wild city

This generous project conceived for Glasgow 2018 is a collaboration between artist Alec Finlay, The Walking Library (Dee Heddon and Misha Myers), and poet Ken Cockburn. Alec Finlay will encourage place-awareness through place-names, translations and community maps, and create a new publication. The Walking Library walks will explore wild nature in the city and collect suggestions for a new ‘Walking Library’ which will be given a permanent home in Glasgow. Ken Cockburn and Kate McAllan will share walkshops with young people, exploring sense of place and experiences of wildness, devising names and creating a manifesto for wildness. Wild City’s ambitious program of participative walks, public readings, and workshops, will culminate in a book and blog mapping new walks through rewilded streets.

The Walking Library is a reflective blend of walking and books, wandering from the forceful flower of the Clyde to the reedy river of the Kelvin. Every book in the library has been suggested – you are welcome to contribute – as a guide to the wild nature that thrives in the urban landscape, identifying sleekit creatures on the willow-haugh of Sauchiehall Street and in the wee grove of Partick. As we walk we will devise place-names and create maps that reveal the true wild side of the green howe of Glasgow. Our shared mappings will include Gaelic and many of the other languages of contemporary Glasgow, such as Roma, Urdu and Polish. Wild City will be working with a number of partners, including the hidden gardens, Govanhill Baths and RSPB.

Supported by Festival 2018

Southside Schools

With the help of Kate McAllan, I ran Wild City walkshops with pupils from two schools on Glasgow’s Southside, Shawlands Academy and Annette Street Primary School. We had a full school day with each, in late April and early June respectively, and with both groups we explored the local area, making notes and sketches as we went, before working these up back at school into maps and posters.

Wild City is a project exploring the diversity of wildlife within the city, and alongside that ecological diversity we were also interested in linguistic diversity. At Shawlands we’d asked to work with pupils who spoke more than one language, and between them the 12 S1 pupils could speak Spanish, German, Slovakian, Polish, Czech, Russian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Arabic, Romanian and Romani – or “gypsy languages” as one of their speakers said.

Leaving the school we turned into a nearby back lane, and looked at the flora outwith the tended gardens – escapees from those gardens, and incomers blown in by the wind, or dropped by birds, flourishing in cracks and crevices.

We stopped and sketched by an extensive spread of cotoneaster in Tantallon Road. This, and other street names hereabouts, are taken from Walter Scott’s works: Peveril Avenue, Quentin Street, Dinmont Road, Ravenswood Drive. For the kids, and many adult residents, these and other names will accrue particular associations, to do with the people and events, major and minor, of their own lives, unconnected to their literary source. (I grew up on a Lady Helen Street, and it was only as an adult that I had any curiosity as to who ‘Lady Helen’ might have been – that I was even able to form the question.)

In Queen’s Park we stopped at a stone platform. What its purpose was, now or in the past, none of us could tell, but it served us as a kind of ‘outdoor classroom’. I asked the pupils to collect something fallen for a quick ‘show and tell’, and once we’d regrouped they presented and sketched their finds –the twigs, leaves, mosses and feathers that had caught their eye.

As we walked round to the pond I began to wonder if it was a mistake to bring a group of distractable, excitable young teenagers here. In fact they were absorbed by the scene, sitting on a wall to chat and sketch, seemingly calmed by the water and the movement of ducks and other birds across it. We talked about describing the spot in other languages, and there are notes above in Slovak and German. Despite the calm, some of the Roma girls said they were disturbed to see frogspawn, since frogs are considered dark in their culture.

Back at school, we spent the time until lunch making large-scale, coloured, personal maps of the route we’d taken earlier. The idea was for pupils to work in pairs, and some did, while others gravitated to working individually, or in threes. Some of the text was written bilingually – here in Romanian.

After lunch we discussed rewilding the city, which not everyone thought was necessarily a good idea, before composing slogans for a wild city, including variations on the motto ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’, and names for wild days-of-the-week. The pupils selected some of these to write with brush and ink on A4 card, which they did entirely in English, with admirable concentration – and without spillages. I’d suggested they might coin new place-names for places we passed today, or which they know otherwise, but I think the only renaming was for the city itself, Glaswan.


It was a warm, sunny day in early June when Kate and I arrived at Annette Street Primary School to meet the P6 class. Again all had languages other than English, mainly Slovak and Romanian.

