CROW GET LOST IN DERRY March 27th 2013


Meeting outside Guildhall

A group of over 20 people meet up in front of the Guildhall. We stamp our feet and circle to find the sunniest spot on a freezing day whilst we wait on more people. Some of the fountains are operational. Katie introduces Gareth Austin, horticulturalist and local historian Gerald McGill.

Gerald introduces us to Derry's Historic Walls. We start to think about the construction of these 17th century fortifications with 21st century construction and landscaping going on all around us as Derry prepares itself for City of Culture; the cultural fortification of Derry’s fortification goes on.

Penny on the Wall
We clamber up the walls, people, prams, a few dogs, our numbers are swelling. Gareth spots the first lime lover on the wall and identifies it as 'Penny on the Wall', also known as Navelwort, Penny-pies, Wall Pennywort its Latin name is Umbilicus rupestris. The plant is one of many plants often deemed as weeds that grow readily in the seemingly sparse environment of old mortar. Councils often spray to get rid of it; gardeners vie to cultivate it for feature walls and rockeries.

Gareth also points out Buddleia, or Butterfly Bush growing readily from cracks and crevices in old buildings. A crumbling chimney on Waterloo St. sports a crown of buddleia. This is not the only growth here.

The new caged lights on Derry’s Walls are now ubiquitous, they are mushrooming up everywhere not without controversy, under The Walled City Signature Project, Lighting Strategy.

Just a Plinth Now
The Walker monument once towered over the Bogside. Dedicated to George Walker, Governor of the City during the Siege it was blown up by the IRA in 1973 who deemed it a political target. The monument was never replaced in its original form; an empty plinth was constructed in its place.  The walls are packed with history, historic building and ongoing conservation.

First Presbyterian Church Derry was one of the many buildings to undergo conservation work under the Walled City Signature Project. Gerald in outlining its history recounted how it’s open to the public offering tea and buns on a Friday morning.

Cannons and builders abound. There is landscaping and conservation underway simultaneously, its everywhere. The new lights are here too.

Speaking of ‘lights’ many of the cities famous citizens are interred in yet another historic site here, graveyard of St Augustin's church, known locally as the 'wee church'.

Outside its perimeter railing Gerald points out a Row of 13 Sycamores planted on the walls themselves. The sycamores commemorate the 13 Apprentice Boys who locked the gates of the city at the beginning of the Siege of Derry. Their winged fruit, known as keys symbolise the city keys. These are not the original trees.

Swinging around to look out from this historic, strategically placed fortification the view over the Bogside from here is, as ever, like an early Willie Doherty photograph. It would just take some fog to transport us back to those vistas of the mid eighties.

‘Free Derry Corner’ is also visible from here. The address was 13 Lecky St. The site, once a rallying cry for Free Derry, is now a tourist landmark. A hoarding in front of the famed gable end is now used for updating political slogans and commentary. ‘Free Derry Corner’ is still a bastion of the Bogside.

The Wall’s bastions, however are part of the canon of history and home to Derry's famed cannons. Today they house a modern day arsenal comprised of cable, wheelbarrows and building materials.

They also double as temporary site office, providing sheltered steps for builders eating their lunch. Is it that time already?

To Imagine To Create to Learn, this motto is set in stone over the threshold The Verbal Arts Centre. We round the corner heading through renovation works to another bastion in the shadow of St Columbs Cathedral but overlooking The Fountain.

St. Columb's Cathedral is one of Derry's most famous landmarks. We run into plenty of other walkers here who join our group to hear more about the landmark’s history from Gerald. Our numbers are growing.

Gareth and Gerald both note that the buzzards living in the church spire keep urban pigeons at bay. This turns out to be a blessing for Gareth as the brassicas in the community garden he co ordinated just over the walls in the Fountain are normally safe from pigeon raids. However he notes that the buzzard population must have dropped this year, as there is evidence that pigeons have ravaged this year’s brassicas.

There are now other dog walkers here too. As a backdrop to the historical discussion that is developing on the walls with Gerald, our group and others who join us, dogs greet nosing each other energetically. A terrier runs circles around the groups' feet as his owner tries to coral him and led him on.

Seed bombs
Here seems a good point for Katie to whip out the seed bombs. We are overlooking the fountain where there is a stretch of ground below that might well provide good terrain for a selection of wild flowers. The top of the walls have an accommodating slope, giving the option to just roll them off or chuck them over aiming for a partially planted piece of ground parallel to the wall.

Katie peels open the clear plastic take away box to reveal lovingly made clay spheres that pass easily for home made truffles. A walker pops one into her mouth before quickly realising her mistake. Good humoredly, she pops the truffle back out again and lobs it over the wall, others follow suit.

