This walk was inspired by a prompt from Alisa Oleva and The Resident’s Association which went like this: ‘Go out on a walk, take photos of all the things and surfaces you would like to touch, but don’t touch them.’
I tried, I really did, but I failed at the first and last hurdles (and several in between if I’m honest). Who would have thought it would be so difficult? Although, given I touch for a living it’s not so surprising. I can’t give Shiatsu because of the Covid-19 virus restrictions, so this brief is apposite.
It was my phone I touched at the off – to take photos. Smooth and cool and about the weight of a nice big juicy apple, it quickly heated up in my hand. I was on a walk I have done once before which ended on a road (link) so I wanted to find a better way back.
As soon as I started I wanted to reach out and feel the difference between the nettles and the dead nettles, even if one sort would surely sting me. It didn’t take long for my toddler instinct to kick in – ‘But I want to touch!’ I resisted.
When a wall reared up in front of me, my protesting teenager was taunted – ‘Just cos you say I shouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I can’t!’ Though I was grown up and I didn’t.
As I passed the buttercups I could imagine the smooth, silky petals. I’m a tactile person. I have honed my sense of touch to a very sensitive degree over tens of years. The mere sight stimulated the part of my brain which remembered the feel from before (as it does with most people) – my brain’s sensory cortex.
“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,’” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of a study into touch.
“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”
I saw stalk ends which I was convinced would be dry and rough. The torn-off strands might feel like threads, but I couldn’t be sure. The gnarled tree, all crooked and twisted, must feel just as dessicated, I conjectured, but harder. I was pretty sure I could lean into it and it wouldn’t fall over whereas the stem would have, of course. Colder than the trunk, the Hedera helix (a better monica than ‘common ivy’ in this case) would feel the least substantial, but the shiniest. Isn’t it fascinating that we use visually descriptive words like ‘shiny’ to describe the feel of something?
While it is customary to assert that we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears, we live in a simultaneous universe where sensory events and their constituent elements have a natural tendency to overlap.
The undergrowth to my right was still opaque with dew, its wetness indistinguishable from its colour. But I didn’t touch; my eyes just feasted. (There’s another of those sensory comminglings). As I wandered on, I wondered, can you feel a colour? Would that pale grey-green feel the same as the vibrant gloss-green of that ivy I had just passed? It would be impossible to subtract the wetness from one in order to compare I reckoned.
In this part of the countryside, the cascades of hawthorn are over now, their slightly feathery, petally droplets have fallen. Black crows were feeding, sharp-beak first, in the field. I would certainly like to touch their glossy feathers – I have been collecting feathers every day on my walks. If I hold the white tubular calamus, or hollow shaft of a long corvid’s plumage and twiddle it, the vane catches the light and gleams. There was a matching black horse lying down nearby and she observed me, haughtily. I might not have been brave enough to touch her.
The wet grass touched my boots – I could see, but not feel. My legs brushed past the seedheads and they tickled my shins. They touched me, I didn’t touch them. In the same patch, I was alive to the contrast between the sorrel, which I knew would be bitty like toast crumbs between a thumb and forefinger, and the emery board, might-cut-you blades of grass. I remembered how I like to slide up the sheath of the softer Yorkshire Fog, just turning to seed now, gathering a mini bouquet before spilling the seeds up in a fountain and spraying them all around. I could just ‘feel’ the imprint of it on my fingertips.
I crossed the first stile which I’ve been not hand-touching for weeks anyway, so I am practiced at that. I had to steady myself for a moment or two at the top before ‘jumping’ down off the second. Then at the next hurdle, I had to slip around behind the tree because the gate was shut. It was, I admit, impossible not to touch the trunk with the edges of myself, but I lifted my arms up as I squeezed through.
There was the familiar parp of the train as it approached the first of a ring of level crossings, making its announcement. I couldn’t touch that train even if I wanted to. I spotted the first chamomile and stooped to collect a feathery stem and have a sniff, transported back to my allotment where I grew swathes of it for medicinal purposes. It was not until the end of the walk when I scanned back that I realised that that had been a touch I didn’t even think to forgo.
I feared to reach out to the wild roses in case I dislodged their fragile petals, so that was no problem. Before I knew it, I scratched my nose because it felt like a fly was crawling there. Damn! Turns out that I’m not great at this game.
I took a detour and there were the goslings, much more grown up, motionless on mirrored water. So still were they, that I assumed they were asleep, but then a parent dipped her beak and very slowly rotated to face her brood. The sun was behind, low, and I saw a drop dripping off. Mid way, it sparkled as the light shone through it, refracting into a star as it fell. Without actively moving she sailed closer to them, the space narrowing, and then she nudged the nearest chick.
It was the second hour and others were waking up and walking their dogs: a puppy scampered towards me and jumped up, so there was a wet-tongue touch without a by-your-leave. The owner and I forgot to move to opposite sides of the path two metres apart. Not so the woman with the stick – she avoided me like the plague as we have been instructed to do.
The birds were busy weeding in the arable fields, their heads bobbing. No doubt some seeds hadn’t yet germinated. A bramble scraped my upper arm leaving a long, bloody slash. Grasses caressed me and wind swept my sweaty brow – I felt it.
I stood under an unknown tree admiring its flowers. I flipped through my mental filing system, took a photo, and then the tree seemed to go ‘here you are’ and one white trumpet floated to the ground. There it lay amongst 10s of others! I picked one up (again, I didn’t even notice this touch until I started writing this) and carried it uphill. After some time I relegated it to my pocket for later perusal and it was, ooh, 5 minutes before I worked out what had caused the stickiness in my palm.
