Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog 7: Portobello. 21 October 2021

Beach of Dreams

The public highlight of our Portobello stay was the Saturday morning Beach of Dreams installation by Kinetika, led by artist, Ali Pretty.

Beach of Dreams, Ali Pretty and Kinetika, Portobello, Edinburgh

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.

Setting up Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh
Preparing for the installation of Beach of Dreams, Portobello, Edinburgh

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.

In danger from the incoming tide, Portobello, Edinburgh

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?’ 

‘What’s blowing away? What are we losing?’ Portobello, Edinburgh

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

View from underneath, the Beach of Dreams Portobello, Edinburgh

Hospitality

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.

Portobello, Edinburgh

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.

Labyrinth, Ali Newell

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.

Pines interspersed with silver birch because the foresters know that these trees grow better in community than alone, Estonia
The trees are grown to be cut down, but that doesn’t make the sight any less distressing when you come across it. Estonia

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.

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.

The spiral of life

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)

Entrance and centre of the labyrinth, Ali Newell

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.

Gareth
Front door, Portobello, Edinburgh

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.

Camino shell symbolising that all paths lead to the same destination, eventually


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.

Community choir

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). 

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh under the almost-full moon

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?

Arundhati Roy / Jane Lewis

Protest in Harmony choir Another World link

A very blurry singing circle with Jane Lewis, Portobello.

Though a hiatus from the long-distance walking, this day was full of opportunities to reflect on our journey, to learn from the communities we were passing through, and to receive.

We were nearly half way through a Pilgrimage for COP26 from Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow, where the COP26 Climate Change Conference is now taking place. It was organised by A+E and many volunteers.


Pilgrmage to COP26

Blog 6: From Aberlady Bay to Portobello via Musselburgh

Listen to The king of the faeries by Matthew Crighton on the tin whistle on #SoundCloud recorded on the beach at Aberlady, round the campfire.

https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/jHju3

Sunrise as we walk away from our camping spot at Aberlady Bay, 7am
It’s only just over an hour but we have all our camping gear and what’s left of the food and water paraphernalia, and it’s very uneven ground. We walk in silence

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.

Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
Longniddry Bents, East Lothian, Scotland
East Lothian

The weather was changeable – a cool wind with sun, light then heavier spells of rain, never for too long, thank goodness.

Coral skeletons

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.

Cameron played the violin for us, though it was dark and drizzly then
We were invited to walk amongst the sycamore copse, to listen their the particular song of those trees and admire their personal designs
Some had fallen, revealing their age
Wandering through the sycamore glade
Francesco
Beth
Port Seton

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.

Towards Prestonpans

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.

Naomi Barnes, Sustaining Dunbar
We were met by rowers from Musselburgh (you can see the boat in the middle of the picture beyond the flowers) Prestonpans, East Lothian

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.

The pipe band from Loretto School were also there to welcome us. Marianne was the Keeper of the Soils for the day

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.

As the sun was lowering, we walked along the prom into Portobello

Keeper of the Soils cape: Natalie Taylor, artist, North Light Arts

The Pilgrimage for COP26 programme is here https://artandecologyearth.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/pilgrimage-for-cop26-programme-04.10.21-edit.pdf

@pilgrimageforcop26 #pcop26

Pilgrimage for COP26

19 October 2021 – Blog 5: North Berwick to Aberlady Bay

Ready to start out on the second day’s walk from North Berwick
Pilgrims at the ready – some who are walking all the way and others who have joined us for today
Olga is the Keeper of the Soils for this stage

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.

Cath explaining about Stitches for Survival – it was her day to carry the panels towards Glasgow
Ali Newell and Glen Cousquer were leading the walk

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.


Then we began to walk and it rained

Petrichor: the smell of rain

In this photo the waves have left vertical horizons on the near part of the beach: a dividing line of wet-sand mountain peaks and their mocha-coloured reverse shapes

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.

