Another Time and Place…

This week, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to observe how people react to Barry Mill. As part of my Creative Scotland residency, I held a Folklore and Memory drop-in event, with the intention of documenting a range of memories, anecdotes and stories. My challenge is to consider these responses, and use them as a literary resource on which to draw.

I was ably assisted by fellow writer Elizabeth Frattaroli, who sat outside for hours with a pile of questionnaires and a pot of coffee (plus shortbread for the purposes of bribery). She proved to be amazing at encouraging confidences; soon both locals and visitors (one all the way from California) were reminiscing merrily.

I had hoped that anyone who remembered the mill when it was still open for business might come along and share their stories. I was keen to learn about the operation of it, or perhaps hear some anecdotes about past millers, either from Barry or elsewhere. In the main, however, our tales came from those who remembered the mill den as being ‘our own private play park’, a place of adventure far away from the adult gaze. The stories we collected can be seen in our ‘mill door gallery’ (see image). I love this snippet from ‘Sheena’:

There was a special place beside the weir; a tree shaped like a hammock. I would spend hours there as a little girl, when I wanted time on my own away from my brothers and sisters. I’d sit and watch the waterfall, and the little wrens. Once I saw a kingfisher and watched it come and go along the water for ages.

As a writer, this is wonderful material. It provides a great visual image to aid the imagination- the waterfall, the tiny darting birds and the odd-shaped tree- but also says so much about this little girl, and her chaotic home life. This illustrates  perfectly the link between landscape, mood and character; a connection I’m keen to explore further.

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The final words go to Elizabeth, who has discovered for herself the power of the setting:

I didn’t grow up here, but I discovered the mill last year and come here often. The place is so peaceful and calming. When you walk down the steps, it’s as if a weight has been lifted and you find yourself away from the hustle and bustle of normal life. There’s nothing like standing in the sun at one with nature, listening to the running water and the birds and the trees. Barry Mill can transport you to another time and place…

 

Territory and Tribe

Staying with the theme of ‘getting away from it all’ (see last week) I’ve been in Edinburgh again, mingling with the Bookish People. They’re definitely a separate tribe, recognisable by a certain faraway gleam in the eye and a slow, stooping gait as they struggle from the book shop with enough reading material to see their days out. Helpfully, the Ed Book Fest organisers are now issuing a free bag with every book purchase, presumably to encourage you to buy more!

One of my highlights this year has been ‘A Journey to Authenticity and Belonging’, featuring Sharon Blackie . Her new book, If Women Rose Rooted, chimes with many of my observations and thoughts  in relation to the landscape and how we interact with it. Using indigenous myth and folklore, Blackie lays down a blueprint for a more authentic and sustainable future. Her themes of rootedness and belonging resonate strongly with me in terms of my residency here at the mill.

In addition to my own creative workshops, there are other events taking place throughout the season at Barry; the main one being Music @ the Mill. Now in its eighth year, this is a music festival which is very family-oriented in character. Last weekend, we had over 600 revellers in the mill grounds, completely transforming the usual serene quality of the setting. A sense of community prevailed, however, and I took the opportunity to speak to the locals about their memories of and feelings about the mill.

What came across was a deep affection for the place, and a strong sense of identity associated with it. Some of the festival-goers had never visited before, but had strong family links; others told me that they experience a sense of being ‘at home’ when they walk in the mill den. In her talk, Sharon Blackie discussed notions of belonging, and how we can have an innate attachment to a place even if we don’t live there, or are an ‘outsider’; a relationship without ownership.

The following extract is from If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie:

‘Once we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it […] in Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchas. It expresses a sense of belonging to a place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place.’

The mill has been firmly rooted at the heart of the community for centuries (‘Barry’ has existed in some form for almost 800 years) so it seems reasonable to suppose that this ancient connection between mill and landscape; kith and kin is an indefinable and inextinguishable force, an energy still very much in evidence.

Book festival or music festival: pick a tribe…

Next week, I’ll be looking at what particular challenges this idea sets up for me, as I draft my second novel, The Bone Harp.

