Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A flavour of walking the Annandale Way - from five schools along its route

From the Devil’s Beef Tub to the Devil’s Bath Tub

We took a walk on the Annandale Way.
At Corehead, under the Devil’s Beef Tub
glaciers cut into the hills
thousands of years ago and
many valleys now thread into one.
We smelt wet moss and felt
attached to the shimmery small river
as it flowed gently past –
glistening rocks and spongy grass.
We were nearing the end of our walk
but for the river it was just beginning.

On the way to Beattock
a rainbow hovered over the hill.
We marched a Roman road
like centurions
past an army of pylons
thinking a word rhythm in time
with our steps.
We burrowed under the M74
and met the Evan Water
wanting to be free from the rocks
which squeezed and corseted it.
We felt sad to see the river closed off
by the motorway,
but some of us
never knew it was there.

S1 Moffat Academy

We took a walk on the Annandale Way.
Tall grand trees loomed over us,
others were down-hearted,
lifeless stumps.
We trudged towards the rickety bridge
that had holes like little eyes
spying on us from the river below.
It creaked as
we crept, afraid
we might fall deep, deep, deep.
The whistling wind wove through the trees
like the spirit of the baker chained
in Spedlin’s Tower
for baking bad bread, and
left roaming there.

Birds whistled to each other
a soft lullaby.
The river was trickling,
then rushing, crashing, whooshing,
roaring like a tiger.
The sweet smell of
bright white hawthorn
tickled sneezes from us and
fresh, lush air hung
above the tree canopy.
We said to ourselves,
‘We’ll never make bad bread’.

P7 Lochmaben Primary

We took a walk on the Annandale Way.
The gorse was like a blanket of mustard
on a bed of nails.
It smelt of coconut-butter,
taking us back to
exotic holidays.
We saw many things.
Cows were one,
sheep were two, and birds were three.
Joe Graham’s monument rose,
a sharp needle from its hill
like a candle on a birthday cake.
From there we could see
the huge belching monster that is the
cheese factory and
the Solway Firth shining
like a crescent moon.
The Annan below was like a wavy ribbon
weaving continuously.
We could trace the river
like a palm reader following
the lifelines on an open, eager hand,
telling us stories.
Mud, like marshmallows,
squelched under our toes
tried to steal our shoes
and set as cement.

We took a walk on the Annandale Way.
Children were yelping, whooping, breaking
the silence with their joy.
Laughter tumbled down the hill
and the trees talked to one another
in the wind.
The gazing eyes of a deserted house
inhabited by crows and bats
made us shiver as we passed.
Fighter–jet sounds
rumbled overhead like a giant’s belly.
On the crest of a hill
sat the misty outline of wind turbines
near the steep volcano of Burnswark,
green and smooth on top.
We found a bird’s leg full of decay,
the smell of young trees budding.
Our legs,
tied down with kilogram weights,
grew tired from walking.
Some of us thought it a lonely place
because nobody else was there.

S1 Lockerbie Academy

We took a walk
on the Annandale Way.
On the horizon the hills climbed
so that the sun could nest between them.
The Annan ran softly and smooth
its golden cool waters rustling like leaves.
We came to the glittering place
where it met the Water of Milk.
Families of water joined
and went on their way as one.
A huge heron flapped its wings.

We took a walk
on the Annandale Way
and the towers of the old pink
Hoddom Castle
peered from above the forest and lured us in.
Trees were around us like a cave,
leaves dripping with bright blue raindrops,
a rainforest canopy,
the smell of nature.
Wild garlic smiled at us.
Bluebells, giant hogweed and
wild rhubarb grew.
Birds scattered through the leaves,
one calling like a creaky door.
The river roared.
After Hoddom Bridge
buttercups spread over lush green grass
to lead us to the deserted graveyard
of Saint Kentigern.

We took a walk in Annandale
and at the end we asked,
‘Can we walk the whole way?’

P6/7 Hoddom Primary

We took a walk from Annan
on the Annandale Way.
At Welldale, by the old piers,
it was just us, the wind, the water and the curlews
where once had been shouting workers,
passengers hauling luggage for the ‘Victoria’,
shrimp boats chugging
and sandstone blocks banged aboard
to sail abroad.
Over the small stone bridge
lines of Cochran’s men once cycled,
and we took a walk
on the Annandale Way.

At Barnkirk Point, the tide was coming in,
pushing the river back upstream
instead of flowing to meet other waters
for the party of the Solway.
Warring waves drew
a spiral pattern on the surface,
rough rippling as if fingers
had been dragged through sand.
‘Let me out!’ the river called to the sea,
and we named this deep and dangerous meeting place
the ‘Devil’s Bath Tub’.

