Opening quote from Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star.
The photos of the Berlin Wall are from an inter-railing trip in the late 1980s. It was a coincidence to rediscover them in an old shoebox on the day that it was announced Lou Reed had died. I can still vividly recall a lurid, orange BASF cassette being pressed into my hand in the school playground. “Listen to this!” It was a recording of Rock n Roll Animal. Things changed.
I can still remember a number of the cassettes that travelled in the rucksack on that inter-railing adventure. Berlin was certainly one of them.
It is often the shortest journey, undertaken with least expectation, that offers up an excess of possibility beyond what we expect to see.
It’s always worth exploring the other side of the barbed wire fence.
Never keep to the path.
(Extracts from FPC Field Guide).
Time constrained by commitments later on in the day and yet compelled by the need to go for a walk, we settle on a local part of the Fife Coastal Path. The very short stretch between Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay is a narrow tarmacadam / cinder ribbon of a mile, or so, that meanders around the coastline. Whilst offering fine views of the Forth Rail Bridge and over to Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat it is unlikely to trouble any tourist brochure. Indeed, the walking guide for the Fife Coastal Path devotes one short paragraph to it. There is a clear implication that this is a space that you can simply pass through. It is also a functional path, popular with dog walkers, leisurely strollers and is even lined with street lighting. However, as the sign above indicates, the traveller is asked to keep within the marked path. We cannot help thinking of Little Red Riding Hood but can only read the sign as an invitation to stray …
There is a distinctive topography to the land along this stretch of the path which edges around Inverkeithing Bay with sloping scrub and wooded elevations up to Preston Hill and Letham Hill behind. These factors and lack of road access, has prevented any urban coalescence between the nodal points of the old industrial harbour of Inverkeithing and the 1960s new town of Dalgety Bay.
However, there is also a distinct feeling of crossing a threshold, as you escape the gravity and material ephemera of the human settlement, and move into this zone from either end. A feeling of the wildness encroaching, long forgotten histories written into the land, whispered stories at the periphery of perception. A freeing up of the rules.
Leaving from Inverkeithing, we walk past a row of lock-ups, that are not without some semblance of aesthetic beauty in their irregular order and contrasting colours. You wonder what is behind these out-of-the-way closed doors? Some have obviously not been accessed for some time given the overgrown vegetation in front. We also notice that as soon as you pass the last lock-up, the wild space is already there, encroaching green fingers, edging into the human space and into the photo frame. There is also a rather cryptic graffiti announcement:
We are not sure whether to read this utterance as a comment on some existentialist predicament (“Out of it”) or a marker post to signify a transition point of moving out of the urban setting. (Moving oot it). Later on, when we reach the Dalgety Bay end of the path we find more graffiti on the first inhabited house. There is a clear sense that both of these graffiti bookend an entry – or exit. We read these signs as an intimation that what lies between these threshold markers is a different place – a zone. Not urban, yet not rural. Not even ‘classic’ edgeland. Instead, an indication that what lies within is an escape from the ostensible order of the settlements. Possibly a play area, a hidden place, an out of sight place, a gathering place, a wildness.
We are not far out of Inverkeithing when our advice to keep to the marked path is quickly discounted. We are drawn to the barbed wire topped, chain wire fence that we can see across a flat area of post industrial wasteland off to the left. It’s a pretty feeble attempt at preventing access as a whole section has been removed and most of the barbed wire has been snipped off.
We follow the well trodden desire path through the fence to find ourselves in the heart of the abandoned Prestonhill Quarry, now filled up with water. There is a compelling, uncanny beauty to this place. A void gouged and hewn out of the Earth, with the remaining dolerite walls reflecting weak sunlight like a cubist canvas. The acoustic ambience has also noticeably changed. We are in a huge reverberating chamber so that the slightest noise pings around the walls. A distant ice cream van sounds as if it should be coming from somewhere within the quarry, possibly submerged underneath the water. At the same time swallows dart and zig-zag above our heads, whilst magpies hop and skip around the top rocks, observing us with curiosity. A couple of buzzards circle in the distance . There is no one else around.
What is noticeable is that even in these most barren of conditions, non-human nature is restaking a claim with outcrops of growing vegetation, clinging to the quarry walls, thriving in the most hostile of conditions and the thinnest scrapings of soil.
