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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are lots of things I could do to face up to the serious climate crisis I find myself part of. I could stay at home and recycle, join a committee and work towards political change, lie down on the M25 and get put in prison to raise awareness, I could throw myself in front of a horse to get attention.
Why walk instead of doing anything else? Why would I stop earning (I’m self employed), pay for someone to be at home to look after my cat, and walk in the unpredictable Scottish weather?
The statements of intent of Pilgrimage for COP26 are these:
We’re walking to raise awareness of the climate and ecological crisis.
We’re reflecting on that crisis as it relates to our own lives, the communities we pass through and the lives of those already impacted; both human and more-than-human.
We’re building a community of witness and resistance committed to climate justice now and in the wake of COP26.
Yet still I find myself asking, but why walk? I could run or cycle and there are lots of other ways to raise awareness, to reflect, and build a committed community.
My answer: because walking is special.
It is very slow, a counterpoint to the speed of life. (Google tells me it would take me 1 hour and 24 minutes to drive from Dunbar to Glasgow now, but it will take us 8 days to walk).
It leaves very little trace; although I disturb undergrowth, probably inadvertently step on unsuspecting creatures, and leave my temporary footprints, it is the least destructive way of moving across the country.
Each step reminds me that I rely on the earth to hold me up and that the earth relies on me to stand on it – it’s reciprocal.
The vibrations that my stepping cause are not the same as the shaking of the ground by a lorry, say, rolling on tarmac. The moving through air I do at my pace (approximately 3 miles an hour) contrasts with the displacement a Boeing 737 makes.
Walking interacts with weather. Not knowing whether I will be walking through rain, sun or snow at the beginning of every day is, yes, not abnormal for this country at this time of year, but the attentiveness I have when I walk, and the fact that I have walked here before, means that I will notice the climactic differences. The skin on my cheek will be aware of the relative warming, my muscles of my back will sense the increased wind speeds in comparison to last year, the joints of my feet will register the dwindling peat they walk on.
The quality, and energy of walking is different, and it matches the quality of focus and the listening energy I want to apply to this issue.
What we have collectively wrought (most of us) upon the environment, is so very complex. There are strands of destruction, fibres of difficulties and damage which have become interwoven over centuries, a fabric of knots and snags and imperfections brought about by misinformation, neglect, greed and thoughtlessness. And when you pull one thread, it all starts to unravel and that’s scary and huge to see; it’s hard to know where to begin to stitch it all together again in a more durable and compassionate way.
Though I am not a religious person, my belief in the act of walking gently and kindly, allowing myself time to notice and reflect, is like the nun’s faith that sitting quietly and performing her daily duties mindfully will make a difference; that opening her heart to the way things really are and facing that, will affect change, that it will alter the fabric of life the way it is now. I am a Shiatsu practitioner and those of us who give Shiatsu know that because the whole universe is made of the same stuff, chi, we can affect it with a thought, touch or word.
Or a step.
Walking for Water
Walking for water is not going for a breath of fresh air, a pilgrimage, a stroll, a hike. It is not a parade, a protest march, a sponsored whatever. It is not a way to stretch your legs, or have that conversation. Walking for water is not to see an unmissable sight. It is not on any body’s bucket list.
It is the flight of a migrating bird, a cruel calculation of distance, fuel and energy burned.
by Lydia Kennaway from A History of Walking (2019:25)
On 29th October, all being well, we will walk into Glasgow after travelling parts of the John Muir Way and St Ninian’s Way, on foot, in a collective effort. We will make “A walk and a learning journey … to reflect on the climate and ecological crisis in anticipation of the COP26.”
Our route visits
Edinburgh (where we will stay on Saturday and Sunday)
taking in coastal, cycle, urban, industrial, canal and river paths.
Many of you will know that I enjoy walking secular pilgrimage, that the act of stepping out each day with a simple pack on my back satisfies something vital in me. Walking sequential trails which connect town to country to village to city, whether the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Sacra in Austria or the St Magnus Way in Orkney, is a way to reflect on, process and enliven my regular life.
