osmosis: A gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption;
the spontaneous passage or diffusion of water or other solvents through a semipermeable membrane.
The walker on the city street stops to gaze at the ocean. Tracing a finger over dark, frozen seas, scattered archipelagos, tropical lagoons. On a rusting lamppost, ocean dissolves into city.
The walker walks on.
Off scene/obscene* – sheets of cracking ice, flows of meltwater, shifting landforms. The slow dissolve of city into ocean.
* “obscene” from classical Greek theatre meaning “off scene” or “off stage.” Ancient Greek theatre did not show violence on stage; instead, this action took place off stage, out of sight of the audience.
Now playing – Lumen Drones – ‘Dark Sea’ from Lumen Drones.
Perhaps there was a fifty-fourth station of the Tōkaidō.
What if Hiroshige transcended time and geography, sailed into Kirkcaldy harbour and placed a stone block in the outer walls of the library. A nod to an alternative Eastern Sea Road. A found poem of the East Fife coast:
Forth (Rail) Bridge –> North Queensferry –> Carlingnose Point –> West Ness –> Inverkeithing –> East Ness –> St David’s Bay –> Donibristle Bay –> Dalgety Bay –> Braefoot Point –> Port Haven –> Aberdour –> Burntisland –> Pettycur –> Kinghorn –> Kirkcaldy –> Pathhead –> Dysart –> West Wemyss –> East Wemyss –> Buckhaven –> Methil –> Leven –> Lundin Links –> Lower Largo –> Largo Bay –> Ruddon’s Point –> Shell Bay –> Kincraig Point –> Chapel Point –> Earlsferry –> Elie –> St Monans –> Pans Goat –> Pittenweem –> Anstruther –> Cellardyke –> Caiplie Coves –> Crail –> Fife Ness –> Balcomie –> Cambo Sands –> Airbrow Point –> Babbet Ness –> Buddo Rock –> Kinkell Ness –> St Andrews –> Guardbridge –> Leuchars –> Tentsmuir Forest –> Lundin Bridge –> Tayport –> Tay Road Bridge.
Fifty-three stations. The Kirkcaldy pivot stone.
White spume of sea roar, deluge of slanted rain. Across the Forth, landform apparitions. The fate of unseen ships seeking safe harbour. Waves break upon the shore.
Image found on a stone on the outer wall of Kirkcaldy Galleries and Library.
W. J. Watson has suggested that this is a Pictish water-word, cognate with OW gloiu ‘liquid’, W gloyw ‘shiny’ (1926, 470), while Jacob King prefers a Celtic root *gleiwo- ‘gleaming, clear’.
Place Names of Fife (2006)
A Saturday in late April 2018. It feels like the first day of the year that the sun has risen with intent. Early morning fingers of buttery light offer the promise of holding the heat of the day and by mid-morning, a welcome blanket of ambient warmth has wrapped itself around the locality. After a run of grey skies and persistent rain, it seems like an opportune day to head a few miles north of Dunfermline, into the Cleish Hills, with a rough plan to have a look and wander around two lochs: the enticingly named Loch Glow and the more enigmatic sounding Black Loch.
As usually happens, idea takes precedence over planning and I completely fail to establish an actual starting point to begin the walk. I end up driving up the narrow back road to Cleish looking for some sign to indicate that it will lead to the lochs. A Forestry Commission entrance with a few parked cars looks fairly promising so decide to give it a shot.
Within minutes, I’m walking through tall pine trees on either side of the track. To the south, clearly an older part of the wood. A tangle of lichen encrusted branches with hanging tufted beards. As if a gaggle of small green ghosts had been snagged floating through.
To the north, clear evidence that this is a working forestry plantation with a winding wall of large pinewood trunks stacked well above human height.
A wall of time
The track eventually veers around to the right and I finally begin to sense that this will lead to the loch side. A small stream trickles by pooling in certain places where pine needles have fallen on the surface:
under the pines
a scattered fall
tree, sky and slow
Eventually, I reach the eastern side of Loch Glow and hadn’t expected to encounter an almost carnivalesque atmosphere taking place along the immediate south bank. People fishing, drinking beers, smoking, having picnics. It turns out that Rosyth Angling Club operate a well stocked fishery, where you can buy a day permit, and it’s easy to see why it is a popular spot today as the sun is now fully up in the sky. Some fisher folk sit holding their rods in zen like contemplation whilst larger groups are more up for a party. Some rods are cast, but rest unattended at the side of the water whilst tins are shared around and the crack and laughs open up. A bunch of Polish men, with much gesticulation, appear to debate a strategy for ensuring a good catch.