We soon find the ubiquitous discarded fridge. Lying face down, its broken body surrounded by other accumulated fly tipped debris. The human stain of the dumping ground. It is always a puzzle to consider the time and energy it must take to fly tip a fridge in an ‘out of the way’ area, such as this, compared with taking it to the recycling point. Perhaps it’s for the sheer visceral thrill of throwing a fridge into a quarry. We assume that it has been pushed over the top and has been there for some time.
There is perhaps another attraction of the quarry. It is an unseen place with very deep water. Every surface has another side. What else lurks underneath the skin of calm blue water? What is submerged down there in the green depths with the little fishes?
All underwater photographs of the quarry are by ‘Zibi’ and can be accessed here along with many others. Whilst we have attempted to seek permission from Zibi to use these images, we have not received any reply to our request. Clearly if our request is subsequently refused we will remove the photographs from the blog but in the meantime were are grateful to Zibi for their inclusion.
It would appear that the quarry is also a favored disposal spot for stolen cars, making for an ideal symbiotic relationship with the diving community who find the quarry an attractive destination for underwater exploration. There is plenty to see and investigate below the surface. We are also told later that local fishermen stock the quarry with fish which they then try to catch again, fostering a fledgling underwater eco-system. There are rumours that someone may have introduced a pike.
The quarry is also clearly a gathering place. A hidden place of escape and unregulated recreation. We walk around the void, recording some of the many tags that have been written on to the rocks.
Staring up at the quarry wall and contemplating the material passage of time ossified in these rocks. The play of light on the angular shapes conjures up dynamic planes of movement and appear to imbue the rocks with an almost animistic quality. We can eventually see a cubist rock giant, emerging from time with right arm raised:
Back on the path, we head off to the right hand side this time.
Stretching out over the water is a fretwork pier of rusting metal which we find out later was the old industrial conveyor system used to load the quarried stone on to tethered ships.
We stand for a while to listen out for the lost sounds of this place. The kling klang ghosts of the industrial machinery, the heft of monolithic slabs of dolerite rattling down towards the waiting ships.
almost silent now
now almost silent
only the ack-ack-ack
of a solitary gull
riding the wind currents
A large steel plate has been placed across the structure presumably in an attempt to prevent people from climbing out along the pier. It’s unlikely to be a deterrent but it no doubt satisfies some health and safety regime. The plate has rusted and weathered into something resembling a Richard Serra sculpture:
Once again, we can see how the wildness is staking its claim with tendrils of green growing up, through and out of the lattice structure. “Shugg and Leanne” evidence the human urge to make a mark. The basic proof of existence. A name recorded. A demonstration of love?
Running parallel to the fretwork structure is another abandoned jetty. The pulleys remain suspended from the cross beam conjuring up something of the gibbet or perhaps some form of cosmic launch mechanism to project the traveller up and into the pillows of cloud:
all of this
lost stories, forgotten stories
sounds of absence
whispering in the wind.
We decide to explore a bit further underneath the conveyor structure sensing that this may yield possibilities. We are not disappointed when we alight on this gathering site:
What is noticeable is that there is no rubbish strewn here. It’s as if this is a place of respect. Strangely enough, the atmosphere evokes a similar feel to another outcrop of rocks that can be found on The Binn (Hill) along the coast at Burntisland:
Humans have also made their marks on The Binn stones, albeit some 4,000 years earlier
We pick up a bit of walking pace to take advantage of the seascape.
a sounded wave, persistent and seductive –
plays the shoreline.
flux and flow of sea brine –
a spilling over
of elemental energy.
Once again the unusual topography is such that we can hear a mash-up of field and hedgerow bird song against foreshore waders and gull talk. A chorus of crows, darting finches and tits; a wren bobs along the wall before taking refuge in the trees. What looks like a falling red leaf is actually a robin. On the foreshore, oystercatchers, and curlews wade and waddle whilst fulmars, cormorants and herring gulls dive and swoop. Symphonies of birdsong and gull chatter.
It doesn’t take long to reach Dalgety Bay, but just before the threshold graffiti we come across this:
Roofless and abandoned, it looks as if all of the surrounding land has been sucked away from the foundations leaving it sitting like an old tooth stump.
We try to piece together a narrative here but fail. Why has it been abandoned? Why left to ruin? It was clearly a property that had wealth behind it at some point, sitting in its walled garden. Enquiries are made of a few passing locals but yield nothing. “It’s always been like that” says a man who looks to be in his forties. “Ever since I was a wee kid”. He doesn’t know the story though.
