This is not the Garden of Cosmic Speculation


The concept includes the fact that many foreigners have settled in Scotland and contributed to its identity. Indeed, the notions of geology as destiny, the Rock People, and the Atlantic People that plied the shores from Galicia to Norway (from roughly 5,000-1,500 BC) are part of the larger Scottish World …

Charles Jencks

Anyone who has driven up the M90 motorway in the last twenty years could hardly have failed to notice the St Ninians open-cast coal mine near Kelty.

A landscape transformed and consumed through raw material extraction, technology and human labour. The coloured flecks of jabbing industrial machinery appearing to shrink to insect scale as the vast grey void opened up. An unfolding Burtynsky portrait of post-industrial scarring:


St Ninians from the air (c) Ken Whitcombe

In 2003, the international landscape artist and cultural theorist Charles Jencks was commissioned by the mine owners, Scottish Resources Group, to develop a landform proposal to regenerate the area. Jencks is perhaps best known as an architectural theorist of postmodernism and in Scotland, for landscape design projects such as his own Garden of Cosmic Speculation, the recently completed Crawick Multiverse and smaller scale works at Jupiter Artland (Cells of Life) and The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Landform Ueda).

Jencks coined the project The Scottish World which was based on ideas of the Scottish diaspora and immigration. There was no doubt as to the physical scale of its ambition with four colossal earth mounds representing four continents where Scots had travelled and settled.

Whilst work commenced on the restoration project, and was originally due to complete in 2012, the scheme collapsed in 2013 when Scottish Resources Group went into administration. The site was subsequently taken over by Hargreaves Resources and an agreement was made with Fife Council that would see a degree of the restoration project completed, in exchange for a licence to extract the remaining coal still to be mined. However, it soon became clear that the project would not be completed according to Jencks’ original design although elements already completed would be kept and maintained.  Despite occasional mutterings in the local press about potential futures for the site, it appears to exist today in a state of limbo ‘officially’ out of bounds to the general public.

We thought we would go and take a look.


It seemed barely credible that this was the first weekend in October as we headed in a vague direction towards the contours of the limbo landscape. First, a short detour to Loch Fitty, looking serene, underneath brilliant blue skies punctuated by billowing clouds scudding overhead. A solitary duck on the water placed like a calligraphy mark on a sheet of blue marbled paper.



Looking out over the loch today, it is difficult to comprehend that in 2013, there was a consented planning proposal on the table to drain the water and excavate 7.4m tonnes of coal underneath. (How do you actually drain a loch?) The scheme was only curtailed with the afore-mentioned collapse of Scottish Resources Group. However, the presence of coal workings in the landscape remains evident with a line of black, sooty debris drawn along the shoreline.

From the loch, we couldn’t find any obvious path towards the Jencks landscape but as the ‘European Continent’ mound dominates the area it is easy to set a course towards what looks like a primitive temple complex at the apex of this earth shifted landform.

The weather clearly helped, but the biggest surprise is how the black scarred earth is now re-seeded with lush golden grasses and whilst waterlogged in parts is perfectly suited to walking.  At the bottom of Jencks’ colossal mound, it is identifiably one of his structures, but a rustic, wild version on an explosive scale. All ragged gorse and tufted grasses compared to the carefully turfed manicured versions displayed as artworks. The walk to the top of the earthwork is like walking around the structure of a snail’s shell. An ascent around the unfolding whorls giving spectacular views as we circle higher. Looking to the north, a large body of hidden water provides a sanctuary for a sizeable colony of birds – too far away to identify what they are:


Further around the structure, we look upon another of the completed mounds redolent of Silbury Hill. Will this structure also retain its mysteries when future generations ponder who built it and why?


At the top of the European Continent mound, three tyre and tree structures point to the heavens. Postmodern totems evoking some sense of being placed in a ceremonial landscape. From the highest point, sight lines lock into the elevated energies of the recumbent figure of Benarty Hill, Falkland Hill and what Julian Cope calls the mother mountain of Largo Law.




The earth spread out beneath us is a material energy landscape still in flux as it has been for thousands of years. The extracted open-cast void surrounding us directly below. To the east and west a landscape shaped by the deep mining of the Fife coalfield and the towns and villages that grew on the back of it: Kingseat, Ballingry, Kelty, Cowdenbeath, Lumphinnans, Lochgelly, Lochore, Cardenden, Auchterderran. The pit winding gear long since removed from all these places. (although we can still see the winding gear structure of the Mary Colliery at Lochore Meadows which has been left as a memorial to Fife deep mining).