I did find an alternative route towards the end and as I squelched through the mud (there has been no rain for weeks but was some sort of stream running down the bridle path) and surveyed the broken branches from recent winds, I instinctively stroked the burl (a knotty growth) of a nearby tree, I caught myself at it and withdrew my hand sharpish, but it was too late.
The whole thing was pretty tricky. I wanted to know if the bracket fungus was hard or squashy. I wanted to warm my hand on the wall. I was curious whether the temperature of the inside of the log was different from the outside. I would have liked to swish through the Quaking grass. However, I particularly enjoyed the newfound awareness of how much my senses interact. And I had a beautiful walk.
If you ever see something in one of my blogs that is wrongly named, please do let me know. I do a lot of research but it isn’t always easy to get it right and I would be very grateful to learn.
Out of the house, I turned right instead of the usual left. I was heading towards a certain place and hoping to deviate – deviation, on occasion, being the source of imaginative instigation.
Ahead, on the single lane bridge, was a man on the non-pavement side where there’s a ‘>’ in the wall, a ‘more than’ nick out of the road. There is more, because when you stand there and look over, you can see the river. I was prepared to walk on the pavement, to keep my distance, but he crossed back. He had a stick. I said ‘good morning’ and he seemed surprised. I crossed to the nick and leaned over to look at the water. I live by the sea in Edinburgh, but here in Kent with my mother during the Covid-19 lockdown period, I am landlocked. It is different. It has an effect on me.
I took a left at the post office. Another gentleman and I dodged right-left-right until we wordlessly worked out who would go in the road – me. We smiled, maybe murmured, I can’t remember now.
Does this shifting onto the highway to keep our distance, endanger our health?
My route is chosen
I passed where the sandbags are still piled up outside ‘the pretty cottages’ from the flooding,. Further on, there were words carved in chunks of stone at the top of 2 brick gate posts – Lyngs Close. I typed it into my notes for memory’s sake, and google changed it to ‘lungs’. For once, clever google – Lyngs does mean lungs! It denotes ‘an open space in a town or city, where people can breathe fresher air’ (which I didn’t know at the time). That set off a chain reaction in my mind.
I am a health practitioner, and when I refer to the Lungs in my work (Chinese Medicine), I spell it with a capital letter because the term encompasses both the respiratory organs and the things we practitioners have all noticed over the years that are repeatedly connected with them. For example, clients I see with asthma and other pulmonary issues, will often tell me, ‘I can’t breathe in this relationship’, or, ‘Although there is space at my work, I can’t take a deep breath when I’m there – I think it’s because my boss watches over me all the time’. These phrases link the physical lungs and the ability to breathe easily, with the psychological feelings around having enough space and freedom.
This week, the Daily Mail reported concerns that ‘political appointees are breathing down the necks of scientists’, implying that they are being pressurised to make a vaccine quickly. In ancient Chinese texts you will find references to regulations, and the setting of borders (including those between what is right and wrong) linked to the Lungs. As it is their job to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide across membranes (the borders between the alveoli, the air sacs) in order to maintain our vitality, the aspects of our lives related to rules, space and air are also connected. We are living in a time when the government might ‘push strict lockdown rules to their limit’ and that affects each of us in different ways. I tend to rebel if the boundary is too restricted, if my freedom to create is curtailed.1
A walk theme emerged by happenstance (which I always think must be about happily coming across something). Chance is about things happening unexpectedly and about providing for the possibility of…
The Scottish charity Greenspace Scotland (2011) defines green spaces as: ‘the green lungs of our towns and cities which contribute to improving peoples’ physical and mental health…and ‘breathing spaces’ to take time out from the stresses of modern life. ‘
As I made my way down the narrow close, I remembered a walk I took a few weeks ago – I was directed along a foot-width path between two fences, by a farmer who did not want ramblers on his land. This expression of limitation was in the middle of a great, grassy field. I was unable to stray in any way. I recalled the signs I had photographed the previous evening – ‘Strictly Private’ and ‘Keep Out’. In Scotland we have the ‘Freedom to Roam’, not so here in England, my original home.
It’s like the world’s northern forests become a giant vacuum cleaner, scouring the air, sucking down the CO2 till around November
The way then opened up and there was a huge beech tree, one of earth’s 3.1 trillion ‘lungs’, with lobe-shaped leaves. (See the link in the box above for the source of that statistic). By the tree, at the edge of this oval patch of green for everyone to share, was a sign telling me that parking was for residents and their visitors only. I manoeuvred between the cars and came upon an even bigger Green, surrounded by houses and vehicles of varying shapes and sizes. I don’t have one, haven’t had for years, but I remember shutting myself in mine, in a secluded spot, to cry or scream, sleep or read when the children were at school and it all got too much. Here, it was momentarily clear, no exhaust fumes clogging up the air. I wondered if more cars were ‘at home’ than usual – that our new rules were going some way to liberating the planet from exhaust fumes.
There was a murmur of voices, slamming of doors and then a thrumming as an engine started up. It couldn’t, it tried again – the machine was coughing.
