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.

Lost Species Day 2020

A Remembrance Day for Lost Species collaboration with Ewan Davidson, November 30, 2020

In response to lostspeciesday.org – a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures, lifeways, and ecological communities. An opportunity to make or renew commitments to all who remain, and to develop creative and practical solutions.

Inspired by Hagar Vardimon’s New York Times front cover 2019

Lost! – House Sparrow, passer domesticus, last seen in any significant numbers in 1977. (There were 372 counted in 1983, according to Valerie M Thom’s Birds in Scotland p324.

A recent study concluded that the number of sparrows in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens [in Scotland] was falling because the birds were unable to hear their own songs through the thunder of traffic

John Burnside, The Environment in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring Ed Gary Wiener p56

We invited folk to join us in Princes Street Gardens to remember the House Sparrow on Lost Species Weekend 2020, Saturday 28 November, 12-2pm.

There was no need to book – you could have just come along.

We cut out sparrows from white dissolvable paper and put the cut-outs on the bushes, denoting absence and offering the chance to consider their loss.

Did you know that if you are a sparrow:

  • You like to be in communication with your extended family at all times
  • You are more comfortable if you are overhung or protected
  • You have your eyes on the side of your head, and you use your peripheral vision to look out for cats and sparrowhawk
  • You like hedges and bushes to roost in, and nooks and crannies for nesting
  • You have an irrational hatred of yellow flowers which you tear to pieces…. you probably ‘know’ why, but no human does
  • You eat seeds, mainly on the ground, and you prefer to hop around rather than fly if you can
  • You were formerly one of the commonest birds in the world, but your numbers have dramatically crashed in some places. In the UK, your numbers fell by 69% between 1977 and 2010
  • You are on the Red List of Conservation Species
  • The main threats to your life seem to be changes in agricultural practice, insecticides and pesticide residues, pollution in towns, changes in construction practices, and lack of invertebrate food for your young

Lost Species Day events were hosted on Facebook

Ewan Davidson is a blogger and self-identified psychogeographer. His recent wanderings have taken back into familiar territories, those of ecology, natural metaphors and causality, he first visited as a student thirty years ago. He is also really fond of lichens and birdwatching.

Michelle made a sparrow out of bird food which attracted this robin

Hagar Vardimon is known for her threads and paperworks and won an award for her New York Times cover, Inside was the piece, Should some species be allowed to die out?

2021 is the 10th anniversay of Remembrance Day for Lost Species and the theme is Interdependence. Events include: Onca Gallery’s various presentations and Borrowed Time’s.

Here is a link to Luke Jerram’s Extinction Bell at the Royal Museum of Scotland

Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog 8 – Walking into Edinburgh and staying for a day 22/23 October 2021

Hope’s Walk

This morning’s route begins at St Marks Portobello where we had spent two nights (see blog 7 for details of the Portobello waystation), and we are joined by daily walkers. Jonathan Baxter who conceived of the Pilgrimage, Cath who is carrying the Stitches for Survival bag, and members of the YCCN (the Young Christian Climate Network, who made a grand relay from to Glasgow between June and October 2021) speak before we leave.

In years to come, we want to be able to look back and say “we did not sit at home while unjust decisions were made on our doorstep, we set sail towards a just future”. 

YCCN website
Stitches for Survival are a mass-craftivism volunteer organisation who are gathering all the knitted, crocheted and sewn panels which people have been making around the country, and joining them together to make 1.5 miles of climate messages for COP26 to encourage politicians and others to put the earth centre-stage
One of the Stitches for Survival panels. Photo Gareth

Hope

The theme that we come back to time and again on our pilgrimage is hope. On Sunday, Alistair McIntosh advised against despair, perhaps the corollary of hope, and advocated lamentation (see this earlier blog). Now, at the end of the first week of walking and learning together, we are making the Hopes Walk and on Sunday held a Deep Time, Wonder and Grief Circle in which hope and hopelessness were both expressed. In between these two events was a Silent Meditation on the Mound and an Interfaith Pilgrimage which visited Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu meeting places.

Jonathan addressing the Pilgrimage for COP26, Edinburgh

Walking itself is an act of hope – hope that the ground will be there the next time you depend on it, hope that you will be alive and able when your instinct is to step forward, hope that you will reach your destination and not die doing it. Every time the ball of your foot pushes off and the ground simultaneously launches you from itself, you sail through the air in the unspoken belief that you will land somewhere safe. Yes, walking is an act of faith; it is inherently hopeful.