 

Stories and Stone Circles

Everyone encounters the urge to ‘get away from it all’ from time to time, but for me, that means leaving behind the peace and solitude of Barry Mill and picking up the pace a little!

Edinburgh during the Fringe is as far as you can get from Barry Mill…or is it?

The festival city is a melting pot of culture, art and ideas The Old Town teems with tourists and street performers, musicians and mime artists, while the New Town goes all continental on us; locals sipping wine under the stars, hugging the patio heaters, to a distant backdrop of bagpipes and fireworks.

Strangely, despite the allure of all this mayhem, I found myself in a stone circle on Calton Hill. Regent Road Park boasts the most fantastic views over Salisbury Crags, with the Scottish Parliament and Dynamic Earth buildings nestling in the valley below. The circle is comprised of representative rocks from every area of Scotland.

I loved this cryptic ‘sword-in-the-stone’ type of message (‘Whose the tread that fits this mark?’) and, of course, the Angus Stone (right)

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It made me think a lot about how the landscape can not only inspire our stories, but be used in the telling of them- an objective, no doubt,for the original stone circle builders: our ancestors.

We have a ‘quiet garden’ close to the mill, a circular patch of grass with a tree in the centre. I’m certain it would lend itself to a  feature such as this. I can imagine words scored into stone or poetry etched on wood.

Barry Mill and the bright cultural lights of the city- perhaps not so far apart at all!
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It made me think a lot about how the landscape can not only inspire our stories, but be used in the telling
of them- a familiar aim for the original stone circle builders, I’m sure.

We have a wonderful spot
at the mill, a quiet circular lawn with a tree in the centre, which would
lend itself to a such a feature. I can imagine words scored into stone or poetry etched on wood. Barry Mill and the bright cultural lights of the city- perhaps not so far apart at all!

 

Switching Off and Tuning In…

There was a stillness on the beach this morning that I’d never noticed before: no breeze, no chill, no threat of rain. Usually my daily- dog- walk head is crammed with endless ‘to-do’ lists, mental post-its and meaningless chatter, so to stand on the beach and focus on this absence was a real pleasure. The  day holding its breath, waiting to unfold.

So for today’s post- my thoughts on walking and silence and creativity. Inevitably, this is going to bring us back to monks…

Last week, I mentioned Balmerino Abbey, which first held the lands at Barry in the early Middle Ages. I’m fascinated by the suggestion that the original mill may have existed as far back as 1240. The unmade road which snakes its way past the mill cottages and over the old stone bridge was once part of the original road from Dundee to Arbroath. I can just imagine the slow, silent progress of the monks, perhaps with mules and wagons, as they journeyed from Balmerino to Arbroath Abbey.

The monks were part of the Cistercian Order, which undertook to live in a ‘spirit of apartness’ from all worldliness. They lived (and indeed still do) a life of contemplation, in solitude and silence.

In her book The Scottish Country Miller, Enid Gauldie explains that the ancient mills of monastic origin were carefully sited so that the lie of the land and the natural force of the water could be incorporated into the milling operation without too much human interference. This willingness to work in harmony with the natural world underpins the ethos of the Cistercians.

 

reading monk
‘Monk Reading’ at Hospitalfield, Arbroath

The monks can certainly teach us about what we now term ‘mindfulness’, a bit of a buzz word these days, but a valuable tool  in the quest for a calm and creative mind. In writing workshops, there tends to be a lot of discussion about ideas, images and perspectives, but I’m keen to discover how silence and contemplation can impact on the creative process.

In his 2007 Walking and Art Residency in the Canadian Rockies, artist Andrew Stuck began to explore the connectivity between art and meditative walking. He went on to found the Museum of Walking, which facilitates poetry walks and other events in the urban landscape.

For me, the slow rhythms and steady heartbeat of the mill have done much to highlight the negative impact of our current frantic pace. Our minds have not been designed to cope with an endless bombardment of  ringtones, bleeps and social media updates.

Maybe it’s time to switch off, and tune in…