Categories
Field Trip Psychogeography

Searching for Storione – A walk with the ghosts of Little Moscow

Our research unit hasn’t exactly excelled itself. A scribbled address on a torn piece of paper is all that we have:

Communist Literature Depot, 128 Perth Road, Cowdenbeath.

This is the only material link we have to Storione and even then we are not exactly sure of its provenance. Why does Goggle never come up with the really interesting stuff? It’s a good job we still have some real libraries but further research can wait until our walk is over. We want to be open to the signs and an address is enough to get started…

~

Lochgelly Miners Institute

We are taking a walk today from Lochgelly, via Lumphinnans, to Cowdenbeath in search of Lawrence Storione, founder of the Anarchist Communist League in 1908.  We also intend our drift to act as a ritual exorcism of an article that ‘British travel writer and humorist’ Tim Moore wrote for the Daily Telegraph last year.  His piece on Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath subsequently appeared in his book You are Awful (but I Like You).  What is curious about Moore’s article is an almost complete lack of engagement with the actual materiality of this specific place. His encounters in pubs, hotels and fast food shops could have happened almost anywhere. (Just change the accents and place names). 

Like anyone, Moore is entitled to respond to a place as he sees fit and after all he had a book to flog with a specific agenda: to visit the towns of  ‘unloved Britain’.  Alongside Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath, Moore turns his c-list, Bill Bryson wit on the likes of Hull, Middlesbrough, Merthyr Tydfil, Nottingham and Rhyl amongst others.  The fact that this profound tome ended up in Richard Littlejohn’s ‘Best of 2012’ year end list is probably all you need to know. “A laugh out loud pilgrimage to the most hideous places in modern Britain” says Littlejohn.

So, with regard to Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly, we can understand why he bothered to come, or did he? (How can you not find the football ground in Cowdenbeath?). There is just a slight suspicion that his article may have been written before he even arrived, just looking for some local colour to flesh out his prejudices. Not surprisingly, he ‘found’ what he was looking for which revolves around the fact that Lochgelly is routinely trotted out as the town having the cheapest housing prices in the UK.  

The roads were lined with cramped little semis and 1960s bungalows, Britain’s cheapest houses in their flimsy, pebbledashed glory.

All had the kind of scuffed and anonymous front door you could imagine a TV interviewer knocking upon at the end of a quest to track down some forgotten star of yesteryear.

“The Beirut of Fife”

Admittedly, Lochgelly, a mining town that has waxed and waned with the fortunes of the Fife coalfield may be quite a contrast to Mr Moore’s birth town of Chipping Norton. Situated in the parliametary constituency of Witney, it is represented by one Mr David Cameron MP. (This is the stuff you can find on Google).  Lochgelly’s housing may also appear relatively cheap in comparison to the cost of Mr Moore’s public school education. At 2012 prices a mere £16,035 per year per student. However, let’s not be too harsh. A mildly humourous hack, hawking cheap laughs at the expense of a place ravaged by industrial decline is hardly worth fretting over. Oh and the word community is not mentioned once in Moore’s article so he must be correct. The value of a place must be correlated to its house prices.

So we are off to take a walk and find out what this area says to us. As with any place we know that there will be stories embedded into the materiality of the buildings, spaces and the ground we walk on. They are out there in the sensory field and we are hopeful some of them may reveal themselves.  This is an area that once returned Willie Gallacher as a Communist MP in the House of Commons from 1935 – 1950 and we have already mentioned Storione. Are all of these radical traces gone? Perhaps the ghosts of Little Moscow will reveal themselves to us. Will they have anything relevant to say to us in our present predicament? What of the future? Any insights will be gratefully received.

Lochgelly Centre and Jennie Lee Library

We convene at The Lochgelly Centre car park and it is a radiant, sun washed morning to set out. On a day like this Mr Moore could have taken himself down the road to experience one of Fife’s outdoor gems: Lochore Meadows Country Park, or The Meedies as it is known locally. A fabulous public space and Outdoor Environmental Education Centre. Not being great respecters of chronological time our own despatch from the Meedies at an uncertain point in time can be found here.

The Lochgelly Centre, reopened last year after a major refurbishment. It’s a fantastic community resource hosting a cafe, art exhibitions, various workshops and classes and a small theatre which hosts travelling companies and facilitates community arts projects . It also programmes film screenings, author readings such as Ian Rankin and Iain Banks and regularly hosts the perennials of the music gigging circuit. We can recall a slightly surreal chat one evening with Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent discussing The Zombies Odyssey and Oracle.  We also saw a snarling Hugh Cornwall delivering one of his best post-Stranglers appearances that we’ve seen. These events happen in Lochgelly.

Anyway, we have barely stumbled a few steps from the car park when the ghosts start to whisper in our ears. Also located in the Lochgelly Centre is the Jennie Lee Library, named after one of Lochgelly’s famous daughters.  Jennie is keen to tell us two things: How a bursary helped a working class woman go to University and how open access was enshrined in her greatest achievement as Minister of the Arts, The Open University. At the time it was a genuinely radical idea that people could study for a university degree without having any initial qualifications at entry.

“The heroine of the  whole story of the OU is Jennie Lee. The idea of it being called the Open University was very much hers” 

Lord Asa Briggs.


Jennie Lee was elected as an MP in 1929, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons. Her maiden speech attacked Churchill’s budget proposals which impressed him so much that he offered her his congratulations after their spirited exchange. Jennie maintained her independence of spirit and mind throughout her life clashing with her husband, Nye Bevan, on several policy issues, notably Bevan’s support of the UK acquiring a nuclear deterrent which Jennie was firmly against.

Our encounter with Jennie Lee and the material presence of a library has already raised our spirits and by word association we recall another notable Lochgelly daughter Jennie Erdal, author of the fascinating memoir Ghosting. 

Ghosting

Ghosting combines an account of her early childhood in Lochgelly and of her time employed as the ghostwriter for ‘Tiger’ a charismatic London-based publisher.  Her ghostwriting assignments begin with personal letters, business correspondence and newspaper columns but, over time, eventually expand into novels and non-fiction titles. Whilst never named in Erdal’s book, it is clear that ‘Tiger’ is Naim Attallah, owner of Quartet Books, and for many years owner of The Wire – a music magazine dear to the hearts of the FPC.  Our library also contains many fine Quartet titles including Arthur Taylor’s Notes and Tones and Val Wilmer’s As Serious as Your Life a ground breaking work on the post-Coltrane, jazz avant-garde.  Funny how a walk in Lochgelly (not really even started yet!) has already taken us on a journey from Jennie Lee to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and The AACM.

Joe TemperleySo with the sounds of saxophones ringing in our ears we can also eavesdrop in on a young, 14-year-old, miners son picking up a sax for the first time. A birthday gift from an older brother, who played the trumpet. 

