Paths, Parks and Pencil: The Background Story by Adele Gregory
I think I was still a teenager when I saw a strange and wonderful film called “The Swimmer”. In it wealthy suburbanite Burt Lancaster makes his way home from a party not by the streets or pavements but by swimming through the pools in his neighbours’ backyards. The possibility of finding adventure in unusual routes through familiar territory has intrigued with me ever since.
Decades later I decided to try it for myself but with parks rather than pools (a better choice in Edinburgh). I wondered how many parks I could traverse between St Margaret’s Loch in Holyrood and Portobello Beach (I managed five: Holyrood, Meadowfield, Baronscourt [now alotments], Figgate, Rosefield).
A couple of years ago I made a further foray into park exploration. Two mysterious openings had been catching my attention through the bus window. After a dozen or so mental notes to investigate “one day”, I finally took the plunge and jumped off the bus. The openings turned out to be entrances to Brunstane Burn path and Ravelston Woods and my curiosity was rewarded with two fascinating natural heritage walks.
From there it wasn’t long before I was park-bagging in earnest. I’d search the Edinburgh map for green patches, the longer the better, and plan my expeditions. Where possible I took the bus so I wouldn’t have to double back and could enjoy a different journey home. It never ceases to amaze me how venturing just a few miles across town can feel like discovering a whole new city.
Meanwhile, I had also set myself an artistic challenge. I wanted to see how many different textures I could reproduce in a pencil drawing and whether I could get pencil to look like paint. The rich, dense foliage of wooded spaces and variety in city park plantings were my perfect subject. The effects aren’t achieved with just a pencil, however. Using different ways to blend and erase the graphite doubles (or even triples) the number of things you can do with the one simple tool.
The two experiments eventually came together to form the exhibition Parks, Paths and Pencil, now at the Museum of Edinburgh. I’ve learned a lot on my journeys. Every park tells a bit of Edinburgh’s story through the land and its uses, some of which you can see beneath your feet. There is the evidence of our ancient geological past, but also parks emerging from the remnants of old quarries and abandoned factories. The other lesson for me, that I’d like to pass on, is to indulge your curiosity. Don’t wait for a fabled “one day” to investigate something that catches your eye. There really are adventures waiting for you in your own backyard.