I had already strayed from my path, wandered off the tarmac onto grass and the crunch of dry sticks breaking. I took a big deep breath and blew at a dandelion clock. Under my boots, a dry tracery of tracks and mud; above, birds warbled. Avian creatures are the only species with a syrinx, the air passing across these thin membranes to produce their songs. Sometimes, like the Song Thrush, there are 2 windpipes and so 2 tunes can be sung simultaneously. It’s known as ‘duetting’. (How Do Birds Sing, CelebrateUrbanBirds.com)
I noticed two bins on the grass which I knew would starve it of light if left there for very long. Without light, as every school child is taught, it would be unable to photosynthesise, to process carbon dioxide and water and convert it into oxygen and glucose to be able to thrive.
I mused on a Facebook story: A friend living in Peru reported, ‘Six weeks of no physical exercise, except for 2 minute walks to take the rubbish out, or check the mailbox, or walk from the car park to the pharmacy…’ Another, from Scotland, wrote, ‘I have felt a bit up and down emotionally this week, wondering….when I shall see my children and grandchildren again.’ Starved of light and sunshine, of physical contact and face-to-face time with friends and family, the health of we and our environment is threatened.
Outside the Village Hall, a man and a woman in a stationary car were smoking with the windows open and the engine running.
Alone and together
Now I was back on the main road by the bus stop. A cyclist sped past, the dynamo humming. Four-by-fours raced, causing a wind to ripple my trousers. For a moment it was me and the birdsong before the next one. As it pulled away my nostrils filled with toxic vapours. A child stamped so he could hear himself, questioned his parents. He sang a snippet of the tune in his head, aloud. It was boiling (April) – I was ‘warming’.
There were the wings of a pigeon, whirring; there, the straining neck of a blackbird dashing; and there, the candelabra of the chestnut tree. I remembered that they give some people hayfever.
On my right was a track, and a gate with just enough space to squeeze around. ‘How do I know where I am not allowed to walk if there are no signs?’ I caught myself wondering. I went anyway. It took my fancy.
There was one single crow high up in the clear blue sky; further on a solitary cat in the forage; a pesky pheasant in the stubble, its red head and plumed tail quite evident. Until it spotted me, that was. Then it ducked. If I had been a hungry buzzard at that moment, that pheasant would have seemed to be a clod of earth – cunning. A buzzing insect intercepted me and my camera. I ignored it because of the game and my thoughts. It was me and them. It smelled of hot, cut grass and faintly acrid chemicals.
8, 12, 4 birds flew around in ellipses, making a 3d spirograph of smooth circling, their wings catching the sun and glinting like morse code. I watched some more. No, the signalling came from their white bellies being exposed between wing flaps – hidden, shown, hidden, shown – around 3 x per second 2, 70-95 mph3 Notably, they choose to expend extra energy in order to fly together, adding an extra wingbeat per second in order to have compatriots to home with.4 I have brought Sara Baume’s book ‘handiwork’ for a walk with me. She writes that birds migrate with other species sometimes, if they share feeding habits. I didn’t know that. I like to think I could join a flock of others who have the same needs as me for company on the long journey.
If I am not allowed to go there, I can’t help them
Over and over again, as I walk, I am faced with limitations and the knock-on effect of them. As I turned a corner, cars were relegated to the distance, birds and other unidentifiable noises took precedence, but I could not investigate because of the fence. On Saturday morning it was the same – I think it was a distressed duck I was hearing (perhaps because of my concern over the mother of the 2 dead ducklings the cats brought in the day before), but I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity because of the wire and wooden posts. Nor could I help, even if that had been possible. (This is another topic – the crossing over the road to avoid contact, thereby missing the opportunity to be close to another, strike up a conversation, smile into their eyes and help if need be; the secluding which precludes neighbourly chats and offers / receiving of support; the ‘Keep Out’ signs which stop me reaching the scene of the problem – none of it healthy). I realised I was walking the outside perimeter of someone’s garden. They were on one side, me the other.
The wood pigeon gurgled her underwater sounds; the sweet smell of hawthorn was like incense in a mosque. Two rabbits ran out onto the path and turned towards me. I realised they don’t know I was there. One turned off close by, the other froze. She seemed to be unsure. A pigeon errupted from above my head, and I startled. That scared the bunny away.
Nearing the end
A woman’s voice I couldn’t quite hear, interrupted my peace. I saw the phone ringing and I didn’t answer. Before I knew it I recognised where I was and glanced at the time – it was getting on.
I was on the official footpath, but it was the back of a sign that was towards me. I got stung by nettles trying to read it, and, although I generally think that homeopathically that does me good because I respond well to the properties of Urtica dioica, drink it every day (it’s good for the health of my joints and blood), nevertheless this is another danger inherent in rural walking!
Before the cherry orchard, I came across raspberries which have been allowed to go wild. Not over excited, although maybe they are because they have grown in exuberant, prickly arches, more monumental than the brambles. (Do they compete? I wonder). They have been left, free to go their own way. Kids who ‘go wild’ are said to be having fun, they squeal and scream, their voices filling the air with their freedom of expression. I go a bit wild when I walk: I dismiss pretence and constraint. Not quite feral, not ‘gone mad’, but I have wilded.
The voices behind me were getting louder. Closer therefore. ‘You don’t want to do it on a day like today’, he said with a forbidding tone. I stood to the side to let them pass.
I wanted to stay out until I wanted to go back. I knew, now, where I was and how long it would take to get home and guaged it was perfect timing to speak to the kids on Zoom. (Actually I was late and the youngest messaged, ‘Where are you all? I am here on my own. I could be outside.’)
