Saturday, September 15, 2018

Walking Resurrection Way

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We began our walk where the journey used to end. Clynekirkton and the bell tower were the final destination or eastern end of a coffin trail. The day seemed suitably funereal--slightly overcast but mild temperatures and the promise of sunshine.

As we climbed higher into heather, we were stalked by a haar--a whimsy of sea and wind. It ran along the hillside just below us until we stopped for a bit of tea. The day was warm enough to peel off some outer clothes and cool down as we sheltered on boulders in a bit of a ravine, but the haar caught us up and swallowed us. It was cooler inside the haar, and the air which had seemed light and vaguely redolent of heather and peat took on a denser, damper aroma.

Kirkton Churchyard

Broad open spaces characterize the terrain of the strath, or river valley, carved by the river Halladale.

No trace of a church associated with the grave yard has been found, but stories persist of its existence. The place name, Kirkton, which means "Church town." Kirkton and nearby areas were formerly noted on maps as the Gaelic version of kirkton or Balnaechlish, roughly translated as "enclosure or field of the church. "

The sun was out, so it was a great excuse to go a wandering. My husband had been through this church yard a few weeks ago with the farmer on whose land it rests, and since then my husband had been looking for a good time to take me to see it. The farmer had copied out some of the history to help us look for the mystery of the missing church or to enjoy the tranquility and the history of such a spot.

I had to grow into the knack of being able to read a cemetery. I am indebted to my friend M. who many many years ago first led me into a grave yard and showed me how to begin to read the stones and to remember the people and their stories.

The surviving stones here date from as early as 1747. The earlier stones are made of sandstone so they are severely weathered, in many places no longer readable. I photographed them in the hopes of being able to read the image more clearly and list as many of the names as we could.

Later stones tend to be of granite. They are better preserved and reveal names still familiar to this area and some less so.

The church yard probably dates to as early as the 16th century, but a stone salvaged from somewhere on the site in 1895 bears the date of 1630.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Walking Again!

For one reason or another, I have not been walking--beyond the odd potter in the garden or toddle into the shops. It was a celebration to be on my favourite little patch in the neighbourhood between my house and Loch Heilan. It has been an odd spring-some things late; others early and some new characters and others missing or perhaps not coming at all.
The Hawthorn is blooming--the fragrance is lovely and as you can see from this photo, the gorse is also blooming. Gorse is always blooming so that's not unusual, but it has been fulsome and early. The combination of the gorse (whins) and hawthorn was refreshing both in sight and smell and there were birds all around--larks high above, an oystercatcher circling like Daedalus in the empty sky, and tiny birds whose voices came secretly from the hedges.

Close up of Hawthorn blossom or May flower

The walk was a pleasure also in rediscovering my legs. We weren't moving fast or far, but we had rhythm--my legs and I. Who can ask for anything more? as Gershwin says or is that Cole Porter?

I took a photo of this little white moth because it obliged me by sitting still long enough. The curious but fast moving moths that I've noticed are the Silver Ys. They moved into the neighbourhood but no one knows if they'll take up residence here or just pass through like all the tourists in camper vans--another seasonal marker up here.

And the last little surprise on my walk was finding Bird's Foot trefoil on the verge where I don't recall seeing it before. A neighbour suggested it might be thriving or more apparent--or both--as a result of mowing the verge. At any rate, here in all its goldenness are some Birdsfoot trefoil.
The idea is the flower looks like a bird's foot, and the leaf--you guessed it--is threefold. In case you're wondering, here's a good look at the leaves.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Mixed News for Local Writing

In keeping with the ambiguous season neither winter nor yet spring, we have a mix of news for local writing.
The good news is the announcement of the 1st John O Groats Book Festival
which will include half a dozen local authors, including myself, on the Friday evening as the warm up act for the visiting authors--all favourites of mine.

The not as good news is that Iain Grant, editor of the John O Groat Journal is leaving. I have had the good fortune to write articles for both the Groat and the Caithness Courier through the tenure of three editors now. We all know it's a hard time for newspapers everywhere and it appears that, like so many things in Caithness, Inverness and points south want to call the shots. I think it is a false economy. The USP--unique selling point for those never burdened with learning bizspeak--has got to be local news, local context, local interest.  I want to hope for the best, but in the meantime I'll post here my most recent article to appear in The John O Groat journal. It appeared March 9, 2018 under a different title.