Joe Temperley, places his fingers tentatively on the keys and blows to make his first sound.  A sound that will initiate a journey that leads from Lochgelly to London, with Humphrey Lyttelton, and eventually over the Atlantic to New York and a stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

 

With all this music ringing in our ears, we better be on our way and commence our drift up Bank Street. However, there must be something in the air today as we are soon distracted by a street sign.  Could this be the definitive evidence that confirms Marc Bolan’s debt to Chuck Berry? Get it On was supposedly adapted from Berry’s Little Queenie and here is the evidence: Berry straight to Bolan square(d).

Chuck & Mark - Lochgelly Street Sign Can you square a riff? We would like to think so.

As an aside, we had previously posted this photo on Twitter and off it went into the virtual ether. It soon returned like a digital boomerang with a note from T.Rextasy – The World’s Only Official Tribute to Marc Bolan and T Rex. They have played Lochgelly Centre a number of times and had also noticed the sign but had never managed to take a photo.

Lochgelly’s Bank Street/Main Street is the sort of place which capital has forgotten. In some ways this makes a refreshing change from the identikit, cloned high streets of more ‘prosperous’ towns full of the same old chain stores. There is a range of independent shops and a Co-op supermarket, which, despite its ethical credentials has been the subject of some disgruntled comments in the local press about high prices and abuse of their monopoly position. The buildings of Bank Street are solid and redolent of more prosperous days. The Cinema De-Luxe building, now a shop/office, retains a faded art-deco charm and you can transport yourself back to its luminous glory, offering up enticing wares of cinema, wrestling and dancing.

Cinema De-Luxe Lochgelly

Around the corner, in Main Street stands the recently restored and still magnificent Miners Institute.

CIMG2475 This building is now used as the Fife Women’s Technology Centre, an award winning community based learning centre that has been providing training in new technology to unemployed women since 1990.

Next door is the new Ore Valley Business Centre  a state-of-the-art business centre aimed at helping start-up businesses in Fife to grow. The building has been designed to be highly energy-efficient, maximising solar gain and environmental management technology to keep the building’s energy requirements to a minimum.

CIMG2477 CIMG2479 In these two buildings alone is evidence of some of the good work going on to improve Lochgelly today and build towards the future.  Like many of the towns and villages around this area, they prospered with the deep mining of the Fife coalfield but suffered disproportionately when the industry began to decline and was eventually delivered a terminal bullet from the Thatcher government. We are reminded of Patrick Geddes’s inter-linked triad of Place Work and Folk. Is it any wonder that when ‘work’ is withdrawn, almost wholesale from an area, that Place and Folk suffer?

At the side of the Miners Institute is a sculpture called The Prop by the celebrated artist David Annand.  Annand’s other many notable works includes the statue of poet Robert Fergusson, outside the Canongate Church in Edinburgh, and Turfman, a collaboration with Seamus Heaney.

The Prop portrays  a lone miner propping up, or holding on, to six stainless steel forms, representing pit props? A reminder of the town’s mining heritage but an addition to a new sense of place in its own right. This is not monumental art. It quietly invites you to spend time with it. Walk around the space to catch the light fracturing off of the shining stainless forms and it’s then you notice that each column has a line of poetry engraved in to it.  We subsequently learn that the poem God is a Miner is by local  poet William Hershaw.

The miner looks as if he has just emerged from a coal seam, rough-hewn from deep time.  Absorbing light into solid form in contrast to the sleek, reflective stainless steel.

~

Yuri Gagarin

“The radicalism of Little Moscow developed out of a struggle to maintain and improve the basic conditions of life.”

Stuart MacIntyre

Lumphinnans looking towards LochgellyWe now heading down the long ribbon strip that connects Lochgelly with Cowdenbeath but is actually called Lumphinnans. There is housing down the north side of the road and an impressive cryptoforest to the south with a golf course beyond.  Were you to pass through this area today it may not be immediately apparent that this was once the beating heart of Little Moscow. An area that elected Willie Gallagher, a Communist, as  Member of Parliament for West Fife from the period 1935 – 1950. 

Little Moscow was a term applied to a small number of towns and villages in the UK that appeared to hold extreme left-wing political values.  In Scotland there was Lumphinnans and Vale of Leven, England had Chopwell and there was Maredy in Wales.  The term was initially used as a term of disparagement by the popular press but then reclaimed as a ‘badge of honour’ by the local communities.  Many of the areas that would later be dubbed ‘Little Moscows’ had earlier in the century attempted to find alternatives to the state sanctioned capitalist system.

In Lumphinnans, one of the key instigators was Lawrence Storione who arrived in the village in 1908. Storione was born in Italy in 1867 in the French-speaking area of Valle d’Aosta and later worked as a miner. It appears that he was introduced to anarchism by the noted French geographer and anarchist Élisée Reclus, who was lecturing at the University of Brussels. (Incidentally, Elisee and his brother Élie were friends of Patrick Geddes and attended Geddes’s International Summer Schools in Edinburgh, as did Peter Kropotkin). Due to his anarchist activities, Storione was forced to flee France disguised as a woman and he arrived in Scotland in 1897, working in the mines of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire.  After an aborted trip to Canada he returned to Scotland in 1908 where he settled in Lumphinnans and took up employment at the No 1 pit. His arrival at Lumphinnans had consequences for revolutionary ideas among the miners in that area and he soon set up the Anarchist Communist League which, according to Stuart MacIntyre: “preached a heady mixture of De Leonist Marxism and the anarchist teachings of Kropotkin and Stirner.”  Among those who appeared to have joined the League were the miners Abe and Jim Moffat and Robert (Bob) Selkirk. All three were to join the Communist Party in 1922, Abe Moffat having an important position within it and Selkirk serving as a Communist Party town councillor in Cowdenbeath for 24 years. The League set up a bookshop in 1916 in nearby Cowdenbeath at 128 Perth Road – which is where we are headed today. It sold titles such as Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, and De Leon’s Two Pages From Roman History and other anarchist literature.

Storione married Annie Cowan in 1900 and their children could only grow into their names: Armonie, Anarchie, Autonomie, Germinal and Libertie! The sole exception to these revolutionary appellations was his daughter Annie who was a leading light in a Proletarian Sunday School in Cowdenbeath.  Sunday evening meetings were held at which notable  activists such as Willie Gallagher, John McLean, and Jack Leckie came to speak.

It’s an enjoyable walk in the sunshine and it looks like a straight road towards Cowdenbeath, unbroken by housing when as if out of nowhere we are forced to drift from the main road by a sign:

CIMG2483

A small road leads off to the right and in seconds, our landscape has completely changed. An open road stretches out ahead with spectacular vistas over to Benarty Hill and The Bishop.  Old style telegraph poles whistling in the light wind appear to be humming a chorus of Wichita Lineman and we wonder whether we have stepped through a portal to the American mid-west.

CIMG1754 CIMG1753 Our thoughts of Franco-Italian anarchists are derailed for a while until we recall the high correlation between anarchists and geographers. The land has always been important to the anarchist.

We subsequently come across the story of Lumphinnans NoXI mine which we guess was North West from here and was called the Peeweep pit as the miners could always hear the sound of Lapwings as they walked to work.

We also add to our collection of single-item, lost footwear.

