‘Precarious’ is part of a collaborative film called Watermarks, which is Walking the Land’s contribution to The University of The Highland and Island’s (UHI) Edge Conference.
I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number of deaths of young guillemots who unusually massed along this part of the coast of Edinburgh and then found they did not have enough to eat. This piece is part of a larger body of work looking at the effects that climate change is having on the bird population of the UK.
The theme is Industrial landscapes and ecological regeneration, though the latter was going to be hard to focus on in the face of the intense piping, cooling towers and wot-not of the space-age area. There is nothing fantastic about it, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Bo’ness local history
We leave Bo’ness (formerly known as Borrowstounness) around 9am as usual, going downhill one more time, crossing the old Bo’ness to Slamannan railway to Glasgow and rejoining the edge of the Firth of Forth. (The line was usurped in 1842 by the intercity one we now use, and is used for the Bo’ness and Kinneil Heritage Railway. There is also a large Museum of Scottish Railways, and the facilities here were used for the testing of a new hyrogen train. More about the UK eco-train plans here).
Here we are met by the day walkers who included Ian from the Friends of Kinneil House, built by the Hamilton Family. The Friends help to promote and develop the Estate and the foreshore of Bo’ness where we will be walking this morning.
The port was recognised from 16th century, ranked as the third most important in Scotland in the 18th century, and the area was a hub of industry. Harbour construction started in 1707, and was closed in 1959 due to silting and the demise of the coal mining industry. Later, the port was the site of shipbreaking, with the ships being sailed as far up on the shore as possible, the bows nearly reaching Bridgeness Road, which must have been a sight.
There were 96 pits, one of which was connected across in Fife by mining under the river, and we are told about the bell pit that was sited in nearby Kinneil woods, now a nature reserve. The pits were closed by 1983 and lots of the remains were put in the river, including medical waste, and chemicals such as arsenic. There is a James Watt (b.1736, of steam engine fame) Supper at Kinneil House on Burns Night to look out for!
Maria Ford, the chair of The Friends, said: “Probably very few of us have a copy of Rabbie Burns’ Complete Works in our homes – but nearly everyone will have lightbulbs measured in Watts.
Mussels were gathered and eaten by our mesolithic ancestors, as evidenced by archeological finds near here, middens of oyster shells, for example, which have been found along these shores. Salt panning, ironstone and clay mines, potteries, whaling and gas were all local industries.
We started walking the Forth river Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), stopping often to learn about the area, much of which is recently reclaimed industrial land, and we admired the lagoons and reed beds owned by the RSPB. Short-eared Owls, Kestrels and Buzzards have been sighted, reeling through the skies. We asked, what is needed to improve it for wildlife, and Billy replied, “Nothing, leave it alone. We hope that there is enough local interest to keep it like this.”
There were two soil ceremonies today. This was the first and Liz read out a quote from Wendell Berry‘s The Unsettling of America:
the soil is the great connector of lives… Without proper care for it, we can have no life
You had to have a pass to walk in this area during WW2 as they were making torpedos here.
We come to the site of the former 18th century Bo’ness Distillery (almost at Kinneil Halt (station)) and are reminded that it, too, produced effluent, discharges which seeped into the Forth. The Pottery was nearby (at one stage in its long history, Alexander Cuming gifted it to his 12 year old nephew, James, and at another it was inherited by a 3-year old boy). We are told that it burned down in 1963. We could clearly see old bricks on the shore, as you can also see in Granton a few miles further east where we had walked earlier in the week.
We see Godwits reaching for worms deep in the sand with their long, scimitar-like bills, and hear the plaintive piping of Curlew (their bills curve downwards). We move past delicate grasses, moody bulrushes, and stems of orange sea buckthorn berries highlighted against pale, sage-green leaves. The intense silver-white softness of the rosebay Willowherb contrasts with its rusty foliage, and the slim Salix stream in the wind above Hypericum, wild Stawberries, Brambles, and spiky Teasle. The Gorse sports both dry black pods and bright yellow flowers on the same bush.
The landfill attracts Redshanks, Lapwings and Shelduck, and the absence of people during the early Covid period was advantageous for them. It is noted that the Shelducks (brown necks) moult here, a sign that they are feeling safe (they can’t fly when that is happening). The bigger issues, now, as at the reclaimed land we walked over in Musselburgh, are uncontrolled dogs off the lead.
By way of explaining the change in wildlife in the local nature reserve as a result of cleaning up the waters, Billy explained about the Scop or Scaup (ducks) who used to live here alongside the molluscs and mussels. The sewage actually helped and now there is less, they have disappeared. However, when the refinery flares at night and the tide is at the right stage, Redshank feed at night, so there are more of them.
Grangemouth Oil Refinery
And then we turn away from the water and head inland towards the Grangemouth Refinery. Grangemouth port was founded as a result of the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal (which we are scheduled to walk beside later today), in 1768. Grain and timber came in there, and coal went out. The first factory in the area was making soap and glycerine (1897 Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society), and paraffin started to be produced from shale or coal in 1919. Then, as the Polish oil wells opened up and the prices for Scottish products went down, treating and refining became the focus.
BP, former owners, sold up in 2004 when there were difficulties, and now the Plant is part-owned by a Chinese company and the greater part by Jim Ratcliffe, the richest man ‘in England’ (he lives in Monaco, “a move that it is estimated will save him £4 billion in tax”). Ratcliffe is the CEO of INEOS which includes Grangemouth as well as refineries in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and Canada. Petro-chemical processing is a lucrative business, earning him an official Honour and wealth reputed to be worth £21.05 billion.
