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Category Archives: nature

Working with Libraries

I wanted to let you know about a few projects I’m doing with libraries.

Forest Families in Gorebridge

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Tomorrow I’m off to Gorebridge library to run some woodland themed storytelling workshops with the local primary schools at the launch the Forest Families project. Here’s how the facebook page describes Forest Families:

A project providing positive, nurturing interactions and free play in natural environments, for children from Mid Lothian,aged 3-8 years and their parents

Oak trees are the theme for tomorrow’s workshops. We’re hoping the children will recognise the shape of an oak leaf. It happens to be the Midlothian Council logo so they won’t have just see it on trees. I’m even going to be wearing an oak leaf dress – now that’s commitment!

I’m working with craft maker and educator Jaimie MacDonald. The last time we worked together we were running crafty storytelling training for youth leaders. This time we’re storytelling and making crafts with the children ourselves. I’m excited to hear Jaimie will be wearing a mushroom jumper (in keeping with the forest theme).

Each workshop is a taster session. We’ll have an introduction from project founder Stephanie Walker. Then it’s me with the story bag, leaves, imagination exercises, stories and some songs. Then it’s Jaimie making nature journals and finally we finish up with a wee song from the little oak story as we plant some trees:

Wonderful, beautiful, there’s only one like you.

There’s only one who was made to do, the things that you will do.

Families in Gorebridge will have an opportunity to sign up to monthly Forest Families workshops. The first one is Saturday 22nd February.

Social Media Training for Edinburgh Libraries

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Last month I ran a training session with team leaders and staff from across the Edinburgh public libraries. I was asked to share examples of how we used social media to promote reader development at Leith Library during the 9 month residency I did with the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland (read the highlights here).

The course was full and it was a good opportunity for people to share ideas between libraries. With that in mind I didn’t want to be doing all the talking. For part of the session I got people to slit into groups and discuss different ways to tell stories digitally – audio, video, photo and combinations of the above. Through the discussion and feedback people came up with loads of great ideas for things to do within their libraries and that was all before I shared some of what we did in Leith.

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Science Poetry at the National Library of Scotland

I was delighted to be asked to run a science poetry masterclass this April as part of the great big science read. I was also a little bit nervous since it’s called a master class. Did that mean I had to be a master of science poetry? Images of Yoda sprang to mind. But then we had a planning meeting at the National Library. We got excited about the titles of the science collection as inspiration for poems and I had a few ideas for exercises that the team really liked so that has put me at ease. There’s enough inspiration in that collection and in science itself so I figure I’m just going to be facilitating an opportunity for people to be inspired, connect and share.

If you’re interested you can find details of the event in the Science Festival Programme or in the latest National Libraries of Scotland what’s on leaflet.

You can read my most recent science poem ‘Relativity’ in the latest issue of The Istanbul Review.

 

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Shaking Shells

Last month I led a 3-hour Filmpoem workshop with five children aged between five and ten as part of the first UK Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar.

The workshop started with exercises and games to get the children thinking like poets (I wrote a bit about it here). Then we spent the second half of the workshop writing a group poem on a poetry walk.

Each section of the walk involved a different poetry challenge and at the next stop we heard the results of the last challenge and I set the next challenge. For example when you’re walking:

  • Explore the wall, touch it, smell it, describe it
  • What sounds do you notice? Describe them
  • Find your favourite object on the beach, if you find a better one, swap it. Describe it.

Each child worked independently during the challenge but we came together in a circle at the end of each challenge and each contributed one line to the poem.

Favourite Moments

Three moments really stood out to me. The first was when we stopped after the first poetry challenge. I wrote down each of their lines as they said them. I rearranged the order slightly and read it out. All of the children looked at each other with amazed faces and they said things like “Wow!”. From that moment on they were totally focussed.

During the walk artist Alastair Cook was capturing film and composer Luca Nasciuti recorded sounds. When we were down on the beach Donald (5) was in the process of finding his favourite object when he made a discovery….

“I’ve found a sound for the film!” he shouted. He was sitting down with a handful of mussel shells in his hands and he shook them to show me. He tipped his ear towards the shells again to make sure they sounded right. “That’s brilliant Donald” I said. “Let’s show Luca so he can record it” and I called Luca over and Donald shook his shells again.