CIMG1762

After our detour we are looking for any signs that remain of Little Moscow. The most obvious traces are to be found in the street signs: Gagarin Way and Gallacher Place.

Lumphinnans Fife, Named after Yuri Gagarin, Cosmonaut.

Named after Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space and hero of the Soviet Union:

Conquest of Space

This street also gave the name to Gregory Burke’s debut play which is perhaps a useful corrective to avoid becoming too nostalgic and romantic about institutionalised, political rhetoric of any persuasion.

CIMG1759

We invoke the ghosts to tell us anything that may be of use to us. Rather than deliver any political sloganeering Willie Gallagher tells us a story, or more like a scene from a play. It concerns the incident of a 12 year old girl brought before the Communist baillie, Jimmie Stewart for stealing a bag of coal:

Stewart: How auld are ye lassie?

Girl: Just twal sir

Stewart: How auld is yer wee brother?

Girl: He’s eight

Stewart: It was gey cauld last week?

Girl: Aye, it was gey cauld

Stewart: Did ye take the coal hen?

Girl: Aye

Stewart: Muckle?

Girl: Just a bucketful

Stewart: Did ye take the coal to make a fire for your wee brother?

Girl: Aye

Stewart: What ye did was richt. Charge dismissed. (1)

A more postmodern take on street names can be found with Robert Smith Court. Anyone spending time in the towns an villages of West Fife will notice that there a large number of pubs called The Goth.  (after The Gothenburg System). It therefore only appears fitting that there should exist a commemoration of the uber-goth himself in this street sign. We are surprised that it has not become more of a shrine. Perhaps a few stuffed, cuddly Love Cats would be appropriate although, there is the small beginnings of A Forest.*

Robert Smith Court Lumphinnans

We have almost reached Cowdenbeath, when another sign whispers to us:

CIMG1764

The WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) was founded in 1903 and is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. In many ways it was a forerunner of the Open University.

We are transported to last years summer holiday when we visited the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.  Showing alongside Richard Long’s artist room was Luke Fowler’s film: The Poor Stockinger, The Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Johanna Southcott.

Fowler’s film focuses on the work of historian E.P. Thompson, who was employed by the WEA to teach literature and social history to adults in the industrial towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Like the Open University this was an opportunity to provide classes to people who had historically been unable to access a university education.

The film uses archive and contemporary footage to portray a moment of optimism in which E.P Thompson’s ideas for progressive education came together with a West Riding tradition of political resistance and activism.  In many ways you can feel the bonds of solidarity stretching from the Little Moscow of Fife to the West Riding of Yorkshire.

 And so we reach Cowdenbeath and it’s not too difficult to locate Perth Road. 128 is what our scribbled piece of paper says. Will there be any sign from Storione?

It’s not looking too hopeful as it soon becomes clear that the buildings are residential terraced houses probably built in the 1960s/70s.  We soon track down No 128 although there is no obvious trace of The Communist Literature Depot having existed.  

CIMG2487

The calendars does not measure time as clocks do. They are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in the past hundred years.

A historian […] stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one. Thus he establishes a conception of the present as the ‘time of now’ which is shot through with chips of Messianic time. 

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

Perhaps it is enough to know that Storione’s bookshop may have once existed here and now resides within this little collective of numbers. A radiating form of energy that once rippled through the ether of Little Moscow and now lies awaiting its Messianic moment.

