Thursday, May 7, 2020

David Wheatley: River Don Office

On a back road near my house once stood a hand-written sign for the ‘River Don Office’, pointing to a nearby lane. To my regret I never went to investigate, though I liked to imagine a bucket of water on a desk, processing its paperwork on fishing licenses and mulling cross-community projects with the river Dee. Since the sign’s removal I have reclassified a small portion of my brain as my own River Don Office, throbbing away night and day in sympathetic rhythm with the gurgle and flow on the other side of the park, halfway between where the Don rises in Glen Avon and its appointment with the North Sea.

Clambering into bed beside my son one night (we co-sleep) I am transported more dramatically to the river when I notice I’ve left the extractor fan on in the bathroom. Rather than get up to correct this mistake, I allow it to mutate into the outboard motor of a small boat, in which we set off, he and I, for a night cruise up and down the fast-moving river’s tricky waters. We chug downstream in the direction of Aberdeen, shadowing then losing then shadowing the railway line again. Out to sea we spot the moonlit outlines of the tankers, which often rest at anchor for weeks on end, waiting for the price of their oily cargo to rise before they come into harbour. Fearing a jaunt to Norway may be beyond us we turn back, passing the village and heading west again. 

In the mountains, there you feel free, even as they close benevolently round you, the high-sided pinewoods of Pitfichie and Clova Hill looming up in the moonlight as though about to pitch headlong into the current. Feet tucked under him where he kneels on the bow, my son stares into the silvery tide, with occasional glances over his shoulder to where I navigate. Soon we are closing in on the head of the Don, zig-zagging crazily in waters so shallow I feel us bumping along the bottom. What is this, I ask myself, a fantastical children’s book? – turning over where I lie in bed and brushing against the children’s books piled high in the cot beside the bed. A thin stream of drool has dampened my pillow, and by morning my carefully-drafted report for the River Don Office (in fact, these words) has been lost overboard.

David Wheatley



Thursday, April 9, 2020

for now

for now is an ongoing series of reflections on walking during the lockdown period, by Nicole Bell of Paths for All.


for now
a walk
is a kind of medicine

along with other essentials
nature is in very
limited supply

take today’s solitary walk
breathe, inhale,
look around you

bring it home
and treasure it
in safety


for now
a walk
is a reminder

of all we took 
for granted
forced apart

exchanging smiles 
from either side
of the path 

chats about the weather,
who’d have thought
we’d miss them?


for now
our evening walk
is a strange walk

jamais vu
the same steps
taken one

hundred times over
as if walked
for the first time

things will look 
after the storm

or perhaps
we will
with fresh eyes

Nicole Bell

Saturday, April 4, 2020

walking during co19

This blog is by the artist Gill Russell. 

She's been recording walks around her home for a new project, covidly walking, which, thus far, records 15 walks for 15 days, all departing from her house in Strathdon.

its peaceful making these lines
skylarks and snowshowers 
on the moor yesterday

Tuesday, March 24, 2020



the odd walker
on the path

with an aura
of danger


Scottish Poetry Library: Poem of the Week

Tom Leonard: June the Second

it is dawn and my wife is coming to bed
and she has been watching a film about the life of charlie parker

and the air in the bedroom is silent while she undresses
and the light is there at the side of the curtain beyond her head

and she tells me his body gave up of drink and drugs when he was 34
and I decide I am awake and go to the kitchen for a drink of water

and the sky in the north is translucent like a lake
translucent like a lake though it is only 3 am

and when I go back we lightly hold hands as we sometimes do
until the first to be falling asleep begins to twitch and tonight it’s Sonya

and I withdraw my hand and lie back looking at the ceiling
I am aged 51 years and nine months and nine to ten days

This is a short essay I wrote for the Scottish Poetry Library, Poem for the Week.

The tenderness and sincerity of this poem, a remembrance of a moment of love within a lifetime of love, always touched me. Though the details of the interiors are sparse – no Proustian brocade for Tom – it conveys an Objectivist sense of common belonging. The wee journeys from room to room, and sense of a world beyond the curtains, resonates when so many people are cooped up in their homes. For me coronavirus is an illness that torques inside my body at night, exerting a force on the lungs, making my head feel dark with pain, so the dawn is a relief. It will be different for others. 

Tom offers love – his for Sonya – a specific setting we can enter – some of us recalling the address the poet lived at and imagining the very window – just as there is a real window which Sorley MacLean looked to the west from, in ‘Hallaig’. Acts of witness matter in times of crisis. 

The poem recalls Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, which elegises Charlie Parker as a bodhisattava. Here, in a tenement in Glasgow, grace lies in the quotidian modesty which, in turn, comes to rest within elements that change eternally – light, air, water, love – as the poet wanders through to the sink. Isn’t that true of life now: I see the sun on the frosty roofs from my flat in Hawthornvale, same as it ever was, and yet.