My final favourite moment was the screening. The film premiered later that day at the Filmpoem Festival. The children brought their parents along to see it. I think you’ll agree their poem is amazing and the film (thanks to Alastair and Luca) is wonderful:

Filmpoem Workshop – Shaking Shells from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

I want to add at no point did I suggest lines or change their words, I only changed the order of some lines so perhaps Donald’s line came after Kitty’s instead of before. Every section was written during that stop on the journey and so the poem is linear in the order of the journey made.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed planning the workshops activities and the stops on the walk. I hoped it would work well but until you actually do something you don’t know how things will turn out. I was impressed by how well the group responded and how they worked so brilliantly as individuals to create something wonderful together. It was as if something magical happened, they seemed to share one collective creative brain that was five times better than any individual’s could be. Their lines fitted perfectly together and each section fitted perfectly with the last. They had so much freedom to create and they were enjoying every minute of it.

I love the film, Alastair and Luca did an amazing job of putting it together.

What did the children think? 

They were proud of their poem and they said it was fun and not like writing poetry at school. They also said it was easier to write about things when you’re outside experiencing them.

Here’s some of their comments:

Today was a very good workshop because we were all working together making a beautiful poem in Dunbar…

I loved working together with everybody and thinking of good words for the poem…

I loved feeling the wall and going to the beech..

You can see the rest of their comments below, It’s good to see Donald wrote about his shells!

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The Filmpoem Festival was created by artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook. The Filmpoem Festival was supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). 

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, nature, poetry, Writing

 

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I’m on a Writing Retreat

I’m staying in a beautiful harbour village in the north-west of Scotland. This is Ullapool:

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The Plan

I’m taking a month out to write. I’m excited because

  • It’s a month full of potential and possibilities
  • I don’t know if I can do it so it’s a new challenge
  • I’ve started already, this is day 3 and it still feels exciting

The projects I’m working on are:

  • Picture books for Floris
  • A sitcom (or two sitcoms)
  • A series of young adult fiction novels

Picture Books

Floris are the biggest children’s publisher in Scotland. A couple of months ago they invited me to tea and asked me to write for them. I know, ridiculous as it sounds that really did happen. I’m still amazed (you know when you’re thinking have they got the right person here!?) so I’ve made writing for Floris my main priority. Here are some of my Day 1 ideas (for a picture book set on Shetland):

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On day two I put these ideas aside and wrote a new story about a pheasant and a mouse. This time I didn’t plan out ideas on luggage tags. I just typed the whole story straight from my head. It’s strange how no two stories get written in the same way.

Puzzling it Out

Writing picture books is really a big puzzle. You need to create a great story and great characters but you also need to tell the story across the right amount on double paged spreads. Each page has to be sufficiently visually different to the page before and you want people to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. Every page needs to be perfect. Thankfully Floris are helping me so I’m in good hands.

Sitcom(s)

A year ago I wrote a sitcom and got some feedback from BBC comedy and from Edinburgh screenwriter Adrian Mead. I wrote about pitching it here. I’ve not had chance to work on the sitcom in light of the feedback so I’m looking forward to getting back to it. I’m encouraged by the fact that BBC TV Comedy said it was funny. Apparently that’s the hardest thing to get right. I can work on the things they’ve suggested like developing one of the less developed characters but if it wasn’t funny there’s no way I’d spend more time on it. They also said they were happy to see any new versions or anything else I write so on that note I’ve got an idea for a new sitcom (but we’ll see how the time goes!)

YA Novels

I’ve planned a series of 12 young adult fiction novels set in Scotland. Originally I pitched them to CBBC as a television series idea but now I’d like to try to write one of them as a novel. They have a science theme. If they work then that’s great but if they don’t then that’s okay. I just want to give it a go, that’s what this month is about.

Food, Sleep and Slowing Down

I’m enjoying cooking and eating well. I’m staying with another writer and we’ve been taking it in turns to make meals. I’m also enjoying sleep and not setting my alarm. I know writers are supposed to get up early and write several thousand words but I feel a lot better when I’ve slept and that helps me to write better too.