 Tim who?

 ~~~

Now Playing: Dick Gaughan  – A Handful of Earth

(1) This is an actual transcript recorded in Stuart MacIntyre’s book.

* The real Robert Smith was also a Communist councillor and appears to have suggested the proposal to name Gagarin Way.

References:

Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, 1940, in Tasmin Spargo, (ed), Reading the Past (London: Palgrave, 2000).

Nick Heath, Lawrence Storione 1867 – 1922, on Libcom.org:  http://libcom.org/history/storione-lawrence-1867-1922

William Kenefick, Red Scotland! The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left, c. 1872 to 1932 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Stuart Macintyre, Little Moscows : Communism and working-class militancy in inter-war Britain (London: Croom Helm, 1980).

Tim Moore, You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain (London: Jonathan Cape, 2012).

Neil C. Rafeek, Communist Women in Scotland: Red Clydeside from the Russian Revolution to the End of the Soviet Union (London:  I.B.Tauris, 2008).

Categories
Field Trip Psychogeography Symbol

On the Coffin Road

Windylaw Path

We approach the village from the North by the coffin road known as Windylaw.  A sign indicates that this path was used for many centuries by people to carry their dead to Rosyth Church. Sometimes they would come from as far away as Dunfermline.

The ground is sodden underfoot and standing still you can feel the ticklish trickle of rivulets, running around your boots off the slight incline.  This is the first day of reasonable weather for weeks and it feels good to stand under the mottled blue canopy and listen to the murmur of the flowing field.

CIMG2272

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Windylaw meanders up towards a small copse of trees. We are greeted by the guardian of the forest, a snuffling, wood-hedgehog type apparition which looks like it could have come straight out of Pogles Wood.

Hedgehog Guardian of the Wood

A woodpecker industriously loops its rrrrrat-a-tat-tat rhythm but remains unseen. We stand still and stare but there is no dart of kinetic red against gray bark. Instead, one particular tree  conjures up a Medusa like quality. The branches appear to move, twisting and writhing like a cauldron of snakes.

Medusa Tree

Winding through the trees

Windylaw meanders through the trees and we walk alongside all of the ghosts who have tramped this path over centuries.

How many stopped to make their mark such as Toad has done here?

Toad

Once over the ridge of hill, we start to descend towards the shoreline and the village of Limekilns which we can see off to the right.  We leave the path briefly to take in the vista over the Forth Estuary.

The Forth Estuary

In many ways a picturesque enough view. Over the farmers fields to the river Forth and beyond to West Lothian.  However, no view is ever as ‘innocent’ as it seems so let us tilt our heads a little bit further to the left and to the right. Let us ponder on what we can see…

Firstly off to the left, lies Rosyth Dockyard:

Looking East to The Dockyard & Bridges

The picture is not great but you can clearly see Goliath’s looming presence of whom we have written before:

“Goliath is the largest crane installed in the UK and 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 Rosyth Dockyardover 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.”

On the same day as our walk (31st March 2013), a number of articles appear in the press to indicate that Rosyth Dockyard has been chosen for a pilot project to break up some of the nuclear submarines, prompting fears it could become a dumping ground for radioactive waste.  (Ignoring the somewhat obvious fact that it already is). The one fairly fundamental snag in this proposal is that no site or facility has yet been identified to store radioactive material safely. (It is going to be there for a long, long time). I suspect that our inventory of Empire and hubristic bravado – HMS Dreadnought, HMS Churchill, HMS Resolution, HMS Repulse, HMS Renown, HMS Revenge and HMS Swiftsure may continue to sit and rust for many years to come, hopefully with the nuclear reactors remaining intact.

You can also just make out the Forth Bridges, beyond the dockyard, in the above photographs. The iconic red diamonds of the Victorian rail  bridge and the twin suspension towers of the not inelegant road bridge. Construction work is now well underway for a third bridge to join them. It would appear that the existing road bridge has literally become a piece of auto-destructive art. Road vehicle usage, far in excess of what was originally envisaged has reduced the life of the suspension cables and consequently the bridge. (although there is some debate about this).  The result will be a new road bridge with an increased capacity to continue to satiate our desire for car travel.   Build it and it and it will be filled is the usual outcome of transport policy so perhaps we stand as witnesses to the birth of yet another piece of auto destructive art.

As is becoming evident, the Forth is still very much a working river and from our viewpoint it would not be unusual to see a container ship – the new packhorse of global capitalism – chugging up the central channel to Grangemouth container port to drop off its wares. Alternatively, it could be a British warship off for some ‘munitions and maintenance support’ at Crombie Pier which is part of the sealed off Crombie Munitions Depot. 

.Crombie Pier - Zoom

This is very close to Crombie Point where Jules Verne and Aristide Hignard disembarked from an Edinburgh steamer in 1859 to continue their travels through Fife and Scotland. This journey inspired Verne’s novel The Green Ray.

'Le Rayon Vert'
‘Le Rayon Vert’

And beyond Crombie Pier lies the Grangemouth petrochemical plant, Scotland’s only oil refinery. An industrial city of chimneys and cooling towers, belching steam, and when darkness falls, shooting dramatic flares into the sky against a wash of sodium hue.

Grangemouth

Chances are that all the cars sitting nose to tail on the Forth Bridges will ultimately get their petrol from here. Just another nodal point in the network of global petrochem dollars.

Looking West towards Limekilns

OK surely that’s it. But no. Strain your eyes to the far right and another iconic sight can be zoomed into view. The chimney of the coal powered Longannet Power Station. I’m sure it keeps our lights on but is regularly towards the top of the charts in any survey of ‘most polluting power stations’ in the UK and Europe.

Longannet Power Station - Zoom
Longannet Power Station – Zoom

Anyway this digression is just an illustration of how a landscape view is never neutral. On one level, yes this is a beautiful landscape.  However, this is also a landscape inextricably linked into the ebb and flow of the global capitalist economy or on a more pessimistic note is there any more perfect spot to catalogue and observe the agents and consequences of what George Monbiot calls the Age of Entropy.  (Thanks to Liminal City for alerting us to this).  At the very least, the psychogeographer can reverse the panoptical gaze of the modern political machine.  Standing here we can use landscape as a mirror to reflect back. We can see the war machines, the entropic processors of fossil fuels, how the local is connected to the global.  On this spot we can be the watchers. We can see what you are up to and imagine and enact alternative possibilities. (Such as going for a walk!).

Windylaw Path II

We continue our descent down Windylaw which edges the perimeter of the newer built part of Limekilns. A desire path breaks off to the left and we soon find ourselves at the rear of the old ruined Rosyth Church. Rosyth Churchyard wallRecords indicate that the church dates back to the 12th century when it is mentioned in the charter sent to the monks of Inchcolm Abbey in 1123. The church ceased to be used as a place of worship sometime between 1630 and 1648. You can clearly appreciate why the coffin road evolved. Even today, the only access to this spot is by walking or possibly by boat. Whilst doing a bit of research, a curious entry in  the RCHMS archive records catches the eye.  In 1998 a “stray human mandible was found on a grassy area just south of Rosyth Old Kirk burial ground by Mr Walmsley of Inverkeithing. The very weathered and friable bone belonged to a child aged 6-9 years.”

there is none more lonely and eerie than Rosyth, at anyrate at the close of a winter day, when a rising wind is soughing through the bare branches, and the sea is beginning to moan and tramp to and fro over rock and shingle.

John Geddie, The Fringes of Fife, (1894)

Rosyth Churchyard

Unlike Geddie, we find the church reflecting sunlight on a bright, still morning with just the slightest intimation of Spring in the air. Little of the original structure remains. Only the East gable and part of the North wall. A mort house still stands, built at a later date, to no-doubt frustrate the profitable enterprise of  the resurrectionists (body snatchers) who are known to have prowled the coastal graveyards, often arriving by boat.

East Gable -Outer
East Gable -Outer
East Gable Inner - from West
East Gable Inner – from West

The churchyard, as in all churchyards, is full of stories. Manicured fragments of past lives lived. How much of a person can be captured when reduced to a few lines of inscription on a gravestone?  In many cases, the weather and the passage of time work to gradually efface even this small act of material remembrance.  Chiseled stone is returned to smoothness as the distant past becomes literally more difficult to read yielding up only broken fragments and guesses.

Fractured
Fractured
Fragments & Guesses
Fragments & Guesses
Robert Wood and Mary Harrison
Robert Wood and Mary Harrison
Tombs are Trifles
Tombs are Trifles
Lost at Sea
Lost at Sea

CIMG2327

This gravestone below is particularly rich in symbolism: the trumpet blowing Angel of the Resurrection; the memento mori skull as a representation of death and the hourglass denoting the passing of time.

Angel of Resurrection, skull & hourglass
Angel of Resurrection, skull & hourglass

This stone was erected in the year of the French Revolution:

1789
1789

We were really intrigued with this one. The reversed numeral “7” in particular.  Also the fact that four sets of initials are on the gravestone?