A stop to hold, admire and taste the Sea Buckthorn – salty and sour at the same time. As we walked on, we became attuned to the fermenting scent of the fruit on the bushes

… 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
I was glad that I popped a rain poncho in my rucksack at the last minute – it was useful to protect the cape
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”

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.

Cameron and the sea playing a lament

Someone said they had an image of Ghandi walking in solidarity with us.

We were regaled with songs including one from four members of Protest in Harmony.

Some of us stopped and swam

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.

A steep climb that turned out to be the wrong route
Aberlady Bay, where we camped for the night
Delicious food around the campfire for all the walkers
Apricity: means ‘the warmth of winter sun’
We watched skeins and skeins of geese honking homeward as the sky darkened. They were particularly spectacular when silhouetted first in front of the setting sun and then the rising moon
Landscapes in the sunset sky looking towards Longniddry
After supper, the group split in two and the majority walked to a hall in Aberlady village to sleep – a night walk along this path against the wind

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.

A blurry pic of the Harvest Moon – full around 5am
Campfire and a dram

Thanks to

Ali and Glen for leading the walk, and Cameron for playing his fiddle. Vicky for driving the electric van which carried our rucksacks.

Pilgrimage to COP26

18 October – Blog 4: Dunbar to North Berwick

All ready to start the Pilgrimage for COP26 outside John Muir’s birthplace, Dunbar
Lauderdale Park, Dunbar, where we stopped for some introductions and announcements
Stitches for Survival Mass-craftivism to put the Earth centre-stage at COP26
Pilgrims all strung out along the East Lothian coast
And beside Winterfield Golf Links
Across the Bridge to Nowhere
Following the John Muir Way – yes, it rained!
Beautiful woods of Scots Pine
Past donkeys and llamas and emus
Stunning scenery
Stories Park, East Linton Climate Change phone box
Coming into East Linton and Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot on the River Tyne, which is run by the National Trust for Scotland

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

Natalie Taylor , Keeper of the Soils cape with North Light Arts
Pockets inside the Keeper of the Soils cape for storing the samples of soil between Dunbar and Glasgow

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.

Changeable weather – some silent walking and fascinating conversation as we start to get to know each other
Across the fields in silence after lively lunchtime chats
I was bringing up the rear today, to ensure no-one got lost or left behind
Picking up my daily feather as I listened to people’s stories of grief and walking
First sighting of Berwick Law, luring us to our first stop on the Pilgrimage for COP26
Oak woods reminding us of the environment we are walking for
Scots Pine in the late afternoon sun
Gillian – Berwick Law closer now

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

Final circle in Lodge Grounds, North Berwick for each of us to share a word which summed up the day

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.

Pilgrimage to COP26

Blog 3 Dunbar 17 October

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.

John Muir, Our National Parks

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.

Alastair quoted Alice Walker

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.

Pilgrimage for COP26 – why am I walking?

Blog 2 – Why am I walking? 17 October 2021

There are lots of things I could do to face up to the serious climate crisis I find myself part of. I could stay at home and recycle, join a committee and work towards political change, lie down on the M25 and get put in prison to raise awareness, I could throw myself in front of a horse to get attention.

Why walk instead of doing anything else? Why would I stop earning (I’m self employed), pay for someone to be at home to look after my cat, and walk in the unpredictable Scottish weather?

The statements of intent of Pilgrimage for COP26 are these:

  • We’re walking to raise awareness of the climate and ecological crisis. 
  • We’re reflecting on that crisis as it relates to our own lives, the communities we pass through and the lives of those already impacted; both human and more-than-human.
  • We’re building a community of witness and resistance committed to climate justice now and in the wake of COP26.

Yet still I find myself asking, but why walk? I could run or cycle and there are lots of other ways to raise awareness, to reflect, and build a committed community.

My answer: because walking is special.

