“In today’s twitter-centred terms, ‘ Exits to Edinburgh’ could be described as a hashtag that walkers used to refer to the type of walk I guided: one which would meet at Edinburgh castle, choose a location at the periphery of the city, and then walk an unplanned route in order to reach that location. A fourth stage might include sharing our creative responses to the walk afterwards.”
The walks I make have a beginning and an end, but I get lost in-between. I ‘lose myself’ in my thoughts and sensations, I ‘miss’ the signs and ‘find’ myself somewhere else. I start out with an intention, a stone in my hand perhaps, and I end up with a living plan(t) inside.
Having discarded the prompt-stone at a prominent juncture, it has served its purpose, I have turned towards a new East. (Did I take a ‘wrong’ turn?) I ended up who-knows-where in my quest.
What was related, tangentially, to what I started with, has metamorphosised and ‘become’. Appeared. Taken shape.
it reminds me of
that connects with
and before I know it I am in a new here
I feel the thrill, I recognise it has to be done, followed through with, communicated.
Then my task is to ‘find’ my way back to the path and continue until I arrive at a place of safety for the night.
I sleep on it, like a mattress of new endeavours under which is a pea that cannot be ignored. It sprouts while I dream. In the morning, I discover that my subconscious has fertilised that small plant and when I step out again onto the continuation of that route the next day, it leads me somewhere else and the shoot inside continues to grow with the next set of new.
‘The pathways get stronger with repetition until the behavior is the new normal.‘
If I go ‘my way’, take the “unplanned route to reach the periphery” (which by its nature is just outside my forward-seeing vision), there I am in an unfamiliar “location”, the sort which contains new possibilities. New neural tracks are trodden and remembered, forging unexpected links which lead me in directions not previously imagined.
‘and like many of them he ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else.”
Out of the house, I turned right instead of the usual left. I was heading towards a certain place and hoping to deviate – deviation, on occasion, being the source of imaginative instigation.
Ahead, on the single lane bridge, was a man on the non-pavement side where there’s a ‘>’ in the wall, a ‘more than’ nick out of the road. There is more, because when you stand there and look over, you can see the river. I was prepared to walk on the pavement, to keep my distance, but he crossed back. He had a stick. I said ‘good morning’ and he seemed surprised. I crossed to the nick and leaned over to look at the water. I live by the sea in Edinburgh, but here in Kent with my mother during the Covid-19 lockdown period, I am landlocked. It is different. It has an effect on me.
I took a left at the post office. Another gentleman and I dodged right-left-right until we wordlessly worked out who would go in the road – me. We smiled, maybe murmured, I can’t remember now.
Does this shifting onto the highway to keep our distance, endanger our health?
My route is chosen
I passed where the sandbags are still piled up outside ‘the pretty cottages’ from the flooding,. Further on, there were words carved in chunks of stone at the top of 2 brick gate posts – Lyngs Close. I typed it into my notes for memory’s sake, and google changed it to ‘lungs’. For once, clever google – Lyngs does mean lungs! It denotes ‘an open space in a town or city, where people can breathe fresher air’ (which I didn’t know at the time). That set off a chain reaction in my mind.
I am a health practitioner, and when I refer to the Lungs in my work (Chinese Medicine), I spell it with a capital letter because the term encompasses both the respiratory organs and the things we practitioners have all noticed over the years that are repeatedly connected with them. For example, clients I see with asthma and other pulmonary issues, will often tell me, ‘I can’t breathe in this relationship’, or, ‘Although there is space at my work, I can’t take a deep breath when I’m there – I think it’s because my boss watches over me all the time’. These phrases link the physical lungs and the ability to breathe easily, with the psychological feelings around having enough space and freedom.
This week, the Daily Mail reported concerns that ‘political appointees are breathing down the necks of scientists’, implying that they are being pressurised to make a vaccine quickly. In ancient Chinese texts you will find references to regulations, and the setting of borders (including those between what is right and wrong) linked to the Lungs. As it is their job to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide across membranes (the borders between the alveoli, the air sacs) in order to maintain our vitality, the aspects of our lives related to rules, space and air are also connected. We are living in a time when the government might ‘push strict lockdown rules to their limit’ and that affects each of us in different ways. I tend to rebel if the boundary is too restricted, if my freedom to create is curtailed.1
A walk theme emerged by happenstance (which I always think must be about happily coming across something). Chance is about things happening unexpectedly and about providing for the possibility of…
The Scottish charity Greenspace Scotland (2011) defines green spaces as: ‘the green lungs of our towns and cities which contribute to improving peoples’ physical and mental health…and ‘breathing spaces’ to take time out from the stresses of modern life. ‘
As I made my way down the narrow close, I remembered a walk I took a few weeks ago – I was directed along a foot-width path between two fences, by a farmer who did not want ramblers on his land. This expression of limitation was in the middle of a great, grassy field. I was unable to stray in any way. I recalled the signs I had photographed the previous evening – ‘Strictly Private’ and ‘Keep Out’. In Scotland we have the ‘Freedom to Roam’, not so here in England, my original home.
It’s like the world’s northern forests become a giant vacuum cleaner, scouring the air, sucking down the CO2 till around November
The way then opened up and there was a huge beech tree, one of earth’s 3.1 trillion ‘lungs’, with lobe-shaped leaves. (See the link in the box above for the source of that statistic). By the tree, at the edge of this oval patch of green for everyone to share, was a sign telling me that parking was for residents and their visitors only. I manoeuvred between the cars and came upon an even bigger Green, surrounded by houses and vehicles of varying shapes and sizes. I don’t have one, haven’t had for years, but I remember shutting myself in mine, in a secluded spot, to cry or scream, sleep or read when the children were at school and it all got too much. Here, it was momentarily clear, no exhaust fumes clogging up the air. I wondered if more cars were ‘at home’ than usual – that our new rules were going some way to liberating the planet from exhaust fumes.
There was a murmur of voices, slamming of doors and then a thrumming as an engine started up. It couldn’t, it tried again – the machine was coughing.