Several groups were represented by walkers in our number

You may well ask:

What do we have to be hopeful about at this time of climate crisis?

…and it seems to me that it is this very act of walking together which is creating hope. If we all care enough to make the journey by taking this time out of our lives, putting up with sleeping on wooden floors and getting soaked in the rain; if we put aside our busy schedules and join up for a day’s march; if we bother to comment on blogs, toot our car horns when we see a group walking past with a banner – Pilgrimage for COP26 – and send messages of encouragement and solidarity, then it seems that the making of this pilgrimage, the doing of it is galvanising hearts and minds, educating and setting an example. This walk says, together we are moving, together we are doing something to bring about change.

We walked through Figgate Park between Portobello and Abercorn.. This is Figgate Park pond – is that algae?

No, and neither is the water stagnant! The Friends of Figgate Park facebook page states that the covering is Duckweed, a fast growing, thin-layer of plants which grows in nutrient-rich water (much like algae does), especially in areas where lots of bread may be thrown in (despite the signs, duck-feeders still do this). It is not harmful, there are even some benefits: Waterfowl like Mallard Ducks and Moorhens absolutely love it, and the Mute Swans have been eating it too. As it’s such a thin layer it doesn’t impede them moving around (notice the trails in the photo above), can shelter small fish, and is possibly one of the reasons the latter seemed to do so well last year.

We know that species adapt, that people care enough to look after parks and ponds, and that plants respond ‘intelligently’. Here there is a balance between human and other-than-human (for want of a better collective term) and that gives me hope. The environment is finding ways to cope and now that more and more of us are determined to stop hindering it and start supporting, things are beginning to move in the right direction. Albeit slowly, I know.

Another body of water in the Figgate Park, Edinburgh

The Duckweed does mean that certain species such as Kingfishers can’t hunt, so they’ll be restricted to the burn elsewhere in the park, and the otters are less likely to visit, but if the fish are helped by the covering then next year we may well see more frequent appearances than this. There is a Grey Heron is around, and it seems to be able to hunt through despite the growth.

Then we traipsed up the steep hill and into the Queens or Holyrood Park. The Keeper of the Soil cape, walkers carrying banners and Beach of Dreams flags are shown here. Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

North Light Arts commissioned Taylor to make the cape, asking ‘Earth – is soil alive? It was coloured using natural dyes such as madder, grown by Kirsty Sutherland at the Granton Walled Garden. The hues of these dyes reflect the soils of Central Scotland that we are walking through and from which samples are being gifted to be stored in the inside pockets. Every aspect of the design has been considered, from the panels depicting a soil food web in which four of the world’s key crops are shown, to the almost-undecorated front indicating how between 30-40% of global soils are unusable for the cultivation of food, depleted of its nutrients. I was lucky enough to visit during the dying process and witness the huge cauldron of red-burgundy water heated over a burner with the good-witch stirring the blanket samples into it for hours.

Heading down towards the St Margaret’s Loch, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh – overcast
Once again we stop the traffic – apt considering that we are walking to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow where it is hoped (there’s that word again!) that world leaders and business owners will determine to reduce carbon levels
Natalie Taylor, John Muir Fellow and today’s wearer of the Keeper of the Soils, a cape she made with the help of other stitchers in Dunbar
Heading up the Royal Mile now with St Giles on the horizon, Edinburgh

En route interpretation and peer-learning will be provided by an emerging community of peer-educators and cultural partners. These include arts and cultural organisations, interfaith communities, educational institutions, and grass roots community activists.

https://artandecology.earth/cultural-partners/
At the foot of the Mound with the National Galleries in the background
We walked through Princes Street Gardens with Edinburgh Castle looking over us and the trees still very green despite it being mid October
Where we met a woman from the Pilgrimage for Nature whose walk began in London. Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

At this time of unique peril for our planet and all its inhabitants our plan is to deeply connect with and listen to the land we travel through, the species we encounter on the way and the communities living along the route. Our walk is a uniquely hopeful, creative and reverential kind of activism.

from the website

There were a group of families (10 children and 10 adults) waiting to join us here. They had been hanging around for a long time, but the kids were well entertained.

