BBC Scotland “Out of Doors”

On Monday 12th January, Sarah Maclean and Lesley Harrison were interviewed by Mark Stephen for the “Out of Doors” programme, discussing discussing the booklet “Wells and vennels : a watery history of old Dundee”.

The booklet contains 15 ink drawings and short texts which recount aspects and anecdotes of mediaeval life around Dundee’s wells, ditches and burns, which are now subsumed into the modern sewer system.

In ‘Out of Doors’ we visit the packhouses, which once fronted the shoreline, and talk about the burn that runs/ran past the door of the Registry Office, which couples must cross to tie the knot.

Listen here to Out of Doors, Saturday 17th Jan 2015.


Poetry and Anthropology ~ evening lecture



Dr Jo Vergunst, Dept of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen   and   Lesley Harrison, poet.

Tuesday 4th November, 7.30pm.   Regent Building Lecture Theatre.  FREE

This event is part of the King’s College Lectures, and also an event in the ESCR Festival of Social Sciences.

Wells and Vennels …. the Fleshmarket, Dundee

the fleshmarket 001

The Fleshmarket

In 1560 the burgesses of the town decided to build a dedicated market place for meat. This triangular building (opposite St Paul’s Church) was set at the end of the Marketgait, between the middens and the Castle Burn. It had twelve booths, eight with lofts, plus two seats at the front and a shop at the far end. The rubble of the Greyfriars monastery provided stones.

The drove roads of the Angus glens were wild and remote, and full of cattle reevers. So that the honest provenance of all meat could be assured, those offering a carcass to the fleshers were required to bring it with the skin, hide and head still on, so that aggrieved owners might recognise their own missing beasts.


WELLS AND VENNELS : A WATERY HISTORY OF OLD DUNDEE, by Sarah Maclean and Lesley Harrison.

Feature in The Courier on 15th Nov 2014. For sale at Dundee Literary Festival Ex Libris on 26th October, and at the Unicorn Christmas Fayre on 7th December.

Wells and Vennels

Wells and Vennels ~ a watery history of old Dundee

by Sarah Maclean and Lesley Harrison


This wee booklet grew out of a chance conversation and a summer of urban safari. The original quest was to pinpoint the wells and burns around which the city of Dundee grew, and which are now subsumed into the modern sewer system. The main findings became part of the Creative Scotland/Scottish Natural Heritage project Making Space for Water; but many curious notes were gathered by the by, and were the inspiration for Sarah’s ink drawings.

Sarah Maclean is an illustrator and artist. She lectures in art & design at Angus College.

The booklet has 15 drawings and notes, and costs £8 inc p&p. For sale at Waterstones, Dundee; or via email to

Further North ~ 5th September 2014

The Northern Peripheries Network held its final conference at the University of Northumbria on 4-5 September. On Day 2, Lesley spoke about the Making Space for Water Project and about her ongoing work using whaling journals to explore an idea of north based in the aesthetic of the north-east of Scotland, looking out over the North Sea and into the colder currents and weather systems at the horizon.

Callum Innes, Exposed Paintings. Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh.

Themes during the conference were

how we in-habit our landscape, with the emphasis on “in”. There is a soft border between the ground and the sky, and this intermediate layer is the layer we inhabit

where the north actually is: is it a designation based on latitude, or temperature, or ecology? is it a negation of other things?

a ‘northern’ concept of history, based on migration, on movement through the world. should all history be written this way?

language gives access to landscape; words become embedded memory


Out of Ice / Reading and Exhibiting Nature

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The University of Westminster is convening a three-day conference in February to examine how nature is being understood in contemporary cultural and artistic work. Artists, researchers and thinkers will discuss the shifting definitions of nature, focussing on the polar and near-polar regions.

This conference accompanies the excellent and spectacular Out of Ice, an exhibition by visual artist Elizabeth Ogilvie.

Dr Jo Vergunst is a speaker as well as a conference organiser; Lesley Harrison will discuss her work as part of the Making Space for Water project, as well as her other writing on whaling and polar exploration.


More info at :



Postcards; a Third Landscape; Nature and “Nature”


Many of the (shorter) poems are also being printed as postcards. Postcards seemed the most appropriate way to display/present the poems. A postcard commemorates your visit to a place; it sets it in a neat frame; the place is defined by our visiting it, and our experience of it; and there is a local assumption that the place somehow does not exist once we have left.

This seemed to match the disjointed experience people have of the waterways we explored. This was also a key theme in the prior collaboration, funded by Scottish Crucible, between Jo and Rebecca.


A Third Landscape

When Jo and I went on safari down the Denburn, recurring themes in our dialogue were the opportunities for plants and other wildlife to recolonize areas, possibly in ways dissimilar to before human intervention in the landscape. Jo referred to Gilles Clement and his idea of the “third landscape”. I liked this very much: it accepts that we cannot, nor should not expect to, return to an Edenic state. As well as being practically impossible, it also goes against the adaption, natural evolution and pragmatic opportunism of the natural world.


Nature and “Nature”

When we chose to look at urban waterways, we wanted to look at real, modern “natural” Scotland. Too often conservation and research, and artistic responses, are directed towards emblematic (but also highly managed and altered) “raw wildernesses” such as Glencoe and Glen Tilt. In combining the skills and perspectives of an hydrologist, an anthropologist and a writer, we have concentrated instead on human interaction with their immediate environment at a practical, instinctive level.

Imagining Natural Scotland, 27th August

The Imagining Natural Scotland conference took place at St Andrews University on 27 August 2013 with 118 delegates in attendance. The keynote speech was given by renowned science writer and leader of the Campaign for Real Farming, Colin Tudge. There were also talks from Professor Hayden Lorimer of Glasgow University on ‘Futurenature? Making room for the ruinous, botched and remediated?; Petra Biberbach, CEO Planning Aid for Scotland on the ‘By Leaves We Live’ project and Tom Dawson from the School of History at University of St Andrews on the need to document – and in some cases preserve – Scotland’s coastal heritage before it is lost to erosion.

There were also a series of fascinating presentations from successful applicants to the Imagining Natural Scotland project fund on how their projects are developing and progressing. In the evening there was a screening of the prescient environmental film ‘Edge of the World’ (dir Michael Powell) from 1937 loosely based on the evacuation of St Kilda.

Here is our presentation at St. Andrews.

Making Space for Water PRESENTATION

Names and places

I have been spending a lot of time looking at the catchment of the Dichty, tracing its extent and matching this with settlement patterns on the earliest maps in the National Library of Scotland’s digital archive.

Many, many of the farms and villages mentioned on the earliest maps still exist. Many others are identifiable by a ford, or a bend in the road, or a spring nearby.

There are often clues in the place names; but these have a very pleasing ‘east coast’ twang to them anyway.

Hamish Fulton produced a drawing called “Stone in Clouds”, based on a walk that he did. I have borrowed the title for this mesostic poem. Both of these poems are printed as postcards.