I had already strayed from my path, wandered off the tarmac onto grass and the crunch of dry sticks breaking. I took a big deep breath and blew at a dandelion clock. Under my boots, a dry tracery of tracks and mud; above, birds warbled. Avian creatures are the only species with a syrinx, the air passing across these thin membranes to produce their songs. Sometimes, like the Song Thrush, there are 2 windpipes and so 2 tunes can be sung simultaneously. It’s known as ‘duetting’. (How Do Birds Sing, CelebrateUrbanBirds.com)
I noticed two bins on the grass which I knew would starve it of light if left there for very long. Without light, as every school child is taught, it would be unable to photosynthesise, to process carbon dioxide and water and convert it into oxygen and glucose to be able to thrive.
I mused on a Facebook story: A friend living in Peru reported, ‘Six weeks of no physical exercise, except for 2 minute walks to take the rubbish out, or check the mailbox, or walk from the car park to the pharmacy…’ Another, from Scotland, wrote, ‘I have felt a bit up and down emotionally this week, wondering….when I shall see my children and grandchildren again.’ Starved of light and sunshine, of physical contact and face-to-face time with friends and family, the health of we and our environment is threatened.
Outside the Village Hall, a man and a woman in a stationary car were smoking with the windows open and the engine running.
Alone and together
Now I was back on the main road by the bus stop. A cyclist sped past, the dynamo humming. Four-by-fours raced, causing a wind to ripple my trousers. For a moment it was me and the birdsong before the next one. As it pulled away my nostrils filled with toxic vapours. A child stamped so he could hear himself, questioned his parents. He sang a snippet of the tune in his head, aloud. It was boiling (April) – I was ‘warming’.
There were the wings of a pigeon, whirring; there, the straining neck of a blackbird dashing; and there, the candelabra of the chestnut tree. I remembered that they give some people hayfever.
On my right was a track, and a gate with just enough space to squeeze around. ‘How do I know where I am not allowed to walk if there are no signs?’ I caught myself wondering. I went anyway. It took my fancy.
There was one single crow high up in the clear blue sky; further on a solitary cat in the forage; a pesky pheasant in the stubble, its red head and plumed tail quite evident. Until it spotted me, that was. Then it ducked. If I had been a hungry buzzard at that moment, that pheasant would have seemed to be a clod of earth – cunning. A buzzing insect intercepted me and my camera. I ignored it because of the game and my thoughts. It was me and them. It smelled of hot, cut grass and faintly acrid chemicals.
8, 12, 4 birds flew around in ellipses, making a 3d spirograph of smooth circling, their wings catching the sun and glinting like morse code. I watched some more. No, the signalling came from their white bellies being exposed between wing flaps – hidden, shown, hidden, shown – around 3 x per second 2, 70-95 mph3 Notably, they choose to expend extra energy in order to fly together, adding an extra wingbeat per second in order to have compatriots to home with.4 I have brought Sara Baume’s book ‘handiwork’ for a walk with me. She writes that birds migrate with other species sometimes, if they share feeding habits. I didn’t know that. I like to think I could join a flock of others who have the same needs as me for company on the long journey.
If I am not allowed to go there, I can’t help them
Over and over again, as I walk, I am faced with limitations and the knock-on effect of them. As I turned a corner, cars were relegated to the distance, birds and other unidentifiable noises took precedence, but I could not investigate because of the fence. On Saturday morning it was the same – I think it was a distressed duck I was hearing (perhaps because of my concern over the mother of the 2 dead ducklings the cats brought in the day before), but I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity because of the wire and wooden posts. Nor could I help, even if that had been possible. (This is another topic – the crossing over the road to avoid contact, thereby missing the opportunity to be close to another, strike up a conversation, smile into their eyes and help if need be; the secluding which precludes neighbourly chats and offers / receiving of support; the ‘Keep Out’ signs which stop me reaching the scene of the problem – none of it healthy). I realised I was walking the outside perimeter of someone’s garden. They were on one side, me the other.
The wood pigeon gurgled her underwater sounds; the sweet smell of hawthorn was like incense in a mosque. Two rabbits ran out onto the path and turned towards me. I realised they don’t know I was there. One turned off close by, the other froze. She seemed to be unsure. A pigeon errupted from above my head, and I startled. That scared the bunny away.
Nearing the end
A woman’s voice I couldn’t quite hear, interrupted my peace. I saw the phone ringing and I didn’t answer. Before I knew it I recognised where I was and glanced at the time – it was getting on.
I was on the official footpath, but it was the back of a sign that was towards me. I got stung by nettles trying to read it, and, although I generally think that homeopathically that does me good because I respond well to the properties of Urtica dioica, drink it every day (it’s good for the health of my joints and blood), nevertheless this is another danger inherent in rural walking!
Before the cherry orchard, I came across raspberries which have been allowed to go wild. Not over excited, although maybe they are because they have grown in exuberant, prickly arches, more monumental than the brambles. (Do they compete? I wonder). They have been left, free to go their own way. Kids who ‘go wild’ are said to be having fun, they squeal and scream, their voices filling the air with their freedom of expression. I go a bit wild when I walk: I dismiss pretence and constraint. Not quite feral, not ‘gone mad’, but I have wilded.
The voices behind me were getting louder. Closer therefore. ‘You don’t want to do it on a day like today’, he said with a forbidding tone. I stood to the side to let them pass.
I wanted to stay out until I wanted to go back. I knew, now, where I was and how long it would take to get home and guaged it was perfect timing to speak to the kids on Zoom. (Actually I was late and the youngest messaged, ‘Where are you all? I am here on my own. I could be outside.’)
Offstage, a child screamed. A fatherly voice said, ‘Calm down, don’t panic, if there’s a problem, tell me’. Then I was back on a road. They cycled past.
As I crossed the Lees, there was a procession of us, socially distanced. We were strung out, hopefully not ‘strung out’ – nervous or tense – after our walk. One woman wore headphones, cut off; a couple were knee deep in the undergrowth; a what-I-call ‘proper hiker’ was focused forwards with his baton jauntily over his shoulder like Dick Whittington (I said hello, but got no response); a friendly woman with a walking stick smiled and nodded.
I did go where I had intended to, but I got there an unfamiliar way. I came across a lot of warnings, but survived. My health was all the better for the open air and the Spring green.
30 Women and men took a walk on the weekend of 4/5 April 2020 when most people around the world were vastly restricted in their movements for the purpose of limiting the spread of the corona virus. They took 30 minutes of exercise, as encouraged by their governments, staying close to their homes and collected sounds and images while they were out. These are being made into a video / audio, a soundtrack of photos, to share with those who are unable to leave their homes (for example in Spain). People took walks in Israel, Greece, France, Iceland, the US, the Czech Republic, Scotland and England. 79 joined the Facebook group (including the 30) over 48 hours.