At the end of the coffin road. 31.03.13

Nowadays, the quiet graveyard appears to be a haven for bird life. During our visit, blackbirds scurried amongst the leaves whilst a robin dotted around the gravestones following us.

One last photo before we leave and its only later that  we notice the ghostly halo around the door frame. Saturated light I’m sure but who knows?

Some ghostly intervention here?

On leaving the the graveyard, we head right which leads to a pleasant shoreline walk along to Limekilns.  Looking over the water there is even a hint of Glastonbury Tor over in West Lothian. It’s the tower folly of The House of the Binns, Tam Dalyell’s family home. CIMG2340It’s a short walk to Limekilns and as we approach we are reminded of David Balfour and Alan Breck who visit the village in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped:

“about ten in the morning, mighty hungry and tired, came to the little clachan of Limekilns. This is a place that sits near in by the water-side, and looks across the Hope to the town of the Queensferry.”

(Kidnapped, Chapter XXVI, End of the Flight: We Pass the Forth).

We will write-up what we found in Limekilns and Charlestown another day.

Now Playing: Current 93 – Baalstorm, Sing Omega

References:

Alan Reid, Limekilns and Charlestown: A Historical Sketch and Descriptive Sketch of a Notable Fifeshire Neuk, (Dunfermline: A. Romanes, 1903).

Categories
Field Trip Observation Poetry Psychogeography Sounds of Spaces and Places

Two Spectral Trees – Somewhere North of Devilla Forest

Two Spectral Trees - Somewhere North of Devilla Forest

Looking up to the ridge, over the evergreen crowns, two spectral trees hang mid-air in the limpid heat. A  smoke spiral, all coiled movement, settles to stillness as a Rorschach blot of charcoal smudge bleeds into sun saturated blue. The universe melts into my hands. A sublime stasis cupped and held close.

For how long is not the right question – linear time is of no help to us here.

The “caw caw” of a black craw  – pierces the membrane of this no-time. The moment trickles away, dissolves on the ground, scattering the seeds of its eternal recurrence as memory…

CIMG2247

Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred.

Walter Benjamin

Just a brief extract from what will eventually develop into a longer piece or a series of shorter pieces. We have made a couple of visits to Devilla Forest, near Kincardine, recently and it is clear that it will take us a good few more trips to really get the measure of this place. Our foray into the heart of the forest last week was an exercise in getting hopelessly lost which coupled with the first intimation of Spring was no bad result.  The overhead sky, was a cloudless colour field of bleached blue and once the sun was up it felt like the last of the winter murk was being cleansed away.  We eventually ended up North of the forest climbing up to a ridge above the tree tops. Here we found the spectral trees and a curious weather mast amongst crumbling drystane dykes.

Mast I

Drystane dykesScot's Pine - Devilla Forest - You Could Feel the SkyDevilla Forest is located just North East of Kincardine and the name is said to come from the Gaelic “dubh” and “eilean” meaning “black island”. The forest is now run as a commercial tree plantation by the Forestry Commission and consists mainly of Scots Pine, Norway Spruce and Larch. However, the area has a long history of land use with Prehistoric coffins, stone circles and Roman urns all found in different parts of the forest.

Devilla Forest

There are also plague graves, a stone which a local legend says is marked by the grooves from a witches apron string and the remains of a World War II explosives research establishment within the forest area. Combine all of that with four lochs/ponds, burns, meadowland and rich wildlife – including red squirrels – and it’s easy to see why this site should we worthy of further investigation.

Oh and there is also a history of Big Black Cat sightings. We may have the chance to record one ourselves in The Nature Report Book.

CIMG2238

Unfortunately there were no maps:

CIMG2239-001

“I hunt among stones” – Charles Olson.

Prior to last week, we had made one previous brief visit to the forest on 23rd February. This date coincided with Terminalia, the ancient Roman Festival in honour of the god Terminus who presided over boundaries. Often his statue was merely a post or stone stuck in the ground to mark the boundaries between land.  Aware that some psychogeographers throughout the country were commemorating Terminalia in some fashion, it was perhaps a serendipitous discovery to find some wonderful local examples in the forest:

Meith Stone This is a Meith Stone which has the St Andrews Cross carved in the top. The stones were used to mark land boundaries and sometimes initials were inscribed on each side of the stone denoting land ownership. Apparently five stones have been found along what would have been the old drove road between Kincardine and Culross.

Standard StaneThis enigmatic looking stone is known locally as The Standard Stone, which according to local legend marks the spot where a Danish Army defeated Duncan and his generals Macbeth and Banquo in The Battle of Bordie Moor. (1038). The stone could also have been where the Scots army placed their battle standards, but is more likely to be the base of a medieval stone cross on a parish boundary or a wooden gallows.

From our initial couple of visits, we can feel that Devilla is going to yield up some interesting discoveries if we can manage to avoid getting lost next time.  Then again that may be no bad thing.

The Owl is awaiting our return.

CIMG2016

CIMG2260

Now Playing: Boards of Canada – ‘You Could Feel the Sky’ from Geogaddi.

Categories
Field Trip Psychogeography

The Wilderness Does Exist – A Field Trip

The Wilderness 1896

How could we not be intrigued?

Casting an eye over some local maps from the late 1800s. Stumble and trip.

The Wilderness.

An actual place on the map.

The delineated form resembles a long-front-legged cartoon fox. We resist the urge to draw on ears, eyes, nose and a brush. Somewhat ironically, The Wilderness is represented by dotted clumps of trees contrasting with the  surrounding patchwork of largely undefined white space.

A field trip beckons. Is it possible to visit The Wilderness as an actual place, rather than just as an idea? Is The Wilderness always just an idea, conjuring up clichéd images of distant rain forests, shifting desert sands or a featureless frozen tundra pulled towards a distant white edge of land and sky. What would this Wilderness look like in 2012?

On a sunny December Sunday of 2012 we set off to see what we can find and mentally attempt to visualise the area of the cartoon fox, as it is today. Our best guess is that if anything is left it may now be in the middle of a housing estate in Rosyth, Fife. There could also be a Tesco store and pub planted firmly in its hind quarters…

The above map dates from 1896 which predates the building of Rosyth, Scotland’s only Garden City. The town was built to service the Royal Naval Dockyard which began construction in 1909. The original houses were first occupied in 1915 and still stand, exuding a solidity and displaying attractive design features that would be alien to the  mass, wooden boxbuilders of today.  (Who would bet against the big bad wolf confronting a timber-framed flat pack?). The original tree-lined street plan also remains largely intact although you will have to search harder to find a front garden. Many are now paved over into parking spaces for the ubiquitous car.

Arriving in Rosyth, we orientate ourselves from the railway station and set off. As suspected, it is clear that the rear end of our fox, on the 1896 map, now houses a Tesco store with Cleos pub alongside. The main road through the town – Queensferry Road – dissects a later phase of house building on the other side. As we walk down Queensferry Road, there is certainly no obvious sign or hint of any wilderness. We can see some mature trees lining the side of the road but it is difficult to say whether these could be original Wilderness trees or part of the town landscaping plan. Following our noses we turn left into Wemyss Street and ponder on the name. “Wemyss” is derived from the Gaelic word ‘uaimh’, meaning ‘cave’. There are strong landscape resonances in Fife to the Wemyss caves up the coast, beyond Dysart but we guess that the linkage is more likely to be associated with the landowning Wemyss family. Descended from the MacDuff Earls of Fife, (Macbeth!) the Wemyss built their castle between what is now known as East and West Wemyss. There are certainly no obvious caves around, that we can see, but in appellation terms, the connotation of landed gentry hobnobbing with royalty sits well with the nearby Kings Road and Queensferry Road.

Walking along Wemyss Street, it does occur to us that this may be a short trip.  We are surrounded by residential houses and yet looking at the map we must be walking over part of the fox’s torso mapped as The Wilderness in 1896.  Maybe this is actually a walk of mourning. A wake for an idea that, for whatever reason, resulted in an area of land being named The Wilderness. We can also extrapolate from the local to the global and the sense of the Earth’s Wilderness footprint being appropriated, exploited, diminished and perhaps lost forever.

Weymss Street
Wemyss Street, Rosyth

We continue to follow the sweep of Wemyss Street and start heading south when we come across a little cul-de-sac named The Woodlands.  This feels better. The signs are singing. We can see trees to the East. This looks more promising – and it is.

Entrance to The Wilderness

Across the world, people have perceived forest wildernesses to be full of spirit, as if the real and visible world had an equally real but invisible world folded within it.

Jay Griffiths (Wild: An Elemental Journey, p. 53).

It never ceases to amaze how, within a few short steps, the feeling of our surroundings can change completely. Guy Debord talks of moving between zones of distinct psychic atmospheres in the city.  We believe that this can also happen outwith an urban setting as described in our post on the  Fife Coastal Path. This happens here. One minute we are unmistakably in a quiet residential area of a small Fife town.  Our most noticeable observation is a black cat dozing contentedly on top of a blue plastic dustbin. She jumps down to greet us and walks a few paces alongside glad of the company.  A few steps later and we are through that transition zone and enter The Wilderness. It really does exist.