This may sound lazy but if you know me you’ll know I’m generally one of those people who does too much. I’ve had bosses who have asked me to give 50% instead of 100% because my 50% is most people’s 100%. I don’t always have time to eat or ever get dressed when I’m busy so I’m trying to slow down a while I’m here and look after myself.

Exploring Ullapool

Most days I go for a walk.

On Wednesday I tried to join the Ullapool running club but no one turned up so I went on my own run and ended up a bit lost. A family of deer followed me and I met a lizard. Once I was on the right path again I relaxed and that’s when the story I was working on that day got exciting. It just goes to show hills and getting lost are great for creativity.

On Thursday I visited the library and the lovely CHORUS exhibition (bird song, bird photos and bird boxes) in the Macphael Centre:

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Today I visited art exhibition An Talla Solais, these two little squares are part of a miniature works of art from 100 artists. It’s called  ‘VOYAGE: A Journey in Tiny Steps’:

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World Skiff Championship

Next week it’s the world skiff championship. The village will be bustling with tourists and competitors. Princess Anne is opening the championships so I’ll pop down to the harbour for that. I’ve spotted several teams out practicing already:

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My Residency
I’m excited to be writing in Ullapool. I should mention I’ve been working as the Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence at Leith Library 2.5 days a week for the last 9 months. The library part of my residency just finished but I’m still funded for 3 months to do my own practice. That’s why I’m able to take one month out to write – I would never normally be able do something ike this. It’s all thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. It’s also thanks to my writer friend Mairi for letting me stay!

UPDATE: Read about the Skiff World Championship (and how I ended up in a rowing boat) here.

 
 

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Wood Foraging in Pictures

I’ve recently installed a woodburning stove in my lounge and I totally love it. So when Daniel said:

Doddsy, wood foraging next week?

I said YES! Daniel is a wood foraging pro:

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Back in the day when we worked at Changeworks, I dreamed of getting a stove but most people told me it was a bad idea. Most people, but not Daniel. He had a stove and pointed out how easy (and fun) it was to forage for wood in Edinburgh. Four years later and there we were.

My bow saw was a bit smaller than Daniel’s so it took me a bit longer to cut through the logs:

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This was the pile we cut between us in less than an hour:

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Daniel suggested bringing a wheelie bin but I only had a wheelie suitcase. I filled it just as it started to rain:

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I felt proud of the wood we’d chopped as I walked back through the trees:

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But when I got to the streets I suddenly felt a little self conscious. Did people assume I lived in the wild and had decided to return home and all of my worldly belongings were logs?

When I got home I started my first log pile, hurrah!:

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My arm ached a little but I loved the experience of cutting my own fuel and being outdoors. Thanks to Daniel, I’ll be foraging again soon and next winter I’ll have the pleasure of burning those logs!

Just in case you were wondering, the wood was already dead and lying on the ground, we just cut it into bits. 

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Education, Environment, nature

 

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Firefly Magazine

There was a big white envelope waiting on the doormat. Inside was my copy of the exciting new children’s magazine Firefly:

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It’s a seasonal magazine which includes outdoor activities, puzzles, comics, wildlife, books, craft and cooking. The magazine is aimed at children 5 to 10 years or as the cover says “it’s for families who are wild at heart”.

Flicking through the pages you’ll notice Firefly is visually stunning. I think what makes it special is the contributions from many different illustrators and writers. I was commissioned to write a 2 page nature feature for the magazine and I chose to write about otters:

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Why Otters? 

Otters are an animal most children won’t have seen but would like to spot. They’ve got character, they do funny things like pooping on the tops of rocks or tufts of grass so everyone can see where they’ve been. Urban otters are getting much more common so even if you live in a city you won’t be too far from an otter. They’re inclusive but not too common to be ordinary. I’ve tried to spot otters myself a few times so otter spotting is something close to my heart.

The Writing Process

First I found out as much as I could about otters online, in books and by asking people. I interviewed an otter expert (Chris Cathrine from Caledonian Conservation) and I spent time choosing the best bits from everything I learned. The hardest thing I think is condensing all of that research. Which bits stay and which bits go?

I wrote sections in bite sized chunks and gradually and ruthlessly chopped out sections until I was only left with the best. I want to make children laugh or tell them something so weird and wonderful that they would want to tell their friends or family about it. That way they’re much more likely to remember it.