I have selected one photo per participant for this blog. The other photos mentioned in the commentary below will be in the film. Guidelines were set for the walks and they can be found here.
LG wrote: I started from home wearing gloves as there are a few gates and stiles to go through before gaining access to the hills near my house. I did have to speak to one woman who commented on my walking pole, wishing she had one. She had just come down the steps in my photo, they are very steep. I climbed the steps then made a right angled turn up the side of the hill where all Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth come into view below – not a great photo it being my old smart phone, but it is amazing whatever the weather. I walked up to the brow of the hill, the larch are beginning to flower, hard to capture, it was quite windy up there, and the fence posts all have moss hair! I sat for a while to admire the view looking east and south towards Allermuir Hill. Down across the boggy bit to the lovely stone seat erected as part of a woodland planting initiative commemorating the First World War, where I sat again to listen. Wood pigeons, chaffinches, two magpies, a flat-footed hill runner, a mountain biker struggling up the hill, lots of silent intervals. Down to a small burn, took a short video. Back along a different path and across a field through the woods to my street. Love this tree, someone once carved a heart, it has grown with the tree and the tree has formed its own heart above it ❤ This is a favourite short walk, which since my hip replacement last autumn, I can now enjoy again. I’m so lucky to have this on my doorstep – think I’d go crazy if we were confined to our homes!
Video on Facebook – click on Liza’s photos within her post and you will see her video of a beautiful burn.
KL wrote: I had a slightly belated, long, tiring and enjoyable cycle ride yesterday, but on Saturday a short suburban walk. Space to observe normality and uncertainty, fears and opportunities, isolation and society . . .
JW sent videos – from herself in Edinburgh – Wind Murmuration – and from a friend of hers on Holy Isle off the south west coast of Scotland.
GC wrote: I went for a walk around the block today that led me to Aberdeen university. I loooove that area. So nice and full of old building, lovely houses, little cottages. It’s the old Aberdeen 😍 Daffodils are in bloom, Seaton park was deserted and it all felt so peaceful. It was 3. 4km and bird and bells were ringing at 6pm. Bliss ✨⚡️#walkgowild
EP wrote: I walked by the coast with my dog on Sunday afternoon – my daily walk towards Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. Lots of birds chirping in the warmth of the sun, so fortunate to have the Forth estuary on my doorstep. The sea soothes me. Seaweed in abundance, daffodils in the scrubland, bright sky sunshine – so good for the soul. I love yellow – gorse on the hill. Healing our world.🌎
Carmen S wrote: It was a late evening walk, beautiful light, extraordinary blossoms, spring is here.
SJ wrote: Today’s walk next to my house 🙏
Maria G gave her photos titles: Walk and sense all dimensions! Far, close, hug, and Leia.
GI wrote: My favourite walk and I am so lucky to live near by the Arthur seat, Edinburgh. I could not resist to walk with the bare feet, the Earth was so warm even thought the sun came out later on – such beautiful day, very grateful for moments like this. My daughter was climbing the tree, I got the beautiful hag from it and some fresh nettles to brew the tea and we collected white fluffy feathers on the way home to be creative 🙏/ Sunday around 5pm. The concert from all the birds and gentle wind were so refreshing.
Catharine S wrote: A stroll in the local park in Milton Keynes – along the canal, and then back along by Caldecotte Lake, up a bit to Ouzel Valley park, and back onto the Grand Union, and home. Traffic noise is possibly less, but still pretty noisy – not too much bird song to pick up, so no audio. Pub is closed, which I notice means later on less light pollution from the sign, allowing for a bit more vision of clear, starry nights. I appreciate the old canal bridges over the Grand Union in Milton Keynes, and the good looking moon.
SS wrote: Danson Park for 30 minutes this afternoon after 4:30 pm. Her video on Facebook is here. A few from me. I had a quick walk for 20 min between 14:00 and 14:20. With the first photo, I just fell in love with the bright green. The third was all about sky and sense of space. And the last 2, color, delight for the heart.
CT wrote: I went for a walk at about 16:00 along the Water of Leith with my husband and then, half an hour later, kept walking on my own in our communal gardens below our street, which face onto the river. I see a magpie settle on a tree. I listen to the birds, trying to identify them from their sound (I’m so bad at that) and the river flowing below. I look at the blossom across the river from the old orchard. I’m looking at the trees in the garden – can I see a tree creeper, that I haven’t seen for the past two years but I know are in the gardens? It’s very peaceful, people walking along the river, minding their distance and enjoying being out.
Walk 2: I walk up the steep slope in our gardens. I’m not good at birdsong but think I can hear the see-saw sound of great tits and the more mellifluous robin. I meet someone also looking for a tree creeper – they’re very hard to see, so I’m trying to learn what they sound like. I’m also looking for a wren; there are lots in the garden but you don’t often see them. I see another two magpies – one for sorrow; two for joy; three for a girl … I’m looking down on a pigeon! it just flew away. I hear a bird give a warning sound – is that a blackbird? I’m not quite sure. Past the badger’s hole. I finished my walk down onto the public footpath and then a brisk stride up the 140 steps from the river to our street (no landings for the first 111 steps – done without a break!) to get my cardio-vascular exercise for the day. Catharine’s video on facebook is here.
Maria Shi-Fo sent videos of Plaka and Akropoli in Athens – autumn within Spring, Saturday morning. They are on Facebook here. She has another one taken on Sunday afternoon, not very far from Athens
EL wrote: I walked behind the house today. The flowering currant is in memory of our first pony Benji, wind turbines were noisy, good views and interesting lichens.
KL wrote: Our dog Ruby was a little too hot, so we ended up doing lots of stops to cool down pottering in the streams and river. Ruby was a thirsty girl! She has dodgy hips so finds it very hard to go up and down that particular slope – hence the encouragement from my partner! Here is the video of Ruby
We went for a walk – a familiar route, straight from the front door, down to the river Le Noireau in the valley down a decline of 20%. Keeping to the required distance from home (1km in France) and only 1hr for exercise. The full loop is about 5km and usually takes us an hour. It was quite warm today.