This pilgrimage differs specifically from any of the others I have done before because it will be done in community. I am a solitary walker and I value my privacy highly, even though I do meet people along the path and enjoy their company at times. This COP26 pilgrimage, however, is a group activity. It invites people to walk together for a few hours, several days or the whole, and to be a part of a growing conversation about the many facets of the climate emergency in the light of the international meeting of world leaders at the beginning of November in Glasgow. We will discuss, think about, and inevitably come up with questions, maybe even solutions (practical or ideal) in the face of the situation we find ourselves in. Whatever happens we will be able to support each other in our feelings – grief, frustration, anger, hopelessness – in the face of what is happening to our beautiful world right now.
My focus for the pilgrimage is on the link between grief and walking, something that arises over and over, not just for me but for others as well (see the book Marram by Leonie Charlton for example). My enquiry will build on my previous writing (Working with Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice’ (Singing Dragon 2020) and articles/blogs) and the Shiatsu client work I have been engaged in over the past 30 years, as well as my own personal rambles.
I will continue to collect a feather a day, usually the first I come across, as these long-time symbols of freedom and transcendence and their common use in ritual are often connected with the feelings we have when we are grieving or bereaved. It remains to be seen what the feathers will be used for or come to represent in the context of this pilgrimage.
If you would like to join us for some or all of this walk. Please read about it here and sign up here. You will be most welcome.
A site-specific sound-art installation in the Trinity Tunnel on route 13 (Trinity to Granton) of the Edinburgh cycle path network where it goes under East Trinity Road #nobirdsland
Now in place! August – November 2021
Find it here: ///hands.calculating.wiping (South end) wins.trial.preoccupied (North end) 55.976045, -3.203276
This is the link for the sound poem which you can listen to as you walk through the tunnel. You will need headphones to hear it. It is hosted by soundcloud and this link will take you there:
You can also access the sound poem from the QR code on the signs at either end of the tunnel if you have a smart phone.
Our wildlife is key to our environment, and, with so many of our iconic bird populations in decline, it’s vital that we invest in supporting and protecting them. It’s a unique piece of art and I’m looking forward to visiting it. I’m always excited in art that explores wildlife and our environment. I will be heading to the unlikely location of Trinity Tunnel where I will stop, relax and listen to the birds.
Scottish Greens MSP for Lothian, Lorna Slater
In the poem, I am not pretending to be a bird, nor reproducing or emulating realistic bird sounds and song. I am acknowledging how easily we attempt to wield power over other species and appropriate others’ languages without their permission.
Sometimes it’s only when you don’t see them that you notice they’re not there.
The Trinity Tunnel is a disused railway tunnel that is now part of the extensive Edinburgh cycle path network. Before and after entering the tunnel, the air is full of birdsong; inside there is little or none. This sound-art installation recognises that no birds land or alight there (although occasionally one flies through), that it is a sort of ‘No Man’s Land’ for birds, though humans built the sandstone structure to transport goods and each other between Granton Harbour and the rest of the city.
No Man’s Land originally denoted contested territory between fiefdoms, even a place of execution. It is now often remembered as a WW1 area of land between two trench systems which neither side wished to cross due to fear of attack and death. Except, that is, on Christmas Eve of 1914 when it is known that British, French and German soldiers came together to smoke a cigarette, carry out joint burial ceremonies, and have a chat – somehow communicating in their different languages.
In this place of cold stone where moisture trickles and calcite forms weird shapes, no birds land and no birds sing.
You will find signs saying ‘Stop! Listen to the Birds! at the two entrances to the Trinity Tunnel which is 183 of my paces long (146 yards, 390 foot). A double track railway ran through here from 1842. Above your head is an elliptical or horse-shoe shaped roof with new, brighter lighting (thanks to the council).
In the tunnel itself there are a series of hooks on the west wall (as you are walking towards Granton), which were for cables and wires when the tunnel was used by the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway before it ceased operations in 1986. Festooned along them is a length of bunting made of found materials with illustrations of birds. On the reverse of each pennant is a word which aims to recreate a bird sound, an explicit appropriation of an other-than-human ‘language’. A pennant is a commemorative flag, used historically, but I prefer to call it Bunting, a word that has been used since the 14th century for a lark-like bird which we know as yellow-hammers. Yellow hammers are said to sound as if they are saying ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Try saying it fast!
