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.



In Aberdeen, walking the Den Burn

A great walk on Saturday with Dr Jo Vergunst, following the Den Burn in Aberdeen from the nature reserve at Den of Maidenscraig on the edges of the city down to the underpass in the city, which is called The Denburn, by which time the Den Burn has vanished.

This burn is quite different to the Dichty, not just in size but also in character. While the Dichty has the sense of being publicly owned (by dog walkers, cyclists, council employees, local artists and artisans, new home owners, council scheme residents going back several generations … in fact all Dundonians), the Den Burn is a much more private place. It passes into and through the city almost by stealth, through nature reserves and gardens, under streets and houses, via drains, culverts and channels both natural and man-made. It turns right angles; in places it is named, but 10 yards further down it has a false identity (Glenburnie, Kimberley) or passes in cognito. It is invisible, running right under the playing field of Aberdeen Grammar School and the Victorian houses opposite the BBC; then it bursts out of a tunnel in a spray of red-mouthed graffiti.

The last glimpse of it, before it runs behind its own name into Aberdeen harbour, is a caged well, almost a lookout, where it can surge in spate if the concrete tunnels are too finite to hold it.

I loved the acquisitive nature of this river – it discretely gathers all sorts of treasures in wee secret dens (goldcrests, old walls, a lime green Hillman Imp). I also loved how so many people walked along it, how there were paths worn all along its banks, even though it was quite hard in places to be near it. There is this pull of running water, this sense of place that draws people in.

Many thanks to Jo for his company and good conversation.

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The Dens Burn, Dundee

While following the route of the Dens Burn from the one-time shoreline up to its source at (I think) Gussie Ponds, I came by accident upon the fabulous Upper Dens Development. (The route lower down is very clear – old mills, gushing drains, street names).

This is a couple of acres of renovated jute mills, new flats, landscaping and planting. It incorportates these fabulous medieval archways, made from stone retrieved and recycled from the mills. Amazing.

The Dens Burn was also called the Butter Burn; which in popular lore is said to be a corruption of “bitter burn”. It ran down rocks in a sharply defined den outside the medieval city walls, beyond which lepers were cast. George Wishart preached to the lepers from the arch at the Cow Gait, and his piety persuaded General Monck to leave that bit of the city walls standing, while the rest of the town was flattened.


Gallowgellygillburn Walk, 10th August

Many many thanks to Joshni Rose, PhD candidate at Abertay, for her company and contribution on our walk on Saturday.

We explored the SUDS ponds in Ardler Village; then we traced the Gelly Burn upstream into Downfield Golf Course and found that the drainage system off the greens was tucked into, but apparently sealed off from, the burn. An interesting division of the natural watershed. Then we went down to Caird Park and found the mill ponds that appear on 18th century maps, and which are really picturesque.

•realising how the water management system in Ardler is also restorative
•meeting a man in a shell suit with 4 huge Alsatians who keeps daily tabs on the pond birds
•meeting another man who had another version of the story about the wee boy that drowned. I heard this story as “news” when I was at primary school; but it may have been a tale told to keep us away from the water. Rebecca met a film-maker who knew the story as a conflict between father and son over symbols of masculinity. Folklore evolving before your very eyes.
•finding 4 teenage girls who were also ‘walking the burn’, splashing downstream using an old flag from the golf course as a walking pole. Brilliant.


Walking art

Hamish Fulton, master of walking art, is perfecting the art of being absent in his artwork. Unlike Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy, he sees his art existing in ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. Thus the physical artefacts (occasional photos, posters etc) testify to a state of mind, a mindfulness of landscape, rather than look-at-me constructions.

Some notes and quotes from Hamish Fulton :

how a walk is made of facts
how it is as common as breathing
how it is always with land
how it has no history

The full text of this poem, ‘Walking’, appears on the Words page.