  • It is very slow, a counterpoint to the speed of life. (Google tells me it would take me 1 hour and 24 minutes to drive from Dunbar to Glasgow now, but it will take us 8 days to walk).
  • It leaves very little trace; although I disturb undergrowth, probably inadvertently step on unsuspecting creatures, and leave my temporary footprints, it is the least destructive way of moving across the country.
  • Each step reminds me that I rely on the earth to hold me up and that the earth relies on me to stand on it – it’s reciprocal.
  • The vibrations that my stepping cause are not the same as the shaking of the ground by a lorry, say, rolling on tarmac. The moving through air I do at my pace (approximately 3 miles an hour) contrasts with the displacement a Boeing 737 makes.
  • Walking interacts with weather. Not knowing whether I will be walking through rain, sun or snow at the beginning of every day is, yes, not abnormal for this country at this time of year, but the attentiveness I have when I walk, and the fact that I have walked here before, means that I will notice the climactic differences. The skin on my cheek will be aware of the relative warming, my muscles of my back will sense the increased wind speeds in comparison to last year, the joints of my feet will register the dwindling peat they walk on.

The quality, and energy of walking is different, and it matches the quality of focus and the listening energy I want to apply to this issue.

Natalie Taylor who devised the Keeper of the Soils cape and and Roxy Ambrozevich wearing it

What we have collectively wrought (most of us) upon the environment, is so very complex. There are strands of destruction, fibres of difficulties and damage which have become interwoven over centuries, a fabric of knots and snags and imperfections brought about by misinformation, neglect, greed and thoughtlessness. And when you pull one thread, it all starts to unravel and that’s scary and huge to see; it’s hard to know where to begin to stitch it all together again in a more durable and compassionate way.

Natalie Taylor with her Keeper of the Soils cape

Though I am not a religious person, my belief in the act of walking gently and kindly, allowing myself time to notice and reflect, is like the nun’s faith that sitting quietly and performing her daily duties mindfully will make a difference; that opening her heart to the way things really are and facing that, will affect change, that it will alter the fabric of life the way it is now.  I am a Shiatsu practitioner and those of us who give Shiatsu know that because the whole universe is made of the same stuff, chi, we can affect it with a thought, touch or word.

Or a step.


Walking for Water

Walking for water is not
going for a breath of fresh air,
a pilgrimage,
a stroll,
a hike.
It is not
a parade,
a protest march,
a sponsored whatever.
It is not a way
to stretch your legs,
or have that conversation.
Walking for water is not
to see an unmissable sight.
It is not on any body’s bucket list.

It is the flight of a migrating bird,
a cruel calculation of distance, fuel
and energy burned.

by Lydia Kennaway from A History of Walking (2019:25)

The Pilgrimage for COP26 has now begun.

Slow Walk in Dunbar to launch the Pilgrimage for COP26 with Karen Gabbitas. 30 people participated

#pcop26 @pilgrimageforCOP26

Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog #1 for the Pilgrimage for COP26

On Sunday 17th October I will embark on the Pilgrimage for COP26 with a group of like-minded others. We will assemble in Dunbar for a celebration of Natalie Taylor’s the Keeper of the Soils, a speech from Alastair McIntosh (author of Poacher’s Pilgrimage), and other activities organised by North Lights Arts.

On 29th October, all being well, we will walk into Glasgow after travelling parts of the John Muir Way and St Ninian’s Way, on foot, in a collective effort. We will make “A walk and a learning journey … to reflect on the climate and ecological crisis in anticipation of the COP26.”

Our route visits

  • Dunbar
  • North Berwick
  • Aberlady
  • Portobello
  • Edinburgh (where we will stay on Saturday and Sunday)
  • South Queensferry
  • Bo’ness
  • Falkirk
  • Kirkintilloch
  • Glasgow

taking in coastal, cycle, urban, industrial, canal and river paths.

Many of you will know that I enjoy walking secular pilgrimage, that the act of stepping out each day with a simple pack on my back satisfies something vital in me. Walking sequential trails which connect town to country to village to city, whether the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Sacra in Austria or the St Magnus Way in Orkney, is a way to reflect on, process and enliven my regular life.