Coat of Hopes

Another pilgrimage is being made by the Coat of Hopes group. This other garment is made of patchwork, and carrying it is described as performance craft. It is being worn and added to between the starting point of Newhaven on the south coast of England near Brighton, and Glasgow (500 miles). It carries stitched griefs, remembrances, prayers and hopes connected to the landscapes as well as stories of migration. The coat pilgrims will take 62 days with twice weekly stitching stops and songs while it builds connections between people and communities.

Here is the Coat of Hopes when it arrived in Glasgow in all its glory

Pilgrimage is a journey of transformation, states their website, and that means change. It’s another hopeful statement. As I walk, I become clearer that it is a sense of respect for people, plants and animals that I hope for, respect which underpins the basic adjustment which need to happen if we are to turn this crisis around. Respect is about listening and supporting, and that cannot be done by staying ‘at arms length’. The closer we get to others, the more likely we are to hear their needs and know what has to be done. That is part of the function of this pilgrimage, to move through towns and countryside and listen.

Peace Cranes

Peace Cranes – detail. St John’s Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh

The Peace Crane project by artist Janis Hart was open for us to see in St John’s Church at the foot of Lothian Road. It consists of approximately 140,000 origami cranes (miniature birds) of peace and hope, made by people from all over the world. This vast number represents not only the people who were killed when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, but also those who lost their lives to Covid-19 and the many other-than-human species which are now extinct or endangered, such as the red-crowned crane.

Peace Cranes – detail, St John’s Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh
St John’s Church – exterior, Princes Street, Edinburgh

St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral

The St Mary’s Cathedral Website

John Conway, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh who is granted the cape during the soil ceremony which takes place when we arrive
The spectacular Gothic arch of the main entrance to St Mary’s Cathedral, our destination

Fun fact: Did you know that the twin spires pf St Mary’s Cathedral are called Mary and Barbara? They are named after two women from the Walker family who funded the building of the Cathedral in the 1870s. (Thanks to Edinburgh Tourist for that information).

There is an afternoon of workshops including flag making with Ali Pretty of Kinetika (see above), and in the evening, a celebratory ceilidh. It isn’t possible to dance (what? no dancing at a ceilidh!) which is sad, but we are regaled with poetry, stories, a slide show, music, and eat fantastic food (thanks to Robin and co of the Ceilidh Collective). We are also shown the choir’s practice room which has paintings by Phoebe Anna Traquair.

Inspiration from sorrw and renewal of spirit, Phoebe Anna Traquair panel found in the Choir Practice Room at St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place

I know of the church at Bellevue (Mansfield Place) which is decorated with Traquair’s murals dating from the 1890s, and have seen exhibitions of her work at the Gallery of Modern Art, but this is a hidden gem. It is a working space, the Provost proudly tells us, used for daily practice and so not ordinarily open to the public. Here is a procession of creation, of angels and church men interspersed with famous writers, artists and politicians of the artist’s time. Like our motley crew of pilgrims, they traverse the walls of the small room alongside birds and plants and the work aims to take inspiration from sorrow, for the renewal of spirit.

I am happy to see that the common pigeon which is featured in my recent exhibition, Clipp’d Wings, is here beside the mallard and eagle
Our very own Olga at the Ceilidh

Silent Meditation at the Mound

Run by Earth Holders Edinburgh (which organises new moon gatherings at the Salisbury Centre, Edinburgh) this hour of contemplation on Saturday is greatly needed. Despite the cold and noise, it is vital that we engage in reflection using a variety of different ways. Silence and stillness is an equally useful opportunity to allow thoughts and internal activity to settle so that the quiet voice is heard. It is during meditation that hidden ideas and impulses surface, where connections can be made.