Wikipedia writes, “In February 2019 it was announced that Ineos would invest £1bn in the UK oil and chemical industries, to include an overhaul of the Forties pipeline system that is responsible for transporting a significant percentage of the UK’s North Sea oil and gas. On 1 May 2019, Ratcliffe criticised the current government rules which say fracking in Britain must be suspended every time a 0.5 magnitude tremor is detected, which has led to a de facto ban on fracking. He said: “I think the government has been pathetic on the subject.” In fact, although the Scottish government states “no support for unconventional oil and gas” (in a report which strongly resembles the spoofs in ‘Yes Minister‘), and has the reputation for banning, or at least not renewing or accepting new licences for shale (fracked) gas, it is important to note that it is still imported from the US (Pennsylvania) into INEOS right here.
Before we entered Grangemouth, we were stopped twice more by police. One man told us, “I’ve been brought up from South of the border to join the COP26 security forces here. Are you the minister who’s going to bless the land?” Our reputation as a peaceful lot had proceeded us.
We are reminded again of the Roman Antonine Wall which runs from Carriden, near Bo’ness, and which sports a 2nd century fort at the eastern end. It stood near this roundabout for 20 years, though it was supposed to be there for ever.
I am struck by the drear of the utilitarian and inanimate lengths of piping. Wide-diameter, above-ground conduits run the length of the road and the few desultory trees and mini-‘gardens’ don’t make up for the carbon that is produced in the petro-chemical works. These are not kilns for making beautiful pottery, not repurposed gas works recently used for art and music, but hydro-crackers involved in making products that most of us use in the form of health and pharmaceuticals, food and beverage packaging, and construction and utilities. Phasing them out means a change in what we expect to do and have, and we had plenty of silent walking time to ponder on that.
In March 2019 INEOS said it would close its Middlesbrough manufacturing plant unless it was allowed to ‘defer compliance’ with EU rules designed to prevent air and water pollution. An analysis of data from the Environment Agency (EA) also reveals the plant clocked up 176 permit violations between 2014 and 2017. An EA spokesperson said: “air emissions are well over legal limits and this poses a risk to the environment”. INEOS director Tom Crotty said the firm “cannot justify” the investment required to comply with EU air and water pollution rules due to come into force in the coming years.
The engineering is, of course, state-of-the-art, but there is disparity between the shiny exteriors and the black-black oil which I knew was pumping inside, or the high-pressure gas contained within them. There were tin sheds and poles with what looked like guy-ropes stretched from their tips to the ground, and crows-nests at the top of them. I felt a sort of deadness in the air. The words of songs we had been singing sounded in my ears: We are a gentle, quiet people (1978, Holly Near), and our anthem for the Pilgrimage, Another world is not only possible (2021, Jane Lewis)
We put our wet clothes back on and set off for the 40 minutes’ hike to our next stop.
The Lungs in Chinese Medicine are associated with grief and sadness, and it is said that our tears are like their melt water
The Helix and the Kelpies
They stressed that the way we manage our energy needs must change, but that it is vital that people are redeployed in equivalent level jobs once their current ones have gone.
Climate justice recognises that the industrialised countries of the ‘global North’ like Scotland have grown rich over the past few centuries through polluting the atmosphere while at the same time extracting resources from the ‘global South’ under colonialism. It recognises that those on the sharpest end of climate impacts in the global South have done least to cause the crisis, and are often without adequate resources and technologies to deal with its impacts. Therefore countries of the global North bear a far greater responsibility for addressing the climate crisis.
It must be said that the final stretch in the dark, up and into Falkirk’s town centre, in the really, seriously pouring rain was a hard one.
We spent the night at St Francis Xavier’s Hall, arriving wetter than it is hard to imagine any group of pilgrims could be, and presenting quite a challenge to the very kind folk who welcomed us, provided hanging rails and upped the heating before preparing our evening meal.
Alisar made a contribution to our soil collection. She is a New Scot, Syrian by birth, and had gathered it from her mother’s garden in Falkirk. Our food was cooked and served to us by members of the Muslim and Interfaith community in Falkirk, and it was delicious.
Here are some of the replies to ‘What keeps me Walking?’ read out at the Pilgrim’s Ceilidh on 22 October 2021.
In 1972 I walked from Canterbury to Winchester, a kind of reverse Pilgrims Way,and we camped by the side of a wood. As we cooked our noodles, a wren sat in the bush and sang his heart out. I have remembered that wren for nearly 50 years.
What keeps me walking? Hope.
Later that night, there was a reflection circle and enjoyable, high-energy workshop about group dynamics.
We leave the Priory Church close to 9am and walk through the residential streets and warehouse area on our way out of South Queensferry, getting a good sight of the bridges from the other side.
Today’s walk is in the area that is part of the Inner Forth Initiative, a collaboration between the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds); Scottish Heritage; Central Scotland Green Network Trust; Clackmannanshire, Stirling and Falkirk Councils; Sustrans; and Historic Environment Scotland. It reaches from Stirling at the Forth’s head to the Bridges at South Queensferry and takes in both sides of the estuary with beacons and markers celebrating the area’s history, wildlife and culture, including the John Muir Way which we are walking and the Fife Coastal Path on the opposite shore.
As well as the beauty and interest of the area, the Forth has many industrial sites, and as we near Grangemouth (its heart?) in a few days time, we are also getting close to areas in which fossil fuels are processed, received and disseminated.
