Pends and Vennels. The words sound like a medieval rap duo, don’t they? Or an Ian Rankin novel, perhaps. But that’s probably where we would be more likely to associate those words with: Edinburgh.
There the pends, closes, vennels, wynds, alleys and lanes flow down the side of the volcanic ridge that defines the Old Town like soft toffee, moulding and squeezing themselves around and past immovable obstacles, offering shortcuts and hiding places.
We have our own in Dunfermline. Like Edinburgh’s you only really see them if you look for them, though. The bright lights on the high street obscure them from view, making them dark and foreboding; the place of pimps, drunks, those with weak bladders, junkies, hoodies, crims…
Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Ian Rankin. I’ve been for a quick walk roond the toon and spotted six. Pends and vennels, that is – not criminals.
The National Library of Scotland (www.http://maps.nls.uk/) gives free online access to thousands of historical maps which show where they all used to be. Some of them you’ll have used yourself, like Free School Close, which runs between Canmore Street and the High Street; or Music Hall Lane, which connects the Maygate and the bottom end of the High Street.
But you’ll probably not have used Blellock’s Close (just down from Music Hall Lane) or the mesh-gated and un-named pend just up from Free School Close. Like their neighbours, both give access between the High Street and their corresponding parallel streets to the south. But they’re closed off and locked.
In Edinburgh (and in London, Manchester, Melbourne, Seville and all those other built up places that have their own version of these urban features) these dank, cramped routes have been enlivened and celebrated as important connections (pun intended) with the past.
I’ve no delusions of west Fife grandeur here, but what if we actually put some decent lights down these alleys, or got some historical murals going on, or made wee insertions into the closes to let folk ken whit they’re a’ aboot. And what if we opened up some of the blocked off routes and encouraged people to use them instead of them becoming decrepit and damp backlands.
Fife Council have put up an elegant, carved stone plaque on the wall of Free School Close that gives us an insight into its’ history. Good start.
Sam Foster Architects