Tree mouth
Tree mouth

It’s good to feel the sun today. Fingers of warmth entwine and clasp hands amongst us. The lichens on my skin dissolve into light and the ivy loosens slightly.  Stretching up towards the blue, a moment held in these short, chill days. Drinking from the earth, heavy with water. Sustained.

There are movers on the path. Coming.

Fingers of Sunlight - The Wilderness
Fingers of warmth entwine and clasp hands amongst us
Lichens dissolving into light
lichens on my skin dissolve into light
Ivy on treetrunk
the ivy loosens slightly

We enter the invisible, folded, other world of the wood.  Old trees, bark encrusted with mottled green. Root formations resemble clawed, long-toed dinosaur feet. We expect them to lift free from the ground at any time.

Dinosaur Tree Foot

Hollowed out stumps of wooden teeth sup on leaves and sunlight.

Hollow Tooth

CIMG2161

There is a sense of a trail through the woods but little evidence of human visitation. During our visit no one arrives. No one goes. Just us. The trees and the sound and sense of birds. We find out later that there is no through-route.  You have to climb a fence at the other end to get out so The Wilderness is effectively a bounded area. No doubt this discourages the use of the woods as path of transit, but perhaps helps to retain a little sliver of embedded wilderness.

We have often found that bounded, hidden areas become covert fly tipping sites but there is remarkably little evidence of this practice.  A stray carrier bag probably relates to the two empty cans of Foster’s lager tossed aside.

Two Cans

You can almost visualise the youngsters chipping in to scrape up enough money for their couple of cans before heading to the woods in anticipation of some bacchanalian wildness. We later find one car tyre and a bicycle frame. No white goods!

The purring murmur of running water soon entices and we follow the slope of the land down towards a wee burn.

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Flowing here for many a year that’s what us wee burns do. The flow and the flux of the present moment, always existing in the eternal now.  No history, no future, no time.   Old Heraclitus was right you never step in the same burn twice.

Burn, stream, river, estuary. It’s all just a matter of scale.

CIMG2113

A balloon lies trapped on the water underneath a branch. A human breath captured in time and space.

Imagine a situation where the last trace of human life on earth was the breath captured in a balloon? The most ephemeral of traces. Perhaps this is the breath of the Earth. The life-force slowly puckering, deflating, evaporating. If The Wilderness can exist in Rosyth, then why not the breath of Planet Earth?

Captured breath

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CIMG2127

We follow the burn through to the end of the wood, watched by the bug-eyed tree spirit. Chameleon eyes surveying, observing. Oblivious to time or circumstance.

Tree Face

Listening and watching the wildness of the fungi, spilling from the tree stump.

CIMG2155

[L o s t t i m e i n t h e m o m e n t]

Over the fence at the other end and we are back in a residential street. We know that we are walking down the front leg of the cartoon fox. Appropriately, the road is called Burnside.

Down the Fox Leg

The paws of the fox mark the transition zone and we exit The Wilderness and track back through Rosyth past the Carnegie Institute.

Back to civilisation, the chimneys, the birds and the tags.

Rosyth Institute - the chimneys, the birds
Rosyth Institute – the chimneys, the birds

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Appendix: The Wilderness over time

The Wilderness 1915
The Wilderness 1915

1915 – The Wilderness and our Fox are fully formed.

The Wilderness 1926-27
The Wilderness 1926-27

1926 -1927: The Garden City of Rosyth is now built. We can still see our fox although the rump has been annexed. A trail through The Wilderness is indicated on the map. Wilderness Cottage sits at the South West corner. Our best guess is that this was demolished and replaced by a new build church.

Wilderness 1952-66
Wilderness 1952-66

1952-1966: New residential building has dissected our Fox’s torso almost right through the middle.

The Wilderness - 2013
The Wilderness – 2013

2013: This is how The Wilderness is represented on Google Maps. Only a sliver of green remains – the head of our fox. The name has also disappeared but we know that however diminished it may be, The Wilderness most certainly does exist.

Tree Stretch

Now Playing: Andrew Chalk – The River that Flows into the Sands

References:

Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey (London: Penguin Books, 2006).

Map extracts sourced through Old Maps UK

Categories
Psychogeography Signs and Signifiers

Ephemera – Dunfermline Linen Co.

Restored Ghost Sign, New Row, Dunfermline
Restored Ghost Sign, New Row, Dunfermline

Restored ghost sign in New Row Dunfermline. Does this now make it a sign haunted by a ghost sign?

Now Playing: Triosk – Moment Returns

Categories
Field Trip Observation Poetry Psychogeography

The Woods and the Words

The stories are still told

of a time before the water.

When the earth lay heaped,

black and smouldering.

It is said that they tunnelled

u

n

d

e

                                      g          r          o          u          n          d

for black diamonds

to burn for warmth.

A structure survived

the darkest of

the dark days –

although, now, no one

is quite sure

what it was used for

Now.

now to simply be

amongst our co-dwellers

in this healing place.

If you remain still

for long enough

they become curious

and congregate,

silently swaying

with the wind.

A few season-cycles ago

the visitors started to return.

We listen for their arrival

always the calling first.

despite

bluebell

all that happened

stitchwort

the woods and the words

wild hyacinth

at least

oak

some of the words

hazel

and some of the woods

dog mercury

survive

And the thin

bleached light

of a pale sun

continues to shine

on  the white tree

of Harran Hill Wood.

♦                    ♦

This little field trip, possibly sent from another point in time (?), was inspired by frequent visits to a favorite place in Central Fife: Lochore Meadows or The Meedies as it is known locally.

The Meedies opened as a Country Park in 1976 following one of the largest and most ambitious industrial landscape renovation projects in Europe. This included the reclamation of 600ha of heavily contaminated land comprising six redundant coal mine sites, colliery buildings, mineral railways, refuse tipping, areas of subsidence and the towering pit bings (most of them burning) which rose to 60m over the surrounding countryside and settlements.

The Meedies is now a major centre for outdoor and environmental education with Loch Ore the largest area of standing water in Fife. It is an important habitat for wildfowl with significant numbers both over-wintering and breeding.  Otters, bats, water voles and even ospreys have been recorded within the park boundary. The acid grasslands of Clune Craig are botanically rich and also bear traces of hut-circles and enclosures from a Bronze age settlement.

The ‘structure’ in the photographs above is the reinforced concrete headframe of the ‘Big Mary’ No. 2 pit shaft, sunk in 1923.  It is one of only two such surviving structures in Fife and a monument to the Kingdom’s mining heritage. (The other is The Frances in Dysart). You can gain some impression of how the area looked when mining was in operation from this photograph:

The pit head is in the distance and the smouldering pit bings in the foreground. This photograph is from the fabulous web resource on the Fife Pits by Michael Martin which can be accessed here.

The original Loch Ore was drained in the 1790s when the landowner, Captain Parks, attempted to reclaim the land for cattle grazing. The project was a commercial failure and the land formerly occupied by the loch remained boggy. Parks was declared bankrupt in 1798. The loch gradually returned in the mid 20th century, when coal mining flourished and the mineral railway serving the pithead became an embankment surrounded by water. The return of the loch was mainly due to subsidence caused by mining, and the ‘new’ loch now occupies a different footprint to the original. The loch is now stabilised but its depth still fluctuates. The islands in the loch are the remains of the former railway embankment.

To the north west lies Harran Hill Wood which sits on a rocky ledge between Loch Ore and Benarty Hill.  Botanical studies indicate a strong possibility that this site may have been wooded since shortly after the last Ice Age c. 10,000 years ago.

Whilst writing this, I’m listening to a composed piece called After The Rain by Barry Guy, perhaps better known as a free improviser.  I don’t think I had ever read the sleeve notes before but was intrigued to learn that it was partly inspired by the Max Ernst painting Europe After the Rain. As Guy says in the sleeve notes:

“The canvas portrays four large masses of tortuous baroque-like remains as if left after some unfathomable catastrophe…these images invite the viewer to speculate on the nature of the events. Here in Europe After the Rain could be the apotheosis of anxiety and destruction or the emergence of new life from the ruins. I am drawn to the latter…”

Now Playing: Barry Guy and City of London Sinfonia – After the Rain

Reference:

Fife Council Lochore Meadows Country Park Development Plan, November 2008.

Michael Martin, Fife Pits and Memorial Book, http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/mmartin/fifepits/

Miles K Oglethorpe, (2006), Scottish Collieries: An Inventory of the Scottish Coal Industry in the Nationalised Era (Edinburgh, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland).

Categories
Field Trip Psychogeography

Into the Void – A Field Trip

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.

Fife Coastal Path
Looking towards Dalgety Bay from Inverkeithing

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.

