Levitate the Crags!

One of the most direct ways to immerse yourself in Fife’s liminal energies is to walk the Coastal Path. Out on the edge at the intersection of land and sea is always a receptive  place to be.  However, for the more expedient traveller, or slacker psychogeographer, the short train journey that hugs the coastline from Inverkeithing to Kirkcaldy can be a sensory delight as the train rattles through the villages of Aberdour, Burntisland and Kinghorn.  Position yourself on the right hand side of the train and open up the synapses to the field of vision that floods the senses.

If I have a taste, it’s for scarcely more than earth and stones.
I eat air, rock, earth, iron.

Arthur Rimbaud [1].

Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags from Fife

Gazing out over the Firth of Forth to Arthur’s Seat and the dolerite and columnar basalt of the Salisbury Crags.  Like some striated, cosmic sombrero, angled and poised ready for take-off over the needle teeth of Edinburgh’s gothic spires. The castle nesting atop its volcanic plug.  In the foreground stands the stillborn Edinburgh Riviera a Ballardian monument to pre-credit crunch architectural and financial hubris.

Deep Time / City Time / Hubris Time

There is a solidity of presence to the Salisbury Crags that radiates over the Forth.  Layered custodian of the longue durée, deep time is encoded in these rocks.  Thoughts turn to James Hutton (1726-1797) amateur geologist whose pioneering discoveries, on these very stones, challenged two prevailing ‘scientific’ shibboleths. Firstly, the  notion of the Genesis creation myth which suggested that the earth was only a few thousand years old and secondly, the Neptunist theory that all rocks had precipitated from a single primordial ocean.

“the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.” [2]

I like the idea of Hutton’s work being rooted in direct observation of the rock layers that he could walk on, see, pick up, touch and feel. Open to the calling of the rocks and stones:

“The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,– no prospect of an end” [3].

The Hutton Section

By observing what is now known as the Hutton Section, Hutton arrived at a theory that the Salisbury Crags ‘sill’ was formed when a much younger layer of fluid, hot magma intruded into older layers of sedimentary rock and solidified.  It is now known that this sill is at least 25 million years younger.  Hutton’s theory of ‘deep time’ was presented in his revolutionary Theory of the Earth, (1785), which proposed that Planet Earth was the literal bedrock of all history, long predating the appearance of the human and would endure long after they had gone. The age of the Earth is now believed to be 4.54 billion years old.

“Those of us who grew up in the sixties, when we put men on the Moon, now have to watch as every Republican candidate for this year’s presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution. That is a staggering state of affairs and it is very worrying,”

Professor Naomi Oreskes, University of California, San Diego. [4]


The train rattles along the coast between Aberdour and Burntisland. Over the shimmering Forth:

The space of the Crags

floods the imagination

singing their presence

of encoded deep time

and time yet to come.

a need to start from the ground

on which we stand.

more magma needed

Levitate the Crags!

Caravans at Pettycur Bay

As the train approaches Kinghorn on a bright morning, the sun reflects off the rows of caravans , draped like rows of emerald jewels on the hill above Pettycur Bay. Look seaward and it’s possible to see basking seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Perhaps today? Tide is out.

When taking this journey, I am always alert to the possibility of a sighting of the fish “which they could find no name for”.

Daniel Defoe’s visit to Fife is recounted in Letter XIII of his A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain, published in 1724. At Kinghorn he observes how the men ‘carry’d on an odd kind of trade, or sport, of shooting of porpoises of which very great numbers are seen almost constantly in the Firth’. Defoe explains how the porpoises are brought on shore and their fat boiled off for oil, which they also do with other fish such as ‘grampusses, finn fish, and several species of the small whale kind’.  However, in one particular year, ‘there came several such fish on shore which they could find no name for’. Defoe records seeing eight or nine of these fish lying on the shore from ‘Kinghorn to the Easter Weems, some of which were twenty-foot long and upward’. [5]

It is intriguing to reflect that a well established sea trading community would be unable to name this mysterious fish? A surprise manifestation in a world already mapped, named and territorialized. Perhaps only nine of these creatures ever existed? Perhaps these were the last nine?

