a flower expresses itself by flowering, not by being labelled
There – beyond the iris heads.
As if a grey tarpaulin
has been peeled back
across the eyeball of the sky.
Spring light, a different light.
Colours made strange,
as smears of white heat
dab at fold-gathered shadows.
The spooling thread of a blackbird’s raga, weaves through a chitter-chatter tapestry of blue tit and sparrow song as we lie under the flowers, observing a line of marching ants. A posse of advance troops, jolted into collective industry after winter’s hibernation. Out, once again, to prospect and survey the land.
Here. Now. All of us. Feeling the natural cycles turn.
Looking up to the sky from underneath the flowers.
An ant’s world view invoking vague memories of Land of the Giants, and of this place before the flowers arrived.
Across the road, jump the fence and head towards what turns out to be a picture frame.
Walking into the frame and down an avenue of young trees, we are lured by the vanishing point of reflecting silver.
Flocks of daffodils gather around the rotunda, a yellow flecked congregation. Heads nodding, as if worshipping the filigree forms of a newly descended alien god. Bringer of light and heat.
A turn into mature woodland and a network of tracks and paths. A sense of water running close-by but which we cannot see – yet. Tree animism.
You will have to move closer,
the guttural whispers
of the tree maw
With spring sunshine, woodland, birdsong and the sense of water, this feels like ‘the countryside’ but it doesn’t take long to be reminded how close we are to the centre of this New Town. We look up at the polished concrete belly of transport entrails as the low thrum of traffic passes overhead.
In the last photograph, on the left hand side, you can see what turns out to be a rather incongruous plinth nestling under the concrete flyover. We discover that it is displaying a 16th century stone-carved coat of arms, of the Leslie family. The stone originally came from an old building in the nearby policies (grounds) of Leslie House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Rothes. It bears the griffins and motto of the Leslie family: Grip Fast
From Kinross, I came to Lessley, where I had a full view of the palace of Rothess, both inside and outside … The house is the glory of the place and indeed of the whole province of Fife.
Daniel Defoe, 1724
Sir Norman Leslie acquired Fythkil, the original name of this parish, around 1282 and renamed it after the Rothes family lands in Aberdeenshire. The Leslies became the Earls of Rothes in 1457. The earliest evidence of a house on this site is 1667 which was destroyed by fire in December 1763. A much smaller house was subsequently built, supposedly restoring the least damaged Western side.
The Earls of Rothes, obviously didn’t Grip Fast enough as we soon alight on the ancestral home, now sealed off with iron spiked fencing. It’s not too difficult to find a way in to have a quick look. The building looks fairly structurally sound but is minus a roof and much of the interior, creating the effect of being able to see right through the facade to the other side.
One part of the fabric that has clearly survived intact is the flagpole which we can see through various windows:
No flags fly
To the left of the house are a tiered set of south-facing terraces, although now denuded of any plant life other than the carefully manicured grass. Like the grounds in front of the house it shows that some care and maintenance is obviously still taking place …
Whilst, in the conservatory, the buddleia appears to be thriving:
We are just about to scale the wall that will take us to the front of the house when we hear voices on the other side and decide to exit the grounds quietly by the way we came in.
We subsequently learn that the house had been acquired by Sir Robert Spencer Nairn in 1919 who, supposedly, as he saw the advancing development of the New Town, gifted it to the Church of Scotland in 1952 for use as an Eventide Home. After falling into disuse, the house was sold for property development in 2005. Little appears to have happened until December 2009 when an unexplained ‘raging inferno’ reduced the property to its present state.
We head down towards the River Leven, thinking of its flowing waters coursing through the Fife landscape from Loch Leven near Kinross all the way to joining the Firth of Forth at Leven. What memory does this water hold? Of powering linen mills and the local paper mills of Tullis Russell and Smith Anderson. Of sustaining the tadpoles and sticklebacks in the pond where we used to peer into the depths searching for those tiny flickering tails. The webbed feet of the white swans gliding through the water today.
Before heading down to the riverside, we stop to listen to the bridge. The wind plucked treble of the harp like strings:
… and the deep base drones of the underside sound box. We expect the huge columnar legs to start lumbering forward at any time:
As always, the eaves of the bridge have been tagged.
Power and capital, enabled The Leslie family to appropriate, name and tag these lands. Our graffiti artist(s) tag is of a more existentialist nature. “I am here, in this place”.
Following the course of the river, this world becomes a little stranger when we encounter the hippos traversing their water hole:
A familiar encounter in this town. If Proust had his madeleine to kick him into paroxysms of involuntary memory, then the image of a hippo should do the trick for anyone who grew up in this town.
It’s not just the hippos. It’s also the dinosaurs, henges, flying saucers, pipe tunnels, giant hands, the toadstools and other curios which all ‘do something’ to social space for those who stumble across them.
Two bin bags murmur in agreement as they huddle in the shade, underneath the clatter of skateboards, waiting for the sun to come around.
Ascending the hill to the town centre, we are reminded that every place needs its temples
And what would any New Town be without its Brutalist municipal buildings? Guaranteed to be derided as ‘plooks’, ‘carbuncles’ and in this case, contributing to its award as ‘the most dismal town in Britain 2009’.
Well, perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective and the warm fingers of spring weather but the buildings are looking far from dismal today.
Tactile, concrete carpets, frame frozen flight and light.
Frozen flight – open sky
The original Brutalist grey cube of Fife House with its newer postmodern counterpart. It has to be a grandfather clock?
Green detailing can soften even the most austere facade:
Whilst brutalist windows, can dream of trees and sky
Nearby, North facing Rothesay house hasn’t weathered quite as well.
After a walk back down to the public park, with vistas to the Paps of Fife we almost return to our starting point. Layers of place intersecting with past present and future in the returning bright light of Spring.
We nod to the defenceless one as we pass.
Comforted that the Good Samaritan is looking on from not too far away
And, as we leave town, how can we not stop to take delight in the toadstools. Vibrant and colourful, they look as if they have just (re)emerged, stretching into the returning Spring light.
Their months quietly growing in winter darkness appear to have passed.
Now Playing: Motorpsycho – Behind the Sun.
The New Town is Glenrothes in Fife. Planned in the late 1940s as one of Scotland’s first post-second world war new towns, its original purpose was to house miners who were to work at a newly established state-of the-art coal mine, the Rothes Colliery. The mine never opened commercially and the town subsequently became an important part of Scotland’s emerging electronics industry ‘Silicon Glen’. It is now the administrative capital of Fife.
Glenrothes was the first town in the UK to appoint a town artist in 1968. This is now recognised as playing a significant role, both in a Scottish and in an international context, in helping to create the idea of art being a key factor in creating a sense of place. Two town artists, David Harding (1968–78) and Malcolm Roberston (1978–91), were employed supported by a number of assistants, including Stan Bonnar who created the hippos. A large variety of artworks and sculptures were created and are scattered throughout the town, some of which are shown above. David Harding went on to found the Department of Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art whose alumni include: Douglas Gordon, David Shrigley, Nathan Coley, Christine Borland and Martin Boyce.
Daniel Defoe, (1724), A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991 edition), (p.346).