This pilgrimage differs specifically from any of the others I have done before because it will be done in community. I am a solitary walker and I value my privacy highly, even though I do meet people along the path and enjoy their company at times. This COP26 pilgrimage, however, is a group activity. It invites people to walk together for a few hours, several days or the whole, and to be a part of a growing conversation about the many facets of the climate emergency in the light of the international meeting of world leaders at the beginning of November in Glasgow. We will discuss, think about, and inevitably come up with questions, maybe even solutions (practical or ideal) in the face of the situation we find ourselves in. Whatever happens we will be able to support each other in our feelings – grief, frustration, anger, hopelessness – in the face of what is happening to our beautiful world right now.

My focus for the pilgrimage is on the link between grief and walking, something that arises over and over, not just for me but for others as well (see the book Marram by Leonie Charlton for example). My enquiry will build on my previous writing (Working with Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice’ (Singing Dragon 2020) and articles/blogs) and the Shiatsu client work I have been engaged in over the past 30 years, as well as my own personal rambles.

I will continue to collect a feather a day, usually the first I come across, as these long-time symbols of freedom and transcendence and their common use in ritual are often connected with the feelings we have when we are grieving or bereaved. It remains to be seen what the feathers will be used for or come to represent in the context of this pilgrimage.

If you would like to join us for some or all of this walk. Please read about it here and sign up here. You will be most welcome.

No Birds Land

A site-specific sound-art installation in the Trinity Tunnel on route 13 (Trinity to Granton) of the Edinburgh cycle path network where it goes under East Trinity Road #nobirdsland

Recently shortlisted for the Sound Walk September Awards 2021 by walklistencreate.org

Now in place! August – November 2021

RSPB video about the making of the installation, showing excerpts of it and explaining the link to their Revive Our World campaign.

Introductory video on Vimeo

Full video on Vimeo

The installation team. Thanks to Andrew and the team who were taking a walk and kindly stopped to offer their assistance. It was much appreciated

Find it here: ///hands.calculating.wiping (South end)
wins.trial.preoccupied (North end) 55.976045, -3.203276

This is the link for the sound poem which you can listen to as you walk through the tunnel. You will need headphones to hear it. It is hosted by soundcloud and this link will take you there:

No Birds Land soundpoem on Soundcloud

You can also access the sound poem from the QR code on the signs at either end of the tunnel if you have a smart phone.

Our wildlife is key to our environment, and, with so many of our iconic bird populations in decline, it’s vital that we invest in supporting and protecting them. It’s a unique piece of art and I’m looking forward to visiting it. I’m always excited in art that explores wildlife and our environment. I will be heading to the unlikely location of Trinity Tunnel where I will stop, relax and listen to the birds.

Scottish Greens MSP for Lothian, Lorna Slater
Downloading the sound poem onto his phone from the QR code at the entrances

In the poem, I am not pretending to be a bird, nor reproducing or emulating realistic bird sounds and song. I am acknowledging how easily we attempt to wield power over other species and appropriate others’ languages without their permission.

Sometimes it’s only when you don’t see them that you notice they’re not there.

Amanda Thompson

The Trinity Tunnel is a disused railway tunnel that is now part of the extensive Edinburgh cycle path network. Before and after entering the tunnel, the air is full of birdsong; inside there is little or none. This sound-art installation recognises that no birds land or alight there (although occasionally one flies through), that it is a sort of ‘No Man’s Land’ for birds, though humans built the sandstone structure to transport goods and each other between Granton Harbour and the rest of the city.

No Man’s Land originally denoted contested territory between fiefdoms, even a place of execution. It is now often remembered as a WW1 area of land between two trench systems which neither side wished to cross due to fear of attack and death. Except, that is, on Christmas Eve of 1914 when it is known that British, French and German soldiers came together to smoke a cigarette, carry out joint burial ceremonies, and have a chat – somehow communicating in their different languages.