Offstage, a child screamed. A fatherly voice said, ‘Calm down, don’t panic, if there’s a problem, tell me’. Then I was back on a road. They cycled past.
As I crossed the Lees, there was a procession of us, socially distanced. We were strung out, hopefully not ‘strung out’ – nervous or tense – after our walk. One woman wore headphones, cut off; a couple were knee deep in the undergrowth; a what-I-call ‘proper hiker’ was focused forwards with his baton jauntily over his shoulder like Dick Whittington (I said hello, but got no response); a friendly woman with a walking stick smiled and nodded.
I did go where I had intended to, but I got there an unfamiliar way. I came across a lot of warnings, but survived. My health was all the better for the open air and the Spring green.
30 Women and men took a walk on the weekend of 4/5 April 2020 when most people around the world were vastly restricted in their movements for the purpose of limiting the spread of the corona virus. They took 30 minutes of exercise, as encouraged by their governments, staying close to their homes and collected sounds and images while they were out. These are being made into a video / audio, a soundtrack of photos, to share with those who are unable to leave their homes (for example in Spain). People took walks in Israel, Greece, France, Iceland, the US, the Czech Republic, Scotland and England. 79 joined the Facebook group (including the 30) over 48 hours.
I have selected one photo per participant for this blog. The other photos mentioned in the commentary below will be in the film. Guidelines were set for the walks and they can be found here.
LG wrote: I started from home wearing gloves as there are a few gates and stiles to go through before gaining access to the hills near my house. I did have to speak to one woman who commented on my walking pole, wishing she had one. She had just come down the steps in my photo, they are very steep. I climbed the steps then made a right angled turn up the side of the hill where all Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth come into view below – not a great photo it being my old smart phone, but it is amazing whatever the weather. I walked up to the brow of the hill, the larch are beginning to flower, hard to capture, it was quite windy up there, and the fence posts all have moss hair! I sat for a while to admire the view looking east and south towards Allermuir Hill. Down across the boggy bit to the lovely stone seat erected as part of a woodland planting initiative commemorating the First World War, where I sat again to listen. Wood pigeons, chaffinches, two magpies, a flat-footed hill runner, a mountain biker struggling up the hill, lots of silent intervals. Down to a small burn, took a short video. Back along a different path and across a field through the woods to my street. Love this tree, someone once carved a heart, it has grown with the tree and the tree has formed its own heart above it ❤ This is a favourite short walk, which since my hip replacement last autumn, I can now enjoy again. I’m so lucky to have this on my doorstep – think I’d go crazy if we were confined to our homes!
Video on Facebook – click on Liza’s photos within her post and you will see her video of a beautiful burn.
KL wrote: I had a slightly belated, long, tiring and enjoyable cycle ride yesterday, but on Saturday a short suburban walk. Space to observe normality and uncertainty, fears and opportunities, isolation and society . . .
JW sent videos – from herself in Edinburgh – Wind Murmuration – and from a friend of hers on Holy Isle off the south west coast of Scotland.
GC wrote: I went for a walk around the block today that led me to Aberdeen university. I loooove that area. So nice and full of old building, lovely houses, little cottages. It’s the old Aberdeen 😍 Daffodils are in bloom, Seaton park was deserted and it all felt so peaceful. It was 3. 4km and bird and bells were ringing at 6pm. Bliss ✨⚡️#walkgowild
EP wrote: I walked by the coast with my dog on Sunday afternoon – my daily walk towards Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. Lots of birds chirping in the warmth of the sun, so fortunate to have the Forth estuary on my doorstep. The sea soothes me. Seaweed in abundance, daffodils in the scrubland, bright sky sunshine – so good for the soul. I love yellow – gorse on the hill. Healing our world.🌎
Carmen S wrote: It was a late evening walk, beautiful light, extraordinary blossoms, spring is here.
SJ wrote: Today’s walk next to my house 🙏
Maria G gave her photos titles: Walk and sense all dimensions! Far, close, hug, and Leia.
GI wrote: My favourite walk and I am so lucky to live near by the Arthur seat, Edinburgh. I could not resist to walk with the bare feet, the Earth was so warm even thought the sun came out later on – such beautiful day, very grateful for moments like this. My daughter was climbing the tree, I got the beautiful hag from it and some fresh nettles to brew the tea and we collected white fluffy feathers on the way home to be creative 🙏/ Sunday around 5pm. The concert from all the birds and gentle wind were so refreshing.
Catharine S wrote: A stroll in the local park in Milton Keynes – along the canal, and then back along by Caldecotte Lake, up a bit to Ouzel Valley park, and back onto the Grand Union, and home. Traffic noise is possibly less, but still pretty noisy – not too much bird song to pick up, so no audio. Pub is closed, which I notice means later on less light pollution from the sign, allowing for a bit more vision of clear, starry nights. I appreciate the old canal bridges over the Grand Union in Milton Keynes, and the good looking moon.
SS wrote: Danson Park for 30 minutes this afternoon after 4:30 pm. Her video on Facebook is here. A few from me. I had a quick walk for 20 min between 14:00 and 14:20. With the first photo, I just fell in love with the bright green. The third was all about sky and sense of space. And the last 2, color, delight for the heart.
CT wrote: I went for a walk at about 16:00 along the Water of Leith with my husband and then, half an hour later, kept walking on my own in our communal gardens below our street, which face onto the river. I see a magpie settle on a tree. I listen to the birds, trying to identify them from their sound (I’m so bad at that) and the river flowing below. I look at the blossom across the river from the old orchard. I’m looking at the trees in the garden – can I see a tree creeper, that I haven’t seen for the past two years but I know are in the gardens? It’s very peaceful, people walking along the river, minding their distance and enjoying being out.