The birds you see are sketches and impressions, they’re not real. The sounds you can read on the reverse of the pennants are rough translations of what are actually rich varieties of tone and timbre. They have been translated into the less melodious, simplistic human words. The only bird sounds you will hear in the tunnel are these approximations: tic tic tic tic – the Robin’s warning call, chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff, tweet tweet tweet, you know how it goes – chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp. I cannot play you their songs in this place, even if, as in the Japanese shopping centres, they might calm you, bring a smile to your face.
This is no place for the birds; this land, like so much of the British Isles and elsewhere, is inhospitable and uninviting to them.
Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.
Rachel Carson from Silent Spring
In the Trinity Tunnel there are no ledges nor perches, no nooks and crannies to nest in. There is nowhere here to stand and preen feathers or sing from. We are replacing old barns and houses which had eaves and rafters, with edifices of vast glass windows and metal corners, but birds cannot live or raise their young in and on them. We are clearing hedges, spraying pesticides and extending fields so far to the edges that birds natural habitats are destroyed and poisoned. In the UK, we have created places where birds used to, but cannot now thrive. This has resulted in drastic changes in avian behaviour and deaths. There is more info on the RSPB site here.
In the 2 minutes it takes me to walk through the tunnel, it is believed that 2 pairs of breeding birds will disappear. (See below for source).
If we listen, tune in to birds, we can learn. Mozambican people can whistle to honey birds (or honeyguide birds) and understand their calls. The birds tell them where the bees are, the people harvest the honey and this lets the birds get the wax and grubs afterwards. It benefits both – it really happens.
scientists have now discovered that the birds can be attracted out of the trees by a distinctive trilling sound that local hunter-gatherers use while looking for honey. According to the researchers, hunters are taught this special trilling noise by their fathers.
Jules Howard in The Guardian
In other parts of the world, women and men have learned to flute and trill like their native birds, so that their voices carry across dense forests. They are amplified, making sounds that are far bigger than we are (like wrens do closer to home).
There are some who recognise the difference between a warning call and a serenade – think of that! If we all knew and taught our children, we could choose to keep out of the way of birds when they are nesting, and delight in their courtship rituals. We could be warned, too, that a hawk is overhead or a fox on the prowl down below.
In the absence of birds, we would have to create them, to create our own version of them, their song, and appearance. But I ask you, how long will it be before we forget what they sounded and looked like, before we have to rely only on recordings and photos? Will we lose the memory of what delights us about them, will we forget our felt sense of how they really were, how it was to be in the same world as them?
In the silence of the Trinity Tunnel, you don’t have the privilege of being regaled with their songs.
No Birds Land is in partnership with the RSPB and Sustrans.
With thanks to the City of Edinburgh Council and the following people: Ewan Davison, Ken Cockburn, Cosmo Blake from Sustrans, Erica Mason and Nick Hawkes from RSPB, Fiona Underhill of the City of Edinburgh Council, Eleanor Bird, Jim Campbell, Amy McNeese-Mechan, Logan Rutherford, Alan Moonie, Stephen Knox, Cammy Day, and Alice Cockburn.
If you are not in Edinburgh, you can also walk alone or organise a group in your urban area and walk with them.
You can choose whether to walk at the same time as we do (walking together in time if not space) or at a time of your own choice before the online meeting.
Age and ability: You can do this walk and the associated activities whatever your age and ability. Please adjust it to fit you and your circumstances. You may need to find a proxy to walk your route for you, directing them to certain trees and talking with them about what you are feeling.
Making a record of your tree-feelings: Throughout this walk you will be encouraged to record your tree-feelings using any medium you want. Please choose the ones you like, or want to experiment with. Further down this page you will find a list of ways to record.
The online meeting
We are part of a tree’s ecosystem. What does the tree offer us? What do we offer it? We will have a conversation about this and refer to our feelings and sensations to do so.
