November 2020
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“Pandemic Perspectives”
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Slow-forward a few weeks and mindful of the demands on emergency services, and their contacts, in the event of an accident, I stopped climbing hills. Instead I drifted - it really was unplanned - further up the Water of Leith valley. Swapping heights for lengths, I cycled, walked, and delivered biscuits to a friend in Balerno recovering from a Covid-unrelated medical procedure. Then, ritually, obsessively almost, I paced the cracked-mud paths of the shelter-belts and that I’d previously overlooked, bypassed, when heading for the Pentlands: the woodland grids, dating back to the eighteenth century, that right-angled round a dozen fields. They proved very fit for purpose when walking in a colder wind. I found out more about the ‘Cockburn Geometric Wooded Farmland’ from council documents (https://www.sesplan.gov.uk/assets/files/docs/supporting-studies-and- docs/GB_Landscape_Character_Assessment_December_Final.pdf ), and from knowledgeable locals. We’d engage in a sort of shelter-belt dance, improvising the choreography (and protocols) of a distanced pas-de-deux: swerve and greet, greet and swerve (judge and be judged by those who don’t observe at least two-metre distancing). Passing places were pausing places - we needed this pause, us and the planet. I loved the idea of a ‘Landscape Character Assessment’. Sloping Wooded Farmland! Geometric Wooded Farmland! Watercourses modified to follow field boundaries! I became interested in where the ‘character’ of the land changes and opens out, where broadleafs thin along the lanes beyond the village. Through Cockburn, Buteland, Haughhead, Glenbrook, my personal route map from lockdown connected up the places I’d whizz past on my bike a few times a year. Fieldside, woodside, forestside; farmstead, formal garden. I noticed lots of details for the first time, like moss-clad walls. I almost didn’t mind not being able to get further afield. A lodge called ‘The Boathouse’ inland at Bankhead, and a memorial garden (for Charlie Cope of Goodtrees, who died in April), planted in an abandoned boat by local children, aptly symbolised the world-turned-upside-down of 2020. Hope that it would right itself was expressed in the lovely lane and gate-art made by young people. There was hope too in the changing verge flora: spring daffodils, primroses, garlic and bluebells, then gorse, so much glorious gorse. Later, iris and bog cotton at Red Moss. Orange-tip butterflies abounded, sensitised to the clean air and quiet. Laburnum, rhododendron and honeysuckle wilded where big house grounds met the lane. Their beech hedges re-greened. Limes and oaks leaved at different rates. Warm air released the aroma of bluebell, gorse, timber, pine. The upper Water of Leith, normally silenced by traffic from the A70, was audible in its incised channel below the gorse-bordered straight from Whelpside. There was four-part burnsong, with curlew solo, at Haughhead. (See also https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/23010/balerno-villas) Overhead, power-lines drew an elevated hypotenuse across the axes of the shelterbelts. Above the green belt and the Central Belt, cables charted a diagonal course to / from the capital. Punctuating rights of way, pylons plotted a line for the hills. Beyond, visibility extended, hopefully, out of the parameters of lockdown. Below the National Grid, desire paths graphed the woods.
Shelterbelts - In April and May, Helen left the hills for the security of Balerno’s gridded woodland
Helen Boden 01