Walk 2: I walk up the steep slope in our gardens. I’m not good at birdsong but think I can hear the see-saw sound of great tits and the more mellifluous robin. I meet someone also looking for a tree creeper – they’re very hard to see, so I’m trying to learn what they sound like. I’m also looking for a wren; there are lots in the garden but you don’t often see them. I see another two magpies – one for sorrow; two for joy; three for a girl … I’m looking down on a pigeon! it just flew away. I hear a bird give a warning sound – is that a blackbird? I’m not quite sure. Past the badger’s hole. I finished my walk down onto the public footpath and then a brisk stride up the 140 steps from the river to our street (no landings for the first 111 steps – done without a break!) to get my cardio-vascular exercise for the day. Catharine’s video on facebook is here.
Maria Shi-Fo sent videos of Plaka and Akropoli in Athens – autumn within Spring, Saturday morning. They are on Facebook here. She has another one taken on Sunday afternoon, not very far from Athens
EL wrote: I walked behind the house today. The flowering currant is in memory of our first pony Benji, wind turbines were noisy, good views and interesting lichens.
KL wrote: Our dog Ruby was a little too hot, so we ended up doing lots of stops to cool down pottering in the streams and river. Ruby was a thirsty girl! She has dodgy hips so finds it very hard to go up and down that particular slope – hence the encouragement from my partner! Here is the video of Ruby
We went for a walk – a familiar route, straight from the front door, down to the river Le Noireau in the valley down a decline of 20%. Keeping to the required distance from home (1km in France) and only 1hr for exercise. The full loop is about 5km and usually takes us an hour. It was quite warm today.
CM wrote: On Saturday around 3pm I went for a walk with my granddaughter, aged 5, along the Water of Leith. We started at the Shore, she was on her scooter and I was armed with a long stick, at her request. We meandered along to a place we could feed the ducks and splash with said stick in the water. We played and sang along the way, and back. The simplicity of the walk was truly joyful. The sounds of the birds, the water, and our own chatter. The small things in life are often the most precious.
ML wrote: I cycled to Jesmond Dene, still early. The sound of the burn and birdsong. No idea what birds were – made mental note to learn. Of all the Buddhist teachings I’ve studied over the years, the most simple is the most profound; present moment, wonderful moment. A beagle sits refusing to budge not even when a spaniel pup offers him a game of chase.
Just back from a walk through Jesmond Dene then back home via the streets of suburban Newcastle upon Tyne. I forgot to do the 5 mins note taking but recorded 1 minute of sound.
JT wrote: A blustery, wonderfully warm Spring day in my local park. Lovely to hear the wind in the trees 🌳 🌲 Berries are out … Berry Hill Primary School closed for the foreseeable future 😔 … so Schools out – possibly ‘Schools out for summer’ 🧒 👶 I’m sure there’s a song budding there 🎶 🎤 🏫… 💃 Her video on Facebook is here
LS wrote: We set off from the house at about 1635. We headed down the hill to the sea making a new friend en route, and bumping into old ones. It was strange keeping a distance and not giving them a hug. (Sorry it would have been rude not to chat!). We chose a circular route; gentle walk down to the seafront and back up the steep steps to our road. It was interesting to see the groups of people on the beach keeping their distance and many more people walking along the quayside than normal. I wondered if all the groups were from the same household, or whether they had arranged to meet friends at the sea front. There were four people stripping off for a swim and I wondered if they were from the wild swimming club? I admired their bravery; the sea looked cold even though it has been a very mild day. I took a photograph of the quay from above because it made an interesting geometric shape into the sea. The terraced garden enchanted me because it is an achievement to create something so attractive from scratch on such a steep embankment. The colours of the car matched the Fisherman’s cottage and made me think of the limited palette used by the artist Whistler. Most of these Fishermans cottages have screens or net curtains at the window to prevent prying eyes. I was delighted by this display, carefully arranged, inviting people to pause and look in. A reminder of Spring and hope for all of us. The woman strode out into the surf, but it was the dog who had second thoughts. It’s usually the other way round!