What will the online meeting involve? We will listen, talk to, and share our tree-feelings with each other. We will start with ‘Standing Like a Tree’ a very simple chi gung exercise (2 minutes) to root ourselves and a few moments of sitting quietly to recall our tree-time. Then we will have a conversation about:
Our symbiosis with trees: the interaction between trees and us, organisms which live in close physical association, to the advantage of us both
Our relationship with them: the way in which we are connected
How we cohabit with trees: the state or fact that we live and exist at the same time and in the same place
Our co-dependency: how we both need each other, sometimes to the detriment of the other
Our reliance: how we depend on or trust in trees and them in us, how we depend on each other
And then the plan is to draw some conclusions about the value of feelings when it comes to our respect and protection of trees, something to add to the better-known ways of relating to them – counting, describing, naming and classifying.
Date: May 22
Zoom link: Supplied by Urban Tree Fest
The overall aim of the event is
To get up close and cosy with an urban tree or trees
To find out whether and why we value them
To use our own felt, visceral, bodily experience to do this, rather than information from a book, screen or expert
To creatively broaden the remit for collecting data by using a wider variety of methods to find out their effect on us, including our sensual and personal reactions
Please keep all your information, artwork, videos and so on handy or uppermost in your mind so that when we meet online, you can share what you felt and found. We will be talking about what tree or trees you visited and sharing descriptions and images of them, and we will focus specifically on how you felt when you were with it/them.
Ways to record
Words – prose, poetry, traditional data collection methods, mind map. You can type on your phone in an email to someone you know or to the whats app or facebook group You can ask someone else to transcribe for you. You can tweet using #Treefeelingwalk and #urbantreefestival
Visual images – draw, photograph, paint, sculpt or visually depict in another way. Materials: clay, plasticine, pencil, paints, crayons, chalks, charcoal, paper, canvas
Sound – record your feelings and findings on your phone, or say them out loud to the tree or to someone else. If you don’t know where the sound recording app is on your phone, try Tools. Or you can probably download one for free
Film – video yourself speaking your feelings and thoughts, or the tree and the sounds around it
Music – sing, play a musical instrument, listen to the rhythm inside yourself or the tree and tap or drum it out (you may want to record it)
Mapping or GPS record of the route
Please note that if you want to collect found materials, please respect the tree and its natural surroundings. Don’t break parts off or remove something that another organism might need and rely on!
What to record
The tree itself: its girth, height and age – You can measure on the spot using a tape measure or a long piece of string/wool/rope that you measure when you get home. You could try pacing around it, measuring with your hands, embracing it and seeing how big the circle you make is (maybe you have to join hands with someone else). If it is tall, stand back and look up, if small stand beside it. Use metaphors! Is it ‘like’ you or someone or something else? For example, as big as a barrel, as tall as a street lamp, as small as your finger, 60 times bigger than you, as tall as that house over there, like a crane…..
Here is a pdf to help you measure and find out the age of trees pdf
The tree’s identification: If you want to know its scientific or vernacular name, you could try the Leafsnap app or other suitable one which can be downloaded onto your phone
Or look in a book. Here is a booklist published by the Tree Council
The Area Tree Composition: Describe the geographical area where your tree is situated – note how many trees there are, how close they are to each other, write their names if you know them or do a drawing of them altogether in a group (eg 2 birch, 4 ash all about 3 paces apart, planted in holes in the pavements outside people’s houses).
Draw a map of your walk, or download the route and mark or draw the trees on it.
In the trunk of the tree(s) you have drawn, note down a feeling that you had while you were there (don’t judge yourself, be instinctive!). Growing on and hanging from the branches, write the thoughts you had while you were there. Here is an example on the webpage.
Compile a ‘fact’ sheet of trees in your immediate area using some of the methods above
This blog is related to walks I have led in life and online which focus on the lives of Leith’s women. They were associated with the Audacious Women Festival.
Focus on women
I am focusing on women’s stories because as a woman and a feminist I need to know who came before me, about my backstory; it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. I have a special interest in the lives of people who are forgotten or overlooked, and especially those who were connected to the area where I have lived for so long. I took solitary and group walks to visit the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground, and South Leith Parish Church, stopping at streets between them to discover more about the women who lived there.
Leith had grown into an independent burgh by 1833, but despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against, it was merged with the City of Edinburgh in 1920. Located by the sea, we have records of its wharfs being in use as far back as the eleventh century, and know that by the fourteenth, it had become the principal port. (After that Glasgow took over offering quicker passages to the Americas). The docks in the right hand picture above (named after Victoria (Queen), Albert (her consort) etc) were built between 1817-1904. Many of the women we will be finding out about will have seen those changes happening, they and their families would have relied on it, and sailed in and out through it.