There is also an absence. A village now completely erased from the land on which we are pretty much standing:


Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Lassodie, in the Parish of Beath, was an agricultural community up until the mid-nineteenth century. In 1859, the Lassodie Coal Company was established and a number of pits were sunk which resulted in new housing being built locally for the miners.


By the early 1900’s, Lassodie housed around 1,400 people and included a village school, a number of shops, including two branches of the Co-Op, a Free Church of Scotland and a corrugated iron village hall. However, like many of the Fife towns and villages, the fortunes of the community were inextricably linked to coal. Two pits were closed after the 1921 coal strike which set in motion the gradual drift of families away from the village. By 1931, all the pits had been closed as they had become uneconomical to keep free from flooding. The remaining families were served fourteen days notice to vacate their houses which were owned by the coal company. The church struggled on for a number of years as a Christian retreat and was used at the beginning of the Second World War as a hostel for refugees from Nazi occupied Europe. The buildings of the village were eventually demolished and almost all material traces of it having ever existed disappeared when open-cast mining transformed the land. A memorial to Lassodie villagers killed in the First and Second World Wars now sits in isolation at the side of the B912 road from Kingseat to Kelty.  Detached from its physical referent it now also acts as a memorial to the ghost village itself.


Image taken & added 22.10.16


Image taken & added 22.10.16


To the South East, the Mossmorran natural gas fractionation plant is clearly visible, belching plumes of steam into the sky. A folded mass of metal glinting in the sun. In the far distance, the colossal turbine structures of Little Raith wind farm spin silent songs of wind alchemy.

An avenue of coal machinery parts has been placed on top of the structure. Transformed from utilitarian metal and concrete into slowly changing collection of weathered patinas across the colour spectrum:



On a landscape of rust

canyons and deserts

of the colourfield




Locked rotational

orbits gather

slow accretions

of elemental colours




On top of

a human-formed hill


Eyeing the curve

of concrete shadow


Edges and angles

cutting through the blue






f / o / l / d


of retreat



A causeway of hewn rock offers a puzzle to ponder: Stencilled into two rocks: Danzig and Gdańsk. The same physical place that has oscillated between variants of these two names, Prusso-German rule, Polish rule and as a semi-autonomous city-state between 1920 and 1939.


The stones are likely symbols of the strong trade links that Scotland enjoyed with the Baltic region from the late fourteenth century onwards. Many Scots emigrated to the Baltic region and established themselves as merchants and traders. Robert Gordon was one merchant who made his fortunes through the Aberdeen-Danzig trade route. He subsequently funded the foundation of a hospital in his hometown which four hundred years later still stands, now known as Robert Gordon University. By the 17th century Gdańsk was home to an estimated 30,000 Scots and today two suburbs of the city exist called Nowe Szkoty and Stary Szkoty. (New Scotland and Old Scotland).

On another split stone, a French proverb Fier comme un Écossais (Proud like a Scot) is a reference to the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, established in 1295.


Proud like a Scot


One of the most surprising aspects of the whole area was the constant presence of dragonflies – if indeed that is what they are? – flitting past, resting, or sunning themselves. Magical, flying shards of stained glass, as if materialising out of light and air. I have never seen so many in one area, so ecological conditions must be very favourable for them. Perhaps tangible evidence of a healing landscape.


On the way back down, we reflect on the connections this walk has tapped into. The sense of landscape always being in flux; old energies transitioning to new energies; the wounds of open-cast mining in a process of environmental healing. Of how an outward looking internationalism has been part of the Scottish (and British) psyche for hundreds of years. How we have welcomed refugees in times of crisis. A reminder of how vital this is as resistance to the current raft of Brexit ideologues, attempting to build walls, retreat to nostalgic notions of a country that never existed and shrink imaginations.

And as for Jencks’ stillborn project, we say open it up as it is. It has developed into a fascinating space for walking; nature appears to be transforming the ecology and it is clear that people have started to use it unofficially. On the way back we pick up a path that is easily navigable as an entry point to the site and encounter a few dog walkers and people out for a stroll around the lower levels. A conversation with one of the miners who used to work here illustrates his pleasure in how the land is usable again. He also regales us with a few tales of tax scams and financial deals that he believes went on regarding the management of the site and the failure to create a sufficiently large sinking fund to enable full restoration to take place.

