My dears, I have neglected you shamefully over the last few weeks but what with visiting the granddaughter, moving boxes, recycling and freecycling, putting up curtains and before all that painting a flat that was supposedly ‘already decorated’ (if you call slapping a bit of cheap white over everything ‘decorating’) it’s been a hectic few weeks, after which I was off to Scotland for a well-earned break.
The drive is quite direct and bits of it are beautiful; the A66 especially across the Pennines where I stopped near Penrith, then up the A75 nearly to Dumfries before turning off down a lonnnnnnnnnnnnng road with tractors and passing places (I got stuck behind a tractor for miles – how far can one farm vehicle go?) overshooting myself and arriving at the Wetlands centre at the end of the road and on the Solway Firth before finding my cottage in a short row of houses on the edge of the merse – the salt marsh. On this map the cottage is between the castle and the Wetlands Centre.)
It was lovely. As you walk up the lane you come to the merse where you can walk for miles along board walks; one way to Caerlaverock Castle – the only triangular castle in Britain – and the other to the Wetlands Centre where varieties of geese, ducks and birds of prey hang out as well as dragonflies and butterflies.
During the week I of course visited Dumfries, where museums have sprung up memorialising everything Robbie Burns touched, slept in, pissed on and drank in. I like the fact that they celebrate him so much; there’s a Burns trail which takes in his house, his howffs (pubs) and other places. The actor Fraser Laurie (Pte Fraser in Dad’s Army) also lived there and a painting of him hangs in the Hole in the Wa’, one of these howffs.
The most interesting day was probably when I went to Moniaive, a tiny village which is the centre of the folk scene in that area. On the day I went there was no music happening but there was a cafe and a pub or two and of course free and open public toilets. After that things went a bit haywire; hoping to find a footpath and walk for a bit, I drove off but took entirely the wrong road and ended up completely lost. This road has to go somewhere, I thought – and it did, in the sense that it went to more forests and mountains (I had no idea the Lowlands were so hilly)* but nary a sign of a public footpath. Nor was there anyone to ask; apart from a couple of distant farmhouses I saw not a soul and barely another car on that road. Eventually I came upon a solitary hiker so I stopped and asked him to show me where we were on the map. He said I was the first person he’d seen that day apart from a German woman walking barefoot in the hills.
Eventually I ended up at St John’s Town of Dalry where I got a walk along the river and had my lunch.
Prize for the most bizarre place, however, goes to Castle Douglas. This is the town time forgot, though as I pulled into the car park and headed for the Tourist Information Office I had as yet no idea of this.
‘I’m just here for a couple of hours,’ I said to the woman behind the counter. ‘What should I see?’
She seemed a little taken aback by my question. ‘Well, she said, sounding very like Janet in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, ‘we’ve got some lovely shops.’ Shops weren’t exactly what I had in mind. ‘Any monuments or museums?’ I enquired. She seemed quite flummoxed by this and eventually admitted to the existence of a loch.
‘I thought there might be a castle,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ she said, sounding shocked that anyone might want to go there, ‘but it’s a way out of town.’
There was a pause, then a bright idea occurred to her. ‘Oh, but do ye have a car?’
This was an interesting beginning and it got better. Castle Douglas must have some kind of edict banning chain stores, for there are none on the entire length of its high street; not a McDonald’s, not a Boots, not a Primark, nothing, just a small Co-op and, tucked inside another shop, a tiny Costa. The shops were indeed worth looking at and many of them seemed not to have changed since the ‘sixties.
Another day I went down to Southerness on the Solway, a long strip of ‘beach’ (mostly mud and rock but some rough sand) where it’s so flat you have to be careful not to get cut off by the tide. I walked a mile or two and saw nobody except a drowned cow. Perhaps she’d got cut off by the tide, but I thought it was odd that nobody had taken the body away. After my week in the Lowlands/Southern Uplands, I came back across the Pennines to Yorkshire to visit the granddaughter, who I have now christened The Maze; then over again to Blackburn to see Chris and Barbara (great fun) and after that down to Wales, stopping overnight at Bridgnorth.
More of this anon. I won’t bombard you with more photos today Except for this one of The Maze, looking stunning as ever.
*OH reckons this area is actually the Southern Uplands and the Lowlands are in fact the Central Belt.