In this place of cold stone where moisture trickles and calcite forms weird shapes, no birds land and no birds sing.

Hooks on the west wall of the Trinity Tunnel before the bunting was hung
Bird bunting hanging over a metal hook on the inside of the Trinity Tunnel, No Birds Land Edinburgh. Lift the flaps -do they really say….tweet, tweet, caw, chirp, cluck?

You will find signs saying ‘Stop! Listen to the Birds! at the two entrances to the Trinity Tunnel which is 183 of my paces long (146 yards, 390 foot). A double track railway ran through here from 1842. Above your head is an elliptical or horse-shoe shaped roof with new, brighter lighting (thanks to the council).

In the tunnel itself there are a series of hooks on the west wall (as you are walking towards Granton), which were for cables and wires when the tunnel was used by the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway before it ceased operations in 1986. Festooned along them is a length of bunting made of found materials with illustrations of birds. On the reverse of each pennant is a word which aims to recreate a bird sound, an explicit appropriation of an other-than-human ‘language’. A pennant is a commemorative flag, used historically, but I prefer to call it Bunting, a word that has been used since the 14th century for a lark-like bird which we know as yellow-hammers. Yellow hammers are said to sound as if they are saying ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Try saying it fast!

RSPB Yellow Hammer info and song

The birds you see are sketches and impressions, they’re not real. The sounds you can read on the reverse of the pennants are rough translations of what are actually rich varieties of tone and timbre. They have been translated into the less melodious, simplistic human words. The only bird sounds you will hear in the tunnel are these approximations: tic tic tic tic – the Robin’s warning call, chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff, tweet tweet tweet, you know how it goes – chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp. I cannot play you their songs in this place, even if, as in the Japanese shopping centres, they might calm you, bring a smile to your face.

This is no place for the birds; this land, like so much of the British Isles and elsewhere, is inhospitable and uninviting to them.

Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.

Rachel Carson from Silent Spring
The Trinity Tunnel runs under East Trinity Road on route 13, and is easily reached on foot (approx. 10 mins) or by bicycle (approx. 5 mins) from the Granton end where it can be accessed from where Trinity Road meets Lower Granton Road near the sea front

In the Trinity Tunnel there are no ledges nor perches, no nooks and crannies to nest in. There is nowhere here to stand and preen feathers or sing from. We are replacing old barns and houses which had eaves and rafters, with edifices of vast glass windows and metal corners, but birds cannot live or raise their young in and on them. We are clearing hedges, spraying pesticides and extending fields so far to the edges that birds natural habitats are destroyed and poisoned. In the UK, we have created places where birds used to, but cannot now thrive. This has resulted in drastic changes in avian behaviour and deaths. There is more info on the RSPB site here.

In the 2 minutes it takes me to walk through the tunnel, it is believed that 2 pairs of breeding birds will disappear. (See below for source).

If we listen, tune in to birds, we can learn. Mozambican people can whistle to honey birds (or honeyguide birds) and understand their calls. The birds tell them where the bees are, the people harvest the honey and this lets the birds get the wax and grubs afterwards. It benefits both – it really happens.

scientists have now discovered that the birds can be attracted out of the trees by a distinctive trilling sound that local hunter-gatherers use while looking for honey. According to the researchers, hunters are taught this special trilling noise by their fathers.

Jules Howard in The Guardian

In other parts of the world, women and men have learned to flute and trill like their native birds, so that their voices carry across dense forests. They are amplified, making sounds that are far bigger than we are (like wrens do closer to home).

There are some who recognise the difference between a warning call and a serenade – think of that! If we all knew and taught our children, we could choose to keep out of the way of birds when they are nesting, and delight in their courtship rituals. We could be warned, too, that a hawk is overhead or a fox on the prowl down below.