The land is there. Go walk it!


With very special thanks to Kathryn B, who pointed us in the direction and found gold in these lands!

Now playing: Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe.


Charles Jencks

Billy Kay, The Scottish World: A Journey into the Scottish Diaspora (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2008).

National Library of Scotland – Map Images

George Robertson, The Lost Village of Lassodie  (Dunfermline Historical Society).

‘Land art plans for Kelty scrapped’, The Dunfermline Press, 21 October 2014.

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Psychogeography Extreme – Phil Smith (+ one small fracture)


We were disappointed not to be able to attend the recent Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography, which by all accounts was a great success.

The opening address by Phil Smith (aka Crab Man, aka Mythogeography), is a fascinating and thought-provoking missive on the state of psychogeography and the walking arts today.  You can read, download and share it here:

Psychogeography Extreme

Also check out Phil’s Mythogeography website – ‘an ambulatory goldmine’ and his books published by Triarchy Press.


One of the points Phil makes is the need to rethink the drift on a smaller scale. In the gaps, in the smallest fractures, in small disruptions to personal routines; the late running of a train that allows you a few minutes to explore the hinterland around a station.

A recent personal example was the unexpected distress visit to a garage when a section of exhaust pipe fell off the car. Whilst the new part was being sourced and fitted, a short walk around the immediate environs:



ed slab scree

c  o  b  b  l  e  s

   c  o  b  b  l  e  d

in    p O O l

-ing   light


Now playing: The Soft Machine – s/t (with a nod to Boyle Family).

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Culross to Dunfermline: Social Walk, Sunday 25th September

Next Sunday, September 25th, we are participating in a social walk which takes its inspiration from tracing Ben Jonson’s journey from Culross Palace to Dunfermline Abbey nearly 400 years ago. The walk is part of a wider project initiated by the University of Edinburgh led by James Loxley and Anna Groundwater. Below you will find full details of the event and you would all be very welcome to join the walk in full or in part. If you require any further information please drop us a comment or contact Miranda Swift directly (miranda.swift (at)

Hope to see and meet some of you there!

From Miranda Swift:



Detail from John Slezer’s Prospect of Dunfermline, 1693

Nearly 400 years ago, Ben Jonson travelled on foot from London to Edinburgh, and from there to Fife. He took his time, stopping at inns and private houses, meeting new people and socialising, listening to stories and telling his own. It’s this kind of travel that we’ve taken as the inspiration for a social walk from Culross Palace to Dunfermline, following the route that not only travellers like Jonson, but local folk as well, have long been taking.

Along with some fantastic collaborators from Forth Pilgrim the Fife Psychogeographical Collective and Fire Station Creative , we’ll be joined by a diverse crew of walkers, including storytellers, artists, musicians, and historians. To help us gather the sights and sounds of the landscape, as well as our responses to it, we’ve invited film and photography students from Fife College to come along, and we’d also like to encourage everyone to get involved with as much or as little participation as you like. Bring a sketchbook, a poem, a camera, or just your walking boots!

The total distance is 9 miles, however you’re welcome to join us at the start and leave at any point along the route, join us at our mid-way stop at Cairneyhill and carry on, or meet us at at the Fire Station Creative in Dunfermline at the end, and join in the party. We’ll be treated to some excellent live music from local Fife musician Andy Shanks, as we swap stories and rest our feet.

For a little bit of background on Ben Jonson’s walk, and the University of Edinburgh project, led by James Loxley and Anna Groundwater, which this walk is a part of, check out Ben Jonson’s Walk. James has also written up a blog post on our upcoming Fife Social walk, delving into Jonson’s attitude towards travel and discovery, which you can read here:

This walk is open to all, so please forward this information on to anyone who you think might be interested, and we look forward to meeting you.

