The In-Between

A First Friday Walk – March 2021. Wardie Bay, 5 minutes from home

“We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape … into ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently.” that exists “even in familiar landscapes: ….. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographics, leaving known places outlandish or quickened,”

Robert MacFarlane

Can I help you find a term for those places? Shall we go somewhere where that happens and feel what it’s like, enquire into the difference between not-beach and beach, and see if we can come up with one?

My usual way onto Wardie Bay is up the wee slope and though the stoneledges. I leave the busy road that’s been there for nearly 200 years, and has known me for 12, and at the top I get a salty blast to the nose which dismisses the fumes. I spy a man, a long way off on the sand. He has a big rucksack and he stoops, probably looking at his phone. He’s almost a silhouette against the-place-where-the-tide-is-out. I see and inhale where I am going.

I begin the transition carefully. I turn my shoes sideways, peering down to avoid slipping. Not looking at the beach or the man, I only see my feet, one by one. I fit the long sides of my trainers into the angles where the earthed slope meets the uneven stone strips.

For a second I still. Half way. I feel the presence of the sea on my shoulders, the sky touching my hat and the wind on my ungloved hands which are stretched out at the sides of me for better balance. Something is already happening.

I run the last bit at the bottom which means that my heartbeat matches the pleasure I feel at being there. I am assailed by the wave-sound, the sea-odour and, finally, with the soles of my feet as I step from the large-rasping-pebbles onto the little-grainy-sand – I sink slightly, tilt, halt.

Now it all embraces me in one big hug, the noise, scent and feel of the beach’s surface that I like. I look out to sea and my lungs take a great deep, heaving breath.

Quite soon I lie facedown to photograph the smell of crab in the seaweed. I screw up the skin at the nape of my neck where the cold gets in, to try and stop it doing that. The bladder wrack under my elbows as I balance the camera, is dry and brittle. I am in another world and I try to capture all the wonder but I know from experience that can be tricky.

Yes, the sand. When I stand again it reminds me of velvet. Through my trainers and two pairs of socks it’s delicious. I swivel and furrow and it’s like when you sink your hands into the strands of a ball of merino wool and squeeze the softness.

I am on an expedition to find something out, so I rewind – I stare at the horizon and in my mind I start again from home. When we go somewhere we bring our anticipation of that place with us, the idea of what it will be like. I brought the way the beach was before – all the befores – layers of previous times when I had visited – with me today. And in my body when I got to the top of the steps, were the traces of everything else I had lived through up until that moment. And not only that. The beach, itself, had an imprint on it, of all the people (including me), and activities and weathers that had happened there, all accumulated in that second when I entered. I suspect that this previousness influences the way that we feel and think when an ordinary place becomes ‘quickened’.

I lie down on the sloping, freezing rock, blue-sky with white-cloud above. I shut my eyes and smell the fish. Under my closed lids I can see the shells and stones I had been looking at before.

Tobacco….drifts….merges….with perfume. 

What IS that place called, not where-I-was, and not where-I-am-now ? We know about journey, about being in transition, skimming or flying across lands and high skies to get somewhere. What do we call that place we just missed, the one we whipped through unawares? My tummy flurries when I’m approaching, the ground underneath me is altered when I arrive, but in the blink of an eye I am here, not there.

Fingers fold over cold thumbs and how smooth my skin is. I nearly sleep but the chill interferes. I rest still, not wanting to get up but knowing I’m going to.

The name of the place where I make the ‘transition’ might depend on which direction I take to get here and how I arrived.

If I chose the flat way from the street, the stonewalls very tall at the sides of me and feeling very small going between them, I would be coming upslope. At the corner I would be on a level with everyone and their dogs, able to see diagonally across to the rocks. There, hovering, no-one would notice me. Then I would run off the cobble, do a hop, skip and turn cartwheel on the sand, and land in the middle of the ring with a flourish.

Propping myself up on my elbows to look, I think. It would not be the same if I approached from the air, if I was a gull flying down, folding my wings back and stretching my thin legs out, landing on both my webbed feet at the same time. Landing lightly, making hardly a mark, the wind at my back, I would run along and get on with my search until someone disturbed me. I can’t know if some places are more special for birds, but I do see when there are suddenly hundreds not three – something is exceptional or there wouldn’t be so many at one time, they wouldn’t be so excited.