CM wrote: On Saturday around 3pm I went for a walk with my granddaughter, aged 5, along the Water of Leith. We started at the Shore, she was on her scooter and I was armed with a long stick, at her request. We meandered along to a place we could feed the ducks and splash with said stick in the water. We played and sang along the way, and back. The simplicity of the walk was truly joyful. The sounds of the birds, the water, and our own chatter. The small things in life are often the most precious.
ML wrote: I cycled to Jesmond Dene, still early. The sound of the burn and birdsong. No idea what birds were – made mental note to learn. Of all the Buddhist teachings I’ve studied over the years, the most simple is the most profound; present moment, wonderful moment. A beagle sits refusing to budge not even when a spaniel pup offers him a game of chase.
Just back from a walk through Jesmond Dene then back home via the streets of suburban Newcastle upon Tyne. I forgot to do the 5 mins note taking but recorded 1 minute of sound.
JT wrote: A blustery, wonderfully warm Spring day in my local park. Lovely to hear the wind in the trees 🌳 🌲 Berries are out … Berry Hill Primary School closed for the foreseeable future 😔 … so Schools out – possibly ‘Schools out for summer’ 🧒 👶 I’m sure there’s a song budding there 🎶 🎤 🏫… 💃 Her video on Facebook is here
LS wrote: We set off from the house at about 1635. We headed down the hill to the sea making a new friend en route, and bumping into old ones. It was strange keeping a distance and not giving them a hug. (Sorry it would have been rude not to chat!). We chose a circular route; gentle walk down to the seafront and back up the steep steps to our road. It was interesting to see the groups of people on the beach keeping their distance and many more people walking along the quayside than normal. I wondered if all the groups were from the same household, or whether they had arranged to meet friends at the sea front. There were four people stripping off for a swim and I wondered if they were from the wild swimming club? I admired their bravery; the sea looked cold even though it has been a very mild day. I took a photograph of the quay from above because it made an interesting geometric shape into the sea. The terraced garden enchanted me because it is an achievement to create something so attractive from scratch on such a steep embankment. The colours of the car matched the Fisherman’s cottage and made me think of the limited palette used by the artist Whistler. Most of these Fishermans cottages have screens or net curtains at the window to prevent prying eyes. I was delighted by this display, carefully arranged, inviting people to pause and look in. A reminder of Spring and hope for all of us. The woman strode out into the surf, but it was the dog who had second thoughts. It’s usually the other way round!
TH wrote: Yesterday I walked from my front door down to the River Almond along to the Union Canal where I followed the path towards Ratho, rejoined the road at Clifton cottage and walked back round to Lins Mill where I retraced the river walk to complete my loop on a cloudy, but bright day. So many birds around chirruping, calling or singing mellifluously – various tits, magpies, chiff chaffs, blackbirds, wood pigeons, pheasants, a robin, a thrush, a woodpecker tapping away….babbling brooks and the rush of river water contrasting with the silence and stillness of the canal. I’ve never seen so many roe deer as close to home before – a cluster of four stood staring at me through the trees for a good while, before bolting away. So many hosts of golden daffodils in varied hues. A few folk about, everyone greets each other these days even if just with a smile – we’re all in this together. Her video is here on Facebook
MS wrote: Short walk around Duddingston Golf Course today, around 40 minutes, left approximately 12 noon. Warm overcast day, took a few cuttings while I was out. His video is on Facebook here
MG wrote: 17.07 to 17.57 on April 04, 3.6 kms through Bishops Park, Fulham, London, England 🏴 I usually walk in the morning and around the bridges in the weekends (7kms), but that was before the lockdown…I thought it would be less busy at tea time as Hammersmith & Fulham reopened parks (and had dozens of volunteers help the park patrol avoid big gatherings). I enjoyed walking in the middle of the street as no one is taking their cars anymore. I sat on a bench facing the sunset, closed my eyes and enjoyed a little breeze and the warmth of the sun on my face, knees and shinbones… listening to a big variety of birds 🐦 🦅 🦢 wishing I could name them… my sense of smell is not impressed as I haven’t recorded any smell in my notes despite taking loads of pictures of blooming trees…plan for next time to try and smell more… As I listen to the birds there is suddenly an airplane ✈️ loosing speed above us, I remember the « nextdoor » chat the other day saying we « only » had 120 airplanes that day instead of the common 1200…we are on one of Heathrow landing paths! Walking back I pass a house with 2 families having an informal gathering (with respect to the two meters rule between the two groups), and I smile as our neighbours have had a few of these meetings today already… enjoy your weekend! ☯️💖
DO wrote: I left my flat at 5.45pm and walked to Brighton Park in Portobello, Edinburgh. The street is quiet. I take a few photos along the way and a video of me running away from someone who is coughing loudly. At 5.50pm, all is quiet in the park except for the sound of buses on Brighton Place. Today feels like a layer of grief and sadness has been lifted. I was meditating earlier and I felt Earth’s heart. In the park, I felt Earth saying, “Thank you.” Joy and sadness. Joy at the sound of Spring: birds and a palpable sense of hope that we are entering a new phase of existence. Sadness at the irony of being enclosed indoors during a time of renewal. Feeling my feet on the ground. Grateful for this moment. And I love old trees, they have seen a lot. I miss Hampstead Heath. At 6.00pm, the church clock from the Catholic church chimed. It was very touching. Awaken, it seemed to say, we are being called to tune in to our inner being, a new tempo. 🙏
SG wrote: My route began in midday as I stepped out of my home in Tel Aviv, Israel. I started in the front lawn of the building and continued onwards across the road, weaving through the neighbouring buildings. I listened and recorded the peaceful sounds of nature and the chirping birds overwhelming the atmosphere with their beauty. We are not allowed to venture out that much, only up to 100 meters. My walk was not very long, nonetheless it was meaningful. I took a few photos of what caught my attention: a bicycle ( a passion of mine), a tire filled with plants, a blank sign and a guitar (music and nature which I can’t live without)… The blank sign, I felt, was very much like a path of uncertainty and acceptance. I accept that life has a route for each one of us and we don’t hold the reins for the most part, so we might as well walk with acceptance 🙂 I discovered a tree stump and it automatically took me to a fovourite of mine, Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” which has always been such a profound impact in my life. Most noticeably, I took a moment to breath in and observe my surroundings. A hedgehog accompanied me, which reminded me that this place called earth is not only my home. A photo of a sign in Hebrew that said love which always resonates within me. I feel it is best to end with “And the tree was happy”. Thank you, be humble and be safe. 🙏
RV wrote: Location: Eastern Fjords, Iceland. Town called Neskaupstadur. Walked 40 minutes, between 15:35, finished 16:15. Weather: south-western, strong winds, but sun. We had a metre of snow yesterday but today’s winds and 10 degrees has melted it all. Walked from the harbour, past the small boat harbour to the estuary where the glacial river enters the sea. Today there were icefloes in the harbour, the river has broken her icy shakkles at last. The black volcanic sand beach had heaps of snow and jagged ice, the river itself running dark grey and loud between the narrows. We walk here five or so times a week, it is never the same walk. Different boats in the harbour; trawlers, freight carriers of frozen fish, oil tankers, small boats. They have started the Lumpsucker roe season, dragging the nets weekly, but the weekend’s storm made the takings light. Migratory birds coming back. The black helmeted seagull, orange legged oyster catchers, eider ducks, black backed gulls. The Faroese say Spring comes when the oyster catchers return. The Icelanders welcome Spring with the Golden Plover. We heard the Oyster catchers “peep peep” and the “hum umm” of the eider ducks, the wind constantly in our ears. Not many cars, people walking, children, dogs, but everyone cautious, wary.
