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.








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?


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.


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.

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


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:


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


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


By Leaves We Live – From Geddes to Monbiot

A interesting article from George Monbiot recently in The Guardian which taps into the FPC’s interest in the great visionary generalist and ecologist Patrick Geddes.

Monbiot’s piece of 10th August, (‘We have allowed developers to rob us of our village green’ ) recounts a camping trip to an ‘ordinary campsite’ where the tents were situated around a square field. He observed the curious effect this had on the children staying there. Drawn towards the centre of field, children of all classes started playing together and engaging in communal activities whilst the parents started talking to each other. As Monbiot says: “it hit me with some force: we had reinvented the village green”.  The key point of his anecdote is that: “we are, to a surprising extent, what the built environment makes us”.

Inspired by this, Monbiot performs a trawl on related research papers which include conclusions such as:

  • People’s use of shared spaces is strongly influenced by trees: the more there are, the more people spend time there;
  • Vegetation in common spaces increases social ties;
  • Social isolation is commonly associated with an absence of green spaces;
  • Wealthy parts of a city usually have tree cover of c.10%. Poor neighbourhoods just 2%.

Monbiot’s main contention is that we have allowed property developers and weak planning to define who we are and what we shall become.  His prescription is pretty simple. Houses or apartment blocks should be built around a square of shared green space.  It ishould be big enough for playing ball games, contain trees and rocks or logs to climb on and perhaps a corner of uncut meadow or flowerbeds and fruit bushes. The space will work best when it is designed and managed by the people who live there.  Most important is that the houses face inwards and no cars can access the square.  The space is overlooked by everyone which means that children can run in and out of houses, unsupervised and create their own tribes.

The point that struck me most about Monbiot’s article is that almost all of his arguments were made equally forcibly in theory and practice by Patrick Geddes in the Old Town of Edinburgh in the late 1800s.

The themes that emerge in all of Geddes’s work include a pioneering, ecological approach to cities and their problems; arguments for self management, decentralisation, and the need for co-operative mutual aid. As Jonathan Porritt, the Green activist has commented:

‘For me he is one of those pioneers of what we now call sustainable development’.

During the 1880s, Geddes, was a lecturer of zoology at Edinburgh University and contributing entries to the Britannica and Chambers Encyclopaedias on scientific subjects whilst his range of interests had widened so that he was now publishing papers on subjects such as Statistics, Economics, Art Criticism, and Co-Operation as a political philosophy. Interestingly, after having studied with T.H. Huxley – ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ – Geddes did not subscribe to the tooth and claw, survival of the fittest doctrine. Like his friend Peter Kropotkin, Geddes considered mutul aid and co-operation as equally evident in the natural world – for example in the bee colony.

In his spare time, Geddes assembled a collective of like minded individuals to form an presciently named Environment Society which began a series of urban interventions using the Old Town of Edinburgh as a ‘social laboratory’ to develop both his social thought and to engage in practical social action. This was against the backdrop of the Old Town having some of the worst living conditions in Europe at the time and the observation was not lost on Geddes that the rent payments of the impovrished Old Town tenants helped to maintain the comfortable citizenry on the other side of Princes Street in the New Town.

Three months after marriage to Anna Morton, Geddes and his wife moved from the New Town into James Court in the Old Town.  James Court was a six-storey tenement housing some twenty-five families, primarily in single rooms, located on a common stair. This initiative allowed the Geddeses to acquire intimate knowledge of how slum dwellers were actually affected by their surroundings and what could be most readily done to improve them. The occupants of James Court were filled with a population belonging to the lower ranks of skilled labour including cobblers, blacksmiths and chimney sweeps. At first, the Geddeses were viewed with suspicion, but with customary zeal, they began the practical transformation of their immediate environment. His daughter, Nora, has recounted how Geddes quickly mobilised the tenement residents into clearing, whitewashing and window gardening.

In 1884, Geddes formed the Edinburgh Social Union (“ESU”) and it was Anna Geddes who encouraged Patrick Geddes to take cognisance of the philanthropic housing work being undertaken in London by Octavia Hill with the support of John Ruskin.  To give a sense of scale, beginning with two properties in 1885, by 1897, the ESU was responsible for managing 23 properties housing 450 families. It is also worth stressing that many of these properties would have been demolished by the municipal authorities without the intervention of the Social Union and Geddes’s practice of Conservative Surgery, which he likened to pruning the branches of a tree. What this meant was the preservation of old, structurally sound, buildings and transforming them into clean and usable habitations with rents maintained at levels that the working classes could afford.

From the outset, Social Union funds were also used for window box gardens and flower shows and art classes were given to ‘help to render homes beautiful’. These classes included: wood-carving, brass beating, stencilling, mosaic, and leather stamping. Entertainments were given in a number of properties on Saturday evenings consisting of music, recitations, magic lantern entertainments and tableaux. Libraries were also installed in many properties. Geddes as Head of the ESU art committee was also responsible for the introduction of decorative art into various public buildings. Some were quite modest such as reproducing Millais’ Parables in a Grassmarket Mission Hall whilst a history of corn in six panels was commissioned from the young Edinburgh Artist Charles Mackie. One of the major projects undertaken was the decoration of the mortuary chapel of the Sick Children’s hospital undertaken by Phoebe Traquair in 1885.  Also, as Glendinning and Page say, Geddes ‘almost single handedly set about the revival of mural painting in Scotland in the hope that decorating homes, schools and workplaces with scenes of national history and legend might help regenerate modern materialistic society’.

The important point about all these initiatives were that they were visible to the tenement inhabitants. As Geddes would later write: ‘to improve the condition of the people, the improvement must be on a scale that they can observe and realised; not frittered away piecemeal as are so many municipal improvements’.

Geddes’s initiatives in James Court were rooted in direct action from within the community and locality. His interventions were not party political but a recognition that the future depended upon creating the self-awareness and determination of the community at large in the development of the city’.

Geddes also began to provide University Halls of residence for students, which was unique in Britain, in that it was entirely self-governing with no warden or master. Students were required to co-operate and take mutual responsibility for its operation and student numbers increased to over 200. This initiative was part of Geddes’s vision of using the University as a means of cultural renewal and his objective was to bring students back to live in the Old Town where the great eighteenth century scholars had lived. This initiative also attracted a core of student acolytes to help him in his work and the spirit of this initiative was encapsulated in Geddes’s motto for the Hall: Vivendo Discimus – ‘by living we learn’.

Geddes’s always considered himself to be a garden-maker and the creation of gardens is a recurring feature of his urban initiatives throughout the world. For Geddes ‘the garden’ was an educational tool and apart from the aesthetic qualities he considered it as the ‘very best of savings banks, for in return for deposits of time and strength, the worker reaps health for themselves, and their children in air, in vegetables and in fruit’. They were also social spaces that brought people together and humanised the urban environment. Geddes’s Environment Society began to cultivate waste ground by making small gardens and planting trees, trying to encourage the tenement dwellers into a dynamic relationship with their environment. This was at the core of Geddes’s approach to urban social problems. Engaging folk with place to encourage an active and dynamic relationship with their environment.

I’m sure that George Monbiot would approve.

Now Playing: Ben Frost: Theory of Machines