TH wrote: Yesterday I walked from my front door down to the River Almond along to the Union Canal where I followed the path towards Ratho, rejoined the road at Clifton cottage and walked back round to Lins Mill where I retraced the river walk to complete my loop on a cloudy, but bright day. So many birds around chirruping, calling or singing mellifluously – various tits, magpies, chiff chaffs, blackbirds, wood pigeons, pheasants, a robin, a thrush, a woodpecker tapping away….babbling brooks and the rush of river water contrasting with the silence and stillness of the canal. I’ve never seen so many roe deer as close to home before – a cluster of four stood staring at me through the trees for a good while, before bolting away. So many hosts of golden daffodils in varied hues. A few folk about, everyone greets each other these days even if just with a smile – we’re all in this together. Her video is here on Facebook
MS wrote: Short walk around Duddingston Golf Course today, around 40 minutes, left approximately 12 noon. Warm overcast day, took a few cuttings while I was out. His video is on Facebook here
MG wrote: 17.07 to 17.57 on April 04, 3.6 kms through Bishops Park, Fulham, London, England 🏴 I usually walk in the morning and around the bridges in the weekends (7kms), but that was before the lockdown…I thought it would be less busy at tea time as Hammersmith & Fulham reopened parks (and had dozens of volunteers help the park patrol avoid big gatherings). I enjoyed walking in the middle of the street as no one is taking their cars anymore. I sat on a bench facing the sunset, closed my eyes and enjoyed a little breeze and the warmth of the sun on my face, knees and shinbones… listening to a big variety of birds 🐦 🦅 🦢 wishing I could name them… my sense of smell is not impressed as I haven’t recorded any smell in my notes despite taking loads of pictures of blooming trees…plan for next time to try and smell more… As I listen to the birds there is suddenly an airplane ✈️ loosing speed above us, I remember the « nextdoor » chat the other day saying we « only » had 120 airplanes that day instead of the common 1200…we are on one of Heathrow landing paths! Walking back I pass a house with 2 families having an informal gathering (with respect to the two meters rule between the two groups), and I smile as our neighbours have had a few of these meetings today already… enjoy your weekend! ☯️💖
DO wrote: I left my flat at 5.45pm and walked to Brighton Park in Portobello, Edinburgh. The street is quiet. I take a few photos along the way and a video of me running away from someone who is coughing loudly. At 5.50pm, all is quiet in the park except for the sound of buses on Brighton Place. Today feels like a layer of grief and sadness has been lifted. I was meditating earlier and I felt Earth’s heart. In the park, I felt Earth saying, “Thank you.” Joy and sadness. Joy at the sound of Spring: birds and a palpable sense of hope that we are entering a new phase of existence. Sadness at the irony of being enclosed indoors during a time of renewal. Feeling my feet on the ground. Grateful for this moment. And I love old trees, they have seen a lot. I miss Hampstead Heath. At 6.00pm, the church clock from the Catholic church chimed. It was very touching. Awaken, it seemed to say, we are being called to tune in to our inner being, a new tempo. 🙏
SG wrote: My route began in midday as I stepped out of my home in Tel Aviv, Israel. I started in the front lawn of the building and continued onwards across the road, weaving through the neighbouring buildings. I listened and recorded the peaceful sounds of nature and the chirping birds overwhelming the atmosphere with their beauty. We are not allowed to venture out that much, only up to 100 meters. My walk was not very long, nonetheless it was meaningful. I took a few photos of what caught my attention: a bicycle ( a passion of mine), a tire filled with plants, a blank sign and a guitar (music and nature which I can’t live without)… The blank sign, I felt, was very much like a path of uncertainty and acceptance. I accept that life has a route for each one of us and we don’t hold the reins for the most part, so we might as well walk with acceptance 🙂 I discovered a tree stump and it automatically took me to a fovourite of mine, Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” which has always been such a profound impact in my life. Most noticeably, I took a moment to breath in and observe my surroundings. A hedgehog accompanied me, which reminded me that this place called earth is not only my home. A photo of a sign in Hebrew that said love which always resonates within me. I feel it is best to end with “And the tree was happy”. Thank you, be humble and be safe. 🙏
RV wrote: Location: Eastern Fjords, Iceland. Town called Neskaupstadur. Walked 40 minutes, between 15:35, finished 16:15. Weather: south-western, strong winds, but sun. We had a metre of snow yesterday but today’s winds and 10 degrees has melted it all. Walked from the harbour, past the small boat harbour to the estuary where the glacial river enters the sea. Today there were icefloes in the harbour, the river has broken her icy shakkles at last. The black volcanic sand beach had heaps of snow and jagged ice, the river itself running dark grey and loud between the narrows. We walk here five or so times a week, it is never the same walk. Different boats in the harbour; trawlers, freight carriers of frozen fish, oil tankers, small boats. They have started the Lumpsucker roe season, dragging the nets weekly, but the weekend’s storm made the takings light. Migratory birds coming back. The black helmeted seagull, orange legged oyster catchers, eider ducks, black backed gulls. The Faroese say Spring comes when the oyster catchers return. The Icelanders welcome Spring with the Golden Plover. We heard the Oyster catchers “peep peep” and the “hum umm” of the eider ducks, the wind constantly in our ears. Not many cars, people walking, children, dogs, but everyone cautious, wary.
CD wrote: A walk yesterday in my neighbourhood of Castelnau-le-Lez, very close to Montpellier, but very quick to be in nature. 🙏 It is also a stop on the Compostella road. I like to stroll through the streets looking in the gardens, all the different trees : laurel, olive, palm, lilac, roses, pin parasols (a type of oak), thyme, rosemary, iris, wild orchids. I walk to the top of a hill where I can see the sea – so close, but too far for now. It’s the feeling of containment that give that little, but very present, pressure of not being able to … this brings energy to a point that helps good transformation of what needs to transform in the moment. In fact, it’s a present, une “aubaine” as we say it in French (a boon in English). Then enjoying space lying down in the sun in the grass full of little herbs and flowers. So good. Her videos are on Facebook here about which she wrote: No words needed 😁🙏
VS wrote: Lovely walk on fields. Keep coming back daily to watch a sunset.So beautiful yet diferent every day. Pics were captured 19:21-19:26, a shorg video at 19:24. Her video is here on Facebook
Here, now, is the full video of the sounds which were collected by the people above, for you to watch when / if you are stuck inside, or if you would like to hear what it sounds like in different parts of the world.
