This project was conceived by Kel Portman. We drew a straight, red line the length of the UK on a phone map between our homes (334 miles) and started to walk along it towards each other; Kel from his doorstep in Gloucestershire and I from mine in Edinburgh. We allowed one day and had to abandon before meeting in the middle.
5th April 2022
Let’s begin with the weather! It was wet, not pouring though, and I was on familiar ground. Strange that one’s sense of distance changes if you set out for long walk – I seemed to be in Inverleith Park in a matter of minutes. Slow came the raindrops.
I passed a worm on the pavement and admired a Tree Creeper bird as he did just that.
I have a book of poetry with me by Denise Riley, ‘Say Something’. Stopping after 2,108 steps in Stockbridge, overlooking the Water of Leith and one of Andy Galsworthy’s statues, I count 21 words from the first of the book and write the next ones on the tabula rasa of my flag: “I understood as a stone”.
I added to my flag at each of my stopping places and in this way I made a Found Poem for the walk.
I took the hint and put myself in to the rock that I was standing and leaning on. I felt stalwart.
Walking further uphill through the New Town, there are removal men stacking a truck. One says, “it looks like you’re surrendering”. I remember a conversation with a Polish taxi driver last week who said that the Ukraine should surrender, to save lives. That was during the fifth week of this pointless war that Putin is waging. Perhaps my flag is going to prompt some interesting and topical conversations with people I might otherwise never discuss politics.
I guess I am surrendering to the route to the idea of this walk, and to the wet.
Phone call #2 with Kel is at 10.03am. I tell him that, of course, Edinburgh residents are used to people doing weird stuff on the street, because of the annual summer Festival with its buskers and theatricals. My new app said 2,891 steps so 28 words further on into Riley’s book I copy my second phrase in the orange pen: “stream with mud-shall I never get it clear”.
Moving from one watercourse to another, I am making my way steadily behind the west side of Lothian Road to Lochrin Quay, the beginning of the Union Canal. Here are swans and seagulls and the start of the water’s journey to Glasgow and the west.
Still attempting to follow the red line as closely as possible, I am being taken a new way, winding through residential areas which are peaceful, all except for repeated deliveries – vans hopscotching up the street from door to door.
To surrender: to give in. Also – to allow your instinct or others you trust to lead you. To listen to what’s drawing you on, for signals to turn right or left. It is a blend of controlling and releasing control.
Surrender – I’m getting interested in this ‘given’ theme: to say ‘yes’ to Kel’s prompt, follow the line which happens to connect us on the map and see what happens.
Now I’m entering ‘the South Side’ of the city. I nip into the Bike Shop for a wee. More climbing. More detours around gardens that only key holders are able to sit in. Where to have my picnic? I cannot find any seats – it’s a recognised issue in Edinburgh which I understand is to stop homeless folk sleeping on them. Instead, I pass piles of grubby bedding at pavement corners. It must be so cold.
I perch on a post and nibble my oatcakes.
Number 3 stop is at 4,521 steps and I count 45 words by the railway line. I am noting the difference between my phone’s two step-counting apps (the other says 11,476 – oops).
On completely unfamiliar territory now, I’m meeting no-one and there are plenty of dead ends. It is raining more heavily on me and I’m having to stop constantly to consult the maps, compare them and try to find a route through. The phone is getting wet so I’m balancing the umbrella over it with one hand and using the other to awkwardly hold and tap at the same time. Still climbing. Still in a residential area, though this time of bungalows and front gardens and driveways.
I take a wrong turning around the Midmar Drive area where there are some trees, but mostly pavement, offering time for me to continue thinking about surrendering to the ground, letting it support my increasingly tired feet.
Eventually I am at the Hermitage of Braid and the Braid Burn, a small river running through woods. I love the smell of garlic, the crunch of pine cones underfoot and warmth of a little sun on my back. The café offers a seat, tea and a scone and I am reviving. Not far along is an abandoned dovecot / doocot, a community garden and some random-cut primroses lying on the path.
A man with a military moustache is with his wife, walking, and he makes comment on my flag. I explain. He guffaws that those who want peace must prepare for war and I repeat that I favour peace and surrender. He counters with “that’s a naughty word – surrender”. I give up.
Back and forward to find the way, I happily discover public toilets. Some nice Council men are clueless about the geography of the area, wish me “good luck”. It is a steep climb up and out, always travelling south towards my distant walking companion.
Turning back at a fallen tree because there’s a fence around the building, I cross a main road and must alternate crawling under brambles and pushing through yellow flowering gorse, then must retrace and try again further along. I’m flipping between the ordnance survey app, Google and my saved maps.
It’s windy up here. “Wha’s the white flag fer?” Asks another Council employee with a van and tools. “Are yer givin up?” “Peace?” He turns to his friend and says: “You need one a them Jimmy!” and Jimmy scowls.
It’s 7,487 steps up on golf courses with a great view across the city towards home and Inchkeith Island, far away now. A headache threatens so I sit on the red line (metaphorically speaking) for a cup of tea from my flask and a snack. Tiredness. Riley’s words are “Perking up”.
1.40pm and I’m feeling connected to Kel as we walk towards each other – like an internal compass adjusted south west, a magnet in my chest.
I must retrace my footsteps to Calachlaw and then it’s stop number 5 at 12,101 steps and I add to my flag: “But little songs”. Kel phones to say that he is abandoning his walk for the day. Frogston Road West. There’s an unidentifiable smell of chocolate and a new, blonde fence – harbinger of…?
And then I must walk an extra big loop back, at 5pm. Circumstances demand that I surrender. I must abandon my walk because of the man-made, traffic-laden road that has no pedestrian crossing. It’s 5 mins until the #11 bus is due to drive me back.
My found poem
I understood as a stone….stream with mud-shall I never get it clear ….. for kindness…. perking up…. But little songs…. we hope to find ourselvesDenise Riley from Maybe; maybe not and A Part Song @uealdc Denise Riley
From Denise Riley’s book: “for kindness”.
1st stage 8.86kms. 2nd 2.76kms. 3rd 17.09kms equals 28.71kms equals 17.84 miles. 6 and three quarters of an hour. 14025 pedometer, 28439 Huawei health app.