In the absence of birds, we would have to create them, to create our own version of them, their song, and appearance. But I ask you, how long will it be before we forget what they sounded and looked like, before we have to rely only on recordings and photos? Will we lose the memory of what delights us about them, will we forget our felt sense of how they really were, how it was to be in the same world as them?

In the silence of the Trinity Tunnel, you don’t have the privilege of being regaled with their songs.

No Birds Land on Vimeo

No Birds Land Video on YouTube

The sound poem was inspired by Gertrude Stein’s If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso (1912) and the quotes are by Stein and Gail Simmonds’ in The Country of Larks

This project has been added to Soundcloud.

No Birds Land can be accessed via the Echoes app.

Twitter @WalkNoDonkey #nobirdsland

Instagram @TamsinShiatsu

The information about bird statistics comes from birdlife.org

Some of the tunnel information came from forgottenrelics.co.uk

Here is the Guardian source in the quote above

No Birds Land is in partnership with the RSPB and Sustrans.

With thanks to the City of Edinburgh Council and the following people: Ewan Davison, Ken Cockburn, Cosmo Blake from Sustrans, Erica Mason and Nick Hawkes from RSPB, Fiona Underhill of the City of Edinburgh Council, Eleanor Bird, Jim Campbell, Amy McNeese-Mechan, Logan Rutherford, Alan Moonie, Stephen Knox, Cammy Day, and Alice Cockburn.

Found in the Cracks

Celebrating the small; grown from a Twitter series (@WalkNoDonkey) early 2020 during lockdown #one.

I was with my mother in Kent and she has a wonderful garden. She has always loved to allow her plants to seed themselves, finding little places they can inhabit. Here is evidence of the resilience of nature, of which we are a part. Much has been written about that attribute during this past 18 months, and if you look with an eagle’s eye, you will find that some of these are once again popping their heads between stones, a year and more on.

Self-seeding violets, Viola odorata in the paving slab cracks 15 March

Resilience is the ability to withstand, to stay healthy in the face of adversity to bounce back. It is borne out of a stable environment and it can be eroded by continued stress. Someone who shies away from noise and horror, senses that their resilience levels are low. Perhaps they never had the stability they needed.

Grief affects our ability to be resilient. Almost all of us find that our sense of resilience is affected by bereavement (whether due to the death of someone, or losses such as moving house, leaving home, divorce and other life changes).

On the 4 April 2020 the BBC reported:

‘A five-year-old child with underlying health conditions has died of coronavirus. The latest figures showed 4,313 people with the virus have died to date in the UK – up by 708 on the previous Friday’s figure. There are now 41,903 confirmed cases, according to the Department of Health.’

We will not forget those people.

Forget-me-not, Myosotis 4 April

Resilience means that we can be strong and are able to stay that way, even in distressing situations, however, we notice that we cannot necessarily do this all the time. This implies that it is a specific trauma which affects our ability to maintain a level of calm at certain times, and with particular people. Moreover, it can be unpredictable. Being less resilient is not a weakness, nor anything to be ashamed of. It is real and can cause a raft of symptoms from the physical through mental and emotional to the spiritual.

Posting a photo of pulmonaria in early April was rather apt, sadly, given the high numbers of people suffering lung issues as a result of Covid-19 in April 2020. This is in memory of those who lost their lives.

Lungwort, Pulmonaria oficinalis for the lungs – see those white spots. 6 April

The same occassion can be one of joy to some and stress to others. If empathy is not felt with the one who is feeling stressed, acceptance must nevertheless be the response, at least if we aren’t to cause a re-traumatisation.

Primroses, Primula polyantha 7 April

Peace and quiet and being amongst plants and wildlife is often a place where people can build up their resilience. In general, these places offer the opportunity, less of a threat, and so give our heart the chance to rest, but not always. For some people it may be the opposite. We can only listen to find out, not make assumptions.