I have spent a great deal of time trying to discover information about the women buried in Leith, and have not found as much as I would have hoped. I did come across a record with the names of the women in the Leith Poor House in the eighteenth century which made very interesting reading, but very little detail about their lives, and thus I scoured newspaper cuttings, Facebook, local history groups, and online links for associated details. Nevertheless, thinking about these women I never knew, searching for details about their lives, and trying to understand what it might have been like for them to live in Leith / Scotland in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries has been worthwhile, emotionally and symbolically.
As we all know, behind the inventions and developments, the ports and ships and grand buildings which were built then, and which have survived almost entirely with the names of men attached to them, were women and girls giving birth, loving and supporting them.
The women who were buried with headstones, so that we know their name and sometimes, their family affiliations, came from monied families and/or were married to men with money. Although the language you will find on them is archaic to our ears ‘Sarah Adam relict of Alex…’ these were wives, sisters and mothers who were ‘loved and respected’ and ‘much missed’. I will continue to be interested and to listen to as many stories as I can, to unearth not the bodies but the lives of them.
One of the most famous graves in Rosebank is that commemorating Ida Bononomi (probably Italian). It reads, ‘Sacred to the memory of Miss Ida Bonanomi, the faithful and highly esteemed dresser of Queen Victoria, who departed this life October 15 1854, in the 37th year of her age. Beloved and respected by all who knew her.This stone had been placed by Queen Victoria as a mark of her regard’.
Bononomi’s job was a position of extreme intimacy with the monarch. In the Autumn of 1854, Ida had been travelling in Scotland with the Queen and stayed with her at Holyrood Palace where she fell ill. She was therefore unable to travel on with her mistress. In her journal, the Queen wrote, ‘Saw Sir James Clark, who brought me a telegram with the sad news that my excellent maid Ida Bononomi, whom I had had to leave at Holyrood as she had become so ill, not having been well at Balmoral before – had died last night. It was a great shock to me, & I was thoroughly upset, for no one, including Sir James had apprehended any immediate danger. She was the kindest, gentlest, best being possible, & such a pleasant servant, so intelligent, so trustworthy & her calm, quiet manner had such a soothing effect, on my often over wrought nerves. To lose her thus, and so far away, surrounded only by strangers is too grievous. Everyone was shocked & grieved, for she was quite adored.’
Queen Victoria liked funerals and had an interest in the protocol of mourning, ‘a mentality as much as a personal observance’ (see below for references). It is known that she recognised the deaths of her housemaids and others with ritual in which other members of the household were require to be involved, and also that she visited Ida’s grave six years after she died.
There are, of course, many other graves of interesting women in this cemetery, and there is also one which commemorates the stillborn babies who, by Scots law, cannot be cremated and must be buried. Annie Blackie is said to be the oldest person buried here (105 years). There is a rare female WW1 war grave to E G Elder of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (7/7/18) and a WW2 memorial to E W L Fruish, also of the WRNS.
Jessie Mann (1805-1867) is a strong candidate for Scotland’s first female photographer. She was known to be the studio assistant of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson and worked at Rock House, Calton Hill. Later a school housekeeper in Musselburgh, she died of a stroke aged 62. She is thought to be the photographer of the King of Saxony which hangs in the Portrait Gallery on Queen’s Street (yes! the same queen).
Turning left out of Rosebank, we can walk across the junction and along Newhaven Road. Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant (not Dr Robert Edmond Grant, zoologist). I have not been able to find out anything about her and her life – her story has disappeared, perhaps deemed less important than his, despite the fact that he would not exist if it weren’t for her, not least because birthing was such a dangerous task in the 1780’s.
Historically it [birth] was thoroughly natural, wholly unmedical, and gravely dangerous. Only from the early eighteenth century did doctors begin getting seriously involved, with obstetrics becoming a medically respectable specialty and a rash of new hospitals being built. Unfortunately, the impact of both was bad. Puerperal, or childbed, fever was a mystery, but both doctors and hospitals made it worse. Wherever the medical men went the disease grew more common, and in their hospitals it was commonest of all.