Inter-faith pilgrimage

At New College for speeches before the Interfaith Pilgrimage began

For over thirty years, EIFA has diligently and effectively sought opportunities to cultivate and promote interfaith progress in the City of Edinburgh.  During these three decades, EIFA has been continuously recognised by other interfaith organisations throughout the world as an outstanding role model and best practice in terms of developing and delivering positively impactful interfaith programmes for our wider community.  

from the Edinburgh Interfaith Association website
Apple sharing outside the Temple

Pilgrimage is often a walk which moves, like ours, across long distances, however that doesn’t have to be the case. Indeed, there was an increase in the number of stay-at-home pilgrimages developed in the Covid19 lockdowns – from walking around your garden to following a route online. Our afternoon one is organised by the Edinburgh Interfaith Community and takes us through the city – from New College where we listen to speeches from Pagan celebrant (“To protect and restore the world’s biodiversity”), Ani Rinchen from the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist community (“To continue to take responsibility for our actions. We will solve the problems, so we must look after our minds so that we can act wisely and wisely elect our leaders”), and Jewish community leaders, among others, to visit the Baha’i community, the Hindu Mandir (“We are all the same, we all have the same nose, two eyes and a mouth” Neela Joshi), and various venues, ending at the Sikh Guru Nanak Gurdwara (“No one group, no one faith can do it alone.”) where we are treated so attentively and fed a delicious langar, a community meal which is prepared daily for anyone who needs it.

Edinburgh Interfaith for Climate Justice – the group smiling

Deep Time Walk

On Sunday we go on a Deep Time Walk using the app below.

Deep Time Walk is a transformative journey through 4.6bn years of Earth history via a 4.6km guided walk. It is an invitation to view the world differently, encouraging positive action and advocacy for a regenerative Earth. Our vision is to empower an ensemble of geographically specific and culturally nuanced Deep Time Walks, providing a unique intercultural platform that helps bring about a diverse, flourishing ecological civilisation.

from the app page
Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh

Quaker Meeting House – reflection

Our final Edinburgh experience is the Deep Time, Wonder and Grief Circle at the Quaker Meeting House where we could share our thoughts and feelings about our place in the deep time of things, our fears for the future, and sadness at the prospect of not enough being done by government leaders and big-business owners. We were again treated to a generous meal by members of the Quaker community for which we were very grateful.

The violence at the heart of the system is something we need to address

Jonathan Baxter, Pilgrimage organiser

Thanks to all those who hosted and fed us, and to the St James community who organised house stays for some of us while we were in Edinburgh.

Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog 7: Portobello. 21 October 2021

Beach of Dreams

The public highlight of our Portobello stay was the Saturday morning Beach of Dreams installation by Kinetika, led by artist, Ali Pretty.

Beach of Dreams, Ali Pretty and Kinetika, Portobello, Edinburgh

This art installation is made up of 500 silk flags flying from poles which were planted on the beach, each representing a mile of the Essex coastline. A new pennant was created for each of these miles by Kinetika artists in response to photos or other images which were produced by people living in this edge-country, people who are witnessing the disintegration of the ground on which their houses are situated.

Setting up Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh
Preparing for the installation of Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh

Beach of Dreams was an epic journey to walk 500 miles over 35 days (June to August 2021) along the east coast of England. The purpose – to explore how we can take care of the environment, take care of the coast, take care of the community and ourselves.

from the website

The flags were initially positioned in lines parallel to the Portobello breakwater, but as the sea came in, volunteers hurriedly moved them, re-sinking them in the sand higher up the beach and creating a tide of people and artworks rushing away from the approaching waters.

In danger from the incoming tide, Portobello, Edinburgh

These flags represent the dreams of the people of Eastern England for the future. Like urgent messages to us here on the east coast of Scotland, they tell of the vulnerability of our coastlines as sea levels rise. Moving, literally and emotionally, they are fragile, though steady, ephemeral but made of real stuff. They flutter and flap in the wind, prompting questions, ‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’ 

‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’ Portobello, Edinburgh

The poignant sound, as we lay under them and watched the subtle lemon and rose against the cerulean sky, was a constant reminder that things are changing. The irregular flick-flack of the fabric responding to the capricious breeze wouldn’t let us drift away contentedly. Their beauty contrasted awe-fully with the origin of their message

View from underneath, the Beach of Dreams Portobello, Edinburgh

Hospitality

We stayed for two nights at St Mark’s Church where we were cared for with much-appreciated heat and facilities. Even a short walk like this focused our minds on the luxury of having a roof over our heads and a floor to sleep on.

Portobello, Edinburgh

Walking the labyrinth

The full programme of events continued with a labyrinth. Set up by Ali Newell with red candles and autumn leaves, we were first given a short introduction to to their origin and useage over the centuries and then invited to take something from her basket and enter, one by one.