If I were a wave from the north, I would turn over calmly, spreading, rolling, on to the strand. I would canoodle and stroke and she would offer up her treasures to me willingly. Or I might come faster, rising and rising then crashing. I would buffet and pummel and she would be covered with my offerings, and our meeting would be rousing.

Yes, I am sure that the direction we take and the way we enter, influences the magic when we get there. I launch up at last and stride towards the breakwater.

There are lots of stories about transitions into other worlds that might give us ideas for this place name we are seeking. They involve complex feelings which may help us focus: There is Mary’s secret garden, found through a door under some hanging plants; Lucy’s Narnia – she went through two rows of coats with her arms stretched out in front of her, so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe; and Alice’s Wonderland which was of course accessed via a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

Mary, “… took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly—slowly. Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.” (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.)

Lucy, “… felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well.” When she felt snow under her feet and on her face, that was when she realised she was somewhere else. (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis.)

Alice has a long, slow-motion fall down “what seemed to be a very deep well”, meaning that we readers get to see, think and feel her transition. She was “not a bit hurt”. Indeed, it seemed to heighten her ‘outlandish’ response – things got much more curious as a result. Later, she got tearful when she couldn’t get through the too-small door to the garden. Her feelings on the threshold, and during the shift from one place to another, were different depending on whether it was a matter of choice or if she was catapulted there. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll).

It seems that we might hold or expel our breath, run or move slowly across the divide, feel very inquisitive, excited or upset as we go. Time may pass quickly, so that we gloss over the feelings we have there, or slow right down, giving us a hyper-real sense of it, even space to ruminate.

The birds wheel and cry, a dog races past me and splashes after the ball. I have reached the other side and have to turn back.

When we are at the portal we are half one thing, half the other; leaving and approaching at the same time. We are momentarily inserted, midway. We are about to ……… .

So, it’s decision time. What will we call it? I am back home now, balancing on the edge of the bed-base in the attic room so I can reach the sill and look over it at the beach below. I can see the place where not-there bleeds into there, and I have vertigo with the strain of it all.

‘Crossing’ or ‘passing over’ has too much redolence of death, though there is always a sort of loss associated with leaving, and, like a pilgrimage, it is really the journey that is important, not what you call it. No, I have a suggestion. The name of the place I went through, where something changed so that my familiar beach became something other, is the in-between. What do you think?

Festival of Terminalia

23rd February 2021

Today I walk an imaginary line around my house. My feet don’t leave indentations to show I have done it, not since the recent snow, and when that melted, the trace was gone. Home and back, I pace and pound my boundary line, a pathway that returns to itself, reconnects, reattaches, brings me back to the garden gate.

Snow prints. Photo by Sam MacLean

Terminalia is a one day festival of walking, space, place and psychogeography on 23rd Feburary. Terminalia is the festival of Terminus, Roman god of boundaries and landmarks so if there was ever a god and festival for psychogeography this would be it!

https://terminaliafestival.org/

They say that people walking somewhere can change a place, that the land alters because of us. Of course, it’s clear if we wear down the mountainside or trample wildflowers underfoot, if we make a desire path, flattening the grass just enough that the next person who comes by can see it and tread it afterwards. But I’m talking about the idea that the nature of a place adjusts as many people cross it for a specific reason (such as pilgrimage, religious or secular), that an ordinary location becomes imbued with a special significance after it has been walked upon by people with a shared aim or sensibility. If that’s true, do my streets, the streets which bear my weight daily, still feel me when I’m gone? Do I rub off on them somehow? Can I say I belong there?

Or is it the air above a path that is disturbed by my body moving through it, affected by my presence, retaining a whiff of me? Then, what happens when the wind blows and displaces it – have I been whisked away, or am I still there? How exactly does it work, this treading of Terminus, deity of the marking of our territory?

The wind disturbs the top layer

A crow breaks the quiet with a piercing caw on the turret, the wind finds crevices in my clothing, the odour of fish and chips invades my sense of propriety. Someone has etched into the tree’s bark and graffitied the bridge’s stone. A trickle finds a way through, waves breach the breakwater and ride roughshod over rocks. We must leave a gap or the wind will blow a solid fence over, a river bring down a protective wall. In so many ways, boundaries seem to be there to be broken – at least that’s when we notice them.