If I used a complicated word I made sure I explained what it meant. I used to write the Dino’s Dynamos Kids Club magazine for Dynamic Earth so that really helped with knowing how to write and plan to communicate science to children. I had a good editor back then so I got told which bits worked and which didn’t. Later I edited the magazine when new writers started writing it so I think that whole process helped me to be objective and to really weed out every word that isn’t necessary.

I included Chris Cathrine’s answer to “What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen an otter do?” because I knew children would love finding out something like that from an otter expert. I thought about the illustrations we would need to go with the text and made notes and found examples in books so I could send these to the illustrator who was working on my section (Cat O’ Neil).

I spent lots more time rewriting and cutting to get down to the word limit I’d been set.

Help, I can’t think of an otter joke!

I was desperately trying to come up with a good otter joke but hadn’t managed it. I went along to the Edinburgh Literary Salon for a much needed break from writing. It’s a monthly get together for writers and anyone involved in books and publishing. My friend Alan McIntosh was there (I interviewed him on this blog here) and knowing how quick-witted he is I explained I was trying to come up with a good otter joke. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:

Alan: Tell me about them, where do they live, what are the names for things?

Me: Their homes are holts, their poos are spraints, they eat fish…

Alan: What do you get if you tread on an otter poo?

Me (smile)

Alan: A spraint ankle!

It was perfect, exactly what I was looking for. Any joke about poo is a big hit with children but they also love to learn a new word that they can show off with by using it in a joke. Funny and educational. When you laugh you learn more so massive thanks to Alan for that one!

Finishing

When I finally submitted my feature it included a page of extra ideas, things like a dot to d’otter (otter dot to dot) or having a hidden spraint (otter poo) somewhere in the magazine for children to find. Firefly Editor Hannah Foley liked my ideas. She decided to add an extra page called ‘Otter Fun’ to include the puzzles and extra ideas so now I’ve ended up writing a three page spread on otters. My text went to copy editor Genevieve Herr and she was happy with it, she made some minor changes and that was me done.

It really is amazing to see the magazine in print. I just need to order a copy for my nephews and nieces!

Order your copy of Firefly Magazine on the Firefly website here

 
 

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Social Reporting from the Capercaillie Lek

If you live tweet from a bird hide does anyone care? How can you capture nature as and when it’s happening? Can you create a story around something that may or may not even be there?

This Easter I challenged myself to try social reporting from the caperwatch 2013 at RSPB Loch Garten.

Social reporting is about capturing an event from the inside using audio, video and photos.

Caperwatch is about waking up at 4am to see if you can spot a big black turkey like bird dancing, while peering through the window of a little wooden hut on the side of a loch.

The bird I’m talking about is the capercaillie and here’s how I got on: Watch to the video on youtube here

I interviewed Richard Thaxton from the RSPB to ask why we have to get up so early to see the capercaillie dancing, here’s what he said: Watch the video on youtube here

On the way and during the caperwatch I live tweeted some photos, here’s a couple from the carIMG_20130330_051821 IMG_20130330_052451

We watched the sunrise from the hide, wow!:

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This is the osprey EJ, taken through a telescope with my phone on the eyepeice:

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Can you spot the red squirrel in this shot?:

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But the bird didn’t dance. Does that matter? We also went to see golden eagles but they didn’t fly in:

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And we visited the national dolphin centre but we missed the dolphins by an hour:

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I didn’t mind and the things we did see were beautiful. Getting up at 4am was worth it just to see the sunrise. Eagles would have been a bonus but mountains were enough.

Life can be a bit like that sometimes, you don’t always find what we’re looking for, things don’t always turn out how you planned but if you didn’t look for things in the first place you’d never see the wonderful things there are to see along the way.

Just wanted to point out the kindest way to watch a capercaillie is in the RSPB Loch Garten hide. The capercaillie are critically endangered and when they dance every day they sometimes just drop dead. Bop till they drop. If you go looking for them in the wild and one sees you it will dance to defend itself. The purpose of dancing (or leking) is to attract a mate and you are not that. You will be wasting the poor birds energy and it could be enough to push that bird over the edge. Please let him save the last dance. 