Labyrinth, Ali Newell

The minute I started, I felt such sorrow. Was it the music by Arvo Pärt, or the accumulated feelings of the group? Was it my grief at the state of our world, or a more personal sadness rising up into my throat? One stained glass window showed a man with his arm around a child, another depicted men embracing, with the words: ‘The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David’ as a caption. That tenderness was one trigger for my weeping.

I lived in Estonia for a short time, where Pärt was born, and memories of those times bubbled up. I was writing a book about death and loss, and each day I walked the forest paths. I remembered the shock of turning a corner and coming across a large area of deforestation with trunk stumps all jagged and broken.

Pines interspersed with silver birch because the foresters know that these trees grow better in community than alone, Estonia
The trees are grown to be cut down, but that doesn’t make the sight any less distressing when you come across it. Estonia

Around the labyrinth I slowly walked, doubling back on myself, at once facing centre, then away from it, moving nearer, then seeming to be distanced. The narrow channel between the lines gave a sense of safety and the golden leaves encapsulated the passing of the year. Eventually the tears dried up and there was something like peace, or at least calm. The sun was shining and it threw shadows across us and the room. Conscious that I was passing shoulder-to-shoulder with others who were on a similar journey to mine, I saw others with wet cheeks. She walked with her arms crossed over her chest, he with his hands cupped in front of him, my friend had her arms raised up, palms to the ceiling as she walked. In this way, we almost-met, we didn’t stare or speak, however we were all in it together.

And then I saw, ahead of me, the entrance, not the centre. I stopped dead. I must have made a mistake because I was almost back where I started. I traced the way in with my eyes; how had that happened? I hadn’t crossed a line, hadn’t cheated.

I decided to step out of my passageway into one which would take me on, along the way I had been going, and then, no! That wasn’t possible somehow. So I followed the direction my path was taking and found myself right where I began, ready to start over again. There, at my feet, was a battered magpie feather.

Magpie feather

I hadn’t seen it earlier, even though I am collecting one per day (see my first blog of this series) and so my eyes are attuned, and so it was somehow special to find it at the moment that had I been ‘sent’ back. I picked it up, took a deep breath, turned around and carried it with me as I re-negotiated the labyrinth. Though I took it faster the second time, there was a second onslaught of grief. It reminded me that we walk round our lives, spiralling outwards from our birth, but coming back through key elements of it, being given the chance to go through them again with our accumulated wisdom. I hoped I was wiser.

The spiral of life

Many of the fallen leaves had wafted onto the paths. They seemed to represent people I have known. Sometimes, unwittingly, I stepped on them, sometimes over, left them behind. Someone came along behind me and picked each one up and put it back in a safe place. I began to feel so weary, I wobbled, even once overbalanced into an adjoining track and had to step back. There was a small, wooden African sculpture in a corner, on the piano, of someone reaching down to touch a baby, similar to one I had at home. Again, it touched me deeply. Would it go on for ever? I needed ‘stamina, endurance, resilience’ (Liz)

Entrance and centre of the labyrinth, Ali Newell

As I got closer to the centre, I feared I might not make it and I noticed that I wanted to get to the end as soon as possible. It was like my relationship to death; in the past I have willed it, later I decided against it and pleaded that it wouldn’t happen soon.

I did eventually get there, knelt and placed my stone, and, as Liz said afterwards, it was hot from my hand. Of course, it wasn’t an end at all, it was a mid point. It also wasn’t the way I experienced it when sitting beside the dying – a dwindling, a merging into another place and state – rather, it was part of the whole process of life and it was on-going.

As I walked out, I was coming in the opposite direction to others who stood aside to let me pass. Or sometimes I did that for them. It was a smooth, mindful journey, and I was changed at the end of it.

We set off one by one, but as we walked we kept coming into contact with each other. It was like a metaphor for life; people you see once and never again all moving in the same direction, all inspired by love and hope. We acknowledged each other as we passed. We were not alone.

Gareth
Front door, Portobello, Edinburgh

Even more kindness, and a change of perception

I went for a swim in the sea after that. Margaret who knows the seas, watched over me, signalling to keep away from the pipe which was invisible to me. Ruth offered me a shower at her flat, the first since leaving Dunbar on Monday, four days before, and I was really grateful for the hot water and her hospitality.