10:15 – Meet outside the front of Culross Palace in the square, look for the bust of Admiral Cochrane
10:30 – James reads from Jonson’s account of the Palace
10:40 – Set off
13:00 – Refreshment break at The Maltings Hotel, Cairneyhill
16:00 – Finish at The Fire Station Creative, Dunfermline
16:00 – 19:00 – Social gathering with music, poetry, and good company

You may have noticed the yellow marks on our map. These are stopping points where some of our participants will be leading interactive sessions, which will include:
Local stories, myths, legends
Focusing-senses exercise
Local history (George Bruce’s moat pit, Newmills Bridge, etc.)
Poetry readings (Thomas A. Clark’s ‘In Praise of Walking’)

Date: Sunday, September 25th

Time: 10:30 am – 4:00 pm

Start: Culross Palace

Finish: Fire Station Creative in Dunfermline. It is located next door to the new Tesco on Carnegie Drive, KY12 7AN.

Distance: 9 miles. Please refer to the maps attached for details of the route taken, marked in red.

Joining/Leaving: A convenient meeting place should you only want to walk part of the route is The Maltings Hotel, Cairneyhill. We aim to reach it by 1pm for a short refreshment break.

Transportation: Please refer to the bus schedule on Map 1 attached here. Bus 8 leaves stance 11 at Dunfermline Bus Station at 9:35 on Sunday, arriving Culross Palace at 10:03. Further bus information, including bus times from Culross and Cairneyhill to Dunfermline, are also attached to Map 1. Alternatively, visit the Stagecoach website, or ring 01592 645680 for up to date info.

Accessibility: The route will follow footpaths, though be aware that surfaces may be uneven in places, and you are responsible for your own safety when using them. We will be walking along the coast for the first half, and then walking up a couple of hills. It is not a difficult hike, but be prepared for a long walk, and remember to bring enough water with you.

Meal Break: Please bring a packed lunch with you. Due to the number of people and the time restrictions of the walk, we won’t have time to be served lunch in the hotel. There is a shop in Cairneyhill where you can buy a sandwich if you find you forgot yours, or need two!

If you have any further queries please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, the project administrator, via email or by phone. I’m always happy to chat about the project, and will hopefully be able to answer your questions. Also, if you could let me know if you will be attending, please let me know. Thanks in advance, and I hope to see you on the walk!

Miranda Swift
Research Project Administrator
The University of Edinburgh
miranda.swift (at)
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Fragments of Istria: an Assemblage


We could eat this sky.

Stretch up, scoop out

handfuls; smear our faces

and taste the fanfare

of sunset.





Out of red earth

lines of olive trees, vines

and quarried stone.





Centuries of building,

dwelling, tending

the land, goats

and cattle.


Another cyprus tree – rooted

in tangled narratives

of departure

vivid light

and shadow play.




No neatly packaged hay bales in the uncanny rural. Creatures of twilight, sit hunched in the corner of smallholdings, backs turned. In fading light, walking past these halo-skewered field dwellers: was that a lengthening shadow? a sigh? a suggestion of movement?


They would appear in the adjoining field at around 7.00pm each evening. A symphony of bells heralding their arrival. We never did see where they came from. They would feast in the field for around half an hour, a clanking cacophony of movement. Occasionally, one would come over to eye us up, usually the smallest with the highest pitched bell. Curious young eyes stared us out. Yet, these eyes tapped into something much older. Some fundamental rhythm of the land. Jaws rotating in perpetual motion and then, as they do, leaping into the air as if the earth had administered an electric shock to their hooves. A display of exuberance and delight in contrast to the slow, deliberate movements of the herd elders. They kept their heads down, chewing, chewing, chewing. After a cycle of time, which we were not party to, the deepest, most sonorous bell started to sound out a rhythm. The largest goat of the herd was calling time and starting to amble away. Gradually, the other goats began to follow, bells around their necks congealing into a moving mass of sound. A few short explosive trills as the stragglers ran to catch them up. We watched as the herd turned a corner and listened as the bells faded into the distance.




A visit to the small hilltop town of Motovun and very surprised to meet this straw giant and his dancing acolytes. Staring us out with his silent gaze, he must have been over twenty feet tall,  At his feet, some folk ritual or dance taking place, arms thrown open to embrace the sun. Something of the Wicker Man about it all.




As far as I could find out, his name is Veli Jože, a giant who lived (lives?) in a local truffle-rich forest. Local stories suggest that he has been known to enter the town and physically shake the church tower to sound the bell.



To reach Motovun, it is a steep walk up the hillside to reach the town perched on top. Whilst not religious, was touched by the care and beauty displayed in the construction of this minimal roadside shrine.