It doesn’t take long to walk beyond the core huddle of fishers and within minutes even the sound of human voices has completely dissolved under the blue sky in the shimmering waters. A solitary Christmas tree looks strangely out-of-place on the loch side.
I sit for a bit to look at the sky, clouds form into Rorschach shapes whilst surface patterns on water shift imperceptibly.
Another aspect that I hadn’t quite envisaged was just how boggy the land would be around the loch. No surprise really as I pass numerous small streams draining into it but it means that on a few occasions, I misjudge the solidity of the ground underfoot and I’m almost up to my knees in muddy slime. Reaching the western end of the loch, I head in the direction which I think will lead to Black Loch. A dry stane dyke looks like a reasonable marker to follow and the ground is a bit firmer underfoot.
I find a peacock butterfly also out enjoying the sun and try to imagine the story behind a lone glove snagged on a barbed wire fence. Is it a deliberate sign? a direction marker?
Even an absent hand casts a shadow …
As I move to some higher ground there is a clear sense of being watched. The sentinels of Knock Hill. A familiar landmark which can be observed from all directions around the West Fife landscape:
I descend towards Black Loch which is certainly defying its name today, instead a blue sheen nestles under the rocky outcrop of Dumglow.
I take a rest to watch several buzzards circling overhead. A silent tussle occurs when a crow takes exception to a buzzard flying too close. The elegant bird of prey, unconcerned, simply chooses to bank higher and ascend into the blue.
A trio of clouds scud along the summit of Dumglow
Listening for sound, it strikes me that this is a perhaps as close to the ‘idea of silence’ as it is possible to get. There is a stillness under the sun which blankets out any obvious noise, other than the occasional low hum of a passing insect. No planes in the sky, no distant traffic, strangely no bird song. Yet to look around, there are all the lines and layers of human marks on the landscape. The drystane dyke, the forest plantation, the fencing that runs up and disappears over the hill.
Looking away from the loch, I’m intrigued by a hermit tree, solitary in the landscape.
Down by the loch side, patterns of reeds pin overhead clouds to water, creating a myriad of chiaroscuro effects:
spectrum wave of unsounded
sound quiet colour
cadence of reeds break
arc of surface fade
the ambivalence of water
Two white dots on Black Loch. As I move closer to the water’s edge, they drift through the reed beds. An illusion of hovering over land rather than drifting through water. Such elegant creatures, as if visitors from another realm. Two white swans on Black Loch.
The prospect of continuing around Black Loch and up over Dumglow is appealing but looks like that would take a few more hours. Instead, I retrace the route back to Loch Glow and walk back around the north side. Once again, it is pretty much deserted until I reach the eastern side where fishing and associated activities remain in full flow. I’m also reminded that this is a functional reservoir, supplying drinking water for Cowdenbeath and the surrounding area. How often do we associate what comes out of our taps with a place like this? I’m reminded of Patrick Geddes: “it takes a whole region to make the city”. A simple reminder to question where and how our food, water and energy come from and how they are used. Basic questions presently exposing political failure as environmental crises manifest around the globe such as the poisoned water scandal in Flint Michigan and the Cape Town water shortage.
Looking back up the loch it is evident that Loch Glow is living up to its name this afternoon.
From Knock Hill, the sentinels watch and approve.
And as I head back up the track, patterns of sinking sunlight dapple the time stacked wall.
The grain of the wood, the violence of the saw.
TIME WAS / \ SAW EMIT
Now playing: Kim Mhyr – You | Me
Simon Taylor; Gilbert Markus The Place-names of Fife: West Fife Between Leven and Forth v. 1 (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2006).
I have just dropped off a bunch of excited teenagers at Kirkcaldy Ice Rink (now rebadged as Fife Ice Arena) for the afternoon skating session. With too little time to return home and do anything meaningful, it seems like a good opportunity to start walking into the locality and see what draws the attention. I increasingly find that often the most interesting walks develop out of the imposed time constraints of everyday life. Start from where you are and see where it leads.