The Mossmoran NGL (natural gas liquids) processing facility is located on the opposite side of the Forth. Owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, the former were fined in 2013, 2014 and 2015, with complaints made and investigated every year between 2017 and now (information source here). The plant is part of the North Sea Brent oil and gas field system, and should not flare, but does regularly, paying fines every time it does. The Mossmoran Action Group campaigns for safer communities in the area. The BBC reported that “up to 13,800 tonnes of CO2 could have been emitted from a Fife chemical plant during October 2020 flaring, according to figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).” It continued, “The Scottish Greens say that is equivalent to 9,140 people taking a return flight from Glasgow to New York. The Mossmorran flaring lasted three days from 4 to 6 October. Fife Ethylene Plant operator ExxonMobil said it was committed to minimising carbon dioxide emissions. It was the fourth period of elevated flaring at the ExxonMobil plant in 2020. Sepa receives over 380 complaints of plant flaring and Environment officers probe chemical plant flaring. Green MSP Mark Ruskell said it would take up to 13,800 trees 100 years to offset the same amount of carbon. He said the climate impact of the flaring was “catastrophic” and he renewed calls for a transition plan for the plant.”
We are veering between the depressing state of affairs which is evident in the form of coastal erosion and continuing CO2 emissions to name only two; and the sense that we are doing something significant by walking in this way. We are raising awareness, walking for those who also want to combat the effects of climate change but cannot leave their work / caring responsibilities, and taking the time to learn as much as we can about the reality of the situation, our place within the natural order, and what we need to do in the future. Most of us are taking annual leave or unpaid time off, simply not earning (many are self-employed) because we believe that we are doing something worthwhile. There is a history of this type of peaceful activism, and walking is one of the least injurious modes of transport, giving us time to feel, think, and discuss.
As citizens of the Earth, we have a responsibility to participate. As citizens massed together, we have the power to affect change, and it is only on that scale that enough change can happen.
We followed the John Muir Way and Cycle Path 76 through the Hopetoun Estate (6,500 acres including the villages of Abercorn, Winchburgh and Newton) where the house is home to the Earl of Hopetoun and The Marquis of Linlithgow lives too. The public are allowed to traverse certain parts.
There is a cross from Lindisfarne (circa 7th century) and ancient burial monuments in the museum at the Abercorn Kirk. The chapel is said to have been the site of a monastery in 681, once the see of the Northumbrian King of the Picts. More information here, here and here.
Some random facts about the area:
In 545 it is known that there was a pre-reformation church here dedicated to St Serf
It has one of the oldest pagan festivals sites on the hill
Tam Dalyell, Scottish Labour Party politician, is buried here (d. 2017)
The Earl and Marquis are both known as Elders and they follow the ancient tradition of entering the kirk by a separate door and sitting high above the altar and the rest of the congregation in their own section called the Hopetoun Loft
There is a fine Romanesque Norman doorway with gargoyles.
After a long stop to dry off, we walk on through misty riverscapes, along grand avenues of still very green Beech trees, by Sycamores which are changing colour and showing their ochre, marigold and tangerine leaves. Small stems of Ash are strewn over the path, emerald on one side and a paler pistachio on the other.
Blackness (nose of black rock)
Nurdles are plastic ‘buttons’, little beads that all plastics are made of and which are found all over the beaches in this area. There is more information here on nurdlehunt.org.
Along the Forth foreshore where the tide is out and the mudflats bleak, we walk to Blackness Castle, a 15th century fortress where Franco Zeferelli’s Hamlet was filmed. We have a wee seat and a cup of tea from our flasks just in time to avoid the rain. There’s a dovecot here, a 17th century pigeon house where the birds provided eggs and ‘fresh meat’ to the inhabitants.
We look across to Charlestown, owned originally by the Earl of Elgin. Site of 14 massive limekilns, now preserved Grade A listed, it was one of the hubs of industrial Fife, and shipped goods to the Baltic. More information here on Fife Photos and Art.
Through the late C18 and C19, the kilns were part of a major industrial complex of the time, including coal mining, ironworking and salt extraction. Coal and limestone were brought in from the local quarries, also on the Earl’s estate. The adjacent harbour was as well built by the Earl and used for transporting the lime products, limestone and importantly coal.
Just west of Charlestown are the three Crombie gantry cranes, easily seen from where we are. They are part of the Armament Royal Navy Ordnance Depot.
We go near to the site of The Roman Antonine Wall (named after Antoninus Pius) which protected the province of Britainnia from the Caledonian tribes. It starts in Carriden near Bo’ness and runs westwards to West Kilpatrick on the Clyde (Glasgow). With 37 miles of ramparts (20 feet high), ditches (20 feet deep), roads, and approximately 20 forts, it was occupied for over 25 years. More information here (BBC).
The next day Ian tells us about the Carriden (Karedyn) Estate. 900 Years ago, the monks from Holyrood Abbey were granted a tithe, the right to collect a tenth of the coal from there, around the year 1200. The property went over to the Cockburn family in 1330.
The Corbie Inn has a replica of a sandstone slab recording the Roman army’s building work on the easternmost part of the Antonine Wall, Bridgeness, West Lothian, 142 – 143 AD. There is a dedication to their Emperor, and the original is in the National Museum of Scotland.
Salt and coal, trade and taxes once made the Bo’ness rich, but the pits and mine shafts are now quiet.