That last line, fixing himself and us in time, could easily be the prelude to one of Tom’s poems about the Gulf War. He felt such passionate anger at those mass bombings, the history of suffering. Tom had a democratic sense that the events visited on one body could be the suffering, or love, visited on any. As Elaine Scarry says, if there is pain in the room then that pain is in someone. It is the same with love and those hands touching, which remind me of the hypnic jerks that would pass through my wife’s body as I held her at night. 

The poet sometimes writes their own grave poem without knowing. I don’t read Tom’s poetry often – it’s like holding a pebble freezing cold from the burn – but I depend on it to scour my thoughts from time to time. I read the struggle for clarity and truth as relating, intimately, to the striggle for breath, in Tom’s poems as informed by his asthma. To risk the imitation: prose uses a lot of air, poems get by on a few breaths. My breathing is laboured tonight, as the virus slowly heals. I am 54 years and nine days old.

We will need a poetry that has this kind of sincerity, to witness and navigate this crisis, as it forces itself into our lives, alters everyday behaviour, changes the way we stand in relation to one another, how or whether we hold hands. There are far, far, worse days to come. The anguish of harsh choices, the folly of steps not taken. There will be new heroes, but war imagery is inadequate to this kind of crisis, as anyone with an illness knows. Only the most radical kindness will suffice. And Tom would want it said: the truth is, society already decides who doesn’t get necessary care and protection and it has done so for years – whether and how that changes from now on is something we can all decide.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Mother’s Day

As one in a series of posts by people reflecting on walking, healing and the Coronavirus, this is Natalie's. She has written more here.

One day past Spring Equinox, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m so far behind. With excruciating guilt, I stopped composting veg peelings last month for the first time in decades. Both of the one cubic tonne size composters in the garden were over-spilling. They would have been turned and turned into crumbly compost and spread as a mulch across all the veg beds. A thin blanket of fresh nutrients, weed barrier, and warmth after the cold of winter. I’d neglected them, and still I just can’t face the task.

I know where to start, be present. Stand silently and barefoot on the earth and breathe. Lie on the grass and feel my body supported by the earth, look up at the blue sky and breathe. Ground myself and listen to what the ancient voice at the back of my mind is saying, with constancy.

I don’t have the energy. The thought of moving a few tonnes exhausts me. And there is another tonne of topsoil in a bag from last year. It’s been squatting a bed since it was delivered, hyab-ed over the garden fence. Another project left undone. It needs barrowed around the garden.  I’m not sure how much is a mental block, how much physical. When did I lose my energy? I need it back. Undone projects are symptoms of feeling overwhelmed: I was living too fast. So much mess to clear up. No-one but me to do it.

Back to basics. Just observe. Observe the life around me. Tread carefully, be gentle. Except maybe with the bind-weed. Surely it must have some use other than infuriation and strangulation? The nettles will soon be big enough to make spring tonic soup. The comfrey leaves will soon be big enough to cushion the seed potatoes.

For months I have found such solace in Being Inside and Being (relatively) Alone. After years rushing around multiple therapy gardens, juggling multiple tabs open in my mind, worrying, worrying, worrying about people and plants, hearing my voice speak too much, becoming glib, parroting information, I had to crash into stillness. I started calling the fragmented parts of me back home again. My motivation to ‘do something, do more’ left me. I didn’t go outside. I didn’t go into my garden. I decided to retrain as another kind of therapist. I saved money. An escape route was planned. That’s postponed now. 

Yesterday I saw the first bumblebee flying drunkenly around the garden, fat bottom in the air, deep into the daffodils. The day before my nephews and myself listened to a robin singing for a lover, singing the perimeter of his territory, prospecting for a nest.

Thirteen years ago my name rose up the list and finally, after a decade waiting, I was allocated an over-run allotment plot in a rundown allotment site in a low income area of Glasgow’s Southside. I started to tend a garden.

Today I will go back to my garden. I will spend some time just being and observing. Full circle. I started to garden because I knew I needed to be intimately connected to Mother Earth every day. I will make a new start.


Saturday, March 21, 2020

a walk followed by a rest

a picture 
followed by a thought

a walk
followed by a rest

a thought 
followed by a picture

a rest
followed by a walk

even without being on the mountain

for HD


even without being
on the mountain

I can belong
in the mountains


even without belonging
on the mountains

I can be 
on the mountain

Day of Access Manifesto

The inaugural Day of Access was held on June 16, 2019, at Meall Tairneachan, The Thundering-one Hill, Perthshire.

