A lost soundscape revisited this morning

Shadow the dog and I were out to the west of Liberton Brae this morning. As we threaded our way out through the converted farm building of Liberton Tower Mains and stopped to watch a hovering kestrel, the lack of traffic noise grew upon me. A large number of skylarks were overhead, making display songs and flights. While I am used to studying historical maps for landscape analysis, the sense of a soundscape is rarely something that crosses my mind.

Shot of hillside

View across smallholdings onto slope towards Braid Hills

The late Prof. Meto Vroom, a Dutch landscape architect, has a concept of abiotic, biotic and cultural layers to landscape and adds the temporal dimension as well, which sits comfortably with my geologist’s sense of ‘deep time’ and my interests in place-names in Scotland. Indeed, it was reading John Murray’s “Reading the Gaelic Landscape’ that introduced me to Vroom’s work.

Soundscapes seem a much more ephemeral and contingent concept than a landscape. My morning walk with Shadow made the contingencies clear. Shadow did not bark during my kestrel reverie. The wind was low and from the SW. The arable crop in the fields is still low and green. Then there were the imponderables of what sounds there would have been at the time recorded on the old OS map from the first series of 1896 that is on the wall behind me. The field I was on a path beside would have been one of a large network of fields stretching over to the Dalkeith Road (now the A7). The local red soils on the uppermost Devonian Kinnesswood Formation is good and reminds me of the prized soils of East Lothian and up through Angus and the Mearns. Would there have been more arable or livestock beyond the horses present on the smallholdings? People working in the fields?

So although the traffic and aircraft noise is gone, it still remains very uncertain what the older soundscape, as opposed to the present one minus the transport noises would have been. Really different from when I talk to people about the vanished landscapes around me recorded in the rocks in the same area.


I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Posted in Scotland, Trips, Uncategorized

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Al is a Summer Mountain Leader
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