Oh, it is one steep climb up School Brae to St Catharine’s Episcopalian Church where we were spending the night at the end of a good day’s walking! There we are given another lovely meal – thank you.
Though some complain now that no-one has any reason to go to Bo’ness, in fact we find it a lively place with an Art Deco cinema, the Hippodrome, and an acclaimed, annual Silent Film Festival. A film had been arranged for us to see there later.
The film, in collaboration with Take One Action, is Anote’s Ark. Made in 2018 by director Matthieu Rytz, it tells of the impact of climate change on the island of Kiribati, found where the international dateline meets the equator. It is anticipated that Kiribati will entirely disappear as sea levels rise. Anote Tong is the former president and he has repeatedly lobbied the international community to do something. It is a chastening watch and our mood is subdued as we go to sleep.
Today I am leading the Pilgrimage for COP26 walk from the Sculpture Workshop in Leith, Edinburgh to South Queensferry. The theme is ‘The Five Phases and the Ecological Crisis – a walk using the five elements of East Asian medicine to reimagine what it means to be ecological’.
There is a brief introduction by Jonathan Baxter, the organiser of the pilgrimage, to the Keeper of the Soils, the carrier of the Stitches for Survival (you can read about the latter two here), and to my walk supporters, Natalie and Ewan. Then a brief introduction to YinYang which underpins Shiatsu theory.
I explain how the circle represents the cyclical nature of things, a circumference of continual existence, whether in this form or another
The curving line which divides the circle, symbolises the dynamic interplay between Yin and Yang and the transformation of one to the other to maintain balance – the rise of those who favour respect and listening over those who opt for profit and power, for example
The black and white sections reminding us that we must address both sides of ourselves and our planet if we are to achieve balance, both the angry and the peace-loving, the scientific and the artistic
The small black and white spheres which sit in the opposite sides showing that the law of nature says there are no absolutes.
Stage 1 / the Metal Phase
We start with the Metal Phase which encompasses the lungs and exchange of air in humans and with the wider environment. The Edinburgh cycle path is sometimes thought of as the city’s lungs and we take the branch from Leith to the Trinity Tunnel, Active Travellers focusing on air pollution and how we would like it to be.
The Trinity tunnel is where my sound/art installation, No Birds Land, is situated. Sadly, on arrival it was clear that it had been vandalised while I was walking the first week of the pilgrimage and the bunting was all broken and in the mud. My pilgrim friends tried to help, but we didn’t have much time to repair.
Phyllis from the Edinburgh Reporter was walking with us and wrote about the Keeper of the Soils and No Birds Land. Her article, with links to video and audio, is here.
Many thanks to my friends Lesley and Andrew who went along the next day to repair and rehang.
We stop briefly at Granton Harbour as our numbers swell. The core group are joined by others who will come all the way to Glasgow with us and there are many day walkers too. What a jolly bunch, particularly as there was no rain!
We continue along the coast of the Firth of Forth, through the industrial outskirts and past the entrance to the Granton Walled Garden where the cape was dyed. A small group peel off to collect a soil sample before rejoining us further on.
Stage 2 / the Earth Phase
Our next stop is for tea and coffee in the corner of the Lauriston Farm, kindly donated free of charge. We are immensely grateful to Lisa, Toni and Dave for their time and generosity.
Transforming an existing farm into an urban food production and community hub that benefits, supports and regenerates the environment and all those connected to it.
Here we pause to consider the second of the 5 Elements: Earth. There is a soil ceremony and the small sample is put in one of the cape’s pockets to be carried to Glasgow. The focus for the next stage is the physical awareness of our feet on the ground, reflecting on the ‘give and take’ which is happening on this walk – the kindness and generosity of others, and what it means to be able to accept that; and the nourishment and nurturing between us and the earth. We have our first silent period and muse on the role of sympathy and empathy in the climate crisis.
The next section is along the sea front at Silverknowes and on the beach to Cramond.
Stage 3 / the Water Phase
Here we pause for a few exercises and some Water Element exercises. We focus this time on the harnessing of the sea’s power and other renewables as we flow along the River Almond path, recapping the first week of the pilgrimage, and reflecting on the fear engendered by the climate crisis – for ourselves, our children and other-than-humans.
We wait for even more walkers to join us, say goodbye to others, and continue past the hotel and back down the other side of the River Almond through the Dalmeny Estate. Here we eventually have our picnic lunch. Thanks to Ewan for the delicious, home-made oatcakes.
Stage 4 / the Wood Phase
Moving into the woods, we take the chance for a second period of silence. In single file we appreciate the trees, the lush undergrowth and occassional glimpses of a wider landscape between boughs.
Everything is going well and someone makes a suggestion for a little detour. I think, why not, we’re making good time. However, we lose half the group and that means there are rather stressful phone calls back and forth as we try to find each other. Note to self: stick to the plan!
Stage 5 / the Fire phase
Our final phase is the Fire element and we are very close to our South Queensferry destination.
Renewing our community spirit with a song, we practise smiling in the face of difficulty as we swing into South Queensferry with open hearts and with hope for the future. Many thanks to the pilgrim who sings for us so we can join in.
We are staying at the Priory Church, but we are too early and it’s started to rain. We bid farewell to the day trippers and retreat for a well-earned drink to warm up and dry off.
What a wonderful welcome we get at the Priory! Although there’s only one toilet and no showers for us all, local people open their homes for some. There is a fascinating presentation about the Chapel and its history, a sumptuous meal and we are very happy to bed down on the church floor at the end of the day.