Four disabled people were given vehicular access to an altitude of 720m., with the support of Forestry and Land Scotland, John Muir Trust Heart of Scotland, and Kynachan Estate.

This manifesto was read aloud at the highest point.

The Declaration of Meall Tairneachan: Precepts for the Remediation of The Body and The Land

When we think of the need for a disability access we often think only of accommodations of a spatial character – ramps, signage, parking spaces – but we forget the need for accommodation of the varying temporalities of the body…”

Michel Davidson

there can never be an excess of access

you want us to change the gate? – but what would a disabled person do up there?”

the chronically ill are among those most alienated from wild nature

if people could access the landscape equally would there be such a thing as “landscape”?

access should kindle a sense of belonging, even for those who are house-bound

for the chronically ill wild land remains a paradox: exhausting challenge and domain of healing

the issues of wounded nature and human suffering are adjacent

always try to carry a line ahead of you so as to not cross into all the pain that follows

the chronically ill understand a world defined by depleted resources

imagination unlocks the gate in the deer fence

who decides where you can go? Access is defined in culture before it is enshrined in law

like the loss of a limb, the loss of access enhances perceptions

access need not be physical: the imagination engenders
affiliations to places, species, and ecosystems

what will come of introducing vulnerable bodies into vulnerable ecologies?

there are different paths – they don’t all reach the summit

deficiencies in the legs may lead to gains in the eyes

a bed may feel like an immense landscape
a mountain may be hidden with one hand

the meaning of a mountain doesn’t reside in its summit

for some the hill is Medusa turning them to stone

try to be moss for a few hours – lie still like a patch of lichen
or collapse like a recumbent stone

everyone has the right to throw the blanket in

the ill are like fairies – they fold a different measure of time into the hill

from the moment a community considers access for the chronically ill their concept of Nature alters

our purpose: to forge an alliance between human healing and ecological remediation

rewilding, place-awareness and disabled access are acts of imagination

Day of Access is the avant-garde of the place-aware movement

Day of Access gifts a body a story that has become unlikely
returns a mind to the narrative of the wild

Day of Access offers public forestry a new purpose

the new hill tracks benefit neither wildlife nor people with constrained walking: vehicles are no longer only a means to access bloodsport thrills, dams, or minerals

the wheelie’s enemies: stiles & locked gates

those who have campaigned all their lives for equality may be dismayed by talk of vulnerability

as much as law it is kindness and respect that enable access

Day of Access has the audacity to ally need and pleasure

in Day of Access the poorly carry limits with them in their legs, but their eyes are free to wander

The Road of Access leads to The Hut of Place-awareness

photography: Mhairi Law (colour); Sam MacDiarmid (b/w)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Maggie's Centres

poems inspired by Maggie Keswick Jencks and the radical concept of Maggie's Centres.

Maggie Keswick-Jencks
is the Rosa Luxemburg
of well-being

Maggie’s Centres rewild healthcare

a new era of care
born of a complaint

In a Maggie's Centre
you cannot have a bed
because of hospital regulations 
but you can have a nook,
a book, a cup of tea,
or a blanket

so so

and says

waiting rooms
are libraries
without books

Maggie said
the doctors are up there
in the plane

we’re down here
trying to read
the maps

those who
shared their

fears with others
lived longer lives

Maggie Keswick Jencks: A View from the Front Line


While some of us cannot get outside to wander along hedgerows and visit gardens here are some notes for healing walks, from Grigson's The Englishman's Flora

The names of plants speak to human complaints and hopes. 

Some plants have gathered more than one name. Some names make one want to hold a stem to a particular part of the body – the letters shape a salve.

The names speak to a time when nature was our pharmacy. Medicine has evolved, but nature is still our cure.

(Clematis vitalba)

(Ranunculus arvensis)

Jaunders Berrry
(Berberis vulgaris)

Blind Eyes
(Papaver rhoeas)

(Glacium flavum)

(Chelidonium majus)

Poor Man’s Pharmacetty
(Capsella bursa-pastroris)

Heart Pansy
(Viola tricolour)

(Hypericum androsaemum)

(Silene cucubalus)

(Melandrium album)

(Stellaria holostea)

(Spergula arvensis)

Cry Baby
(Geranium robertianum)

(Ulex europaues)

(Potentilla erecta)

Care Tree
(Sorbus aucuparia)

Healing Blade
(Sempervivum tectorum)

(Umbilicus ruperstris)

Scabby Hands
(Anthriscus sylvestris)

Adam’s Plaster
Red Joints
(Polygonum persicaria)

(Vaccinium myrtillus)

(Cantaurium minus)

Devil’s Guts
(Convolvulus arvensis)

Poor Man’s Salve
(Scrophularia nodosa)

(Digitalis pupurea)

Horse Well-cress
(Veronica becccabunga)