Skirting Giggleswick Scar
 The washing machine is working away, the bird feeder has been filled again, the cats have been out-in-out-in and now sleep on the foot of the bed, even the snow and the wind are still. I am free to walk again the hills between Newby and Giggleswick Station. Although it is 12 hours by train from home, Newby is much like here—Greenland and Newby are both signposts on corners of country roads where a farm town used to be. My friend and I tumble out of the car pulling on extra layers against the cold. The sun is clear and gaining strength in the run up to spring and summer, but winter is still holding on. In Yorkshire, as here, the weather must never be underestimated.
We cross a busy road where a café has recently been re-opened. In the emptied spots in much of rural Britain, a newly opened or re-opened café or pub is especially welcome as a sign of ongoing vitality. Just past the entrance to the café car park is a familiar wooden sign post, ‘Public footpath’.
Sometimes they offer more information such as 1 ½ miles to another place that may exist now only as a name on a map. A favourite pastime for both of us as we walk the broad country lane with remnants of ancient hedgerows and senescing trees is to imagine those who have come this way before. Later when I read about the first person to start a charabanc in this part of Yorkshire who married a woman from a nearby farm, I am sure that they met accidentally on purpose on the very path we walked. My own grandmother went ‘sparking’ with her intended under the roof of covered bridges in Southern Indiana. Walking makes those kinds of connections in our imaginations. I like to think it is a better way of learning history than the litany of dates and battles usually presented in classrooms because walking helps us see the things we have in common rather than our differences.

Much as I love trees, there is something spectacular about coming out of the treescape into an open field. A few days after our walk I read an author who claims that our love of this mix of trees and open grasslands stems from our distant ancestors who first walked out onto the African savannah. Perhaps. For me the connection is closer to home. Limestone. My bones are no doubt full of the mix of ancient seas laid down as mud and tiny creatures. Of the elements I am, thus, earth and water. It explains a lot about who I am. Such things make sense as you follow a sheep track up a hill in Yorkshire.
At the top of the hill I turn not just to catch my breath but also as I say to my friend, ‘to drink it in:’ the greener than here grass, the regular rhythm of drystone dykes up and down the hills, the nonchalance of the sheep, the distant village of houses clustered together among so much openness as if huddled together for warmth.
We’ve earned our pub lunch. My friend says we’ve been here before. We’ve walked so often now that sometimes we conflate walks. We ponder the menu and try to remember what we ate before—we can’t recall what, but we recall enjoying it, which we both decide is more important.
Back on the hills, my friend says her legs feel as if she has just begun walking. Mine do not, but my legs and I just smile and nod. We cross fields and climb stiles for relatively easy walking, and my legs take heart. The way to Giggleswick station, where the car is waiting for us, is downhill from Buck Haw Ridge. We’ve been walking gingerly for half a mile or so over limestone outcroppings above the surface of green grass like the curds of cottage cheese but hard and just the wrong size for feet. It is slow going and the light is fading and my legs are getting rubbery and slow. My friend shows me the map, which I am learning to read in small doses like a child learning the alphabet. I can see the fastest way is directly down a ridge of unknown steepness and surface. We didn’t bring walking poles and in the shadowy light, we agree the best way is to weave back and forth along the hill following layers like the edges of a gateau slowly making our way downward. I can see my friend is worried about my legs, so I reassure her and myself by concentrating on how beautiful it all is. We move around a quarry—‘Caution: Deep Digging’ and past scrubby grass with an occasional sturdy juniper hugging the ground, recalling the juniper we discovered at the top of the iron age fort near Betty Hill.

Words on maps such as ‘scar’ and ‘fell’ still conjure for me the terrifying story of Heathcliff on the moors I read as a school girl in Indiana. Giggleswick Scar, however, whose name I’ve borrowed for this walk, deserves more than the simple description of her geology: ‘Giggleswick Scar is a long limestone edge forming part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s southern boundary.’ From above, she might well look like a scar along the face of the hillside, but she is more like the dowager queen of this hillside. To earn her place on this lump of earth in Yorkshire she has survived eons of oceans and lakes coming and going across the land. Nestled deep within her weather-worn spine she harbours the relics of a million small creatures. She may even remember when the world was only a single land mass. With this in mind it is only right that our path offers her the deference she has earned, so we zig zag downward looking out the places the sheep have trod before us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hope is a Thing with Wind Break and Insulation

Apologies to the poet from Amherst, but gardening in the north is a leap of faith where hope has to be shored up with technology. Yesterday in balmy spring like weather, I planted out some seeds in earth that had been under fleece for a few days. I also trialed my Kozy Koats--mini greenhouses using the property of water --it loses heat keep some seedlings and some bean seeds a bit warmer.

In the night, I heard the wind get up---By 6am the house was so cold I thought a door had been blown open (the window has its little tricks...). I bundled into a blanket and slept-- thanking my lucky stars that I had not been so overcome with enthusiasm by the warmth to remove the fleecy cocoons from the Cornus (dogwoods) of recent blog fame.
Inside a fenced area, inside chicken wire with additional wind netting on it, in a raised bed under fleece or inside a Kozy Koat---surely they are secure here even from a wind from Siberia, but certainly we know not to underestimate the Russians by now. I might be tempted to think it was a UK government conspiracy to send the cold winds up here, but I dont think they know where we are.