Motovun sits is on a hill in the Mirna valley and evidence of human settlement dates back to prehistoric times when it would have been surrounded by water. The river Mirna is Istria’s longest river and legend has it that Jason and the Argonauts fled down the estuary after having captured the Golden Fleece.





Another hill-top town, this time with a twist. Dvigrad is a relatively well-preserved mediaeval ghost town in the Draga valley. The population was initially decimated by the Black Death in the 16th century and finally abandoned completely in the early 1700s. As the town was unoccupied, it was spared from the destructive ravages of war which were a constant feature on the Istrian peninsula. Today, the town gates still exist, and it is possible to walk around the town walls. The defence tower still rises to cut the blue sky and interior room structures of the 200 odds houses are clearly visible.




Aura of the town walls: return of the gaze:

To perceive the aura of an object, we look at, means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return … when this expectation is met … there is an experience of the aura to the fullest extent.

Walter Benjamin






Amongst the networks of rural paths and tracks.

Always the walls:










Entropic Futures.

An alien structure in the rural landscape:

the new, never having ever been.

We were staying on the Istrian peninsula in what could best be described as an agricultural hamlet, mostly comprised of smallholdings and cottage style dwellings. These were all constructed in a similar style with what looked like local quarried stone. A network of paths and tracks connected up to other nearby hamlets which were also of a similar architectural style. When we stumbled across the half completed building above, it looked as alien to its surroundings as finding a mountain bothy in the middle of Las Vegas.

The scale of the building was completely out of proportion to anything else locally. The pick and mix collision of architectural styles created a bizarre postmodern mash-up with a tear shaped swimming pool or fish pond, bizarre minaret style columns half-built on the roof and Italian style interiors. What was clear, was that the building was the new that had never been. We wandered around the half completed rooms, bare wires hanging out of walls, yet opulent installed marble bathrooms. Work had clearly stopped some time ago with the extensive grounds already starting to be reclaimed by nature. It was as if we had walked into the film set of a Ballard adaptation, where the crew had disappeared.



Of course we had to construct some sort of narrative as to what had happened here. Ms A came up with the one that we settled on. The remote location, stilted opulence and rather garish tastes indicated that this could have been a low-key hideaway for some gangster or Mafiosi. Work on the property was well underway when they were either rubbed out, banged up, or cleaned out of money, leaving this rural fun palace to slowly begin to merge back into the Croatian countryside. The new that had never been.




Walking a line

an iridescent alchemist

pulls the sun

across the sky





That night, an absence of city light and gravity. We fell from earth, lost our breath, immersed in that plunge pool of dark sky. We learned to gather stars, eat planets for sustenance, grab comet tails to move. The dawn light made us heavy again. We fell back.


Now playing: Maja S. K. Ratkje – Crepuscular Hour 

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Good Times = 2016 =


Perhaps just another graffiti strewn doorway but the phrase “Good Times = 2016 =” called out. I doubt that there are many people I know who would readily conflate 2016 and ‘good times’.  So just a throwaway action with a spray can? irony? a small act of resistance?

Possibly it was just a coincidence but passed this doorway during the Edinburgh Festival. A time when the city opens its arms to the world in a celebration of all the performing arts, bringing together audiences and artists. Just walking the streets, soaking up the creative energy can bring sustenance. Good Times indeed.

And what about that figure on the bottom right?


Now playing: King Champion Sounds – To Awake in That Heaven of Freedom (Thanks to Teesside Psychogeography for altering me to this. Check out their excellent blog Smell of Water).

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foreground / distance



foreground / distance

fractured red diamonds

through scattered prisms

to grey horizons



Passing, at speed, on a train through the three red diamonds of the Forth Rail Bridge. The eye drawn to the foreground. Shards of red-painted steel, morph and distort, through shifting prisms of wind-scattered raindrops. The Firth of Forth, a grey blanket folded at the horizon beneath a brightening sky.

Now playing: Tim Hecker – ‘Prism’ from Virgins.

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Reflector / \ Conductor


 Light Lit

Reflector /     \ Conductor

of Car Park



In /     \ at the car parks of Rosyth Halt and Inverkeithing railway stations, Fife.

Now playing: Ulrich Krieger – /RAW: ReSpace/

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