CD wrote: A walk yesterday in my neighbourhood of Castelnau-le-Lez, very close to Montpellier, but very quick to be in nature. 🙏 It is also a stop on the Compostella road. I like to stroll through the streets looking in the gardens, all the different trees : laurel, olive, palm, lilac, roses, pin parasols (a type of oak), thyme, rosemary, iris, wild orchids. I walk to the top of a hill where I can see the sea – so close, but too far for now. It’s the feeling of containment that give that little, but very present, pressure of not being able to … this brings energy to a point that helps good transformation of what needs to transform in the moment. In fact, it’s a present, une “aubaine” as we say it in French (a boon in English). Then enjoying space lying down in the sun in the grass full of little herbs and flowers. So good. Her videos are on Facebook here about which she wrote: No words needed 😁🙏
VS wrote: Lovely walk on fields. Keep coming back daily to watch a sunset.So beautiful yet diferent every day. Pics were captured 19:21-19:26, a shorg video at 19:24. Her video is here on Facebook
Here, now, is the full video of the sounds which were collected by the people above, for you to watch when / if you are stuck inside, or if you would like to hear what it sounds like in different parts of the world.
#walkgoesviral March 2020 (This event has now taken place)
A virus is a tiny particle and needs a host cell to be able to live and spread. If each of us takes a short walk this weekend; if we all listen and record the sounds around us and the feelings which go with them; within a 2 km / 1 mile radius; and if I host a platform for collating these – then we can co-create a record of our extraordinary times. For those who cannot leave the house or hospital, we will collect the sounds of the outside for them to hear indoors.
You might take a circular walk or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair or buggy.
For children and adults, dogs and tortoises.
Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude. If you do have to talk, make a note of why and when)
You have 5 tasks to complete –
You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:
Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home) – you can make a list or be creative
Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons)
When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form.
Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Please note these things when you share:
Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at…
Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…
Here is an example:
I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose)
Note down anything else you think is interesting eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well.
What is the point of doing this?
To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel
To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time
To know that when you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation
For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
To see what happens
To create a record of this event for posterity
You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other
Facebook group called Walk This Weekend
I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey
Once you have shared, I will
Collate the data and share in a blog
Record how many people walked and where
I will make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help appreciated as I am an amateur)
I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else)
Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted.
Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.
A 3 hour round walk, to and from Yalding High Street. March 2020
At this time, when we are not allowed to leave the house more than once a day unless there’s an emergency, and should only be doing it for the purposes of exercise, my awareness of the connections between nature and our situation is alive in my mind as I walk.
There’s a little lane off Yalding High Street, between the white-boarded, thatched house and the pale daffodil-yellow brick one with matching tiles (on the same side as St Peter’s and St Paul’s church). It takes you past the churchyard and through a gate which is now propped open with a sign saying it’s because of the corona virus. (It took me a while to work out why, but I think it’s so that you don’t have to touch the wood and possibly leave or catch germs). The cemetery with H’s grave and the rifle range are almost facing each other and you can see the controversial new builds and the rubble which has been left over. The Kintons is a well-used sports and dog-walking patch of grass with a children’s play area.
In the far left hand corner, past the bluebell woods, is a track which darts straight ahead – a field was being mowed to the right, a rather portly little dog scampering behind; and scrubby woods, with the back entrance to a grand mansion, are opposite. A woman was coming towards me and she couldn’t avoid being closer than two metres due to the narrowness of the track, but she awkwardly tilted her upper body away from me. I had a lot of bible teaching when I was a child and these stories often pop into my mind even though I am no longer a practicing Christian. So, I had been thinking about the image from the Good Samaritan bible story of people crossing over to avoid having to help the injured and needy. Nowadays, we are taking care of each other by doing just that: by-passing on the street. Equally, many of us are going out of our way to look out for others – the phone and the doorbell ring approximately seven times a day at my mother’s house where I am currently staying, with folk from near and far checking if she is OK because she usually lives alone and is over 80 years old.
Crossing Vicarage Lane at a slight angle, I clambered over the stile, sleeve pulled down over my supporting hand to avoid skin contact, tromped through the grass, crossed an access road, and followed the footpath signs (you do not have the Right to Roam in England as we do in Scotland).
Water weaves through this landscape at the best of times. It floods regularly, inundating the copses and arable lands; contrastingly, it is often so dry that great fissures appear and hose pipes are banned. Locals are constantly reminded of what is vital to life, forced to focus on conserving it and appreciating it when it is in balance. This virus we are now dealing with, is, maybe unwittingly, protecting our landscape (yesterday drones were spying on the Yorkshire moors to even stop hikers (for different reasons)). Although many fear that we have damaged it for good, we do also know how resilient nature can be.
The earth was bright in the sun, hardening and whitening every day now Spring is here. Often so solid and unyielding in the south east of England, there are still sodden patches and the odd sinkhole of wetness left from Winter and you might not be so safe if you stepped there. I reflected that it is change, especially unforseen changes, which challenge our sense of security. Although we want to trust that we will one day be able to plan and move around the world again, we do not know when that will be. In fact, we know deep down that nothing will be exactly the same; we understand that this is serious enough to bring about a new order. We don’t yet know what shape that will take. because, metaphorically speaking, the ground underneath us has shifted. This is why walking, even when we have to watch our footing, is such a reassuring activity – we still get from a to b and survive the experience. I could feel myself becoming grounded, and then I sighed and felt a movement in my heart area. (Chinese medicine practitioners: in the Five Phases, when the child’s happy (Earth), so is the mum (Fire)).