Coming back, I was struck by the frivolity of the home decoration items outside the shops on the High Street, items I usually enjoy, even covet. I was walking through such a familiar place, but my Camino shell dangled from my rucksack reminding me I was in the stream of the pilgrimage, and I felt like a different person.

Camino shell symbolising that all paths lead to the same destination, eventually


Thanks go to members of the congregation of St Mark’s for a most delicious meal, particularly as the oven failed and food had to be ferried next door and back for warming – a much appreciated effort.

Community choir

And as if all that wasn’t enough, Jane Lewis led a singing circle on the beach under the almost-full moon. She exhorted us, ‘ If we listen to the earth breathing, then we will know what to do’, and we learned her new rendering of Arundhati Roy’s words (from Capitalism, a ghost story). 

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh under the almost-full moon

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Can you hear her breathing?

Arundhati Roy / Jane Lewis

Protest in Harmony choir Another World link

A very blurry singing circle with Jane Lewis, Portobello.

Though a hiatus from the long-distance walking, this day was full of opportunities to reflect on our journey, to learn from the communities we were passing through, and to receive.

We were nearly half way through a Pilgrimage for COP26 from Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow, where the COP26 Climate Change Conference is now taking place. It was organised by A+E and many volunteers.


Pilgrmage to COP26

Blog 6: From Aberlady Bay to Portobello via Musselburgh

Listen to The king of the faeries by Matthew Crighton on the tin whistle on #SoundCloud recorded on the beach at Aberlady, round the campfire.

https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/jHju3

Sunrise as we walk away from our camping spot at Aberlady Bay, 7am
It’s only just over an hour but we have all our camping gear and what’s left of the food and water paraphernalia, and it’s very uneven ground. We walk in silence

At the car park, the electric support vehicle and day walkers are waiting for us. The group had split into two the previous evening with the others sleeping at the village hall in Aberlady. They visited Prestongrange Museum where they received a lovely welcome.

After a standing-up breakfast and use of the public conveniences (thanks to East Lothian Council for keeping them open for us), we set off for the day’s trek. The coast was stunning.

Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
East Lothian

The weather was changeable – a cool wind with sun, light then heavier spells of rain, never for too long, thank goodness.

Coral skeletons

We passed coral skeletons (tubes) which have been squashed into limestone making ‘spaghetti rock’ which date from the Carboniferous period (350-300 million years back). Craigielaw point fossils gives more information.

Cameron played the violin for us, though it was dark and drizzly then
We were invited to walk amongst the sycamore copse, to listen their the particular song of those trees and admire their personal designs
Some had fallen, revealing their age
Wandering through the sycamore glade
Francesco
Beth
Port Seton

We regained the main road through Port Seton with all the hustle of normal life – quite a contrast to the meditative pacing at the shore. The Harbour Takeaway served a good green tea and peppermint slice and the sun was warm on my back for 5 minutes before we had to walk on.

Towards Prestonpans

At Musselburgh, we had an extended stop where volunteers had been preparing a meal for us at the Brunton Theatre. We were shown a film. ‘Local Food Roots’ (trailer on Pinterest) which featured various UK projects which grow and distributed vegetable boxes (Riverford) and innovative organisations which cooked with produce from their own communities (Nottingham Hospital – yes, it can be done. They argued that buying in food that had travelled many 100s of miles from South America and Africa was not only less nutritious but also added to the already dangerous limits of carbon in the atmosphere). Sheila Dillon from the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme was a contributor. This was another example of our learning about the various ways the climate crisis can be addressed, as we wend our way to Glasgow.

Naomi Barnes, Sustaining Dunbar
We were met by rowers from Musselburgh (you can see the boat in the middle of the picture beyond the flowers) Prestonpans, East Lothian

It was hoped that the Portobello crew would be there too, but at the last minute they were short of a member, so two of them ran to meet us here, and then walked back with us (see below) with their Resilient, Sustainable banner.

The pipe band from Loretto School were also there to welcome us. Marianne was the Keeper of the Soils for the day

People seem to really understand what we are doing: they thank us and wave as we go by, and messages are coming in all the time to encourage us.