Arborglyphs
Arbor graffiti

A few of us meander along the ribboned edge of the bay, the constant interruption of land by sea. We talk to no-one, we stand and watch the water. I feel sad and the waves sound melancholy too. Only the other day it was like satin, now the surface darkens and shifts as the wind messes it into mackerel patterns. Sand clouds rush past me in such a hurry, disintegrating as they haste towards Fife. Uncharacteristic ripples sweep out to Inchcolm island where the disappearing rainbow arcs (between real and unreal). While I was there I had that golden luck and the rain never reached me, I who have hot sun on my calves. One by one, we stoop and pick what catches our eye. I chase dry seaweed as it billows across the beach.

Inchcolm Island

Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/psychogeography

I am concentrating on my own boundaries of time (too little for my own projects) – noticing how they get eroded, how I let them, allowing myself less. And on the amount of space I have (too much room in my house now the children and lodgers have gone) – somehow ending up with more than I need. As I pace the liminal wetness, the seam, I mourn the freedom I didn’t have (I was raised to think about others before myself and it has stayed with me) and the shells I am inadvertently crunching underfoot. The sea doesn’t stick to its limit. I see it constantly pushing them. I stand close by until it unexpectedly breaks the rule and surges at me. I have to stumble back out of the way or get wet.

There are fewer birds than usual on the strand, though later I see them swarming, their blanched bellies catching the sun as they swoop en masse. Over the blue they go, alighting on the pontoon quickly, one after the other, then taking off just as swiftly, an avian Mexican wave.

I muse on how everyday habits break down fear by reassuring us what will happen; then equally how they cause it, how we become nervous about being spontaneous and managing sudden change. I have been at home so long now, moving steadily around my immediate area – 5 miles in each direction – that I wonder how I’ll manage to go further afield. Will we all spread out across national borders again, back and forth over timelines and zones, or will we be more circumspect, stay closer to home, on our own territory? I have no plans.

Related blogs: Walking Between Worlds series

Terminalia – Festival of Psychogeography site

Incidentally, Terminalia is also a tree genus (upwards of 200 species) including the Terminalia catappa. Found in Madagascar, tropical and subtropical Asia and the Pacific (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/171034-1), the leaves are to be found at the very end – terminus – of the branches. Types of the tree (bark) are used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart conditions and diarrhoea.

Indian almond courtesy of https://www.britannica.com/plant/Terminalia-plant

Walking Between Worlds

This walk was part of the Audacious Women Festival 2021 and Terminalia Festival (23//21) on Saturday 20 February, 4 – 5pm (gmt). It was an online tour for anyone who was ambulant or not, in Edinburgh or not! We toured part of the Leith boundary, the Rosebank Cemetery, the North Leith Burial Ground, and the streets in between, using a special format with information, photos, video, maps and conversation about the wonderful women associated with Leith’s past and contemporary connections.

Home drawn map of the Walking Between Worlds route in Leith
One of the Anthony Gormley statues in the Water of Leith over which we walk as part of the tour

(This walk was originally made on foot with a live group in Edinburgh on 23 February 2020, 3pm – sunset (5.30pm). This event has now taken place but it is hoped that there will be more in the future.)

Happily coinciding with Terminalia, Women Who Walk and the Audacious Women Festival

Walk between worlds

The original tour was a circular one 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.

 

A new(ish) moon

We visited the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground and South Leith Parish Church. Briefly, at each stopping place, we faced the memorial stones, and learned about their incumbents.

The North Leith Burial Ground is ‘the dead centre of Leith’ according to The Spirit of Leithers

Grave stone, North Leith Burial Ground

The steps taken from one to the next, were equally, if not more important. We walked in memory of loved ones, and mused on life and mortality. It was an opportunity for exchange and silent contemplation.

Pilrig Church, Leith Walk. At the border between Leith and Edinburgh

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, it terminated at Robbies (the corner of Iona St and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start) for libation and conversation about where we had been – both in ourselves and the city.

Lady Mackintosh who raised a regiment for Prince Charlie, buried in the North Leith Burial Ground, Edinburgh

Always 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 was 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.’

 

Guy Debord from Making Maps

The annual Terminalia Festival of Psychogeography

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.

Eventbrite ticket (free)

Walking Between Worlds 1 an account of the walk

Walking Between Worlds 2 the second part of an account of the walk

Walking Between Worlds – 3 the third part of an account of the walk

Kings Cross to Camden Town – a walk

February 2020

Kings Cross 2
King’s Cross Station, London

I turned left out of Kings Cross station and left again onto York Way. I was seeking Wharf Road Gardens (connected to Handyside Gardens).