Once part of a medieval Carmelite Friary at the hub of life in the Royal Burgh of Queensferry, the Church is situated very close to the Binks where the St Margaret’s Ferry used to take pilgrims across the water to Fife so they could walk on to St Andrews. That was before the bridges were built, and is what gives the town its name.
It is thought that there was a building here in the 11th century. Certainly, the Carmelites were in the area around 1330, a monastery was in operation in 1440 and that’s when this ancient church dates from.
When I was planning the day, I tried to find someone to row us over the foot of the Almond. There used to be a boatman there who lived in the cottage opposite, but no longer. It would have meant that we missed the gorgeous river walk, but would have shortened the day. As it was, we all seemed to have coped well with the distance.
Reimagining what it means to be ecological
At the heart of the philosophy which underlies Shiatsu and East Asian medicine is the innate relationship between humans and other-than-humans. We are all one, all made of the same chi, and our learning and understanding of ourselves and the communities we live with is intrinsically linked.
The cyclical and interdependent relationship inherent in YinYang means that it is impossible to imagine one part of nature separate from another. Every thing morphs and melds into the other, particularly in extreme situations such as the current climate change scenario. We can see this happening: the more we pollute the atmosphere, the faster and stronger the winds are having to move the air around, in order to preserve its quality, and so that we can all continue to exist. Balance will happen, or at least the whole is trying very hard to achieve that.
We must, of course, do our bit. We must notice what is happening and see where we are needed, work alongside other participants of the nature which we are part of, those who are trying desperately to right things. We must listen to the messages and this is easier to do if we walk rather than run, reflect as well as act, and connect with compassion, as well as protecting our own.
The system offers hope in this way, and although this is hard to hear, if things do worsen, we are part of a very grand cycle. We will be composted along with the potato peelings, sooner or later, ready to sprout again, so in the meantime, let our pledge be to do the best we can while we’ve still got time.
Blog 8 – Walking into Edinburgh and staying for a day 22/23 October 2021
This morning’s route begins at St Marks Portobello where we had spent two nights (see blog 7 for details of the Portobello waystation), and we are joined by daily walkers. Jonathan Baxter who conceived of the Pilgrimage, Cath who is carrying the Stitches for Survival bag, and members of the YCCN (the Young Christian Climate Network, who made a grand relay from to Glasgow between June and October 2021) speak before we leave.
In years to come, we want to be able to look back and say “we did not sit at home while unjust decisions were made on our doorstep, we set sail towards a just future”.
The theme that we come back to time and again on our pilgrimage is hope. On Sunday, Alistair McIntosh advised against despair, perhaps the corollary of hope, and advocated lamentation (see this earlier blog). Now, at the end of the first week of walking and learning together, we are making the Hopes Walk and on Sunday held a Deep Time, Wonder and Grief Circle in which hope and hopelessness were both expressed. In between these two events was a Silent Meditation on the Mound and an Interfaith Pilgrimage which visited Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu meeting places.
Walking itself is an act of hope – hope that the ground will be there the next time you depend on it, hope that you will be alive and able when your instinct is to step forward, hope that you will reach your destination and not die doing it. Every time the ball of your foot pushes off and the ground simultaneously launches you from itself, you sail through the air in the unspoken belief that you will land somewhere safe. Yes, walking is an act of faith; it is inherently hopeful.
You may well ask:
What do we have to be hopeful about at this time of climate crisis?
…and it seems to me that it is this very act of walking together which is creating hope. If we all care enough to make the journey by taking this time out of our lives, putting up with sleeping on wooden floors and getting soaked in the rain; if we put aside our busy schedules and join up for a day’s march; if we bother to comment on blogs, toot our car horns when we see a group walking past with a banner – Pilgrimage for COP26 – and send messages of encouragement and solidarity, then it seems that the making of this pilgrimage, the doing of it is galvanising hearts and minds, educating and setting an example. This walk says, together we are moving, together we are doing something to bring about change.
No, and neither is the water stagnant! The Friends of Figgate Park facebook page states that the covering is Duckweed, a fast growing, thin-layer of plants which grows in nutrient-rich water (much like algae does), especially in areas where lots of bread may be thrown in (despite the signs, duck-feeders still do this). It is not harmful, there are even some benefits: Waterfowl like Mallard Ducks and Moorhens absolutely love it, and the Mute Swans have been eating it too. As it’s such a thin layer it doesn’t impede them moving around (notice the trails in the photo above), can shelter small fish, and is possibly one of the reasons the latter seemed to do so well last year.
We know that species adapt, that people care enough to look after parks and ponds, and that plants respond ‘intelligently’. Here there is a balance between human and other-than-human (for want of a better collective term) and that gives me hope. The environment is finding ways to cope and now that more and more of us are determined to stop hindering it and start supporting, things are beginning to move in the right direction. Albeit slowly, I know.
The Duckweed does mean that certain species such as Kingfishers can’t hunt, so they’ll be restricted to the burn elsewhere in the park, and the otters are less likely to visit, but if the fish are helped by the covering then next year we may well see more frequent appearances than this. There is a Grey Heron is around, and it seems to be able to hunt through despite the growth.
