swing into South Queensferry with open hearts and with hope for the future. Many thanks to the pilgrim who sings for us so we can join in.

We are staying at the Priory Church, but we are too early and it’s started to rain. We bid farewell to the day trippers and retreat for a well-earned drink to warm up and dry off.

The Priory, South Queensferry

What a wonderful welcome we get at the Priory! Although there’s only one toilet and no showers for us all, local people open their homes for some. There is a fascinating presentation about the Chapel and its history, a sumptuous meal and we are very happy to bed down on the church floor at the end of the day.

Once part of a medieval Carmelite Friary at the hub of life in the Royal Burgh of Queensferry, the Church is situated very close to the Binks where the St Margaret’s Ferry used to take pilgrims across the water to Fife so they could walk on to St Andrews. That was before the bridges were built, and is what gives the town its name.

It is thought that there was a building here in the 11th century. Certainly, the Carmelites were in the area around 1330, a monastery was in operation in 1440 and that’s when this ancient church dates from.

St Margaret on the screen, Priory Church, South Queensferry

When I was planning the day, I tried to find someone to row us over the foot of the Almond. There used to be a boatman there who lived in the cottage opposite, but no longer. It would have meant that we missed the gorgeous river walk, but would have shortened the day. As it was, we all seemed to have coped well with the distance.

Reimagining what it means to be ecological

At the heart of the philosophy which underlies Shiatsu and East Asian medicine is the innate relationship between humans and other-than-humans. We are all one, all made of the same chi, and our learning and understanding of ourselves and the communities we live with is intrinsically linked.

The cyclical and interdependent relationship inherent in YinYang means that it is impossible to imagine one part of nature separate from another. Every thing morphs and melds into the other, particularly in extreme situations such as the current climate change scenario. We can see this happening: the more we pollute the atmosphere, the faster and stronger the winds are having to move the air around, in order to preserve its quality, and so that we can all continue to exist. Balance will happen, or at least the whole is trying very hard to achieve that.

We must, of course, do our bit. We must notice what is happening and see where we are needed, work alongside other participants of the nature which we are part of, those who are trying desperately to right things. We must listen to the messages and this is easier to do if we walk rather than run, reflect as well as act, and connect with compassion, as well as protecting our own.

The system offers hope in this way, and although this is hard to hear, if things do worsen, we are part of a very grand cycle. We will be composted along with the potato peelings, sooner or later, ready to sprout again, so in the meantime, let our pledge be to do the best we can while we’ve still got time.

Today’s feather

All photos by me unless otherwise stated.

Coming soon South Queensferry to Bo’ness.