When the tide turned,
allowing the Annan to flood the Solway mud,
the river lost itself
un-named, unnoticed, forgotten.
But we knew its waters would, in time,
be sucked skywards
to return as clouds
to the hills of the Devil’s Beef Tub
fifty miles inland.

‘You again!’ the hills will say,
as they tear at the clouds, emptying them
so the waters begin their descent
and once again we call them ‘Annan’.

S1 Annan Academy

With thanks to CREATE and Sulwath Connections who are running this project. You will find more of the pupils' work here.

Rivers and writing

There is Nothing in the Water by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a wonderful testimony to the charms of the Annan river, published this month in a new anthology of nature-writing brought together by angling and culture website Caught by the River. Writers from Irvine Welsh to Roger Deakin explore the silt, sedge, cargo and currents of the UK's waterways. In Frank Cottrell Boyce's story, excerpted in yesterday's Guardian, he considers the heady mix of risk and freedom that the river Annan offers. The hidden landscapes and histories caught between its tributaries should tempt a few to walk the Annandale Way come its opening this September.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The art of walking - two rambles about London

Here are my top tips for creative walking enthusiasts in London. Both have a foot in the art gallery and a foot firmly outside.

Although I have probably seen before the majority of Richard Long's work that is currently on show in major retrospective 'Heaven and Earth', I found its expansion into the large spaces of Tate Britain unexpectedly moving. Perhaps it was the humbling effect of a walk through a life dedicated to using his body, the land, the rhythms of sun, moon, tide, walking and resting as his art. Or perhaps it was the chime with my own solitary walks that moved me, I'm not sure.

The show is fascinating for revealing the evolution of ways he has represented his walking art in a gallery space - 'the knowledge of my actions, in whatever form, is the art.' (I find his gallery-specific pieces much less engaging and appealing.) His walks, which first began just as the first human steps were taken on the moon, were first communicated as photographs; later as a line on a map; and then a series of words capturing a narrative of discovery along a route. His work is conceptual to some extent but, at least for me, totally translatable into a sense of interaction with place. Also see Robert Macfarlane's excellent article on Long for the Guardian.

Second top tip: the newly refurbished Whitechapel Gallery which celebrates the democratisation of art and doesn't charge for entry, has an almost hidden gem, in addition to its less hidden ones. A tiny white card next to a pile of books in the lobby alerted me to a site-specific audio walk by Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller devised in 1999.

Borrow an MP3 player from the reception to be guided by the compelling voice of Janet Cardiff into a physical journey around the lanes and alleys of the East End. The world you find yourself in between headphones, and between real walls is a curious mixture created by binaural sound recording and the real sounds of the places you share with Cardiff. A narrative begins to emerge about a woman with red hair, running from something.

I was never quite sure whether the overheard conversations happened in her time or in my own. She has an acute way of predicting one's own observations. There's a wonderful moment where you are guided into a church to sit in its cool and quiet. As the doors bashed behind me, for real, and on the headphones, I was struck by a smell of incense 'Mmm, smells like incense', said the intimate voice in my ear. When I took off the headphones to walk back to the gallery, I found myself highly attuned to the peculiar qualities and possible meanings of what I heard and saw.

I listened to many of Cardiff's audio walks on her website when I tutored workshops related to the Fruitmarket Edinburgh's exhibition of her work last year, but this was my first opportunity to experience the richness and mystery of walking real spaces with her, and the powerful suggestiveness of two sets of sound.

Highly recommended!

Monday, June 1, 2009

'Whiter than White' - a new story in book form

First offspring of 'Best Foot Books', this small book, perfectly formed to fit a pocket, contains a long short story inspired by my walks on the Isle of Rum. The Edwardian history of Kinloch Castle and the servants' walk across the island between castle and laundry form the backdrop. (See previous posts). Available from a number of appropriate outlets including The Aberfeldy Watermill, the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, The Land, Sea and Island Centre and Cafe Rhu in Arisaig; the Mallaig Bookshop, Mallaig Heritage Centre ; Kinloch Castle on Rum. It can also be ordered direct from my website for £4 inc p&p.
It’s 1913, and as the stags’ roaring fades in the hills, the household at Kinloch Castle is packing up to return to Accrington at the end of another season. Jimmy will walk over the hill only seven more times to deliver the laundry to the maids Emma and Lily at Kilmory. Then he will return to his home on the Isle of Eigg. In those last brief visits, will he manage to both ensure his future with the departing Emma, and to contain their secret?