#walkgoesviral March 2020 (This event has now taken place)
A virus is a tiny particle and needs a host cell to be able to live and spread. If each of us takes a short walk this weekend; if we all listen and record the sounds around us and the feelings which go with them; within a 2 km / 1 mile radius; and if I host a platform for collating these – then we can co-create a record of our extraordinary times. For those who cannot leave the house or hospital, we will collect the sounds of the outside for them to hear indoors.
You might take a circular walk or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair or buggy.
For children and adults, dogs and tortoises.
Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude. If you do have to talk, make a note of why and when)
You have 5 tasks to complete –
You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:
Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home) – you can make a list or be creative
Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons)
When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form.
Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Please note these things when you share:
Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at…
Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…
Here is an example:
I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose)
Note down anything else you think is interesting eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well.
What is the point of doing this?
To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel
To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time
To know that when you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation
For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
To see what happens
To create a record of this event for posterity
You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other
Facebook group called Walk This Weekend
I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey
Once you have shared, I will
Collate the data and share in a blog
Record how many people walked and where
I will make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help appreciated as I am an amateur)
I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else)
Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted.
Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.
In Walking Between Worlds – 2, we had got as far as the North Leith Burial Ground. So, I pick up the account there.
Along the road and down to the right beside Coburg House artists studios (well worth a visit) is the gloriously orange, former St Ninian’s Chapel (you can see St N (360 – 432 AD) carved onto the doors of fellow Saint, Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. Ninian represents the Picts). A 15th century bridge chapel, it is part of the complicated history of North Leith Parish Church which can be found on Wikipedia to get you started.
As we crossed Sandport Bridge, I drew attention to Broad Wynd on the left, where the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society hospital and clinic were first situated (of which, more later).
Along Tolbooth Wynd we wandered, and on to Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). The Leith stories were starting to fit into themes: Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery. Also a botanist, she founded Kew Gardens, was married to King George III, had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey and is owned by the Scottish National Galleries (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. Recent articles have posed the question, is she of African origin?
At the Hideout Cafe (where I had a delicious and expensive hot chocolate on a previous occassion), we turned onto Constitution Street which is currently shut to traffic on account of the endless and frustrating tram works, but is therefore blessedly quiet to walk along. We continued on, past St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church, to the South Leith Parish Church and its graveyard.
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star, Guide of the wand'rer here below! Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care, Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea, Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
I spent some time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and discovered that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community. Amongst other things, he was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society (see above) which was formed 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital on Mill Lane, and bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
Some of my information was gleaned from ‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.
(Incidentally, the Leith King James Hospital was demolished in 1822, and part of the wall can still be seen today, forming the boundary between the Kirkgate and the South Leith Kirkyard).
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life – wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her head was chopped off by said dad. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. She is, therefore, invoked in thunderstorms and is also the patroness of miners, although I am no sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams, they found mass graves. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and everyone was smaller and showed signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the workhouse.
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I read out a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. I was attempting to recognise how many there were who we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
Ann McRuear Relick of…
Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
Once in Robbies bar on the corner of Iona Street and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start, I summed up the walk: It had taken us approximately 2.5 hours and we mused and meditated on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, on the cusp of the new moon; on women’s stories and how they are so often seen through the lens of their menfolk and are hard to celebrate in their own right; of the hardship of life in centuries gone by; and death, its symbols and community rituals.
I explained that I hoped to make a map which somehow denotes and represents this event, that will contain some of its psychogeography: Wikipedia quotes Guy Debord on this: psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” I think of it as a map with humanity, not simply measurements and precise locations, but including feelings, activities and conversational responses as well.
I would like to thank everyone who came along with me. If you have information about these women, have walked a similar walk, or would like to share anything about these subjects, please do so in the comments box below.
I chose to focus on women’s stories during this walk, because, as a woman and a feminist, it is necessary to know about who came before me, I need to know my backstory. I find that it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. There were also women’s events taking place in the city that weekend, under the banner ‘Do What You Always Wish You Dared’. I was involved in the 2019 Audacious Women Festival, sitting on a panel which looked at women who travel and move to different countries: how we support ourselves, make friends, manage the language difficulties and so on. That women-only event engendered a lively discussion with the audience, women of all ages sharing their emmigrent and immigrent experiences. This guided walk was open to men and women, children and dogs, and it was something I was daring to do for the first time!
After leaving the Rosebank Cemetery, we crossed Bonnington Road, a toll road at the end of the 18th century. We entered into what would have been Bonnytoun (pretty village in Scots), encompassing mills and land which was part of the Barony of Broughton (mentioned in a Royal Charter 1143). Flanking both sides of the road are modern estates as well as the much older red stone, Burns Tenements (on the right) which used to be the tannery. Incidentally, we were going to be seeing the graves of leather workers with their pincer tongs and other tools adorning them in the North Leith Burial Ground, further along the way. Using the power of the Water of Leith, there was a conglomeration of businesses in the area and there is one existing mill wheel in the mill lade at Bonnyhaugh Cottages (on the left).
Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant. I have not been able to find out anything about her and her life – her story has disappeared, perhaps deemed less important than his, despite the fact that he would not exist if it weren’t for her, not least because birthing was such a dangerous task in the 1780’s. Grant was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (US) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia (US) was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, due to the female and male slaves who carried out the work: they were, ‘the driving force behind the success of the plantation’. (Amy Hedrick, author on glynngen.com)
Historically it [birth] was thoroughly natural, wholly unmedical, and gravely dangerous. Only from the early eighteenth century did doctors begin getting seriously involved, with obstetrics becoming a medically respectable specialty and a rash of new hospitals being built. Unfortunately, the impact of both was bad. Puerperal, or childbed, fever was a mystery, but both doctors and hospitals made it worse. Wherever the medical men went the disease grew more common, and in their hospitals it was commonest of all.