Violets, Viola odorata. My grandmother’s name-sake, the Sweet Violet 8 April
Purple Grecian windflower, Anemonoides blanda opens her wee face to the sun 10 April

How many of us have a habit of trying to keep things inside, buried?

The beginnings of columbine or Granny’s bonnets, Aquilegia 12 April

Mum and I were two people living together who were not used to doing so. Not since I was 18 and leaving home have I lived so long with her. However much love we had between us, there were a few cracks and out came the niggles, some serious, some not. There were weak places in our relationship where things leaked out. We didn’t argue about leaving the lid off the toothpaste tube, but often it turned out that I was acting on expectations and assumptions. I didn’t realise, but I was falling back into following rules of behaviour I thought I had learned as a child, daughter with mother, thinking they still stood, that I should do x or y in a situation. It turned out that no, that wasn’t expected of me. It transpired that the many years that have passed since then, meant we have changed. Of course we have, obviously, but old habits die hard!

Quite a lot later the aquilegia had reached a great height and, though attracting greenfly, were in bud

We managed to talk about the difficulties afterwards, painful though they were, and we apologised to each other, and managed to keep on going together with love. The pandemic meant that we had to, we couldn’t get away from each other – thanks, pandemic. That’s the way to build resilience in a relationship and every now and then it was tough going, however I think we learned more about each other in the process, and overall, I look back on that 5-month period as a wonderful time, a way of getting to know each other as adults in a different way. We had fun together.

By May 21 the aquilegia were out

This flower is thought to be named because part of the flower resembles the talons of an eagle (aquila). Eagles are far-sighted and powerful and they have talons with which to grip fiercely. Tenacity is something which has also been talked about with regard to the pandemic. The tenacity to keep going when so much of life’s normality is threatened, tenacity to see what is important – maintaining contact (even electronically or from the garden gate), and random acts of kindness (like getting in the shopping for someone, or sending a thoughtful note).

Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis making their way into the world. You can clearly see that they are of the asparagus family. 13 April

When I look at these photos, I think of life between tower blocks and plants growing between paving stones in cities and towns, whether welcome or not, sometimes weed-killed, more recently near my home, allowed to flourish. Thorny brambles sinew between railings onto the pavement, and tree roots break through concrete. In Chinese Medicine, it’s the upthrust of Wood energy.

And here they are sporting their scented white bells

Then I imagine my nerves threading between vertebrae in my spine, linking the central nervous system to the periphery. I think of broccoli between the teeth – isn’t that so annoying! Of hernias, pockets of our internal organs escaping through openings, like the stomach poking through the oesophageal sphincter, for example, a hiatus hernia.

Stinging nettles Urtica dioeca. The first thing I drink in the morning, for my joints 15 April
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis for soothing stress and improving the mood 16 April

In April 2020, so many people were struggling (and still are) with isolation and the various difficulties brought on by restrictions in movement (then, it was recommended that we stay within a 2 mile radius in order to stop the virus spreading). I used lemon balm because it is refreshing and restorative as a herbal tea, and sometimes I just rubbed the leaves gently between my fingers and had a good sniff!

Periwinkle, Vinca minor stretching her neck. Soon to be lavender blue. 17 April
St John’s Wort, Hypericum androsaemum. Tutsa, known as Balm of the Warrior’s Wands. 18 April

It was at this time that we were standing outside our houses once a week clapping the stalwart NHS ‘warriors’ who now , in 2021, need support more than ever after such a long slog without a break and the emotional strain. Many are exhausted and I know that I, and my fellow Shiatsu practitioners, are hoping that we can support them in hour-long, gentle touch sessions for relaxation, stress and rejuvenation.

Shining Cranesbill, Geranium lucidum 20 April. So delicate
Purple deadnettle, Lamium purpurium, also known as purple archangel as it shows itself around the Feast of the Apparition on May 8

According to legend, the Feast of the Appearing of the Archangel Michael (a Christian event) took place on Mount Gargano, Apulia, about the year 492, and immediately the mountain became the site of pilgrimage.

Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, from Greek meaning early (eri) and old man (geron) because of the white beard-like rays around the yellow floral disc. 1 May
Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, fine and feathery. Formerly Anthemis nobilius with essential oil of chamazulene for calming, teething babies and itchy skin. 14 May
Strawberry plant, Fragaria hybrid ‘pekan’ about to fruit despite being in rather overcrowded cracks. It’s a companion plant to borage – they benefit each other. 28 May
Borage, starflower, bugloss, Borago officinalis. Great for nappy rash in cream form

Float some blue borage flowers in your Pims or lemonade and see what happens! *

Two holyhocks, Alcea rosea, flowering despite their diminutive size. 1 July
Michaelmas Daisies, Aster, heralding the approach of Autumn. 25 August and back in Edinburgh

Though actually celebrated on 29 September, this is another flower named after St Michael and one of his festivals – Michaelmas, again part of the Christian calendar. It also includes the angels Gabriel, Raphael and sometimes Uriel. Close to the equinox (when the sun is directly above the equator 23 September and 20 March), in Medieval times, it was the harvest, the end of the fishing season, and the start of the hunting one, time to settle bills and count the livestock for planning the winter. stores

In August, in the UK, we had our first respite from the Covid limitations on movement and so I travelled back home to Edinburgh. The open nature of these blooms captures the feelings we had when it was warm enough to socialise outdoors and everything seemed more positive again.

Creeping wood sorrel, Oxalis corniculata

In the past, I tried to hide my concerns and put on the smiling face that I thought others deserved, that I thought I should if I was going to be a good mum and work colleague. It didn’t work for long. If I have something important to say, worries that need to be expressed, they just come out in other ways. Otherwise I wander towards a fault line in my mental health, start to ‘crack up’.

Knapweed, Cyanus triumfetti

Anyway, it didn’t take long to recognise that the people around me knew me well enough to sense when I was uptight and holding onto something. I am not sure that any amount of anger or resentment can really be hidden if we are in close proximity to people we love or work with. It is always about finding ways to put my feelings into words, let them out in a constructive way, or accepting when I flare with anger, apologise, and finding support from a friend or counsellor to try and work out why I did that.

Knapweed in full bloom
Rock fumewort, yellow corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea
Piss-a-beds, dandelion, Taraxacum officianale, most common, companion to nettle in my morning tea

Dandelion – bees love it (see No Mow May) – and it ‘helps one see further without a pair of spectacles’,according to Culpeper’s Colour Herbal. I take it for my liver.

Probably woodbine, do you think? A vine like Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle
Twist of ivy through the smallest of gaps

These plants all have invisible roots, they thrive in the bleakest of situations, in mere grains of soil or even the substance of the stone wall itself. They are evidence of resilience and tenacity, and photographing and thinking about them gives me strength and supports me in understanding myself better.

Links

Chitra Ramaswamy is @chitgrrl on twitter and she wrote about nature being allowed to bloom in the corners of urban Leith, Edinburgh at a similar time.

The Royal Horticultural Society is a great resource for plants. They are @THE_RHS

Gardenista are worth following on twitter @gardenista for their sometime focus on plants like

* They change to pink

Ritual (women’s work?)

This is a film of care, a cleansing ritual of body and place.

Using the elements of fire, water and earth, She scours, washes and smudges with sage, preparing the ground and clearing the air above it. She buries the white seed, and lays the path for a walk through the spiral of life. The walk leads to the centre of things and She goes barefoot as pilgrims do.

This film is inspired by the part of every day life in a convent, anchorage or hermitage when prayer, prostration and chanting is paused for cleaning, sweeping and planting. This backyard ritual seeks to bring the mundane and the sacred together. Meditation in a beautiful temple, silent and still, is a long way from the basic movements of everyday life, particularly for many women. To carry out these activities with mindfulness is a challenge, though there can be a beauty in them, and they are an essential part of walking the spiral of life.