As the sun was lowering, we walked along the prom into Portobello

Keeper of the Soils cape: Natalie Taylor, artist, North Light Arts

The Pilgrimage for COP26 programme is here https://artandecologyearth.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/pilgrimage-for-cop26-programme-04.10.21-edit.pdf

@pilgrimageforcop26 #pcop26

Pilgrimage for COP26

19 October 2021 – Blog 5: North Berwick to Aberlady Bay

Ready to start out on the second day’s walk from North Berwick
Pilgrims at the ready – some who are walking all the way and others who have joined us for today
Olga is the Keeper of the Soils for this stage

Eva (in pink) was one of the day walkers and it was good to catch up after so many years. We talked of Reworlding, gratitude and reciprocity.

Cath explaining about Stitches for Survival – it was her day to carry the panels towards Glasgow
Ali Newell and Glen Cousquer were leading the walk

A field of brightness that travels ahead, providing, in time, ground to hold our footsteps and the light of thought to show the way. … to create a space for all our words, drawing us to listen inwards and outwards.

Read by Glen



Ali lead us in a Salute to the Sun from her Capacitar (Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World) exercises.


Then we began to walk and it rained

Petrichor: the smell of rain

In this photo the waves have left vertical horizons on the near part of the beach: a dividing line of wet-sand mountain peaks and their mocha-coloured reverse shapes

We took time for quiet walking and reflection, appreciating the luminosity of the scene. I listened to the sound of the waves and the pit pat of rain on my jacket. I wasn’t aware of my own smell – it seemed to have merged with the air around me, and my wet fringe tickled my forehead.

A stop to hold, admire and taste the Sea Buckthorn – salty and sour at the same time. As we walked on, we became attuned to the fermenting scent of the fruit on the bushes

… gifts from our plant relatives, manifestations of their generosity…When we speak of these, not as things, or products or commodities, but as gifts, the whole relationship changes. I can’t help but gaze at them, cupped like jewels in my hand … In the presence of such gifts, gratitude is the intuitive first response…

Robin Wall Kimmerer
I was glad that I popped a rain poncho in my rucksack at the last minute – it was useful to protect the cape
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”

As we sat and ate our lunch, cormorants stretched out their wings on the rocks. The sea left a white line of bubbles behind. We couldn’t help ourselves stooping to pick up tiny triangles of blanched shells. The bloated body of a dead whale was a discomfiting pale apricot, and the decomposing stench was terrible as we walked past. I whispered my sorrow for its truncated life.

Cameron and the sea playing a lament

Someone said they had an image of Ghandi walking in solidarity with us.

We were regaled with songs including one from four members of Protest in Harmony.

Some of us stopped and swam

Miles of beachy colours – caramel, beige and cinnamon – and the occasional low-lying green plants with lilac flowers. Further on there were fingers of cerise and buttercup seaweed shining in contrast.

A steep climb that turned out to be the wrong route
Aberlady Bay, where we camped for the night
Delicious food around the campfire for all the walkers
Apricity: means ‘the warmth of winter sun’
We watched skeins and skeins of geese honking homeward as the sky darkened. They were particularly spectacular when silhouetted first in front of the setting sun and then the rising moon
Landscapes in the sunset sky looking towards Longniddry
After supper, the group split in two and the majority walked to a hall in Aberlady village to sleep – a night walk along this path against the wind

Eight of us camped in the high winds of the Aberlady Nature Reserve. It was the most beautiful spot for contemplating and talking about how important such places are and how vital it is that our government and businesses curtail sewage output, address coastal erosion, and put money behind the preservation of our wilder environments.

A blurry pic of the Harvest Moon – full around 5am
Campfire and a dram

Thanks to

Ali and Glen for leading the walk, and Cameron for playing his fiddle. Vicky for driving the electric van which carried our rucksacks.

Pilgrimage to COP26

18 October – Blog 4: Dunbar to North Berwick

All ready to start the Pilgrimage for COP26 outside John Muir’s birthplace, Dunbar
Lauderdale Park, Dunbar, where we stopped for some introductions and announcements
Stitches for Survival Mass-craftivism to put the Earth centre-stage at COP26
Pilgrims all strung out along the East Lothian coast
And beside Winterfield Golf Links
Across the Bridge to Nowhere
Following the John Muir Way – yes, it rained!
Beautiful woods of Scots Pine
Past donkeys and llamas and emus
Stunning scenery
Stories Park, East Linton Climate Change phone box
Coming into East Linton and Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot on the River Tyne, which is run by the National Trust for Scotland

Phantassie Farm donated the day’s soil sample to the Keeper of the Soils, and it was tucked away in the inside pocket for safekeeping. Conceived of and made by Natalie Taylor with others, this wonderful cape has been hand-made using natural dyes. @northlightarts and @natalietaylorartist

Natalie Taylor , Keeper of the Soils cape with North Light Arts
Pockets inside the Keeper of the Soils cape for storing the samples of soil between Dunbar and Glasgow

We were treated to a delicious lunch at Prestonkirk Church – a much appreciated rest out of the rain – and when we reemerged, the sun was starting to show its face.