We are on the reverse trip back to Inverkeithing when we spot a small opening in the stone wall with a signpost:
How could we resist? Off up the rickety path which didn’t appear overly well trodden.
We find a beetle on its back on one of the steps clearly distressed. A multitude of legs. flailing wildly, unable to right itself. We soon tip it on to its feet and the little jet black shell scuffles off into the grass.
The path ascends fairly steeply and it’s not long before we find ourselves on a high ridge which slopes away towards Letham Wood. That will have to wait for another day. Our immediate area of interest lies off to the left. Another barbed wire fence and it’s as easy to circumvent as the last one. This is what we had been leading up to. We could already feel what we were about to witness but were unprepared for the sheer scale of it. Compared to the ground level, water-filled heart of the quarry, we could now gain a perspective of the entire void and walk right up to peer over the edge.
Peering over the side, into the void, it’s as if a vacuum is trying to suck your insides out. I’m reminded of Aragon in Paris Peasant and the ‘suicide bridge’ in Buttes Chaumont park – coincidentally built in a reclaimed stone quarry. Before metal grilles were erected along the side of the bridge, it would supposedly claim victims from passers-by who had had no intention whatsoever of killing themselves but found themselves suddenly tempted by the invocation of the abyss.
Our photographic skills are unable to adequately capture the scale of this almost mournful absence, hewn from the Earth. It’s a place to simply sit and stare for a while.
It’s often easy to forget to raise our heads to the horizon. Having escaped the seduction of the void, we now realise how high up on the ridge we are. It changes our sense of the whole topography of the area. We can see how connected we are to the East side of Inverkeithing and marvel at the long view over to Dunfermline. We can see Spinner in the distance with the distorted perspective making it appear as if it is growing out of a housing estate.
We later discover that there is also an abandoned WW2 radio station complete with intact pill boxes not too far away but don’t see them today. Another time.
We descend back down the hill to the coastal path and reflect on our experience. What we had anticipated as a short, local coastal walk had been transformed into something else. A journey through a zonal space teeming with encounters and traces of the human, non-human and even the animistic. A co-existence of dumping ground, liminal playground, gathering place and nature sanctuary. The transient narrative of human activity inscribed in the abandoned house and the mute quarries and jetties a reminder of how financial capital abandons one exhausted void to migrate to the next site of profitable extraction.
Above all of this, the continually changing drama in the sky:
And as we return to Inverkeithing we can smell the sweet wood lying in the still functioning timber yard and take one last photo. It’s only later, that we notice that in this photograph, and almost all of the others, there is some intimation of wild nature straying into the frame.
An alert wildness, observing, perhaps patiently waiting for its moment to come.
One of the most direct ways to immerse yourself in Fife’s liminal energies is to walk the Coastal Path. Out on the edge at the intersection of land and sea is always a receptive place to be. However, for the more expedient traveller, or slacker psychogeographer, the short train journey that hugs the coastline from Inverkeithing to Kirkcaldy can be a sensory delight as the train rattles through the villages of Aberdour, Burntisland and Kinghorn. Position yourself on the right hand side of the train and open up the synapses to the field of vision that floods the senses.
If I have a taste, it’s for scarcely more than earth and stones.
I eat air, rock, earth, iron.
Arthur Rimbaud .
Gazing out over the Firth of Forth to Arthur’s Seat and the dolerite and columnar basalt of the Salisbury Crags. Like some striated, cosmic sombrero, angled and poised ready for take-off over the needle teeth of Edinburgh’s gothic spires. The castle nesting atop its volcanic plug. In the foreground stands the stillborn Edinburgh Riviera a Ballardian monument to pre-credit crunch architectural and financial hubris.
Deep Time / City Time / Hubris Time
There is a solidity of presence to the Salisbury Crags that radiates over the Forth. Layered custodian of the longue durée, deep time is encoded in these rocks. Thoughts turn to James Hutton (1726-1797) amateur geologist whose pioneering discoveries, on these very stones, challenged two prevailing ‘scientific’ shibboleths. Firstly, the notion of the Genesis creation myth which suggested that the earth was only a few thousand years old and secondly, the Neptunist theory that all rocks had precipitated from a single primordial ocean.
“the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.” 