‘The name [King’s Cross] derives from a statue-topped structure erected in 1830 on the junction, or crossroads, between the roads now known as Euston Road, Pentonville Road and Grays Inn Road. The statue, you guessed it, was of a king – King George IV to be precise – who had died that year.’  Culture Trip

Street scene
Chat on the street, Kings Cross, London

Past Pret with its cucumber hoarding, old buildings and new, a sign for The Guardian newspaper offices (Farringdon Road) advertising ‘Hope is Power’, and King’s Place with its vertical, undulating reflective surfaces.

King's Place at a tilt
I cannot resist a reflective surface and tilted, it caught the light better, Kings Cross, London

Soon I crossed the Regent’s Canal with its long boats, both residential and for business. Turning left again, I wound between patches of grass and raised beds. Apparently the London Underground trains run a mere 4.5 metres below the surface and so the soil depth is insufficient for planting.

Regent's Canal from York Way
Looking west along the Regent’s Canal from York Way, London

Daisies
Little daisies opening their hearts to the sun. There were strawberry plants with fruit (honestly) and all manner of sprightly Spring flowers

Wharf Gardens incorporates Coal Drop Yard, Granary Square, King’s Boulevard, St Pancras Station and West Handyside Canopy – all very ‘regenerated’ and rather chi-chi. However, I discovered many interesting places, not least the Word on Water bookshop.

Word as Water Book Boat
Word on the Water Bookboat, Regent’s Canal, King’s Cross, London

There was a little contretemps – a woman who was not in full control of her behaviour needing a smoke and most insistently tramping through the shop – which the gentleman in the bowler (see above) managed admirably.

Boat Bookshop interior
Part of the interior of the Word on the Water bookshop, Regent’s Canal, Wharf Road Gardens, London

The House of Illustration was there, with fascinating sounding exhibitions such as W.E.B DuBois Charting Black Lives. Not much further on was Central St Martins (CSM) art school collaborating with Shades of Noir in a window display, impressively focusing on ‘the historical white dominance of institutional ownership of archival material’ within the CSM Museum.

House of Illustration
House of Illustration, London

There were people playing table tennis in the massive, roofed community space (I wanted to join in) and Art Fund at the Coal Drops Yard.

Art Fund Coal Drops Yard

Down by the canal, I bought a book a lovely little book, London’s Hidden Rivers, a walker’s guide to the subterranean waterways of London – the sort of thing I would have liked to write! And admired the cranes against the picturesque sky.

IMG_20200212_215447

Cranes at Kings Cross

Smart shop units
Perhaps the remains of Chinese New Year celebrations – red streamers blowing in the wind

The Canal and River Trust have done a great job of opening up the canal for all of us to enjoy – those walking, jogging, pushing buggies and the school boys smoking joints. Under Somers Town Bridge I trundled with my suitcase, opposite Camley Street Natural Park which I discovered last year (see the link below to an earlier blog, with photos). Past a flight of smart stone steps upon which you could sit and watch the coots and moorhens rush by and up to the St Pancras Lock and Basin, and Gasholder Park, a tremendous new conversion of the disused gasworks.

IMG_20200212_154420
New blooms amidst the remains of last year’s dry stalks, Regent’s Canal, London

A man was putting his back into it, tightening a sheet on the roof of a barge. The vessels were all colours of the rainbow, some more modern than others, one with a bright blue old-fashioned wheel, but no-one was going through the lock as I approached.

Hot Tamale, canal boat and wheel

BT Tower
The BT Tower as seen from St Pancras Lock, Regent’s Canal, London

Gasholder park
Gasholder Park, Regent’s Canal, London

It all reminded me of a recent visit to a friend’s boat for breakfast on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, the Leamington Lift Bridge and it’s waterside community, so I had some idea of what was below decks.

Canal boats, Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal
Canal boats, Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal

The Leamington Lock, Edinburgh
The Leamington Lock, Edinburgh

Lochrin Basin, Edinburgh
Lochrin Basin, Edinburgh

It is not far from King’s Cross to Camden Town, perhaps 30 minutes if you didn’t stop off and take photos and browse bookshops and generally see the sights, but well worth it on a cold, sunny day. There I picked up the overground to Gunnersbury, ideal for where I was staying that night.

Geese standing on the water, Regent's Canal, London
Geese standing on the water, Regent’s Canal, London

Moorhen, Regent's Canal, London
Moorhen, Regent’s Canal, London

You might also like Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London

or Regent’s Canal Towpath from Camden onwards

Regent’s Canal Towpath