The train pulls into Kinghorn,

there they lie on the shore:

cut, boiled and rendered for oil.

the last ones.

Fifteen minutes from Kinghorn there are two petrochemical installations run by global energy giant ExxonMobil. Our train journey has meant we have seen neither. Sometimes the advantages of walking are abundantly clear.  On foot the psychogeographic receptors are more finely attuned.

©2011 Gazetteer for Scotland

The Fife Ethylene Plant (“FEP”) at Mossmorran, near Cowdenbeath is one of the largest in Europe with an annual output of 830,000 tonnes. Initially, Brent – the largest oil and gas field in the North Sea UK sector – provided the gas feedstock, but with the decline of Brent production, gas from the Norwegian sector is now also used with 50% of feedstock coming from the Stratfjord and Goja-Vega fields. The natural gas is brought ashore at St Fergus, north of Peterhead and then travels to Mossmoran through a 222km underground pipeline. 12 million tonnes litres of water are pumped every day from Glendevon reservoir to generate steam used in the ethylene cracking process. Four miles away on the Firth of Forth, just west of Aberdour, lies the Braefoot Brae marine terminal where the ethylene is shipped to Antwerp and the rest of Europe.

All of these hidden entrails of energies radiate far and wide.

The Mossmorran flare is a well known local phenomenon, which can light up the sky like a surreal, Lynchian, ignited match diffusing its uncanny hue throughout night and day:

The Mossmoran flare

I live at the top end of Lochgelly and the noise keeps me awake most of the night. It sounds like constant thunder or a plane overhead. The roar is ridiculous and the constant light also disturbs my sleep. Through the day I have to keep all the windows shut to cut down on the noise but even with the windows shut you can still hear the constant roar. The flaring and the noise gives me sore heads and I just feel constantly ill with it. It’s ridiculous that we have to put up with this type of noise pollution. If I made that type of noise or a normal industry made that type of a noise I would soon find myself in trouble with complaints against me. How come they are being allowed to get away with this, year in year out. So much for the quality of life for the residents of central Fife”

Margaret. Lochgelly Resident [6]

“FEP is proud of its environmental record in both waste management and emissions”. [7]

ExxonMobil, 2010


Not really knowing where I’m going with all of this, I take a gander at the news headlines on Sunday morning 19th February 2012. I learn two things:

  • It is reported for the first time today that The ExxonMobil oil company has been fined £2.8 million for failing to report 33,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran. It is the largest ever fine for an environmental offence in British history.
  • ExxonMobil is an active funder of the Heartland Institute whose mission is to: “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”.  Global warming and climate change is a particular bête noir of Heartland and they make vociferous attacks against the environmental movement and scientists who support the evidence based claims for global warming. Their website features a list of ‘experts’ and  like-minded conservative policy think-tanks, many of whom have also received funding from ExxonMobil. [8]

©Iragerich

The burnt out train

lies mute

at Kinghorn station

the birds are silent.

just over there

 on the shore:

cut, boiled and rendered for oil.

Over the Forth

a faint pulse.

the Crags

are speaking.

more magma

needed

Levitate the Crags!

The local is always global

References:

1. Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Festivals of Hunger’, from Last Poems.

2. John Playfair, (1805), “Hutton’s Unconformity” Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh V (III).

3. James Hutton, (1785), The Theory of the Earth, p. 304.

4. Professor Naomi Oreskes, quoted in ‘Attacks paid for by big business are driving science into a dark era’ The Observer, Sunday 19th February 2012.

5. Daniel Defoe, (1724),  A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991 edition).

6. http://lochgelly.org.uk/2010/06/flaring-at-mossmorran/

7. Your Guide to the Fife Etylene Plant, (2010), brochure produced by ExxonMobil Ltd.

8. ‘Attacks paid for by big business are driving science into a dark era’ The Observer, Sunday 19th February 2012.

Now Playing: William Basinski – Disintegration Loops.

This entry was posted in Field Trip, Happenstance, Poetry, Psychogeography, Sounds of Spaces and Places and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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