I like the idea of Hutton’s work being rooted in direct observation of the rock layers that he could walk on, see, pick up, touch and feel. Open to the calling of the rocks and stones:
“The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,– no prospect of an end” .
By observing what is now known as the Hutton Section, Hutton arrived at a theory that the Salisbury Crags ‘sill’ was formed when a much younger layer of fluid, hot magma intruded into older layers of sedimentary rock and solidified. It is now known that this sill is at least 25 million years younger. Hutton’s theory of ‘deep time’ was presented in his revolutionary Theory of the Earth, (1785), which proposed that Planet Earth was the literal bedrock of all history, long predating the appearance of the human and would endure long after they had gone. The age of the Earth is now believed to be 4.54 billion years old.
“Those of us who grew up in the sixties, when we put men on the Moon, now have to watch as every Republican candidate for this year’s presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution. That is a staggering state of affairs and it is very worrying,”
Professor Naomi Oreskes, University of California, San Diego. 
The train rattles along the coast between Aberdour and Burntisland. Over the shimmering Forth:
The space of the Crags
floods the imagination
singing their presence
of encoded deep time
and time yet to come.
a need to start from the ground
on which we stand.
more magma needed
Levitate the Crags!
As the train approaches Kinghorn on a bright morning, the sun reflects off the rows of caravans , draped like rows of emerald jewels on the hill above Pettycur Bay. Look seaward and it’s possible to see basking seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
Perhaps today? Tide is out.
When taking this journey, I am always alert to the possibility of a sighting of the fish “which they could find no name for”.
Daniel Defoe’s visit to Fife is recounted in Letter XIII of his A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain, published in 1724. At Kinghorn he observes how the men ‘carry’d on an odd kind of trade, or sport, of shooting of porpoises of which very great numbers are seen almost constantly in the Firth’. Defoe explains how the porpoises are brought on shore and their fat boiled off for oil, which they also do with other fish such as ‘grampusses, finn fish, and several species of the small whale kind’. However, in one particular year, ‘there came several such fish on shore which they could find no name for’. Defoe records seeing eight or nine of these fish lying on the shore from ‘Kinghorn to the Easter Weems, some of which were twenty-foot long and upward’. 
It is intriguing to reflect that a well established sea trading community would be unable to name this mysterious fish? A surprise manifestation in a world already mapped, named and territorialized. Perhaps only nine of these creatures ever existed? Perhaps these were the last nine?
The train pulls into Kinghorn,
there they lie on the shore:
cut, boiled and rendered for oil.
the last ones.
Fifteen minutes from Kinghorn there are two petrochemical installations run by global energy giant ExxonMobil. Our train journey has meant we have seen neither. Sometimes the advantages of walking are abundantly clear. On foot the psychogeographic receptors are more finely attuned.
The Fife Ethylene Plant (“FEP”) at Mossmorran, near Cowdenbeath is one of the largest in Europe with an annual output of 830,000 tonnes. Initially, Brent – the largest oil and gas field in the North Sea UK sector – provided the gas feedstock, but with the decline of Brent production, gas from the Norwegian sector is now also used with 50% of feedstock coming from the Stratfjord and Goja-Vega fields. The natural gas is brought ashore at St Fergus, north of Peterhead and then travels to Mossmoran through a 222km underground pipeline. 12 million tonnes litres of water are pumped every day from Glendevon reservoir to generate steam used in the ethylene cracking process. Four miles away on the Firth of Forth, just west of Aberdour, lies the Braefoot Brae marine terminal where the ethylene is shipped to Antwerp and the rest of Europe.
All of these hidden entrails of energies radiate far and wide.
The Mossmorran flare is a well known local phenomenon, which can light up the sky like a surreal, Lynchian, ignited match diffusing its uncanny hue throughout night and day:
“I live at the top end of Lochgelly and the noise keeps me awake most of the night. It sounds like constant thunder or a plane overhead. The roar is ridiculous and the constant light also disturbs my sleep. Through the day I have to keep all the windows shut to cut down on the noise but even with the windows shut you can still hear the constant roar. The flaring and the noise gives me sore heads and I just feel constantly ill with it. It’s ridiculous that we have to put up with this type of noise pollution. If I made that type of noise or a normal industry made that type of a noise I would soon find myself in trouble with complaints against me. How come they are being allowed to get away with this, year in year out. So much for the quality of life for the residents of central Fife”
Margaret. Lochgelly Resident 
“FEP is proud of its environmental record in both waste management and emissions”. 