~~~

Lock-ups – Leaving Inverkeithing

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:

Oot It
Entering / Leaving The Zone – Dalgety Bay

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.

Follow the Desire Path

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.

Prestonhill Quarry – Cubist Walls I
Cubist Walls II

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.

Cubist Walls III

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?

~~~~~

g

o

i

n

g

~~~~~

b

e

l

o

w

~~~~~

t

h

e

~~~~~

s

u

r

f

a

c

e

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Prestonhill - Submerged I
(c) Zibi
Submerged II
(c) Zibi
Submerged III
(c) Zibi
Fish in Prestonhill Quarry (c) Zibi

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.

FTW – Mr NIce
JC Waz Ere
Billz, Coco, Jamie, SKAK
Anarchy

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:

Emerging Cubist Rock Giant

~~~

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

overhead.

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:

Richard Serra ?

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

abandoned history

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:

Rock outcrop, The Binn, Burntisland

Humans have also made their marks on The Binn stones, albeit some 4,000 years earlier

Cup and Ring, The Binn, Burntisland

~~~

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:

Abandoned House Dalgety Bay

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.

Doorway to Nowhere

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.

The Void
The Void II
The Void III

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.

.

.

.

.

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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.

Spinner

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:

Sometimes it’s in the sky when you look – Buzzard dots
Looking to Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh

Eye 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.

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This has been a little slice of:

From The

Now Playing: James Plotkin : Mark Spybey – A Peripheral Blur

Categories
Field Trip Psychogeography

A Saunter through Summerhall

Buildings loom over us and persist beyond us. They have the perfect memory of materiality

Longevity has no chance without a serious structure

Stewart Brand – How Buildings Learn

We finally got the chance to have a good investigative wander around the Summerhall building.  Just in time before the Edinburgh Art Festival exhibitions close.

Summerhall is the old Dick Vet building (The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies of the University of Edinburgh) which has now been transformed into what must be one of the most unique art and performance spaces in the UK. (Europe/World/Cosmos?).

A previous visit was during the full-on party atmosphere of the Edinburgh Festival.  Archie Shepp was performing in the Dissection Room, blowing his fire music and détourning jazz standards for the animal spirits. Quite a contrast to a September Saturday when you could wander through the building and its environs and rarely encounter another soul. With over 500 rooms, located over three floors, a basement and outbuildings, wandering the footprint of Summerhall is more like exploring a Borgesian labyrinth where encounters and exhibits are chanced upon and randomly discovered. Quite unlike the mapped-out, directional flow of the conventional gallery experience. Even spending most of the day at Summerhall, we still didn’t ‘find’ everything that was here – around thirty discrete exhibitions that are incorporated into the existing fabric of the  building.

And what a building. Whispering from the walls and corridors, you can sense the stories and sounds that are soaked into this space.  Stories not only of the human, but also the animals who have inhabited and passed through here: the corridors, the stables, the animal hospital, the dissection rooms…

Above the Entrance to 7x7th Street

First exhibition stop is the, rather playful, outdoor installation 7×7 by Jean Pierre Muller in collaboration with seven musicians: Robert Wyatt, Archie Shepp, Sean O’Hagan, Mulatu Astatke, Kassin, Nile Rodgers and Terry Riley. Muller and his stellar band of sonic explorers have created 7x7th Street consisting of seven wooden huts linked to a letter, a colour of the rainbow, a day of the week, a chakra, and a specific place. Riffing on these associations, each musician has then created an interactive sound sculpture tapping into their own diverse personal histories to create “new connections of knowledge, meaning and poetry”.

Robert Wyatt’s hut is ‘A’ for the Alhambra, the Red Palace. Monday, the first day of the week, so the day of the Moon.

Robert Wyatt 7×7

Inside Wyatt’s Alhambra, everything is under the influence of Clair de Lune.  Audrey Hepburn strums a guitar and sings Moon River, Louis Hardin, aka Moondog, keeps watch over the lunar rockets and Neil Armstrong prepares for take-off.

Robert Wyatt 7×7 Interior

Archie Shepp’s hut is ‘B’ for the Blues and the B-line to Brooklyn. The colour of orange sits well with Tuesday, the day of Mars.

Archie Shepp 7×7
Archie Shepp 7×7 Interior detail

Perhaps our favourite is Terry Riley’s ‘G’ for Galaxies, the colour violet and seventh day of the week, Sunday, day of the Sun. A hut of the Cosmos, the domain of The Sun King,

Terry Riley 7×7
Terry Riley 7×7 Interior detail

What is noticeable in Terry Riley’s interior panel is a much reduced number of visual elements.  Instead, symbols and motifs are treated to repetition, distortion, diffraction and linked up through connecting space. Much like Riley’s music!