I began by asking them how our project title ‘Wild City’ might be translated, and was offered the Slovak ‘Mesto Velki’, but there was some debate among the kids as to what ‘velki’ meant – some said ‘wild’, others said ‘big’. Looking in an online dictionary later, I think the latter, with perhaps ‘neskrotený’ or ‘nepestovaný’ for wild, in the sense of uncultivated or undomesticated. (On the relevant page of the dictionary, it’s striking to see how many Slovak words are offered as options for ‘wild’, reflecting the wide range of meanings the English word has accrued, to do with human behaviour as well as the natural world.)

Again we started with a walk, up the street towards Govanhill Library and Baths; we walked around the block they form the main part of.

In sunny, traffic-free Ardbeg Lane we found plants including buddleia, willowherb, sticky-willy, nipplewort and grasses were thriving.

Round the corner in in Kingarth Street, we found a cluster of brightly painted and bountiful planters containing strawberries (at the flowering rather than fruiting stage), herbs such as chives and oregano, pansies and plantains, fronted with creeping buttercup.

Vehicles used Kingarth Lane to deliver to some of the businesses based in the block. It was messier and grimier than Ardbeg Lane, with fewer plants growing on the ground below the walls here, but we admired how ferns had colonised the brickwork. When I’d been there in January the pipe had been leaking, and the ferns were thriving in the damp. Now everything was much drier, but they seemed to be clinging on nonetheless. Round the corner on the main road, Calder Street, a mouse ran across the pavement and occasioned great excitement among the children. More so than any birds we spotted, but I suppose seeing birds is much more commonplace.

Back in school I sketched on the flip-chart an outline of the route we took, a basic square around the Library and Baths with an extension to the school, somewhat like a letter q. I wrote down some of their suggestions as to what we saw where, then asked them in pairs to make their own maps on large sheets of card. Many of used the ‘q’ blueprint, adding their own drawings, decoration and words, especially in the centre of the square. Most words were English, though one pair wrote in Romanian. Later we composed words and phrases for a Wild City manifesto, with Wild Days of the Week again a popular option.

Like the older kids they seemed to enjoy the challenge of writing with ink. When I asked how they’d found it, one said ‘not too easy, but not too difficult’ – which I suppose is where you want to aim in any session. Again they wrote in English. Speaking with a teacher after the session, I was told few were literate in their home languages. I wonder how a child’s bilingualism can be better integrated into school, given it may be a language their teachers don’t speak, and the child may not have had a chance to become literate in it. Mapping the locality certainly seem to be one way, with the mix of visual art and writing – images as well as words, and referents common to all in the classroom. 

I’m struck by the names of these streets with their now opaque meanings. In the contemporary city these names, with their Brythonic and Gaelic roots, are archaic. ‘Ardbeg’ is ‘small point’; Kingarth is ‘hill head’, and ‘Calder’ is ‘rapid water’ (or possibly ‘hazel’). The closest associations I have are with other places with these names: Ardbeg, on the south coast of the Isle of Islay, and the site of one of the island’s many distilleries; and there are three Calders – East, Mid and West – in the Lothians, as well as several rivers of that name. Another kind of wildness, perhaps, a reminder that the city we have cultivated and domesticated is the surface image on top of a deep, dark body of water.

Ken Cockburn

photographs: Kate McAllan

Supported by Festival 2018

a walk to the big wood on Cathkin Braes, AF, 2018

a sequence of name poems for wild city, after Jack Gibson and others



a haunt, a haugh, a hall
speech is a shelter that hovers
   by the river

Bogle means 'ghost' and haugh is 'a river's flood plane'. In its original form the name refers to haunted ground liable to occasional flooding, the syllable 'haugh' often becoming 'hall'. In a later age the name became ‘Bogleshall’. (Jack Gibson)



the coffer of cobhan locked away in the hollow of couston
the hollow of holm concealed under the flooded haugh of holmr

The old word couston means the place in the hollow, and the suffixed English word holm means the level ground by the river’, (Jack Gibson). Couston, from cobhan, hollow, coffer (c.f. John Milne). Holm, from ON holmr, an isle projecting from a river, or low lying land liable to flooding.