Eliza’s son was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties (1782-92) to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (USA) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, as a result of the female and male slaves who carried out the work: they were, ‘the driving force behind the success of the plantation’. (Amy Hedrick, author on glynngen.com).
Women in industry
Flaxmill Place is almost opposite Elizafield. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported from Scotland, and it was a very successful industry employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women (although the exact data is unavailable).
The Bonnington Mills, on the banks of the Water of Leith, made woollen cloth as well as linen, and much of the wool was produced by women in their own homes nearby. As the owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, they controversially introduced Flemish and French workers (who were accommodated at Little Picardy(ie), the current Picardy Place). The women and girls spun the cambric yarn (for the close-woven, light type of linen), to try and improve the quality of the cloth, but this took away the local jobs.
Before 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 the majority 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.
In 1686, the first Parliament of James VII passed an ‘Act for Burying in Scots Linen‘, the object of which was to keep the cloth in the country. It was enacted that, “hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet, or anything else except in plain linen, or cloth of hards, made and spun within the kingdom, without lace or point.” Heavy penalties were attached to breaches of the Act, and it was made the duty of the parish minister to receive and record certificates of the fact that all bodies were buried as directed. On hearing this, we can imagine that the women in the graves we were visiting may have been bound in just such a linen shroud, made right in this place.
The remains of the Catherine Sinclair drinking fountain – the first – (she was a children’s writer and philanthropist 1800-1864) can be found at Steadfastgate, Gosford Place. See the Women of Scotland site for more details.
North Leith Burial Ground
Colonel Lady Anne Mackintosh (b 1723-1787) was the daughter of John Farquharson, the chief of the clan and staunch Jacobite. She married the head of the Mackintosh(es) when she was aged 19 and was feisty by all accounts, known as one of the damn rebel bitches (the name of a book by Maggie Craig). These were women who acted as moral supporters for their men. They served in intelligence and communication roles, built support for the movement, sheltered Jacobite fugitives, and had their image torn apart by the enemy press in their attempt to discredit the Jacobite cause.
When Anne was 22, she dressed in male attire and rode around the Scottish glens to enlist men to fight in a regiment for the cause Prince Charlie. This was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart in what became known as the 1745 Jacobite uprising or ’45 rebellion’ or, simply, ‘The 45’. The numbers of men she raised are different in each account, from 97 to 200, 350, even 400!
“The ‘ladies’ all got off with at worst, a brief term of imprisonment. Some made pretty speeches to King George and got their husbands released and their lands restored. Even when in prison they were well treated, and allowed their silk gowns and nice food. This applied even in cases where they were clearly guilty of treason. ‘Common women’, on the other hand, mostly got shipped off to the West Indies as slaves for life, usually for doing nothing more than following their husbands on campaign.”
During the uprising Captain Angus Mackintosh, her husband, fought on the losing Government side at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 and was subsequently captured. He was later released into Anne’s custody. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, however, when the tides turned, Anne herself was held in Inverness for six weeks before being turned over to her mother-in-law, whose family had fought for the other side. These family disagreements were eventually forgiven and Anne and her family moved to Leith where she died in 1784 and was buried in North Leith Burial Ground which would have had a church beside it in those days. Although there is a plaque about her, he grave is not here and she probably lies under the flats to the east!
The memorial stones at North Leith Burial Ground are old (1664 – 1820) and varied. You can find grand mausoleums and individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all have engravings and carvings worth seeing. I suggested we search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh and in the process we found carvings of a long bone, angels, skulls and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).
Queen Charlotte Street
Crossing the Water of Leith again, along Sandport Place and Tolbooth Wynd is Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery (a bit of a theme emerging).
Sara Sheridan, in her book Where are the Women, tells of Elizabeth Nicol (1807-189), an abolitionist, anti-segregationist, suffragist, and chartist who “attended the World Anti-slavery Convention in London in 1840 as one of only six British female delegates. On arriving the women were told, despite their objections, they could not participate and were made to sit in a segregated area.”
Queen Charlotte was a reknowned botanist and founded Kew Gardens. Married to King George III, she had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. The painting is owned by the Scottish National Galleries. Recent articles have posed the question whether she was of African origin.