A few pictures from the other huts:

Kassin – 7×7 Interior detail
Nile Rodgers 7×7 Interior detail
Sean O’Hagan 7×7 Interior detail
Mulatu Astatke 7×7
Robert Wyatt 7×7 Exterior

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After the jaunty, neo-pop art of 7x7th Street, a sharper contrast could not be made visiting the Old Stables. Tucked in behind Robert Wyatt’s hut, this is the scene of Robert Kuśmirowski’s installation Pain Thing. There is a palpable change in atmosphere as you enter the building from the street.  The colours of 7×7 Street leach out of the retina and fade to dirty cream and grey. Flecks of what looks like dried blood stain the floor and an oppressive air starts to envelop and smother.  When we arrive in the main room – an asthmatic room – it feels like we are witnessing the aftermath of some post-apocalyptic scene. An animal experimentation zone where something has gone horribly wrong. The paraphernalia and apparatus of the medical research establishment lies around, test tubes, bell jars, pumps and instruments, some scattered on the floor. The torso of a unidentified creature lies on a hospital style trolley, limbs severed, bone sliced through:

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This is not a place we wish to linger.

Inside Summerhall, the building retains its institutional air. Long corridors, unmarked closed doors, stairwells and the cell like structures of the basement. Signage still indicates past functions: The Post-Mortem Room, The Demonstration Room, The Anatomy Lecture Theatre.  It is a great place to simply wander around, listening out for whispered narratives layered into stone, wood and glass. The fabric of the building is also used to good effect. The original laboratory benches are used for display purposes and basement cells exude a sinister ambience. One room hosts what looks like some restraining, torture chair and in another a dark sticky ooze spreads on the floor, apparently the residue from some long decomposed water melons.

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Chance discovered highlights include stumbling into Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Fewer Laws, More Examples which examines Finlay’s response to and fascination with The French Revolution. An ambivalent mash-up of principle and virtue, but also fear and terror. Robin Gillanders’s The Philosopher’s Garden Redux portrays ten photographs taken in the Parc Jean-Jacques Rousseau at Emenonville where Rousseau spent the last years of his life. Each photograph represents one of the ten walks of Rousseau’s last (uncompleted) book Les Reveries du Promeneneur Solitaire (1782).

“These hours of solitude and meditation are the only time of the day when I am completely myself”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Richard Demarco Archives host a treasure trove of photographs and posters and are a wonderful tribute to Demarco’s visionary approach to curating art. There are legendary documented events featuring Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovich and Tadeusz Kantor and Scottish artists such as George Wyllie and Jimmy Boyle. There is also a reminder that Demarco would take his productions over to Fife with photographs of Valery Anisenko’s production of Macbeth at Ravenscraig Castle, Kirkcaldy in 1996. A hand scribbled NB reads:

“MacDuff was the Thane of Fife. His Castle lies 8 miles down the Coast”

which indeed it still does at East Wemyss. Now a ruin, the site is associated with the MacDuff Earls of Fife, the most powerful family in Fife in the Middle Ages.

Venus with Severed Leg is a collection of photographs by William English documenting the early days of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s ‘ Sex’ shop. The crucible for the birth of The Sex Pistols and Westwood’s influential punk stylings.

Venus-With-Severed-Leg (c) Summerhall

Phenotype Genotype (PhG)  is a collection of documents, artists books, object multiples catalogues and other ephemera from 1900 to the present day.  Displayed on the original  college laboratory benches, it is perhaps a bit strange and even disconcerting to see Debord’s La Société du spectacle and Patti Smith pinbutton badges, displayed like museum exhibits, encased behind glass.

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Also in the same room, painted directly on to the wall is The Periodic Table of Art. Executed with a certain touch of humour and perhaps also playing upon what appears to be a fundamental human need to catalogue, and document almost anything into a ‘meaningful’ taxonomy.

The Periodic Table of Art (Extract)
The Periodic Table of Art (Extract)
Michaelek-After-Muybridge (c) Summerhall

The absolute standout piece, however, is David Michalek’s Figure Studies and Slow Dancing.  An utterly mesmerising, beautiful and thought-provoking  3-screen film installation inspired by the pioneering photography of Eadweard Muybridge.  Michalek works with choreographers, dancers, actors and people from the streets of New York and has filmed them, unclothed, performing various 5 second human ‘actions’ in extreme high-resolution. These 5-second actions are then played back over a period of 7 minutes with every nuance of movement captured on the human body over this elongated time frame. The rich diversity of human form is portrayed across age, gender, ethnic diversity, shape and size.  It also raises the question of whether ‘class’ is written on the unclothed body. This is a work that not only enriches and enthralls but helps you to see the world afresh outside of clock time. The work is further enhanced by the (uncredited) soundtrack which is used to great effect to compliment the images. The unmistakable slow breathing of Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet.

Just before closing, we are trying to find our way out when we turn a corner and find ourselves facing the iconic image of Joseph Beuys. It is as if he is walking towards us, puposefully, the reflecting light creating a halo around him. As we leave, it is good to know that the spirit of Joseph Beuys is patrolling the corridors of Summerhall. We wonder if the vets ever treated a Coyote?

Beuys Halo – Summerhall

Now Playing: Terry Riley – Descending Moonshine Dervishes

Categories
Field Trip Happenstance Observation Poetry Psychogeography

T h r e s h o l d

trying

to catch

a thread

of time

when

theincomingtide

becomes

the o u  t   g    o     i      n       g        t         i          d           e

listening

ebb

listening for

flow

an inflexion

ebb

of breath

flow

inhalation

ebb

becoming

flow

exhalation

flow

exhalation

ebb

becoming

flow

inhalation

ebb

at the river

still standing

grounded

still standing grounded

at the river, still standing grounded  –  but different

Now playing: The Necks – Silverwater

Categories
Field Trip Observation Poetry Quote

On the edge and further out: to slip through time

It is not down in any map; true places never are.

Herman Melville

Fife - from Brighter Later by Brian David Stevens

I

Out on the fringe of gold

                        – lip of coastal edge.

Eyeing that breath of line

                       – flux of sea and sky.

Grounded punctuation

                       – conical crag of hill.

Arrested flow of time

                       – phonolitic trachyte.

II

I’m over the cerulean Forth

                        – tang of brine and caws of gulls.

Walking the high line     Out

                        – to North Berwick Law.

Treading clouds and updraughts

                       –  the whale, reeling me in

Out there,                     slipping through

                       –  into that void of white.

With a huge thanks to Brian David Stevens for the use of his photographs shot from Kinghorn Beach in Fife. These images are part of Brian’s ongoing Brighter Later project which is a journey around the British Isles looking outward from the coastline to show a different view of the UK.  The journey will visit every coastal county in the British Isles. The project is currently being serialised on the Caught By the River website with Fife the most recent entry.

The volcanic plug of solidified lava – North Berwick Law (hill) – is clearly visible in the photographs and I had forgotten about the whale jawbones on the summit which Brian mentions in his text.  Staring at the images got me thinking about Kinghorn, volcanic plugs, whales, Herman Melville, Laurie Anderson…

Some people know exactly where
they’re going
The Pilgrims to Mecca
The climbers to the mountaintop
But me I’m looking
For just a single moment
So I can slip through time.

Laurie Anderson, Life on a String. (Including songs from her stage production Songs and Stories From Moby-Dick).

Images © Brian David Steven.

Also check out Brian’s other wonderful photographic work here