 
 

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Bike Helmet On

Cyclists, do you ever accidentally leave your bike helmet on?

It seems I do. Last night at the Leith Library Christmas party I got chatting to the guys from the Housing Office (we share an office in the library). They told me that when I started on one occasion I sat my desk for an hour and a half with my bike helmet on. How embarrassing.

AN HOUR AND A HALF! I have no memory of this event. They ALL remember it. Surly it was just ten minutes? But no. I was freaking people out at the photocopier. They wondered if I knew something they didn’t.

The embarrassing thing is this is not the first time it’s happened. A few years back I visited Cramond Island with friends. We cycled. We left our bikes on the beach and walked around the island and I accidentally kept my helmet on. They didn’t tell me. They were seeing how long it would be before I noticed (thanks guys!). Here’s a before and a slightly embarrassed after photo. Several group photos appeared on facebook too, with ‘the helmet’ tagged…

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Posted by on December 22, 2012 in nature

 

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Mountain Therapy

A couple of weeks ago my sister got married on the banks of Loch Leven in Glencoe. My Mum made the wedding cake, it’s got playmobil on the top! I was a bridesmaid and it was a lovely day.

  

After the wedding I spent time with my family in Fort William and I went to visit a friend on The Isle of Skye. I’ve got a new phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s a cross between a phone and a tablet. “Is that your phone?, It’s a beast” Is a common response but I love it and it takes great pictures.

So here’s my highland holiday from the Galaxy note (and me).

Ben Nevis

I took these at the bottom of the mountain, can you spot snow on the hills and a yellow dog?:

We took a cable car up Ben Nevis, here’s the view from the top:

Neptune’s Staircase

We visited Neptune’s staircase – eight locks in a row on the Caledonian Canal:

Fort William to Skye

I took the train from Fort William to Mallaig – it’s a famous rail journey and it’s very beautiful but I think the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh journey is even better! I’ve been to Skye a few times but this is the first time I’ve traveled by ferry (speed bonny boat!):

Kinloch Forest Trail

I went a wee walk in a place I discovered when I last visited Skye, the Kinloch Forest Trail.

 

The trail takes you to one of my favourite views on Skye:

After that I hitched to Broadford and caught up with my friend Reuben. We cooked a feast for his friends Laurence and Bridget. We all stayed in a caravan with a wood burning stove and later we enjoyed oatcakes, a cheese selection and a wee dram. It was brilliant.

Knoydart

The next day we went for a drive to see the view over to Knoydart, the closest point to the mainland,:

Sligachan

Then we drove to Sligachan for some magical mountain views.

 

After that we went to the Fairy pools, my friend Tom recently wrote about them here.

The Fairy Pools

This is Bridget and Laurence at the fairy pools:

Bridget makes Firebread Pizza in London and Laurence is an artist in Edinburgh, they were both great.

There was snow on the mountains above. That didn’t stop this group climbing down to get to the pools to do something extraordinary:

I’ve blogged about the joys of wild swimming but there was no way I was taking off multiple layers of thermals and fleeces to enter the icy cold water. I love the carved curves and shapes in the pools. Here’s the icy water pummeling the rocks and splashing up into the air, you can see how it starts to shape the rocks:

Saved By Cheese

After that I went for a walk by myself over the hills. It was a three-mile track from the Fairy Pools car park to Sligachan but it took hours and I had a very strange experience. I’d been steadily climbing uphill for a while and the wind was blowing hard, it was freezing. Suddenly the wind dropped and I felt totally calm. It seemed like a really good idea to lie down so I did.

I didn’t feel cold at all and I decided to have a little sleep. At the same time there seemed to be a voice in my head saying “Don’t sleep, whatever you do don’t sleep!” but I felt so comfy and tired I just ignored it. As I closed my eyes the voice said “Don’t sleep, get up and eat cheese instead!”. At that point I opened my eyes, it seemed like a good alternative. So I got up and ate two slices of cheese I’d saved from my packed lunch as I walked on. Five minutes later I was quite appalled to think I was about to have a sleep on the freezing cold hillside! It started raining and I started singing into the wind just to make sure I stayed wide awake.

