Now Playing: Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling.
e d g e l a n d s
é e d r v i
t r s a a v g i p i l g r i m a g e
Now Playing: Marilyn Crispell – Gaia
We are in dangerous territory, walking westward out of the town of Rosyth, along the A985, one of ‘Britain’s killer roads’. This arterial incision into the connective tissue of the Rosyth edgelands is to fully engage with the disruptive polarities emanating from two monolithic structures, which have recently appeared on either side of the road. There is a real sense that the landscape, skyscape and mindscape have all been irretrievably altered. Whether this is benign or malevolent who can say? It is this that we must investigate and address head-on with our dérive. Establish relations, resist, remap, and reclaim as necessary.
As we set off, along the ridgeline of the A985, there is an undercurrent of fear that a vortex of radiant, colliding energies may threaten to rip us, stalking walkers, apart or even lure us into the path of oncoming traffic on the killer road. This is a risk that we are prepared for and must take.
The first stretch of road between two roundabouts is almost classic edgeland topography. On the right hand side, the small favela of allotments, with waves of canes, poles, pallet fencing and water butts; shanty sheds and corrugated iron knitted together with plastic pipework. There is a disordered/orderliness about the place; a charivari of utility and resourceful exchange, which resists the carefully manicured garden porn displayed in garden centres and lifestyle magazines. You can tell that this is land that is worked, loved and loves back.
On the other side of the road, past the football pitch, stands the ‘old Lexmark building’, supposedly the location of ‘the factory’ in Gregory Burke’s play Gagarin Way. We have investigated this building before and continue to monitor its energy levels , but no sign of the smoked salmon fishes as yet.
As we traverse over the second roundabout, there are clear intimations that the interzone between the town and edgelands has been breached. For the car driver, flooring it off the roundabout and opening up to the straight road ahead it’s as if the gravitational pull of the town loses its grip, supplanted by a carnivalesque impulse to wind down the window and toss the debris of consumer society into the hedgecomb of trees and shrubs edging the road. Here lies a graveyard of inert excess, an inventory of impulse purchases; eating and drinking on the hoof and a veritable time capsule of the non-biodegradable floatsam of consumer culture. Like true twitchers, we must record our spoils:
Fired up on caffeine,
the sugar rush floods
foot to the floor,
We are also struck by how the edgelands are places where things are simply forgotten about. Advertising signs from a more benign economic environment offering ‘Industrial Units for Sale or Lease’ are falling down and are never replaced; road signs tilt at 45 degrees; posters on substations intimate long forgotten concerts and doors on the mysterious roadside bunkers have all disappeared.
We are now out in the true edgelands, hugging the ribbon of verge by the side of the road as every vehicle utterly tanks it past us. We are pebbledashed by huge swathes of road spray and the draught, from the huge artic lorries that pass, threatens to pull us foot-powered perambulators into the middle of road. However, the objects of our effort and attention can now be clearly seen on either side of the road. We can feel their energies drilling into us and can only marvel at the scale of their transforming presence on this stretch of the edgelands. As long as we can stay vigilant and remain on the ribbon verge, we can resist the siren call urging us into the killer road.
Over to the right, in the middle distance, is a 100 metre column, on top of which sits a rotating turbine with three, colossal, scythe -like blades. This somehow reminds us of the free gifts of plastic spinners that you used to get sellotaped to the front cover of children’s comics like The Beano and The Dandy. Thus we have a name for our monster – Spinner – a vital part of the engagement and neutralisation process. Spinner is of such a scale that it doesn’t look quite real. It’s as if it is projecting some perspective morphing force field which shrinks or obliterates the elements within the landscape which offer any indication of human scale.
Spinner belongs to FMC Technologies, a Houston, Texas headquartered business, which manufactures subsea systems for the oil and gas and renewables industry. The 1.5MW turbine is projected to supply up to 40% of their energy needs at their Dunfermline facility and was financed by Triodos, the ethical bank. We stand and watch the strange poetry of the rotating blades dancing with the wind, quite hypnotic and completely silent from our vantage point. There is some some sense of good energy radiating from this structure and there is a fluidity and engagement with the elements. Spinner could probably only be a product of the edgelands. A place where a turbine of this size can be erected then lost and forgotten, despite it’s landscape transforming qualities.
If Spinner has a slightly ethereal, alchemical quality, transforming wind into electricity, over to our left is a structure that looks as if it is marauding up towards the ridge, like a mechanised robotic toy about to attack. This is the aptly named Goliath crane recently transported from China’s Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co Ltd, where it was manufactured. Goliath is the largest crane installed in the UK and across its 120m beam is the clearly visible signage:
Goliath sits in Rosyth Dockyard which lies over the hill down on the Forth. In effect, we are only seeing the top of the crane which at 90m high almost rivals Spinner in height. Goliath is part of the most expensive project in British naval history with two aircraft carriers presently being constructed at £3 billion a pop. We have already been told that once constructed, one will be mothballed immediately and the other will have no planes to fly from it. Try explaining this logic to a five year old. The carriers are to be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. The sheer folly, financial carnage and symbolism of this whole escapade is such that it almost fries our collective brain into meltdown. However, very soon we are all whistling and singing Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding – the Robert Wyatt version naturally – so we can hum the piano solo with our kazoos. This has the desired effect, tames the beast and calm descends. As we walk further along the road, we can gain a better vantage point to look down over the dockyard and see the true scale of Goliath. Our fear turns to pity as we realise that all we are looking at is simply a dumb, beast of burden, a heavy lifter, on which has been foisted the indignity of jingoistic colours, the White Ensign flag and the reek of failed empire. Also lurking down there, somewhere in the bowels are seven decommissioned nuclear submarines, still radioactive and we are reminded of some possibly apocryphal tales of technicians metal-capped boots glowing green in the dark. Isn’t it amazing what can be buried in the edgelands.
Back on the A985 and another juggernaut threatens to drag us into the road as we alight on Windylaw Path which leads down to the villages of Limekilns and Charlestown. We’ve had enough of the road but happy to have got the measure of Spinner and Goliath. Our dérive receptors are once again activated when we read that Windylaw Path is a coffin road.
Who could resist that and was Limekilns not mentioned in Stevenson’s Kidnapped?
As we head up the coffin road, a buzzard soars overhead…
Now playing: Brian Lavelle – Lambent