Braid Walk

Jonathan Baxter, Helen Boden, Sarah Gittins, James Spence

2023-2024 Climate Cafe Vessel Walking Water

From Mouth to Source: Walking the Braid Burn Watercourse Walking from mouth to source along three adjoining burns: Figgate, Braid and Bonaly, these walks take their inspiration from the way of water – its flow and healing powers – and the poetry to be found in the name Braid Burn

A series of monthly walks with two additional workshops
April to September 2023

Walking from mouth to source along three adjoining burns: Figgate, Braid and Bonaly, these walks took their inspiration from the way of water – its flow and healing powers – and the poetry to be found in the name Braid Burn:

Burn (landform): 

Large stream or small river

Braid (transitive verb):

To make from braids
To form (three or more strands) into a braid
To mix and intermingle; to braid fact with fiction

Burn (intransitive verb):

To contain a fire
To produce or undergo discomfort or pain
To yearn ardently; burning to tell the storyThe story we’ll be telling, or rather, the story we’ll be walking, concerns our collective sense of what it means to live within a climate and ecological crisis, and how walking a watercourse might enable us to live that question now with rejuvenated purpose and joy.  

Questions we asked included the following: in a time of climate and ecological crisis what qualities, human and more-than-human, might we braid to ensure our planetary survival? What can we learn from walking this particular watercourse? Why walk from mouth to source: upstream and in search of something we may never find?

Over the course of four walks and two additional workshops we explored these questions, and more, through walking, drawing, poetry, and conversation. Integral to the project was the process of walking upstream into mystery, uncertainty and doubt; qualities we may need to cultivate if we wish to respond creatively to the climate and ecological crisis and the alternative futures it gives rise to. Participants were encouraged to bring their own resources to our collective endeavour: a singer brings their voice, a photographer their camera, an ecologist their know-how.

The walks were guided by our encounter with water, curated by Jonathan Baxter (artist-curator), with contributions from Helen Boden (writer and workshop leader), Sarah Gittins (visual artist and workshop leader), and James Spence (haiku poet).

During Art Walk Porty 2023 Vessel programme participants contributed through two exhibitions (Art Walk Hub and Porty Light Box) together with poetry and conversation inspired by walking the Braid Burn Watercourse, with readings by Helen Boden, James Spence, and other walkers. Themes explored subjects of climate change, ecology, flow, structure and hope. A publication is currently being developed with the group for publishing in 2024.

Jonathan Baxter is an ‘artist and …’ He works across disciplines – both art and non-art related – using psychoanalytic methodologies and performative practices to variously open up, challenge and propose what is. Since 2009 Jonathan has combined the roles of artist, curator and peer-educator to deliver a series of participatory art projects and peer-learning programmes. Current projects include his Craigmillar and Communities Walking Residency (2021-ongoing) with Art Walk Projects and an embedded artist residency at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh (2020-ongoing).

Contribution to the walk: For the Braid Walk project, I’m primarily interested in two things: What the walking of this watercourse can teach us about the climate and ecological crisis. What happens when strangers, acquaintances and friends choose to spend creative time together in places of intrinsic ecological value. I’ll be curating the walk and providing questions to walk with. I’ll also be introducing some mindfulness practices to deepen our experience en route

Helen Boden is a poet and educator who has lived by the upper Braid Burn since 2010. Her first collection A Landscape To Figure In, a book about place and identity, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2021. She also makes poetry in non-print formats for exhibitions and performance. As an independent Literature professional, she specialises in devising and delivering socially-engaged creative activities across a broad range of cultural, community and environmental settings, with particular interests in Writing for Wellbeing, ekphrastic poetry, and poetry walks.

Contribution to the walk: I’m interested in exploring various braidings of language, sound, place and placename: the flows of water and of words; states of flood and drought as metaphors; the significance of bridges and gates. I’ll be facilitating writing exercises based on embodied, sensory experience of Braid Burn; and introducing some existing poetic texts about watercourses for both reflection and stimulus to new writing. I’m thrilled to be deepening my engagement with this burn and its environs, and look forward to discovering the words, ideas and experiences all the other walkers bring. 

Sarah Gittins is a visual artist and educator, working across a variety of media, with a particular focus on drawing, painting and printmaking. Her work explores issues of social and ecological justice and pays close attention to the wonders of the living world. Sarah is interested in the capacity of image making to enable engagement, conversation and action for change. Alongside making and exhibiting work, Sarah has facilitated creative workshops and taught drawing, painting and printmaking in a wide range of community and educational settings over the course of two decades. 

Contribution to the walk: I’m looking forward to exploring different layers of experience on the walk through onsite and reflective drawing and mark making. I will be facilitating drawing exercises that aim to bring our experiences of the Braid Burn’s varied environment into the visual realm. How does it feel to step into the burn? What marks can describe the movement of the water, the feel of the stones? What colours can be found and ground from the pebbles that wash up on the banks of the burn? How can drawing be used to pay attention to the welcome and unwelcome finds of an urban watercourse? 

James Spence is a writer and a storyteller. His collection Scottish Borders Folk Tales was published by The History Press in 2015. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his book Ferr Frae the Dirlin Thrang – a Scots version of Thomas Hardy’s great classic. He has written four collections of haiku in recent years. His most recent collection A Walk in the Park, reflects on 12 monthly art walks through Little France Park, Edinburgh, curated by Jonathan Baxter. The book was part-funded, launched and exhibited at Art Walk Porty last year. James relishes leading creative workshops in poetry and storytelling, where he looks to inspire people though their own passions and stories. 

Contribution to the walk: I see haiku writing as a means of producing snapshots of what I observe. In doing so I find that it greatly deepens my experience of the natural environment. I’m looking forward to taking part in the Braid Walk project, where I’ll both share related haiku and produce new haiku en route. For those who wish it, I’ll also be on hand to assist folk with their own haiku or verse, either individually or within a workshop. We have a deep connection with natural water courses. Folk down the ages have relied on them for their survival. I’m really inspired by burns and rivers; the sound of them, their light, their reflections, their depths and their journeys. I listen out for their little messages of haiku.

Supported by project funding from Paths for All and National Lottery Awards for All.

Related Events

  • From mouth to source

    Sat 2 September 4.30pm to Sat 2 September 5.30pm


    Poetry and conversation inspired by walking the Braid Burn Watercourse.  With readings by Helen Boden, James Spence, and other walkers. Themes to be explored include climate change, ecology, flow, structure, […]