Finally the path came near to its end and I recognised the Sligachan mountains. It was very beautiful but I was mighty glad to getting off the freezing hillside and onto the road at last.

Hitching

I hitched back to Broadford with an interesting lady, Dunia. She was a Cullin Fools circus performer, an artist and many other things (as is customary on Skye). She used to live in the city and was a social butterfly – she explained how she would often double book herself. Then she moved to Skye and everything changed. She now enjoys time alone and has been living around Skye for 13 years. She’s just brought a croft with her husband and they’re learning to do everything on the croft from scratch. I chatted to her and by the time we got to Broadford she had decided to start a blog to share her experiences. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Leaving

The next day I got the ferry home, as I walked up the ramp I felt a sinking weight of sadness. Thankfully the ferry ticket man was so cheery he stopped me crying with his smile. I was going to miss Skye. I had a few hours in Mallaig before I got my train to Fort William so I asked a couple of guys where the best place to get a bacon roll and a cup of tea was. They sent me to the Fisherman’s Mission.

The Fisherman’s Mission

The mission was brilliant and really cheap, I spent a few hours there and was surprised to be asked to sign a leaving card. They explained I was one of the last customers at the Mission. It was closing that day due to declining fishing industry. It seemed such a shame. Just near closing time skipper Ewen Nicholson (above) came in for his last supper. He had worn his best suit for the occasion and he asked staff to take a photo. He’d been coming to the mission for 30 years. No one had a camera so in the end I offered. I ended up taking lots of photos of Ewen and having a good chat about his life, fishing and his pet seal. I wrote about him on the Leith Library blog here.

Mallaig to Fort William

I got my train and took more photos from the window, I was quite pleased with this one of the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (from the Harry Potter Films):

The Slug Allotments

Back in Fort William I walked up the hill in Fort William with my Mum and found some lovely allotments:

 

The Train Home

The next day I got a very early train home to Edinburgh across a misty Rannoch Moor. Deer kept running along beside the train. It was very beautiful. I experimented taking photos of the vegetation passing the lochs and mountains to make streaks.

 

Back in Edinburgh

I’ve found it hard to readjust to a busy life back in the city. I’ve been back just one week but it’s been full on. I had the Reader in Residence induction day and a poetry gig. I filmed and blogged interviews at the launch of book week Scotland and had to rearrange a speaker for this Thursday’s NENgage social media training. I’ve also had three meetings to set up three new freelance projects and I’ve been working at the library.

Don’t get me wrong, all the things I’ve been doing this week have been great but I loved being anonymous in the mountains. I wanted to stay a little longer there.

But life goes on. I’ve vowed to get out on my mountain bike a little more and go walking in the hills at weekends. That way I can maybe get a little mountain therapy all year round.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Environment, nature

 

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Talking Tomatoes

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I’m growing tomatoes on my windowsill. I traded them for coriander when they were just 2 inches tall and in a very little pot. I’ve watered them every day, fed them every week and taken the dead leaves away from time to time. I built them a bridge between pots with sticks from an old blind, it helps them stay up. One plant makes yellow tomatoes and the other makes red. The photo above is them today, four moths after they came to me.

Here’s what I love about them

  • The smell, they’re so big I can’t help but touch the leaves when I water them. It suprises me later on,  perhaps when I’m on a bus or drinking tea (I do wash my hands eventually though!)
  • The taste, they all ripen at different times so there seems to be a never ending supply.
  • When the tiny ones appear, they’re so small and perfectly round – no bigger than a pea.

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A friend watered them for me when I went on holiday and I wrote her a thank you card from the tomatoes. I even loved writing a card from them. I like that there’s a crowd, a tomato collective who are grateful for care.

I love watching them change and grow, they make me think about life. I find it fascinating when a flower appears or a tiny ball of tomato starts. One seed hold instructions for all of this, the plant knows when it’s time to make flowers and fruit. I was writing a poem about maths and the universe the other day, each line has one more word in it. Line 14 was inspired by my tomatoes:

Each seed it holds a perfect ordered story, already told by seasons and time.

They make me think about creativity. Spiders spin webs, birds make nests, wasps make hexagons and tomato plants make tomatoes. We were all made to create something – strategies, computer programmes, safe working spaces, paintings, music, cars, babies, poetry, recipes, stories…. the list is endless. I ask myself what was I made to create?