Not really knowing where I’m going with all of this, I take a gander at the news headlines on Sunday morning 19th February 2012. I learn two things:
It is reported for the first time today that The ExxonMobil oil company has been fined £2.8 million for failing to report 33,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran. It is the largest ever fine for an environmental offence in British history.
ExxonMobil is an active funder of the Heartland Institute whose mission is to: “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”. Global warming and climate change is a particular bête noir of Heartland and they make vociferous attacks against the environmental movement and scientists who support the evidence based claims for global warming. Their website features a list of ‘experts’ and like-minded conservative policy think-tanks, many of whom have also received funding from ExxonMobil. 
The burnt out train
at Kinghorn station
the birds are silent.
just over there
on the shore:
cut, boiled and rendered for oil.
Over the Forth
a faint pulse.
Levitate the Crags!
The local is always global
1. Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Festivals of Hunger’, from Last Poems.
2. John Playfair, (1805), “Hutton’s Unconformity” Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh V (III).
3. James Hutton, (1785), The Theory of the Earth, p. 304.
4. Professor Naomi Oreskes, quoted in ‘Attacks paid for by big business are driving science into a dark era’ The Observer, Sunday 19th February 2012.
5. Daniel Defoe, (1724), A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991 edition).
In a previous post, I wrote of being haunted by the cup and ring symbol. In this wired, digital world, these cross-cultural, cross-geographic ciphers are all around us. Infiltrating our consciousness and yet remaining elusive and enigmatic. Tune in and they will reveal themselves in many unexpected places – from iPods to the X Factor, to packets of washing up powder.
How exciting to discover that some well-preserved marks exist on the north side of The Binn (Hill), the volcanic plug that overlooks Burntisland. It’s unlikely that you would stumble across them without having been tipped a nod as to where they are – they have protected themselves well for over 4000 years.
Lets just say that when you find them, the setting makes perfect sense. Vistas out over the Forth, high ground but sheltered. The heavens and stars open above. A place to capture energies of earth, wood, wind and sun; a place to inscribe these enigmas upon stone. Make a mark. An image of transmission; of energy radiating outwards, of ripples on the surface of consciousness being picked up by the tuned in antenna. Perhaps our ancient forebears were also receptive to this idea, way before the discovery of radio waves begat such an adaptable and iconic image.
It’s a pleasant walk to the stones. Up through a sheltered path, heady aromas of rain drenched wood bark, soft underfoot. Off to the left the sound of falling water. At the end of the path a steep scramble and over the stile. A pause for breath and across the butterfly strewn meadow, until you pick up the path that heads up to the summit of the Binn. A couple of ducks, glide aimlessly amongst the reeds in the pond on the left. Dragonflies hover like winged shards of stained glass and suddenly they are gone as if dissolved in sunlight. As you commence the climb up the Binn, the rocks are up on the right hand side. A scramble over some rough ground and fallen trees and once you are in the vicinity, you will feel the pull of the rocks and there they are.
There are two key marks. One is a fully complete cup and ring, perfectly preserved. Another smaller one has been started but remains unfinished. I wonder why? It’s a blast to close your eyes and think that around 4,000 years ago someone had taken the time – many many hours – to carve these marks into this rock. This rock here – now! We can still only guess why and perhaps it is better that way. Do we want to know that it may have only been for some dull utilitarian purpose? No! Here it remains today something quite beautiful and powerful, expressive human poetry. Materially tangible but elusive and meaning slips away, like grains of sand through the fingers, if we try to wring out its mystery in theories and guesswork.
Carrying on up to the summit of the Binn. There is a ‘top of the world’ sensation. Burntisland lies, directly below. Once home to Mary Somerville, pioneering mathematician and astronomer and the Reverend Thomas Chalmers, radical, social reformer and founder of the Free Church of Scotland. Once described by Patrick Geddes as ‘an anarchist economist beside whom Kropotkin and Reclus are mere amateurs’.
Glinters of sunlight on the Forth to East and West as the wind whips up a frenzy of pebbledash rain. We are forced to take cover in a small natural alcove on the hillside. Sheltering from the elements, thinking of pioneering radicals just as our stone carving friends would have done 4,000 years ago.