When I was about six years old, Linda Gully and I joined the Brownies. Linda lived a few doors away from me; we didn’t go to the same school but we spent quite a lot of time together. We were exactly the same age; we liked playing ‘shops’. Neither of us were ‘sporty’ but we decided we wanted to join the Brownies. There was a group nearby. When we joined, Linda was put in the Imps Sixes (“We’re the ever helpful Imps, Quick and quiet as any shrimps”) and I became a Kelpie (“We’re the little Scottish Kelpies, Smart, quick and ready helpers”). I was never happy with the scanning and rhyming of the Kelpie song; it wasn’t as good as the Imps. I don’t have a lot of memories about my short career in the Brownies because, not long after we joined, Linda moved away from London and I didn’t want to be a Brownie without my friend Linda. I do remember the outfit though, with a brown tunic, leather belt, brown knitted ‘Beanie’ hat and yellow tie, worn with stylish white knee-length socks. I remember learning how to tie knots; I can’t say that this was something I was any good at; I never achieved any Proficiency Badges. I also remember the Brownie Ring Ceremony, joining hands with the other Kelpies to dance around the Brownie Toadstool singing our song; singing wasn’t my forte nor was dancing! I am not sure why I wanted to be a Brownie, I was never going to be any good.
Move forward over fifty-five years, in 2015, Liz and I were staying In Edinburgh and read about the Falkirk Kelpies. Suddenly all those memories of the Kelpies Sixes came rushing back. What were the Falkirk Kelpies? Some kind of memorial to the Brownies? Don’t be ridiculous. A Kelpie is a water spirit of Scottish folklore; a Kelpie can take the form of a horse and legend says that if someone rides the Kelpie they will be taken down into the water and will drown. Kelpies inhabit lochs and streams. So what is the link with the Brownies? No idea but all the Brownie Sixes are about Fairy Folk – Fairies to Imps, Leprechauns to Gnomes, Pixies to Sprites. And that’s about the best link I can make.
Liz and I decided that we would visit the Kelpies, not sure what to expect but what a surprise. The Kelpies are based in the Helix Park, a few minutes from the Falkirk Wheel, which opened in April 2014; so our visit was in the early days, when the Park was not fully finished. The Kelpies are two, 30 metre high, horse-head sculptures; 300 tons of steel crafted by Andy Scott. To me, they are just amazing; while you can see them from the Falkirk Wheel and from the M9, it is seeing them close up, walking around them, looking at them from different angles, that makes them really come alive. The Helix Park is an ideal spot for these magnificent creatures because it is next to the new extension of the Forth and Clyde Canals, the water from which the Kelpies might inhabit. The sculptures are each set within a circle of water so the heads appear to be rising from a loch or stream, as folk-lore dictates. Andy Scott designed these monuments as a recognition of Scotland’s horse-powered industrial heritage. On that visit, my disappointment was that the Visitors Centre wasn’t open and therefore there were no tea towels. I just thought ‘here is a place that truly deserves a tea towel’. But I knew that if I came back to Edinburgh then I would want to revisit the Kelpies and hopefully by that time the Visitors Centre would be finished and there maybe a tea towel!
Forward one year, one week ago, Liz and I were fortunate enough to have a holiday in Edinburgh with Lyn and Helen. Liz had broken her arm and is still unable to use it, so driving was out of the question. Helen volunteered to drive Liz’s car, an offer that was gratefully accepted, and we shared a holiday apartment in Edinburgh. When we were planning what we might do during the week, I said I’d really like to see the Kelpies again, and hopefully get a tea towel. Lyn and Helen were up for it so off we went. I was delighted that (a) the Visitors Centre was open with both a shop and a cafe. It is an interesting building which somehow, although modern, fits into the landscape (b) we visited as dusk was beginning to fall and therefore the lights within the Kelpies were on. When we arrived you could hardly see the lights but by the time we left you could see the lights transitioning from red to blue to green to yellow and back through the cycle; it is mesmerising and as you wander around, the Kelpies take on different perspectives (c) that all the staff are not only welcoming but so enthusiastic about the whole of the Park and finally (d) there was a tea towel. The excitement!!
When we got back to the apartment, Helen agreed to ‘model’ the tea towel as an alternative way of photographing it; while she thinks I am completely ‘bonkers’ in relation to tea towels, she was carried away with my enthusiasm, for which I am grateful. Having passed the Angel of the North, on the way up to Edinburgh, we were all taken with the similar imposing impact on the landscape the Kelpies had. The Kelpies are a place where (a) you feel you have to keep on taking photographs because you get a different glimpse of what Andy Scott was trying to capture as you wander around but also (b) there is a feeling that you want to wander around on your own, to take in what you have have seen and to seek a peace and a place for quiet contemplation because, no matter how many people are there, you can find solitude because of the size and layout of the site.
If you look at the tea towel you can see the image of the horses’ heads above water, as designed by Andy Scott but the water level is shown so that you can see the rest of the bodies of the horses – the Kelpies as water spirits. It is quite surreal but does mean that when I use it, this whole range of memories come flooding back from my days in the Brownies to introducing Lyn and Helen to the Kelpies and everything in between, including Helen’s role in tea towel modelling (a role she follows, on a number of other tea towels from Edinburgh).
Looking for the history of the Kelpies, I found a newspaper article from the Guardian in April 2014 by Jonathan Jones who described the Kelpies as “merely banal and obvious……… the Kelpies is just a kitsch exercise in art for the people carefully stripped of difficulty, controversy and meaning”. All I can say is that Jonathon Jones certainly didn’t see what I saw, didn’t feel what I felt and didn’t understand the power of the water spirit that inhabits the Helix Park; his loss, not mine. I loved the Kelpies and if anywhere near Edinburgh again I would always revisit them, for the beauty and the peace and quiet contemplation.
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