Walking towards Grove Lane, there is an almost imperceptible gap on the left which opens out to a small lake. It looked grand. Skirting it, I admired the wild flowers. What a beautiful setting on such a day, with the cool wind causing mini waves and turning the surface a myriad of shades of blue.
I crouched down to watch a bee collecting from between delicate mauve petals. He was only just about holding his own way in the breeze, but he kept on, goal clear. I admired the water birds and the Daisies with their sunshine faces. Bird’s Eye nestled at their feet, making another stunning combination of hues. There were sharply serrated Nettles and whorls of Thistles. Neon orange lifebelts hung at either end, and the whole was chicken-wire-edged so that I made an entire cycle before exiting precisely where I entered, stepping over the fallen fence.
Doubling back on myself by the lane which curves around the lake, my attention was attracted by men’s voices, the first of several groups I passed during the morning, working away hard in close proximity. They were setting the strawberry plants onto the stands under the plastic hoods.
I heard the coots before I saw them and I suspect that they were born here, that their life has been, and will continue to be, spent in this pond, (according to the RSPB they are resident here all year round), just as the trees in the wood next to it have stood in the same place for 100s of years. Other waterfowl return to their homes, well to their second homes every winter like Brits on the Costa Brava.
Witness the staying power of trees! There they are, in one spot, come month, come year. And what do they do while they’re standing there? It turns out they are very quietly, and probably slowly, fostering their community through their roots, just as so many of us are only now starting to do.
‘Foster’ comes is associated with the Old English fostrian meaning to supply food, nourish and support.
At the same time as processing the CO2 (carbon dioxide) for us, looking beautiful and smelling divine, trees offer a home to insects, birds and other creatures. And yet, so many humans are currently living and suffering alone during this crisis – perhaps an unnatural state, certainly a dangerous one for those who are extra vulnerable. Questions arise: What can we do about this? How can we ensure this doesn’t happen during the next virus?
What’s more, trees canot grow to a great height if they are standing too close to each other. What a lot we have to learn! What a lot we are learning right now, thanks to the Covid-19.
The path took me around a corner where some old equipment was half buried and put out to pasture. Wide open fields were flattish, a gentle rise in the distance and the wind from the north was chilly except when sheltered by the hedgerows.
I took the Permissive Path (that is, not a public Right of Way, but one which is allowed by the landowner) over a tiny, planked bridge to West Street and stopped at Hunton St Mary’s church to visit my father’s grave. I took a quick photo of the Village Hall to send to my sister – she got married there – and then crossed back over, past the Engineering Works and took a right. I wandered beside more agricultural land until I reached the junction between Barn Hill and the wonderfully named Lughorse Lane (needing no eplanation).
Clumps of proud daffodils with orange trumpets kept their eyes on me as I passed. There were also some plants which resembled long and upright poos, or if I am to be less disgusting, vertical pine cones in the deep grass.
Before long there was a footpath off to the right and I started to climb quite steeply. It was peaceful. This was my exercise (in case any(official)one is reading this). There was stubble from what appeared to be bamboo on my right, but I doubt it; more likely wheat. There were mostly Magpies, Pigeons and Crows around (I did see a Jay a few days ago which was exciting). I spied a raptor nearer the top, most likely a buzzard sailing on outstreched wings, but the photo was too indistinct to reproduce it here.
Although a dogwalker took the private road uphill on the right, I turned left on the official way and walked through the Buston Manor yard. First a jogger and then a proper walker with a staff who wore headphones, came towards me. But I was drawn aside by the gardens, architecture and tree bark design, never mind the extensive walled garden. I was told, later, that it is often used for filming TV and features.
Up again and a little sit-down for to eat my satsuma, wind in my ears and at the back of my neck. We have to be careful of that as an acupoint GB20, aptly named Wind Pool, is where Wind can enter causing headaches or worse (flu), certainly making us vulnerable. My (and my grandmother’s) advice – wear a scarf!
Through a metal gate, I went left onto a farm track of very dark loam, ploughed by machinery wheels and criss-crossed with tree shadows and sunshine-saturated grass. Steeply down now until I, unfortunately, here spied a Public Footpath stone and so took a right up a slight bank and out into the open again where there was one of the ‘footpaths’ I have walked the length of before in this area. This narrow enclosure drew me along and then, suddenly ending in a field, it showed me up to the right (where admittedly the vibrant green of ground-spreading chamomile was growing alongside left-over broad bean seedlings) and, without realising where I was heading, I was through another metal gate and onto Yalding Hill.
Yalding Hill is to be avoided at all costs, if you are on foot, as it is a very busy, narrow road with no pavements. Being very familiar with such situations, I was brazen and made sure every vehicle speeding towards me knew I was there (waving my arms, making eye contact, thanking them afterwards), but many were going too fast and several times I had to flatten myself against a bank. Had I known this in advance, I would have turned back.
Tip: Do turn back if you find yourself on Yalding Hill. Find another, safer way down.
I walked through the garden gate 3 hours to the minute from when I left – good timing!
16.3.20. This blog is unashamedly full of flowers, birds and other natural phenomena. I was very grateful to see that nature is carrying on (perhaps a little less interfered with than before) while all this is going on. It is intended as reassurance, and as a reminder that walking is allowed in the UK, even if you are at risk or at home because others in your family are unwell! I never thought I would have to use that phrase – how is it possible that walking needs to be sanctioned by a government? These are mighty strange times.
I walked across the Lees (more here) and tried to go under Twyford Bridge but it’s still flooded. I took the pedestrian way that bypasses Hampstead Weir (see above link for sunny photos from an earlier time) and comes out at Teapot Island. From there I took a left to walk along the towpath with the River Medway on my right. There were no fishermen today, but there was a man in wellies and shorts, his knees looking rather vulnerable, having a smoke, and another further on, busy weeding. They were outside the new fixed caravans which are lined up neatly there – rather liable to getting wet, I would hazard.
