November 2020
Helen Boden
By the end of the month it didn’t rain and we didn’t drive, Arran and the Cairngorms could be sighted from the Pentlands. Ben Lomond had been visible beyond the Lang Whang horizon for ten consecutive days. This was (to knowingly use an overused word) unprecedented in post-industrial times. And it broke my heart – it is how things should be, could be, and yet was only possible because of the pandemic. The occasional aeroplane still took off from Turnhouse, for Amsterdam or Heathrow. I should’ve been flying to Verona at the end of March; instead I was locked down beside the hills of home. And holiday-Italy seemed unimaginable compared to Covid-Italy. For that matter, hills I could see but couldn’t reach on foot - Scald Law, East Cairn - might as well have been in the Alps. As further-afield started to feel less feasible, a kind of mourning set in. But something differently imaginable began to happen at that that turn of year when things change visibly, daily, when the horse chestnut across the road comes into leaf and we lose sight of Hillend. There was a bit more greening every time I walked through Dreghorn Woods to the hills. I opened yesterday’s quarantined mail with my cup of tea when I got back in. I found a rhythm. I found: various versions of out-and-back, circular, from-the-door exercise. Pacing, grounding, I found lesser-trodden paths. I found a hold, a bield, below the rounded hills. The clocks went forward. There would be no light-evening walks on Arran, but I could make a virtue of what was around, with more daylight, and good weather, to explore it. But we didn’t know what our capacity was for our own, or our household’s, company, and for staying very local - because many of us had never been tested in this way before. When I mentioned this to a disabled friend, though, she effectively responded, ‘welcome to my world’. I was, literally and figuratively, in a good place, though very aware of my comparative privilege and good fortune. There were things about pre-Covid life I had been enduring, rather than enjoying, finding subtly but cumulatively stressful when I left this edge of Edinburgh for the city centre: crowds, congestion, pollution, noise. So much of this ‘new normal’ suited better than the old. And yet the news and fake news gave a constant reminder of why we were in this situation. I found a rhythm. The rhythm was disrupted. I found a rhythm. In the now emptier Pentland spaces, I developed a fresh appreciation of the valleys, or cleughs, that run south from the back of Capelaw and Allermuir hills, of the crescent swoop of the cleugh-head skylines. With sense of time increasingly distorted by the absence of normal routines and presence of some strange new ones, I became acutely attuned to the shapes, and especially the glacial incisions, of hills I have walked for more than 25 years. Beneath the seasonal, vegetational surface they could hardly - unlike the city centre - have changed much in a month, but they felt different, their glacier-sculpted forms broadened and post-glacial weathering accentuated. I became a sort of semi-feral creature of the place where the Covenanters fled from religious persecution in the seventeenth century. The air was full of skylark song amplified by the stilling, the quiet, the lack of traffic on the bypass. ( More from Helen later… Ed. ) The Future . . . . . . is over to you, readers and residents of Colinton, Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno, and others with an affinity for the area around the upper Water of Leith. Let’s hear what you have to say! No need to be an experienced writer, all ages welcome. How has the pandemic affected your relationship with the area? How would you voice or otherwise express this? What do you notice (hear, feel, smell, taste) when out exercising locally? What would you like to continue and what further changes would you like to see? Do you know more about places I’ve mentioned, or have a new connection since lockdown to somewhere else in the area? Send your poem, story, picture or photo – it would be great if you could caption it - even a drawing or painting, map or design to me at: Send contributions direct to
Helen’s first reflections on her thread to whet your appetite
“Pandemic Perspectives”
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