We turned our backs on Elizafield to view Flaxmill Place. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported. It was so successful (employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women although the data is unavailable), that we know the Mills were able to loan Edinburgh Council a great deal of money. The Bonnington Mills, on the banks of the Water of Leith, made woollen cloth as well as linen and much of the wool was produced by women in their own homes nearby. The owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, which resulted in the controversial introduction of Flemish and French workers (accommodated at Little Picardy(ie), the current Picardy Place). The women and girls spun the cambric yarn (for the close-woven, light type of linen), to try and improve the quality of the cloth, but this took away the local jobs (sound familiar?)
In 1686, the first Parliament of James VII passed an ‘Act for Burying in Scots Linen’, the object of which was to keep the cloth in the country. It was enacted that, “hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet, or anything else except in plain linen, or cloth of hards, made and spun within the kingdom, without lace or point.” Heavy penalties were attached to breaches of the Act, and it was made the duty of the parish minister to receive and record certificates of the fact that all bodies were buried as directed. On hearing this, we can imagine that the women in the graves we were visiting may have been bound in just such a linen shroud, made right in this place.
Before the Industrial Revolution, hand spinning had been a widespread female employment. It could take as many as ten spinners to provide one hand-loom weaver with yarn, and men did not spin, so most of the workers in the textile industry were women. The new textile machines of the Industrial Revolution changed that. Wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had previously spun found themselves unemployed. In a few locations, new cottage industries such as straw-plaiting and lace-making grew and took the place of spinning, but in other locations women remained unemployed.
Joyce Burnett (2008) This webpage has some fascinating pictures of women spinning at home and in the factory
A little further up the road was the original site of the Chancellot Mill (now on Lindsay Place) and this was where corn was ground into flour (perhaps the reason for those corn cobs on the Persevere flag?) It was steam powered and had an 185 foot high clock tower. Producing 43 sacks an hour (twice the original prediction), it was described as ‘the most handsome flour mill in the world’!
They were growing cannabis in the basement of The Bonnington and it spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night, causing the whole building to burn down. True or false?
Water of Leith
I invited the group to look into the water and think of the phrase ‘time immemorial’. Legally, this refers to the years before 1189, being the date set in 1275 as the time before which no one could remember, and therefore no legal cases could deal with events before that date. ‘Time out of mind,’ recorded from the fifteenth century, is just the plain English version of the same thing.
As we crossed Anderson Place, I read out a quote from the Tao Te Ching: The Master gives herself up to whatever the moment brings. She knows that she is going to die, and she has nothing left to hold on to: no illusions in her mind, no resistances in her body. She doesn’t think about her actions; they flow from the core of her being. She holds nothing back from life; therefore she is ready for death, as a woman is ready for sleep after a good day’s work. (50)
North Leith Burial Ground
After rounding the corner of the Water of Leith and meeting the confluence of the wonderful network of Edinburgh cycle paths, we mounted the steps onto Coburg Street where the North Leith Burial Ground is situated. According to The Spirit of Leithers (a Facebook Group) it is ‘The dead centre of Leith’!
The memorial stones are old (1664 – 1820) and varied: grand mausoleums, individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all with engravings worth seeing. This was a good time for a ‘treasure hunt’: to search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh; a long bone; angels and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).
Lady Mackintosh is famous for raising a regiment for Prince Charlie’s 1745 uprising (variously known as the Jacobite, the ’45 rebellion or the ’45). It was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart.
In fact Lady Mackintosh is not here – she probably lies under the flats next door! How many people know that they are working or living over the top of dead bodies?
Please join me in a circular walking tour (of approx. 2.5 hrs) to muse and meditate on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, life and death and on the cusp of the new moon.
We will be visiting the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground and South Leith Parish Church. Briefly, at each stopping place, we will face the memorial stones, and have the chance to learn about their incumbents.
The steps taken from one to the next, will be equally, if not more important. You might like to walk in memory of a loved one, or muse on your own life and mortality. It will be an opportunity for exchange or silent contemplation on these topics. I hope to make a map after, and of, this event that will contain some of its psychogeography (see below).
Meeting at the join of Pilrig Street and Leith Walk, opposite the location of the Boundary Bar (now renamed as Bier Hoose) which marked the former border between Leith and Edinburgh; Terminating at Robbies (the corner of Iona St and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start) for libation and conversation about where we have been – both in ourselves and the city. You are welcome to join us at any stage of the walk – contact Tamsin for route details if need be.
Wear hardy shoes or boots for tramping pavements and negotiating sodden grass between stones and at the edge of the Water of Leith. This event is free of charge.
Psychogeography is ‘The study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’
Terminus was one of the really old Roman gods – he didn’t have a statue, he was a stone marker – and his origin, associated with a physical object, and lack of the usual stories that go with the gods, may have originated from animalistic religions. He had influence over less physical boundaries too, like that between two months, or between two groups of people. Terminalia was celebrated on the 23rd February – which was the last day of the Roman Year, the boundary between two new years.
Women Who Walk
Tamsin Grainger is a member of Women Who Walk. The network is for women who use walking in their creative or academic practice. It includes artists, writers, field historians and archaeologists, psychogeographers, academics and more.
Please note that there is no religious content to this event. Dogs and children are welcome. There are no flights of steps.