But first, I’m standing in front of an ice palace from the late Art Deco era. Designed by Williamson and Hubbard in 1937, the softened edges, horizontal lines, ribbon windows and vertical, coloured detailing conjure up a period in time when form was equally important as function. Apparently, the original restaurant featured Parker-Knoll chairs, monogrammed cutlery and curtains designed by Dame Laura Knight. This afternoon, under a high sun, the contrast of vibrant colours and ice cream white offers an elegant counterpoint to what would no doubt be constructed today as a functional leisure shed.
I’m in Gallatown at the North end of the ‘Lang Toun’ of Kirkcaldy. Initially, thinking the name may have been derived from some form of recurring gala festivities, I subsequently find out that it is a derivation of Gallows Town. Apparently, due to it being the site of numerous public executions in medieval times.
Originally a small village in its own right, Gallatown, along with its near neighbours Sinclairtown and Pathhead, were parts of Dysart before becoming annexed as part of Kirkcaldy in 1876.
Walking down the main, arterial road into Kirkcaldy, Rosslyn Street merges into St Clair street. A clue to the history of this area in the street names. A reminder of how all land is property and often concentrated in the hands of a few. Sinclairtown developed from the 1750s on the estate of the Earls of Rosslyn and derives from their family name St Clair. (Also owners of Rosslyn Chapel).
This whole area developed as the industrial end of Kirkcaldy. A place of nail manufacture in the seventeenth century and site of the ‘pin factory’ studied by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Coal mining and power-loom weaving emerged in the mid eighteenth century and pottery manufacture in the early 1800s.
I walk past the entrance to Pottery Street but after a short walk down into what is now light industrial and residential buildings there appears to be little evidence of what once existed here. It is only on returning and approaching Rosslyn Street again that I notice a plinth in the grounds of a vet’s surgery.
The original site of the world famous Wemyss Ware pottery of Robert Heron and Son. The Chief Designer of the pottery was Karel Nekola from Bohemia, recruited by Robert Heron in 1882. A skilled, imaginative artist, he continued to work until his death in 1915. His sons Joseph and Carl also worked in the pottery. The original pottery closed during the Great Depression in 1930 and the rights to Wemyss Ware passed through several hands until Griselda Hill acquired and revived the name in the 1990s.
It is perhaps heartening to know that the spirit of the original pottery and the curious Wemyss cats continue to be tended by a veterinary practice.
Walking further down the road above what is now the Happy Days Chinese Restaurant is a magnificent example of a Co-op bee skep. Presumably a former Co-operative Society building. Not quite as impressive as the magnificent trio in Leven but a fine reminder of the co-operative ideals of those Rochdale Pioneers.
On the other side of the road, a narrow path into a residential area.
Sun drawn cubist angles.
I’m not sure where the boundary lines of Gallatown, Sinclairtown and Pathhead merge, but for these purposes it is a delight to encounter the colourful Puffins of Pathhead.
Behind is a Ladbrokes shop. A window of lurid coloured interpellation: Grab a Grand!; Win Free Machine Play Cash Boost; Goal! Price Boost; Best Odds Guaranteed; £30 Free Bets on Your Mobile; Sunday, Now Open Longer.
Never a more aptly named chain designed to part people from their money. I don’t remember that many pearls of wisdom from my dad but one that sticks is that: “you never meet a poor bookie”.
On another wall close to the puffins, a golden eagle takes flight ready to pounce on a small mouse. The disorienting sun perhaps allowing the mouse a respite today. Off it floats on the back of a golden orb.
You cannot walk down St Clair Street without noticing Rejects. A gargantuan store by any standards and a family owned Fife institution selling everything for the home in twelve departments. There is also something delightfully perverse about deciding to name your retail emporium Rejects. I’m not sure what the received wisdom on retail marketing is, but I suspect this breaks most of it. Rejects also houses a very fine cafe but with the clock ticking, I have to pass on that today.
This is the weekend before ‘The Beast from the East’ arrived in Scotland and I’m starting to feel the cold around my ears. However, the sun is strong, bright and warming as I take a moment to watch the swaying, skeletal trees. How they shift slightly out of phase with the moving shadow forest projected on the wall of the car park. A Steve Reich piece playing out in visual form.