The sun shows up all manner of miniscule details: a strand, a filament of spider’s web stuck to a bramble new-leaf which is coexisting with the old ones on the same stem. There are also aged twigs, dry leaves, spent old man’s beard alongside the new blackthorn flowers and buds. We are all together in this.
I began in a thwarted frame of mind: It was about when you want to walk from a-to-b-to-c, but have to settle with there-and-back. Then, quickly, it was just as glorious as it could be. I had planned to walk The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. I even had the Pilgrim’s Passport sent to me by a very helpful woman at the Cathedral in C. Another time!
Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself. He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises …Well, he was humming this hum to himself, and walking along gaily, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else, when suddenly he came to a sandy bank, and in the bank was …..
There was the scent of wood smoke, and the sound of water under the bridge and through the lock, of twittering, and an occassional parping from a train that was still running even despite the reduction in passengers due to the crown shaped virus.
There were regal foxgloves – no flowers yet, just a fascinator of leaves tilted at a jaunty angle on a mount. Many, many wood anemones were spread across the earth. Copious bird calls either drowned out this winter’s new tinnitus (mostly in my right ear) or it just stopped. There was, however, the thrum of engines from somewhere offstage (which was not the sound in my head!)
I spied one or two little settlements almost hidden by trees over the water, indications that people are living there quietly, in those beautiful spots. At a little bridge, I crossed to investigate the white flowers on the other side – were they wild garlic? No, instead a veritable sea of anemones. And, I spotted a large dead fish with a long nose – a pike – which I thought must have been flung there when the water broke the banks, because the greenery around it was all covered in a film of earth-dust. However, there was a hole in its side, so it must have been hoiked out by a human and not returned.
In the essence of full disclosure, I actually like the way northern pike taste. However, many would rather eat the aluminum foil the pike was cooked on than the fish itself. Well, with that in mind, one chef in Canada is about to change all that.
Coming up onto the road, I was in East Peckham with the food Co-op to my left. I spotted footpath signs up ahead pinting to the industrial area where they burn acrid things in backyards and the flooded woods are full of metal rubbish. Nevertheless, birds sang, woodpeckers clacked their beaks against bark, I spotted mallards and blackbirds, a thrush, a chaffinch – simply delightful.
I was not clear which path to take at Sluice Weir Lock #6 located between the ‘River Walk Junction (Junction with the northern route to the railway bridge) (5 miles and 7¾ furlongs and 5 locks to the west) and Yalding Wharf (2 miles and 1 furlong to the northeast)’ also known as Branbridge’s Whark, Arnold’s Mill Lock, Pinkham. ‘Straight on to Hadlow and Golden Green, or over there to East Peckham which is very pretty’ said the male half of a couple I had been playing overtaking with for half an hour or so. They had a massive dog called Rudolf who, when he jumped up, was taller than me! I took the attractive route and they took the other. After all, we were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ which is possible but a bit weird – speaking to others with a 2 metre gap.
Note: a furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 201 metres
I explored the lock a little and then perused the woods where a huge bumble buzzed around my feet and a robin warbled and squeaked alongside me. There was the first butterfly of the year – bright orange like the redbreasts chest – on my return I saw a uniformly delicate yellow one.
I meanered through the trees, across a pedestrian bridge and came out at a big house and paddock, then a row of cottages. The house plaque reminded me of Dick Whittington which I took as a good sign – a pilgrim if ever there was one, with his staff and pack over his shoulder.
Popular legend makes Dick Whittington a poor orphan employed as a scullion by a rich London merchant. He ventures his only possession, a cat, as an item to be sold on one of his master’s trading ships. Ill-treated by the cook, Dick then runs away, but just outside the city he hears the prophetic peal of bells that seems to say “Turn again, Whittington, lord mayor of great London”
I came out by bus stop on Old Road, East Peckham, opposite the street with the General Store and post office. The sun was warm and my 1.5 hours almost up before turning back. Retracing my footsteps and having a seat on the steps of the bridge, an satsuma revived me. I watched a cat emerge from the woods. She caught sight of me and took a sharp angle to avoid contact. There was a squirrel, but no chatter nor conversation.
I waved at a woman sitting under blossom reading. She had on a cardi which exactly matched the house and brown-red bush to her left. It tuned out to one of my mother’s friends – a village is a small place. She was bemused, not knowing me at all.
This walk took me just under 3 hours from yalding High Street to Pinkham and back along the river (allowing plenty of time for photo taking!)
Walking keeps my energy flowing so I find I can be kinder. It does no-one any harm, and it feels as if it boosts my immune system. Do you like to walk? What effect does it have on your spirits?
October 2nd 2019. The final leg of the Portuguese Camino de la Costa or Caminho da Costa from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. 125 kms in total, today was a walk of approximately 15 kms.
Retracing my steps from the night before, I left the albergue at Teo at 7.45am and began the last leg of this Portuguese camino. It was misty, cold and the path went steeply up. Thankfully the weather cleared later. I had to take painkillers for my foot for only the second time on this way. It didn’t hurt when I was sitting down – a clear message.
Overall, this way into Santiago de Compostella is hilly and it was hard going, however it was lovely countryside. I breathed in the fresh air before entering the city.
We hiked forested paths, up and down hills, crossed rivers and railways, passed shopping centres, went down narrow alleys between houses, climbed a steep hill beside a hospital, and then walked on city streets. Spencer Linwood’s blog of this final day
According to tradition, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Magdalene…boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then heeded her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death, and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure. Mary Magdalene continued her mission as an evangelizer, contemplative, and mystic in the heart of the Church.
By Grechen Filz (link under photo above)
At one point there was a cacophony of hunting dogs and two men wandering around looking very guilty, a huge 4×4 a little further on. The hounds seemed to be nosing around for something, but it wasn’t clear what and otherwise the area was deserted. Moving away, up a inclinne, I passed a female backpacker going in the opposite direction, so I repeatedly glanced back. I knew she would be passing the men and wanted to keep an eye out for her in case she needed back-up.
Much to my disappointment, I started to feel some back pain as I traipsed up towards the city centre, searching for signs and arrows to no avail.
Tip: Remember that google maps is all but useless in the Poruguese / Spanish countryside, but great in towns and cities, so at this stage when there is a dearth of directions, you can switch on the GPS.
The outskirts seemed to go on and on and so I took an elevenses pitstop in a city cafe enjoying some green tea and sweet Santiago tart which I remembered well from my first visit in 2016, when my life had already started to change.