On we go looking over the Fountain planning our decent from the walls to check out the community garden below. Shovels, ladders and wheelbarrows lean against various locations along the wall. A low trench has been dug to lay cabling. Railings and security tape cordon off areas recently dug, giving the feel of an archeological dig.

We descend at the New Gate onto Artillery St.  Our numbers have dwindled a little, some have found another route. We spot the Centre of Contemporary Art (CCA, former Context Gallery) en route. It’s between shows. We pass the Playhouse, another cultural institution, before swinging round onto London St., which takes us under the Walls up through the Fountain, a small predominantly Unionist area on Derry's City Side.

Bonfire building site
Everywhere in Derry there is repaving works going on. The bonfire site in the Fountain provides temporary storage. That gives a deadline before the 12th of July then.

There is an opening in the wall here, a tunnel, one of many in a network said to run under the walls and the city itself. Someone tells us that the British Army are said to have blocked up many of the leading into tunnels in the walls in the 1970's. The army had their own modern fortifications on the walls during the conflict.

Someone else adds that they knew of a man who was currently excavating his basement somewhere in the city having discovered an underground chamber. The Diamond is also rumoured to have its own set of tunnels but debate exists as to where the tunnels might lead. This is a subterranean world we are not going to get to explore today.

A Spot of Seed Bombing
Katie takes advantage of a bit of open ground to scatter a few more seed bombs. If they take root, it will be as subterranean as it gets. She scatters the last of the soil in her take out box like ashes.

Gareth points out a large white granite stone that looks like a kerbstone. Its history is uncertain. It was found during repaving works. He will be able to use it for the community garden. We are on the way there now.
Community Garden
We are reunited here, some came by another route. The community garden sits nestled under the walls. There are raised beds and a purposefully built low fence. Gareth points out that it is better to invest in the project than in building high fences, which might tempt people to breach them senselessly anyway. If a few spuds are robbed they can e replanted, this way everyone can see the garden as a living part of the city.

The beds contain a variety of of veg tended by local people including youth groups. I see scallions, leeks, potted pansies and some brassicas partially ravaged by the pigeons that have escaped the cathedral’s buzzards.  In season produce is bagged up and distributed by local kids to pensioners and other residents in the area.

We retrace our steps back toward London St and the historical confines of the walled city.

Gerry points out various historic buildings on London St, highlighting a view of the back of a row of Pump St. terraces. These houses have preservation orders but despite this one bears the scar of an architectural infringement, a strip of concrete used to repair a crack.

Pump St is awash with new pavers being laid. Workmen gingerly direct a truck along the, as yet, unset street surface. Pedestrians are corralled tightly along the narrow paths. You notice the detail of the shop facades more this way.

Gerry often photographs the abundance of architectural detail the city has to offer, getting people to guess which building they belong to.

It gets very crowded as we intermingle with the normal Saturday shopper crowds on Ferryquay St. It's not long before our company is dispersed. I’m with Gerald's faction we make for the Diamond.

The Diamond, marking Derry's City Centre is the site of the cities war memorial. People have an ambivalent relationship to it, especially the bayonets wielding soldiers, but agree that it does remind of the horrors of war.

Gerald recounts the story of how the statuary on the memorial is said to have been made, paid for and subsequently rejected by a city in England. The rejected statues were then gifted to Derry. He could not recall there and then the detail of this. The cold is starting to bite so we keep on the move bearing towards Shipquay St. and ultimately Katie's hidden garden site.

A brisk walk down Shipquay St and we spot some of the breakaway renegades at the bottom, we signal them up to cross Castle St. with us. A number of them take a short cut through the Craft Village.

We are all reunited on Magazine St. We make haste in the bitter cold towards Patrick St. and Katie's Garden.

Rendered Trees
Katie stops briefly on Strand Rd. to point out a form of odd landscaping at the base of many city trees. They all have a pebbledash collar at their bases, which must surely hinder rood expansion in future years.

Secret Garden in waiting
North Edward St., off Patrick St. is a tiny little street that might normally escape attention, but it provides side access to a block being renovated which will eventually be run as galleries by Void. This marks the entrance to a hidden courtyard where Katie’s garden will be.

Katie brings us in to partial sheltered courtyard. It once housed plant equipment. This has now been removed but there is still much work to be done. Katie outlined her plans for the garden, both short term and long term and in so doing enlisted support and recruits for the garden. She outlines with conviction how crucial it is that residents of Derry use this space in years to come. The first flurry of snow starts to fall gently in the courtyard. We disperse for some warmth.

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