Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Pishwanton to Aberlady

24 May 2011

We travelled from the halls of the RBGE to the hills of East Lothian and the shores of the Firth of Forth today. Following the windswept roads, only just recovering from yesterday’s gales, we heading high into the hills above Haddington to the heather clad fields of the Lammermuirs in search of Scotland’s only Goethean institute.

Pishwanton Wood Visitor Centre
Dr Margaret Colquhoun, Executive Director of Pishwanton Wood, part of the Life Science Trust, welcomed us into the earth covered centre to illuminate us in the ways of the community. No phones, cigarettes or alcohol is allowed, the ethos is of finding harmony with nature to gain the greatest understanding of the relationship between science and art in a rural context. The centre is primarily a place of learning; from the arts of forestry and biodynamic gardening to the domestic crafts of spinning, weaving and herbal medicine making.

Pishwanton Wood Meadow
The landform of Pishwanton is redolent of times gone by; a march of rolling mounds reveals itself as an ancient burial ground, aligned to the Voltadini forts nearby, whilst the homespun fences, gates, woodpiles and tree guards evoke a harmonious and ageless settlement. The layout of Pishwanton; the herb garden, vegetable garden, birch woodland and Scots Pine grove revealed itself to the trustees, taking the form of a human organism, with space for physical activity, internal circulation and digestion and spiritual contemplation.

Birch wood walk
We filled our brief hour with a walk across the free-range cultivated meadow to the new learning centre and back through the woods to the planted gardens. For a brief moment we stopped to commune with the wild hawthorn growing at the crest of the farm, absorbing its vibrant patterns of growth and self-preservation. Margaret, a Weleda scientist of 20 years standing, has listened to this plant deeply and feels that the medicine it produces is excellent for the heart and circulatory system; Hawthorn flowers best taken in a tea or tonic in the morning, with a tincture of Hawthorn berries in the evening.

Biodynamic compost mounds
As we left, the skies released an icy shower of hail and rain, so we scuttled back down the roads towards the sunnier climes of the coast. After a brief stop at Gosford Bothy to refuel with tubs of lentil soup we wound our way through the village to the small parking area at Aberlady bay.  

Footbridge to Enchantment, Aberlady Bay

Once fortified, Greg Kenicer, our class Botanist-par-excellence, led us across the Footbridge to Enchantment (so named by author Nigel Tranter who walked it daily), to explore the flora of the salty bogs and marshes beyond.

Herbologists botanising
We met new friends and old; Sea Buckthorn, now bare of fruit and covered in lichen, tiny Orchids of pinks and purples, lush Coltsfoot, young Meadowsweet, yellow Marsh Marigolds and Pontentillas, early Bogbean flowers, Horsetails and fading Cowslips

We leaned to distinguish between sedges and grasses, and to look for the tiny, rare Astragalus that hugs the banks of the path. 
Greg Kenicer & Catherine Conway-Payne
We also knelt down to dig through the spongy clumps and uncovered a number of spreading leguminaceaes amidst pockets of Wild Angelica. Tiny frogs and caterpillars kept us company as we absorbed the natural beauty of the flora around us.
Heading back across the windy fields we stopped only long enough to gather a few handfuls of Elderflowers and to catch a glimpse of the first flowering Silverweeds edging the estuary and the bridge back home.

Salty Hawthorn in bloom
Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve

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