So in good Caithness tradition, my gardening pal and I are starting our own willow plantation. With a bit of luck and more hard work---she's a good friend with a border spade--please admire her lovely rows. I'd include a photo of her by her handiwork, but she is camera shy.
Come spring we'll have our own lean, straight willow wythes of named varieties from our tutor and basketmaker and willow planter who spent the day showing my pal Cynthia and me and a handful of others how to do it.  And then, for me, the fun begins--willow woven around the base of our trees (in lieu of this year's chicken wire defensive perimeter). And a woven fedge in back and teepees for the peas and maybe a dome for fun. All in good time, I know, but when the wind blows like this, you gotta have something to hang your hope on.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

In the Ground at Last!

Months of digging and hauling and raking and hefting bags of compost and finding and assembling the raised beds and today was the day, the Cornus alba Sibrica moved into their forever home.
My heat sank this morning when  I woke to see frost on the grass, but it quickly dissipated. As if the last word of a pointless argument--winter is on its way out!
They don't look like much here, but they are out of their bag and trimmed--I averted my eyes while Angie did the deed..

In place and looking happy --or so I like to think--and watered in. The soil is warm, the raised bed should keep them a bit warmer and reduce the risk of wind rock, so we decide to cover them with fleece at soil level but not the elaborate creations we were preparing. We'll see. The next few days look balmy enough, but the worst winds often wait til March to blow a hoolie.
Angie  appeased my pruning terrors by assuring me the cuttings would live again as new plants.  We'll see.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Skylark Memories

Working hard again at the front bed. A moment leaning on our shovels and my gardening pal heard a lark high above us. It is an amazing sound. We swapped memories--
hers--my mother and I walking across the fields in Belgium to get to a recreation area
mine--hearing an actual lark on Spittal Hill here in Scotland and understanding what Shelley was trying to say. Then as now I thought it would be better to send 16 year olds out on a hill to listen to the world more than sitting in a classroom listening to someone else's idea of it. I still have a low tolerance of English romantic poets, but in fairness to my English teacher of all those years ago and my new garden friend, I offer the last two stanzas of Shelley's Ode:

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

And now about the chain (or part 2 of fountain pens, rocks, and a chain)

Snow day has rearranged my schedule,  so I've filled the house with music and poured myself another cuppa.

On the way to making something like this in the front garden:
We discovered these:
The large flat stone in the side pocket as it were, I thought was the queen of the stones. Here's what she looked like after she was liberated or exhumed
Every stone is a portal, but you can't always see where they've been --and hence, presumably where they'd take you. She might have been part of the old coaching inn on this site and tumbled ignominiously into the soil to make way for our house. She might have been part of the outbuildings we knew were here from the 1876 OS map or part of the horse course that was here on the 1905 map--or parts of all that. Stones get reused. It is a matter of respect as well as necessity, so here's what some of her majesty's smaller companions are doing now. Thanks to Angie's artful design they are a windbreak/cairn for an Icelandic willow. After several years in a pot, the willow has a spot of its own.

And along the way to liberating more rocks of various sizes, the chain emerged. At first a rusty nothing much at all beneath stones at all angles, making it much harder to remove. Hamish, the next member to join the 'chain gang,' thought we might have to pull it out with the teleporter, but Ivor managed to get the overlying stone out and then we worked the chain free. Heavy, about 7 feet long and a history as curious as the surrounding stones. Part of the horse course? Part of the coaching inn history? Thanks to Nona and Andrew McKay, we discovered it was the chain that goes around the sprocket of a rear delivery sail reaper. If, like me, you have no photo in your mind's data base, it looked like this:
This one is from our neighbour's collection of vintage equipment (West Greenland Contracting Castletown). The photo is by Morris. Once we knew what it was, Hamish took it in hand to get the rust off. A bit of a clean and then dragging the chain along behind his pick up truck--made a fine buffer.

Now why all this fuss about a chain? Curiosity of course. A fondness for history. An homage to the hard working people here on this site for more than 200 years. And an inherent recognition of the kind of craftsmanship my friend spoke about in his blog about the fountain pen. Something in us is drawn to that elegance, the union of necessity and imagination, that sets us apart --albeit not far--from the other animal toolmakers. 

Rocks, Chains, Fountain Pens, Pencils and a Poem about Junk

Remember when you were a kid and trying to excuse your own behaviour you said something like, 'He/she started it!' Well, this is a positive take on that. I have amazing friends who drop into my inbox from time to time. And recently two of these on separate trajectories landed in my inbox and got me thinking about craftmanship and tools and how do we grow that in ourselves and others and why it's important. And in the middle of this thinking is a big hole and a 7 foot chain.

Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called Junk, in which he says, in part:

The heart winces
for junk and gimcrack,
for jerry built things
And the men who make them
for a little money
Bartering pride
like the bought boxer
who pulls his punches,
or the paid off jockey
who in the home stretch
holds in his horse.

Honest to goodness even if you think you don't like poetry, the whole thing is worth a read.  Tomorrow I'll post the photos of the rocks and the chain. It really is all very logical in its own way.