From East Linton, we headed to North Berwick,skirting Berwick Law, before arriving at our evening’s rest.

Changeable weather – some silent walking and fascinating conversation as we start to get to know each other
Across the fields in silence after lively lunchtime chats
I was bringing up the rear today, to ensure no-one got lost or left behind
Picking up my daily feather as I listened to people’s stories of grief and walking
First sighting of Berwick Law, luring us to our first stop on the Pilgrimage for COP26
Oak woods reminding us of the environment we are walking for
Scots Pine in the late afternoon sun
Gillian – Berwick Law closer now

There were four of us at the back and we got lost here – tiredness causing a momentary lack of attention! Luckily it was only brief and GPS came to the rescue

Final circle in Lodge Grounds, North Berwick for each of us to share a word which summed up the day

Many thanks to:

Adrian for leafing today’s walk.

Cian, Finnán and Valerie for their hospitality for me overnight in Dunbar on 17th.

The kind people who provided a delicious lunch at Prestonkirk, in East Linton.

And St Baldred’s in North Berwick, who provided our evening meal and accommodation.

Pilgrimage to COP26

Blog 3 Dunbar 17 October

As two pilgrimages converged in Dunbar yesterday, the YCCN in relay from St Ives , Cornwall and this Pilgrimage for COP26, we merged happily with the people of East Lothian – women, children, men and umbrella-holding, violin-playing stilt walkers together with a green-faced witch.

The YCCN are calling on the government to lead the way on their climate finance pledges which have not yet been delivered in full, particularly for those countries who are suffering extremely from the climate crisis. It was announced that the
Labour party have agreed 3 out of 4 of the pledges on their website


Climate change conversations erupted in the corners of fields, while waiting for delicious soup at the Wishing Tree by the Sea Cafe, and at the pizza oven.

 
In the centre of town, we began a slow walk, lead by Karen (see yesterday’s blog), curving around the garden at the front of St Ann’s Church where we were read sections of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change).

We stopped the traffic.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.

John Muir, Our National Parks

A huge crowd were waiting at the Battery at the sea’s edge for a ceremonious show. Representatives from John Muir’s Birthplace Trust and Friends opened proceedings. The Keeper of the Soil was gifted samples for the cape’s pockets, notably from land which Eve Balfour visited as a child. Founder of the Soil Association, she was one of the earliest women farmers, and the speaker, Chris Yule and his 6-year old daughter did her proud.

The beacon flashed as the nearly-new moon rose and we walked to the Belhaven Church for a Pilgrim’s meal arranged through Sustaining Dunbar with sourdough bread from the Station House Bakery.

Karine Polwart wrote a song for the Dunbar Youth Choir which we all joined in with – smiles all round.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine

Mary Oliver, The Wild Geese

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Alastair McIntosh who cautioned us to cease despairing, lamentation, yes, but not despair, and this chimed with the Mary Oliver quote which was shared on stage earlier that day.

Alastair quoted Alice Walker

Be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Take the contradictions

Of your life

And wrap around

You like a shawl,

To parry stones

To keep you warm

Alice Walker, from Everyday Life

Question from the floor: How do we make use of what we learn on pilgrimage when we get home?
Alastair’s answer: It’ll be in your presence. People sense if you’re connected spiritually. People share their stories with you because they intuit that you can hear them, it’s in your comportment and your bearing. Ask yourself, regularly, if you are still being honest, remember how you move to ground yourself, recognise the way it is and it isn’t.
He spoke about the phrase, Om mani padme hum, from the Hindu tradition, meaning ‘when mind and heart come together’, adding, when you do what you are doing from a spiritual place, ….. , that work is love made visible.