I arrived in the main square at 12.15. Someone asked whether I was going to lie down. I didn’t know about this, but apparently there is a tradition to prostrate, head towards the towering building and admire it upside down, so I did. Of course.
This was my second time in Santiago despite having walked three caminos. When I walked the Via de la Plata, I initially headed south, towards Seville (1000 kms away). Later I started there, walking northwards until I got back to where I had finished that section the year before. I didn’t do the final stage for a second time, and so didn’t visit Santiago. I didn’t go to the special Mass this October 2019 either, for the same reasons.
I had booked the Roots and Boots hostel in advance and was very happy with it. Very close to the centre, the rooms are small (no extensive dormitories) and mine had a magnificent view of the cathedral. There is a pretty, enclosed garden with tables and chairs by a reasonably priced, hole-in-the-wall, cafe. I sat out there until quite late at night, getting slightly chilly but enjoying the situation, especially given it was October.
I had lunch in a large restaurant, very popular with pilgrims. I was surprisingly tired and the large portions and very quick service suited very well!
Then I left clothes to be washed at a rather nice launderette (as launderettes go) on Rua das Hortas which had a decorated and flowering courtyard. You can also get washing done at Pilgrim House, a veritable Santiago institution.
I had not planned what I would do next until a few days before, when I came across a post on the Camino forum which set me off on a new trail. I contacted the redoubtable Rebekah Scott at her Peaceable Kingdom to ask if I could stay with her at Moratinos on the Camino Frances, in the name of research. She kindly obliged, but later sent me an email saying that she couldn’t host me after all because she looks after a hostel on the Camino Primitivo and had to go up immediately. Unless, she added, I wanted to go too. More on this adventure later…..
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Day 14, October 2nd 2019
It is 25 kms from Padron to Santiago and I was not confident I would manage that with the extra 3.2 kms from Herbón to Padrón, so I decided to break my journey in Teo, making two, admittedly short, days out of one longer one.
They played music to wake us up at the Herbón monastery and then there was a return to the large dining room for a shared breakfast. Although we had arrived through countryside, the path out, towards Padrón, was almost immediately into a village and then along a main road.
I was on the Ruta dos Xardins da Camelias, heading towards the home of padrón peppers which we had been told the previous evening didn’t really emanate from Padrón at all. It doesn’t stop them being one of my favourite dishes.
I waited in a bar for the pharmacy to open so I could get some anti-inflammatories for my left foot which was still very painful.
And then I was in the rural landscape I love so much. Grass and sheep, scarlet willows with yellow branches stemming from a single point, just a few green leaves left now as winter approaches – nothing too carefully kept.
The country roads were lined with almond trees, almost neon in their greenness, and forming a backdrop to lush undergrowth, rough-stalked bracken. I happily trotted along, constantly overtaken by others rushing to the finish line.
The albergue Xunta de Teo (municipal albergue at Teo) is in a beautiful spot, a drop down from an extremely busy main road, but accessed by the walkers from the opposite, safe side. There are cafes both down and uphill, and they are equally idiosyncratic. Shops can be found even further on: the one at a service station is often open, the much smaller village store is shut for hours at lunch time.
The albergue was closed on arrival, only opening much later (4pm) with a queue, and filled up very quickly, so that many were turned away. It is run in a haphazard sort of a way and there are no utensils in the kitchen.
While I waited for it to open, I sat under a plastic awning and wrote and read and ate p. peppers and drank beer and it was expensive, in comparison to other places.
In all I went up and down that road a few times, eventually getting supplies for the evening meal, and then wandered back through the forest, past the church and other very smart looking buildings, several of which were supposed to be a restaurant and up-market accommodation, but both looked uninhabited. It was like a rekkie for the next day (in the opposite direction), very pleasant, and I returned to sleep when it was almost dark.
In Walking Between Worlds – 2, we had got as far as the North Leith Burial Ground. So, I pick up the account there.
Along the road and down to the right beside Coburg House artists studios (well worth a visit) is the gloriously orange, former St Ninian’s Chapel (you can see St N (360 – 432 AD) carved onto the doors of fellow Saint, Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. Ninian represents the Picts). A 15th century bridge chapel, it is part of the complicated history of North Leith Parish Church which can be found on Wikipedia to get you started.
As we crossed Sandport Bridge, I drew attention to Broad Wynd on the left, where the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society hospital and clinic were first situated (of which, more later).
Along Tolbooth Wynd we wandered, and on to Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). The Leith stories were starting to fit into themes: Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery. Also a botanist, she founded Kew Gardens, was married to King George III, had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey and is owned by the Scottish National Galleries (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. Recent articles have posed the question, is she of African origin?
At the Hideout Cafe (where I had a delicious and expensive hot chocolate on a previous occassion), we turned onto Constitution Street which is currently shut to traffic on account of the endless and frustrating tram works, but is therefore blessedly quiet to walk along. We continued on, past St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church, to the South Leith Parish Church and its graveyard.
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star, Guide of the wand'rer here below! Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care, Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea, Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
I spent some time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and discovered that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community. Amongst other things, he was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society (see above) which was formed 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital on Mill Lane, and bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
Some of my information was gleaned from ‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.
(Incidentally, the Leith King James Hospital was demolished in 1822, and part of the wall can still be seen today, forming the boundary between the Kirkgate and the South Leith Kirkyard).
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life – wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her head was chopped off by said dad. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. She is, therefore, invoked in thunderstorms and is also the patroness of miners, although I am no sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams, they found mass graves. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and everyone was smaller and showed signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the workhouse.
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I read out a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. I was attempting to recognise how many there were who we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
Ann McRuear Relick of…
Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
Once in Robbies bar on the corner of Iona Street and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start, I summed up the walk: It had taken us approximately 2.5 hours and we mused and meditated on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, on the cusp of the new moon; on women’s stories and how they are so often seen through the lens of their menfolk and are hard to celebrate in their own right; of the hardship of life in centuries gone by; and death, its symbols and community rituals.
I explained that I hoped to make a map which somehow denotes and represents this event, that will contain some of its psychogeography: Wikipedia quotes Guy Debord on this: psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” I think of it as a map with humanity, not simply measurements and precise locations, but including feelings, activities and conversational responses as well.
I would like to thank everyone who came along with me. If you have information about these women, have walked a similar walk, or would like to share anything about these subjects, please do so in the comments box below.