North Light Arts commissioned Taylor to make the cape, asking ‘Earth – is soil alive? It was coloured using natural dyes such as madder, grown by Kirsty Sutherland at the Granton Walled Garden. The hues of these dyes reflect the soils of Central Scotland that we are walking through and from which samples are being gifted to be stored in the inside pockets. Every aspect of the design has been considered, from the panels depicting a soil food web in which four of the world’s key crops are shown, to the almost-undecorated front indicating how between 30-40% of global soils are unusable for the cultivation of food, depleted of its nutrients. I was lucky enough to visit during the dying process and witness the huge cauldron of red-burgundy water heated over a burner with the good-witch stirring the blanket samples into it for hours.
En route interpretation and peer-learning will be provided by an emerging community of peer-educators and cultural partners. These include arts and cultural organisations, interfaith communities, educational institutions, and grass roots community activists.
At this time of unique peril for our planet and all its inhabitants our plan is to deeply connect with and listen to the land we travel through, the species we encounter on the way and the communities living along the route. Our walk is a uniquely hopeful, creative and reverential kind of activism.
There were a group of families (10 children and 10 adults) waiting to join us here. They had been hanging around for a long time, but the kids were well entertained.
Coat of Hopes
Another pilgrimage is being made by the Coat of Hopes group. This other garment is made of patchwork, and carrying it is described as performance craft. It is being worn and added to between the starting point of Newhaven on the south coast of England near Brighton, and Glasgow (500 miles). It carries stitched griefs, remembrances, prayers and hopes connected to the landscapes as well as stories of migration. The coat pilgrims will take 62 days with twice weekly stitching stops and songs while it builds connections between people and communities.
Pilgrimage is a journey of transformation, states their website, and that means change. It’s another hopeful statement. As I walk, I become clearer that it is a sense of respect for people, plants and animals that I hope for, respect which underpins the basic adjustment which need to happen if we are to turn this crisis around. Respect is about listening and supporting, and that cannot be done by staying ‘at arms length’. The closer we get to others, the more likely we are to hear their needs and know what has to be done. That is part of the function of this pilgrimage, to move through towns and countryside and listen.
The Peace Crane project by artist Janis Hart was open for us to see in St John’s Church at the foot of Lothian Road. It consists of approximately 140,000 origami cranes (miniature birds) of peace and hope, made by people from all over the world. This vast number represents not only the people who were killed when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, but also those who lost their lives to Covid-19 and the many other-than-human species which are now extinct or endangered, such as the red-crowned crane.
Fun fact: Did you know that the twin spires pf St Mary’s Cathedral are called Mary and Barbara? They are named after two women from the Walker family who funded the building of the Cathedral in the 1870s. (Thanks to Edinburgh Tourist for that information).
There is an afternoon of workshops including flag making with Ali Pretty of Kinetika (see above), and in the evening, a celebratory ceilidh. It isn’t possible to dance (what? no dancing at a ceilidh!) which is sad, but we are regaled with poetry, stories, a slide show, music, and eat fantastic food (thanks to Robin and co of the Ceilidh Collective). We are also shown the choir’s practice room which has paintings by Phoebe Anna Traquair.
I know of the church at Bellevue (Mansfield Place) which is decorated with Traquair’s murals dating from the 1890s, and have seen exhibitions of her work at the Gallery of Modern Art, but this is a hidden gem. It is a working space, the Provost proudly tells us, used for daily practice and so not ordinarily open to the public. Here is a procession of creation, of angels and church men interspersed with famous writers, artists and politicians of the artist’s time. Like our motley crew of pilgrims, they traverse the walls of the small room alongside birds and plants and the work aims to take inspiration from sorrow, for the renewal of spirit.
Silent Meditation at the Mound
Run by Earth Holders Edinburgh (which organises new moon gatherings at the Salisbury Centre, Edinburgh) this hour of contemplation on Saturday is greatly needed. Despite the cold and noise, it is vital that we engage in reflection using a variety of different ways. Silence and stillness is an equally useful opportunity to allow thoughts and internal activity to settle so that the quiet voice is heard. It is during meditation that hidden ideas and impulses surface, where connections can be made.
For over thirty years, EIFA has diligently and effectively sought opportunities to cultivate and promote interfaith progress in the City of Edinburgh. During these three decades, EIFA has been continuously recognised by other interfaith organisations throughout the world as an outstanding role model and best practice in terms of developing and delivering positively impactful interfaith programmes for our wider community.
from the Edinburgh Interfaith Association website
Pilgrimage is often a walk which moves, like ours, across long distances, however that doesn’t have to be the case. Indeed, there was an increase in the number of stay-at-home pilgrimages developed in the Covid19 lockdowns – from walking around your garden to following a route online. Our afternoon one is organised by the Edinburgh Interfaith Community and takes us through the city – from New College where we listen to speeches from Pagan celebrant (“To protect and restore the world’s biodiversity”), Ani Rinchen from the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist community (“To continue to take responsibility for our actions. We will solve the problems, so we must look after our minds so that we can act wisely and wisely elect our leaders”), and Jewish community leaders, among others, to visit the Baha’i community, the HinduMandir (“We are all the same, we all have the same nose, two eyes and a mouth” Neela Joshi), and various venues, ending at the Sikh Guru Nanak Gurdwara (“No one group, no one faith can do it alone.”) where we are treated so attentively and fed a delicious langar, a community meal which is prepared daily for anyone who needs it.
Deep Time Walk
On Sunday we go on a Deep Time Walk using the app below.