Round the corner and on to Constitution Street is St Mary’s Star of the Sea, a Catholic church and home to the missionary oblates.
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star, Guide of the wand'rer here below! Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care, Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea, Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
South Leith Parish Church
Further up the same street is St Mary’s Chapel, part of South Leith Parish Church, dating from 1483) and its graveyard. I spent some considerable time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and did manage to discover that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community.
Amongst other jobs, Patrick was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society which was formed in 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital, bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
The forerunner of that Leith Hospital was the Old King James Hospital in the Kirkgate, founded in 1614 and closed in to make room for the new one in Sheriff Brae overlooking Mill Lane in1822. You can still part of the wall close by the South Leith Parish Church.
If you were one of the very first groups of female students who were finally ‘allowed’ to do clinical training at a Scottish hospital in 1886, you would have done it in Leith – in your long skirts and tight waisted costumes.
Christine Hoy tells us about the first district nurse, Mrs Brown whose role it was “to carry out faithfully the doctors’ orders, to instruct the relations or friends of the patient in the art of good nursing and to inculcate, and if necessary enforce, attention to cleanliness”. The hospital paid for her to attend a nursing course at King’s College, London. Popular and hardworking she made 13,000 home visits in 1877 alone.
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life. Wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her father chopped her head off. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. Perhaps this is why she is invoked in thunderstorms. She is also the patroness of miners, although I am not sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams in 2019, mass graves were found. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and the bodies were smaller, showing signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the poorhouse.
The graves of Jane Eliza Mackie and Jane Smart (left)
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I made a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. This is to recognise how many women we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
Ann McRuear Relick of…
Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
These have been women’s stories, of their families, interests, occupations and deaths. They are often seen through the eyes, or in the context of men, making it hard to celebrate them in their own right, but the search to find out more about them was well worth it and is by no means over.
Walking Artists Network and Women Who Walk
Tamsin Grainger is a member of Women Who Walk and the Walking Artists Network. The network is for those who use walking in their creative or academic practice. It includes artists, writers, field historians and archaeologists, psychogeographers, academics and more.
Elspeth is a textile artist who develops collaborative walks. In 2015, she set up the group Thread and Word which takes its inspiration from a poem written by Cecilia Vicuña in Edinburgh where Elspeth also led walks once upon a time. Vicuña’s poem uses weaving as a metaphor for people engaging with each other in order to build healthy communities. In Quechua (say kecha) the word for “language” also means “thread”, and the word for “complex conversation” also means “embroidery”. In Quechua, no word exists for a singular entity.
Each artist has chosen a book, short story or a poem written by an author who is blind or visually impaired and introduces their writing to us through a creative engagement.
My little part is a pink pin on the map which when you click on it looks like this: #Distance Drift WALKING WITH VIRGINIA AND MILTON
You will need to click on the link above and then expand the actual map, just like you make a google map bigger. It’s one of the inland ones, quite central, in a wooded piece of green, one of 2 pins (blue and pink) and I am part of the pink one.
‘All our woe’ is a quote from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost‘. I have been living through, thinking and writing about grief and loss, and so wanted to include this theme in my contribution to A Different Lens 2020. Milton is referring to the Christian, biblical story of Eden and the advent of sin, how the tasting of the forbidden fruit in paradise brought death into the world and the sadness which comes with it.
I subscribe to a different view, that death is a natural part of life. This season of Autumn is the celebration of summer’s bounty, of ageing and the falling of leaves – the inevitable, annual decline. Winter is coming, the quiet time when we are advised to snuggle in like hibernating animals do, to reflect on the year that has passed and on our mutability. We won’t live for ever, and when we die, Spring will still come with its new life and fresh beginnings. We might even be reborn! With a bit of work, we can start to appreciate our small place in this cycle.
St Triduana’s Aisle is a small, hexagonal chapel and ancient holy spring in Restalrig, Edinburgh. It is dedicated to a woman who is said to have given up her sight in order to better see God. A Pictish saint, people have also made pilgrimage to a church and loch named after her (St Tredwell) on Papa Westray in Orkney.
I hope you enjoy exploring the map like I did – there are links which have links which have links – threads and weavings of poetry, music, spoken word, video and more. Please do leave a comment below if you would like to.
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.