Dr Julie Carter

 

Writer

Monday, 28 February 2022 08:32

Ferral Fellrunner goes on Safari in the City

 

"Oh dear me, the warld’s ill-divided,
Them that work the hardest are aye wi’ least provided,”

the words of Mary Brooksbank inscribed in Iona marble in the Cannongate wall outside the Scottish Parliament.

Even though it was February in the middle of storm Eunice I could easily have got away with running in shorts. Long tracksters, mittens, a hat and a Gortex coat are not needed for city running. I didn’t know. But I soon peeled off the layers and tied them round my waist. And anyway, I was hoping for the next best thing to a fell. I would run south through the centre of Edinburgh and head up Arthur’s Seat. I didn’t have a map, but surely the hill would be obvious. Running along the pavements of busy streets, dodging my way through a set of roadworks, serenaded by the sound of pneumatic hammers which had a similar cadence to the woodpecker I’d heard down Borrowdale the previous day, I couldn’t see any sign of the sought-after Seat. Just keep running south, and a bit east, it’s bound to appear. All I could see was buildings. I looked skyward and realised it was all about the angles. Three, four and five and more story buildings with no gaps in-between them only allow what’s almost overhead to be seen. Arthur’s seat would have to be the height of Everest to get a glimpse. How weird, not to see the horizon at all. I had a short-lived urge to panic, but I just kept running and hoped for the best.

(Thanks to Simon Marsh for his photographs of Edinburgh, as the Fellrunner didn't take a camera.)

image2Over a rise and along a cobbled road in front of an opulent Georgian terrace green space opened up in front of me. As a hill it wasn’t convincing but I saw a runner across the road, on a path heading upwards, which was heartening. It wasn’t long before the top was near and about a hundred people were milling around quietly, just because it’s there, and it’s what one does in Edinburgh. I expected a seat, a really nicely built seat. But there was no seat up there, just an off-white trig point and a muddy path. Then the grey cloud shifted and a view opened up. Oh—there’s the sea, and there’s the Forth Bridge, and there’s Bass Rock the home of gannets.

Feeling more at ease I ran down via a different route and back through the city. There’s Holyrood Palace and is that the Parliament I’ve often seen on the telly? I stopped and read some of the inscriptions on the wall. Yes, I thought; “ill divided”, we are indeed. Running on while wondering who Mary Brooksbank was, I noticed a possible short-cut down through a steeply sloped church yard full of enormous looming tombstones, their ceremonious inscriptions blackened by the city air. There was a heavy and uncomfortable presence of bygone wealth. The gate in the high wall at the bottom of the church yard was locked forcing me to run back up through the graves. The grass was springy and it occurred to me it was an excellent slope for a set of short intense hill reps. But I forwent that activity thinking I might attract unwanted attention, exiting the church gate and eventually finding my way along near the Castle and back to a river side path which I reckoned was in the right direction. A lovley bronze statue of an undressed person was standing in the river, adorned with waterborne weeds but in its pose so life-like that I expected it to wade out and start a conversation.

I decided to trot back through the Botanic Gardens. The place was deserted of humans but the trees, with all their wonderful shapes and textures, had huge and gorgeous presence. There was one in particular which drew me to it and I fingered the deep ridges of its bark as I gazed up the length of its trunk. Then stepping back and reading its information board I found out it was an Elm. It was a species of Elm of which there are only four known specimens in the world. I was alone in the middle of a city standing next to a creature that is rarer than a snow leopard.

image3

Back in my digs I got showered and had lunch and looked up about Mary Brooksbank, finding that she was a radical socialist of the twentieth century who campaigned for workers rights and a ‘Socialist Worker’s Republic of Scotland’, which my Air B and B host said was getting nearer all the time. I enquired if she could arrange for an extension of the border southwards to incorporate Cumbria. “Oh yes I’m sure we can oblige. Cumbria has been Scottish before now.” And it struck me how cities are the seats of many abstract things—of nationalism and power, of money-markets and dealing, and also of artistic and cultural values, of learning and knowledge. Like Arthur’s seat they aren’t the type of seats for sitting on. But to my surprise I find myself thinking that some of them may be worth standing up for. I’m not interested in flags and national pride. Civilisation is about how we value things, like the trees, and the knowledge of trees. It’s not about the dead rich, and their grand monuments; it’s whether the hardest working are with the least provided.

And today, it’s whether we will take in innocent Ukrainians, who are fleeing for their lives.

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