Deep Time Walk is a transformative journey through 4.6bn years of Earth history via a 4.6km guided walk. It is an invitation to view the world differently, encouraging positive action and advocacy for a regenerative Earth. Our vision is to empower an ensemble of geographically specific and culturally nuanced Deep Time Walks, providing a unique intercultural platform that helps bring about a diverse, flourishing ecological civilisation.
from the app page
Quaker Meeting House – reflection
Our final Edinburgh experience is the Deep Time, Wonder and Grief Circle at the Quaker Meeting House where we could share our thoughts and feelings about our place in the deep time of things, our fears for the future, and sadness at the prospect of not enough being done by government leaders and big-business owners. We were again treated to a generous meal by members of the Quaker community for which we were very grateful.
The violence at the heart of the system is something we need to address
Jonathan Baxter, Pilgrimage organiser
Thanks to all those who hosted and fed us, and to the St James community who organised house stays for some of us while we were in Edinburgh.
The public highlight of our Portobello stay was the Saturday morning Beach of Dreams installation by Kinetika, led by artist, Ali Pretty.
This art installation is made up of 500 silk flags flying from poles which were planted on the beach, each representing a mile of the Essex coastline. A new pennant was created for each of these miles by Kinetika artists in response to photos or other images which were produced by people living in this edge-country, people who are witnessing the disintegration of the ground on which their houses are situated.
Beach of Dreams was an epic journey to walk 500 miles over 35 days (June to August 2021) along the east coast of England. The purpose – to explore how we can take care of the environment, take care of the coast, take care of the community and ourselves.
from the website
The flags were initially positioned in lines parallel to the Portobello breakwater, but as the sea came in, volunteers hurriedly moved them, re-sinking them in the sand higher up the beach and creating a tide of people and artworks rushing away from the approaching waters.
These flags represent the dreams of the people of Eastern England for the future. Like urgent messages to us here on the east coast of Scotland, they tell of the vulnerability of our coastlines as sea levels rise. Moving, literally and emotionally, they are fragile, though steady, ephemeral but made of real stuff. They flutter and flap in the wind, prompting questions, ‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’
The poignant sound, as we lay under them and watched the subtle lemon and rose against the cerulean sky, was a constant reminder that things are changing. The irregular flick-flack of the fabric responding to the capricious breeze wouldn’t let us drift away contentedly. Their beauty contrasted awe-fully with the origin of their message
We stayed for two nights at St Mark’s Church where we were cared for with much-appreciated heat and facilities. Even a short walk like this focused our minds on the luxury of having a roof over our heads and a floor to sleep on.
Walking the labyrinth
The full programme of events continued with a labyrinth. Set up by Ali Newell with red candles and autumn leaves, we were first given a short introduction to to their origin and useage over the centuries and then invited to take something from her basket and enter, one by one.
The minute I started, I felt such sorrow. Was it the music by Arvo Pärt, or the accumulated feelings of the group? Was it my grief at the state of our world, or a more personal sadness rising up into my throat? One stained glass window showed a man with his arm around a child, another depicted men embracing, with the words: ‘The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David’ as a caption. That tenderness was one trigger for my weeping.
I lived in Estonia for a short time, where Pärt was born, and memories of those times bubbled up. I was writing a book about death and loss, and each day I walked the forest paths. I remembered the shock of turning a corner and coming across a large area of deforestation with trunk stumps all jagged and broken.
Around the labyrinth I slowly walked, doubling back on myself, at once facing centre, then away from it, moving nearer, then seeming to be distanced. The narrow channel between the lines gave a sense of safety and the golden leaves encapsulated the passing of the year. Eventually the tears dried up and there was something like peace, or at least calm. The sun was shining and it threw shadows across us and the room. Conscious that I was passing shoulder-to-shoulder with others who were on a similar journey to mine, I saw others with wet cheeks. She walked with her arms crossed over her chest, he with his hands cupped in front of him, my friend had her arms raised up, palms to the ceiling as she walked. In this way, we almost-met, we didn’t stare or speak, however we were all in it together.
And then I saw, ahead of me, the entrance, not the centre. I stopped dead. I must have made a mistake because I was almost back where I started. I traced the way in with my eyes; how had that happened? I hadn’t crossed a line, hadn’t cheated.
I decided to step out of my passageway into one which would take me on, along the way I had been going, and then, no! That wasn’t possible somehow. So I followed the direction my path was taking and found myself right where I began, ready to start over again. There, at my feet, was a battered magpie feather.
I hadn’t seen it earlier, even though I am collecting one per day (see my first blog of this series) and so my eyes are attuned, and so it was somehow special to find it at the moment that had I been ‘sent’ back. I picked it up, took a deep breath, turned around and carried it with me as I re-negotiated the labyrinth. Though I took it faster the second time, there was a second onslaught of grief. It reminded me that we walk round our lives, spiralling outwards from our birth, but coming back through key elements of it, being given the chance to go through them again with our accumulated wisdom. I hoped I was wiser.
Many of the fallen leaves had wafted onto the paths. They seemed to represent people I have known. Sometimes, unwittingly, I stepped on them, sometimes over, left them behind. Someone came along behind me and picked each one up and put it back in a safe place. I began to feel so weary, I wobbled, even once overbalanced into an adjoining track and had to step back. There was a small, wooden African sculpture in a corner, on the piano, of someone reaching down to touch a baby, similar to one I had at home. Again, it touched me deeply. Would it go on for ever? I needed ‘stamina, endurance, resilience’ (Liz)
As I got closer to the centre, I feared I might not make it and I noticed that I wanted to get to the end as soon as possible. It was like my relationship to death; in the past I have willed it, later I decided against it and pleaded that it wouldn’t happen soon.