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in nature, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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Wild Swimming in Scotland

This is me last weekend, walking through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg.

Yes I know it looks like a tropical rainforest but it was Scotland – it was freezing. I had to concentrate so hard on not slipping on the rocks while being pummelled from above that there was no room for hesitation. Yes I screamed and yes it was brilliant.

There’s something wonderfully freeing about braving the cold and being part of the landscape from the inside. You could perhaps achieve a similar effect if you buried yourself in the earth but without the freedom of movement. And you’d get dirty. Water is definitely the way to go, even if you don’t feel like it.

On the waterfall day, I’d made up my mind not to go swimming. I didn’t want to get changed. The sun had gone in. My tummy hurt. I don’t like swimming costumes. I’d swam in the sea the day before and a lock the day before that – I’d done enough. Then I heard it, whoops and screams as others disappeared behind the rocks.

And I realised: Here’s your chance to walk through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg. Why are you sitting on a rock making excuses, only you are missing out on life.

So I went in. My friend Tania guided me through it. I’m so glad I did. If you need a little more convincing here are my top five wild swimming in Scotland experiences. They are by no means the best places to swim, just my favourites.

5) The Singing Sands, Eigg August 2012

The are no weeds in the water and an amazing view to Rum. The beach was deserted. The sand sings, well – more like squeaks. The grain size is so small that it makes high-pitched noises when you scuff it with your foot. As we left the beach we saw a golden eagle soaring above, freedom!

4) Gullane, East Lothian July 2012

The picture captures it so well (thanks Ben). I swam though the sunshine as it set. No one came with me. No one made me do it. I swam in shorts and a pyjama top, it seemed a good idea at the time since I needed to wash the top anyway. A dog ran along the beach and stopped confused, looking out at me. “It’s okay” said the owner. “She doesn’t need rescuing”. I loved Gullane because it reminded me we can do something scary alone and then really enjoy it. Plus by the time I got out and changed the food my friends were cooking on the barbecue was ready – perfect timing.

3) The Pier, Tanera Mor August 2011

Jumping off and plunging in to the freezing cold water was just like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool when we were kids – loads of fun!  Read more about my visit to Tanera Mor here.

2) Loch Nam Bam Mora (The Loch of the Big Women) Eigg August 2012


This was my first swim in a loch. Legend has it an army of warrior women drowned here in the first century AD. I couldn’t help thinking a bony hand might grab my ankle as I squelched through the mud into the loch. The warriors were led into the lock by little lights that hovered over St Donnan’s grave and then moved all the way across the heather into the loch. A few days before the drowning, the women had murdered St Donnan and his monks by beheading them one by one. They have found several headless corpses buried on the island so at least half this story is true. At one point I’m sure I felt a whole head of human hair brush my foot. But I figured I was on the Monks side so I had nothing to fear. And the water felt soft, and we were surrounded by mountains and heather. After leaving the loch the midges flocked in. I was trying to get changed discreetly behind a sarong but this was rather difficult while being bitten alive. But that bit in the middle of the lock, swimming through the soft water, that bit was wonderful.

1) Waterfall, Singing Sands Eigg 2012

This has to be my number 1 because it reminded me to stop making excuses and start living.

-1) Loony Dook, South Queensferry 2011

Not all wild swimming in Scotland is brilliant so I’ve added a minus 1. I jumped in the sea on new years day to try to get people to take up green new years resolutions. Don’t listen to the video, I was clearly delirious and in shock. I had a headache for 3 days. I’ll never do that swim again and don’t recommend you do either.

Find out more about wild swimming in Scotland on the Outdoor Swimming Society website. It was founded by Kate Rew, here she is swimming in the fairy pools on the Isle of Skye.

I was visiting Eigg as part of a Speygrain Creative Connections Course. These courses brings together artists, writers, scientists and educators to share ideas, food, music and outdoor learning. More photos on the Speygrian Facebook page and find out more on the Speygrian website.

Image credit: 5,3a, 3b & 1 (the waterfall) Tania Noble. 4 Ben Barber. 2a Emily Dodd 2b Leeoni.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Events, nature

 

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