Jack Gibson: Pollokshaws, a Brief History, and John Milne: Gaelic Place Names of the Lothians



the lowing of the branches
the soughing of the beasts

Cowglen is very old and goes back to the time when the whole area was tree covered, and it may have been that originally the name was 'wood(ed) glen', from 'coille', or 'coit' (a wood) or hazel glen from 'coll' (hazel).’(Jack Gibson)

Jack Gibson: Pollokshaws, a Brief History


River Cart

a team of fleet black and white horses : cart

the White Cart joins the Black Cart at Inchinnan, to the north of Paisley, before flowing into the Clyde. The rivers take their name from G., càraid, pair, brace, couple. St. Conval's Chariot is a local name for a base with a socket to support a stone cross

River Cart
One-of-a-pair water



the thread of something wild : bengal

Bengal: web of cloth produced by home loom weavers in Pollokshiels.


four shieling

Summer-pasture Hall

Bog Summer-pasture

Wester Shields
Wester Summer-pasture

Burnbit Summer-pasture



Stablegreen Port, Kirkwood St.
Green St., Greendyke St., Greenhead St.
Summertown Rd and Ramshorn
Arcadia St. leading to Silver Grove
ending in Whitefield Rd


from Burnbank to Rosehill via Gowanbank
and on by Beith St. and Trefoil Ave.
to arrive at Oakgrove

from Mavisbank Quay to Larkfield
via Greenfield, or Stonefield, or Greenbank
to arrive at Berryknowe Ave.

from Larchfield Dr. to Elmbank via Shawmoss Rd.
on by Merryflats via Mossheights
to arrive at Dowanhill

from Honeybog to Tit-
wood Rd. via Gartnavel

from Fox St. and Ravenswood Dr.
to arrive at Windyedge

from Blackfauld to Meadowside
via Croftfoot Rd., or from
Bucklaw Terr. to Huntershill

Jack Gibson: Pollokshaws, a Brief History, and John Milne: Gaelic Place Names of the Lothians

drawings: Alec Finlay

photograph: Mhairi Law

The Walking Library (Dee Heddon & Misha Myers)

Supported by Festival 2018 and the University of Glasgow

walk 2: garden to garden

Festival Park

‘The Hidden Green’
‘The Tiny Little Pinecones Park’
‘Rocket Park’

a rain of may-flower
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk
bulrush (cattails)

the dry burn can’t fake flowing water

the peace post and the orange flutes
may peace prevail on earth

‘Crow Rock’
crows are circumnavigators
the rocket is ready

‘Iona’s Buttercups’

orange-tipped butterfly
common carder bee – typically Glasgow (ginger)
blue tit
blackbird (trill trill)
magpie (kaak kaak)
long-tail tit (twee twee)

gulls are moving from the coast to the city

a walk becomes a signature across space
R.S.R. Fitter, London’s Natural History
Nathanael Johnson, Unseen City
Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
Louise Welsh, The Cutting Room

I want to be a cowgirl
what’s so wrong with that

Pacific Drive

‘Gull Mura Dora’
‘Seagull Seagully Bit’
‘Seagull Spine’
seagulls sunbathing on the armadillo

‘The Birch Band’
mammoth fodder

James Elkins, How to Use Your Eyes

distressed fatigued or alligator asphalt

Prince’s Dock

I’ve seen land made from the sea’ – Ovid

an odd green place by the old basin

Kevin Lynch, What Time is This Place
Terrell F Dixon, City Wilds

Govan, the wee knowe, or the smithy
a forge seen transformed in the Clydeport crane

round here three-quarters of people live
close to a derelict site

the semaphore signal tower marks an iron margin
between times: the tended and the wild

‘The Rickle’
‘Ozymandias’ Stones’
two vast and trunkless legs
of stone stand in the desert

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain
Bradley L Garret & Phil Smith, Alice’s Derives in Devonshire

a puffer boat to Struay
Mairi Hedderwick, Katie Morag Delivers the Mail

what’s that?’ – ‘It’s dog shit

Whitefield Road

ragwort on the front of the old town hall

Richard Mabey, Food for Free
Richard Mabey, The Unofficial Countryside
at the junction of Whitefield Rd and Summertown Rd

razor wire in the ivy
a view of Ibrox from the masons yard

‘The Stoneyard Boneyard’
‘The Stonebed’

a house sparrows nest
in the twisty straggle tangled on the pole

161 with flowers growing out of it

Ibrox Street

Midlock Street

Kirkwood Street

J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island
‘a forgotten island of rubble and weeds’
the roar of the motorway
verges a narrow broken space
between civilization and wildness

welsh poppy
sticky willy

I want to rest on the mattress
Dee wants to bounce on it

Plantation Park

‘Park of Forgetfulness’

the text is a collaborative composition by everyone who took part on the walk, derived from conversations, readings and maps, and collaged by Alec Finlay

photographs: Mhairi Law

The Walking Library (Dee Heddon & Misha Myers)

Supported by Festival 2018 and the University of Glasgow

Thank you to RSPB