On the corner of Commercial Street sits a curio from the days of the Kirkcaldy tram network. A Bundy Clock was used to monitor tram services to ensure that they ran on time and according to timetable. When the tram driver reached the designated terminus, they would insert a unique key into ‘the Bundy’ and the time would be recorded. The Bundy clock was patented in 1890 by Willard Le Grand Bundy and mass production of employee monitoring systems began. A practice that has had workers clocking in and out under surveillance ever since. Of course, technology advances and Bundy Time Systems still appear to be around. Their wares now include ‘Fingertec Biometric Packages’, ‘Face ID’ and ‘Easy Clocking Time and Attendance Systems’.
Walking along Commercial Street reveals a mix of some very old buildings. largely, in various states of disrepair. However, the Spiritualist Church is looking bright and sprightly. Thursday Healing. All Welcome.
At the end of the road, The ‘A Listed’ Feuars Arms proclaims its Victorian lineage back to 1859. Impressive stained glass windows reflect a more modernist addition to the landscape in the fifteen story Ravens Craig flats built in 1964-65.
Sparkling in the sun like pink sponge fingers with frosted, glazed balconies. The image provides a jarring contrast to imagining why Flesh Wynd may have gotten its name.
Not too far away from the Ravens Craig complex is Ravenscraig Castle. Local folklore claims that John Buchan named his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps after the path that leads down by the side of the castle to Pathhead Sands. A similar claim relates to a set of steps in Broadstairs, where the final scenes of the novel take place. Both sets of stairs have more than thirty nine. However, Buchan’s father was a Free Church of Scotland minister and Buchan spent most of his formative years in Kirkcaldy. His novel Prester John opens with a scene on Pathhead Sands, with Kirkcaldy thinly disguised as Kirkcaple.
I’m becoming conscious of the time and need to start heading back towards the ice rink. I loop around and through what would once have been a colossal industrial area, dominated by the Nairn linoleum factory complex. Michael Nairn was initially involved in the weaving of ship’s sails but later entered into floor coverings. The original factory built at Pathhead, in 1847, was initially ridiculed and known locally as Nairn’s Folly. However, the venture proved a great success and by 1876, linoleum production had become a global industry centred on Kirkcaldy. The use of linseed oil in the production process was what gave the distinctive ‘queer-like smell’ highlighted in the poem The Boy in the Train written by Mary Campbell Smith in 1913:
I’ll sune be ringin ma Gran’ ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, “Come ben my laddie”
For I ken mysel’ by that queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!’
Most of the industrial complex has now gone but one operational factory unit remains, sitting in the vast empty space like some remnant from an imagined post-Packard Detroit. The factory is clearly still productive as the distinctive, and not unpleasant, sweet smell is clearly discernible in the air. Perhaps a bit more localised these days rather than enveloping the entire town.
I meander through some of the side streets back towards the ice rink and whilst many buildings are in disarray, the sun is bringing out the best in them. An old industrial fence morphs into beautiful, striped, colour field, minimalism.
A ‘found’ Gerhard Richter decays on an old wooden board.
An abstract landscape, framed in brick under a painted sky, sits in the alcove of a boarded up window. (Perhaps a found Howard Hodgkin, thanks to Hamer the Framer, added 07.04.2018):
Whilst a short history of building is revealed in an industrial assemblage of brick, stone, concrete and metal:
To use a landscape-related term, it strikes me that these wagons are like cultural (as opposed to glacial) erratics, whose presence, through interpretation, can tell us something about the forces and processes that shaped the place in which they are located).
It’s a great expression and in this particular instance, I like how EAST FIFE has somehow survived the weathering process, much like a glacial erratic left behind.
Another abandoned looking building draws the eye, due to the panel above the door:
Langtoun Aquarists Pondkeepers Group. Another cultural erratic? Is that a fish on the door blowing a bubble?
Sadly, I can’t spend any more time pottering around and hoof it back quickly to the ice rink. So quick that I’ve a few more minutes to spare before the skating finishes. I walk round by a mysterious, mausoleum looking structure. Some form of sub station? Or perhaps a sealed vault storing all the forgotten sounds, smells and memories of Gallows Town?
Behind the vault are some of what feel like the oldest buildings I’ve seen today. The narrow passage of School Lane. Just enough Sunlight leaking down the walls to outline a set of strange material interventions close to the ground. Portals of exit or entry?
And back to the car park just in time to catch the ice rink crowd spilling out into the sunshine. The tired teenage skaters, pile into the car and I listen to their stories of careering around the chilled interior of the ice palace.
Oh and almost forgot. Wasn’t particularly looking for it, but it’s always good to find it …
This walk took place on Saturday 24th February, 2018.