I did eventually get there, knelt and placed my stone, and, as Liz said afterwards, it was hot from my hand. Of course, it wasn’t an end at all, it was a mid point. It also wasn’t the way I experienced it when sitting beside the dying – a dwindling, a merging into another place and state – rather, it was part of the whole process of life and it was on-going.
As I walked out, I was coming in the opposite direction to others who stood aside to let me pass. Or sometimes I did that for them. It was a smooth, mindful journey, and I was changed at the end of it.
We set off one by one, but as we walked we kept coming into contact with each other. It was like a metaphor for life; people you see once and never again all moving in the same direction, all inspired by love and hope. We acknowledged each other as we passed. We were not alone.
Even more kindness, and a change of perception
I went for a swim in the sea after that. Margaret who knows the seas, watched over me, signalling to keep away from the pipe which was invisible to me. Ruth offered me a shower at her flat, the first since leaving Dunbar on Monday, four days before, and I was really grateful for the hot water and her hospitality.
Coming back, I was struck by the frivolity of the home decoration items outside the shops on the High Street, items I usually enjoy, even covet. I was walking through such a familiar place, but my Camino shell dangled from my rucksack reminding me I was in the stream of the pilgrimage, and I felt like a different person.
Thanks go to members of the congregation of St Mark’s for a most delicious meal, particularly as the oven failed and food had to be ferried next door and back for warming – a much appreciated effort.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, Jane Lewis led a singing circle on the beach under the almost-full moon. She exhorted us, ‘ If we listen to the earth breathing, then we will know what to do’, and we learned her new rendering of Arundhati Roy’s words (from Capitalism, a ghost story).
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Can you hear her breathing?
At the car park, the electric support vehicle and day walkers are waiting for us. The group had split into two the previous evening with the others sleeping at the village hall in Aberlady. They visited Prestongrange Museum where they received a lovely welcome.
After a standing-up breakfast and use of the public conveniences (thanks to East Lothian Council for keeping them open for us), we set off for the day’s trek. The coast was stunning.
The weather was changeable – a cool wind with sun, light then heavier spells of rain, never for too long, thank goodness.
We passed coral skeletons (tubes) which have been squashed into limestone making ‘spaghetti rock’ which date from the Carboniferous period (350-300 million years back). Craigielaw point fossils gives more information.
We regained the main road through Port Seton with all the hustle of normal life – quite a contrast to the meditative pacing at the shore. The Harbour Takeaway served a good green tea and peppermint slice and the sun was warm on my back for 5 minutes before we had to walk on.
At Musselburgh, we had an extended stop where volunteers had been preparing a meal for us at the Brunton Theatre. We were shown a film. ‘Local Food Roots’ (trailer on Pinterest) which featured various UK projects which grow and distributed vegetable boxes (Riverford) and innovative organisations which cooked with produce from their own communities (Nottingham Hospital – yes, it can be done. They argued that buying in food that had travelled many 100s of miles from South America and Africa was not only less nutritious but also added to the already dangerous limits of carbon in the atmosphere). Sheila Dillon from the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme was a contributor. This was another example of our learning about the various ways the climate crisis can be addressed, as we wend our way to Glasgow.
It was hoped that the Portobello crew would be there too, but at the last minute they were short of a member, so two of them ran to meet us here, and then walked back with us (see below) with their Resilient, Sustainable banner.
People seem to really understand what we are doing: they thank us and wave as we go by, and messages are coming in all the time to encourage us.
Keeper of the Soils cape: Natalie Taylor, artist, North Light Arts
19 October 2021 – Blog 5: North Berwick to Aberlady Bay
Eva (in pink) was one of the day walkers and it was good to catch up after so many years. We talked of Reworlding, gratitude and reciprocity.
A field of brightness that travels ahead, providing, in time, ground to hold our footsteps and the light of thought to show the way. … to create a space for all our words, drawing us to listen inwards and outwards.
Read by Glen
Ali lead us in a Salute to the Sun from her Capacitar (Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World) exercises.
Petrichor: the smell of rain
We took time for quiet walking and reflection, appreciating the luminosity of the scene. I listened to the sound of the waves and the pit pat of rain on my jacket. I wasn’t aware of my own smell – it seemed to have merged with the air around me, and my wet fringe tickled my forehead.
… gifts from our plant relatives, manifestations of their generosity…When we speak of these, not as things, or products or commodities, but as gifts, the whole relationship changes. I can’t help but gaze at them, cupped like jewels in my hand … In the presence of such gifts, gratitude is the intuitive first response…
Robin Wall Kimmerer
As we sat and ate our lunch, cormorants stretched out their wings on the rocks. The sea left a white line of bubbles behind. We couldn’t help ourselves stooping to pick up tiny triangles of blanched shells. The bloated body of a dead whale was a discomfiting pale apricot, and the decomposing stench was terrible as we walked past. I whispered my sorrow for its truncated life.
Someone said they had an image of Ghandi walking in solidarity with us.
Miles of beachy colours – caramel, beige and cinnamon – and the occasional low-lying green plants with lilac flowers. Further on there were fingers of cerise and buttercup seaweed shining in contrast.
Eight of us camped in the high winds of the Aberlady Nature Reserve. It was the most beautiful spot for contemplating and talking about how important such places are and how vital it is that our government and businesses curtail sewage output, address coastal erosion, and put money behind the preservation of our wilder environments.
Ali and Glen for leading the walk, and Cameron for playing his fiddle. Vicky for driving the electric van which carried our rucksacks.
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.