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Merlin Wild Foraging Quest – A great day out in the rain!

At the end of a long, single track road lay the barn that was to be our place of meeting: a singular structure poised in the midst of a dramatically contoured landscape. The enigmatic Devil’s Beef Tub sat to our west, the mountainous craig of The Skirtle lay just ahead and the Broad valley opened to the east. As the sky marked our arrival with the first of what would become a succession of ferocious downpours, the group of participants gathered into the shelter of the barn to begin the ‘Merlin Foraging Quest.’

Due to an unfortunate accident, Quest organiser Jan Hogarth, was unable to attend. Jan knows the links with the Merlin history and hoped to connect this with the ecology and foraging. The walk was repositioned to explore foraging within the context of this environment, and for this our facilitator was ecologist and Borders Trust coordinator, Ali Murfitt. Under the sound of heavy rain pelting down on the barn roof, we made our introductions with each other as a group. We were a composite of colourful variety: botanists, students and educators; a storyteller and a woodsman- each with a different level of foraging experience, but all united in the quest to discover more about the edibility of this landscape. With a scattering of Merlin inspirations and knowledge spread across the group, we resolved to allude to the magical one wherever possible.

Through Ali’s introduction, the landscape which we were to explore was placed within the context of it’s relationship with Borders Trust. Corehead Farm was bought by the trust in 2009, with the vision for a community-engaged, sustainable project integrating restoration of native woodlands, wetlands and heathlands with a farm operating on organic principles. Ali admitted that it was at times difficult to reconcile these distinct needs of habitat restoration and sheep farming, yet- if successful- the unlikely marriage of the two could provide a way forward in re-imagining land use within the Scottish uplands.

Suddenly the rain stopped and so, seizing the window of opportunity, our group bounded out into the landscape, heading east- towards a valley which Ali assured us, was much more interesting than that of the iconic Devil’s Beef Tub. Heading through the farmland pasture, Ali drew our attention to the predominance of yellow rattle; a native wild flower now much in decline, which has the ecological advantage of being semi parasitic towards grasses, so opening the way for greater biodiversity within pasture. Although not edible (some sources indicate a medicinal use for treatments of the eye), the plant has been used as a dye- reminding us of the multitudinous facets of usage made possible by the plant kingdom. Although the pasture was still predominantly grass, perhaps over time the yellow rattle could create space that would allow for an increased presence of the pignuts, plantain and red clover which we found speckled throughout the pasture. Ali recommended the making of Red Clover Vinegar- made by simply infusing the flowers within apple cider vinegar in order for the clover to release it’s flavour- and calcium rich properties- into the vinegar which is then strained, in order to be used within salad dressing, or to add a dash to hot water to be enjoyed as a tonic.


The pignuts brought us into relation with a legal dimension of foraging: the law states that no plant should be dug out of the ground without permission from the landowner. Whilst ultimately created in order to protect property rights, the law would also go some way towards ensuring conservation. This stimulated a group discussion surrounding the dynamic between foraging and conservation. Named pignuts for good reason, perhaps the very success of the plant was dependent to some degree on the activity of the wild boar digging up the tasty tubers. In doing so, the boars perhaps prepared the ground for the seeds to fall, and a new plant to germinate. In the absence of wild boar, perhaps human foragers can fulfil a particular function through careful selection of a site in which to forage for pignuts- or ‘fairy tatties’ as they are colloquially known as in Scotland. As a group we could also testify to the suggestion that badgers too would go for these tubers- leading to the conclusion that it would only be ethical to forage for them in areas where they grew in great abundance- in addition to having the landowners permission.

Onwards and upwards, we passed through the pasture and come to a planted orchard enclosure. Planted within the realms of a protective deer fence- with wooden stiles inviting walkers into the enclosure- grows an edible hedge of blackthorn, hawthorn, crab apple, cherry and hazel, with a central cluster of young apple and plum trees. The planting was carried out by Borders Trust volunteers and junior rangers, and will grow to become a delightful edible enclave within the landscape. Ali drew our attention to the highest point of the hill, The Skirtle, and directed our gaze to the scattering of wooden boxes, each protecting a planted oak tree. It became apparent that the Borders Trust is planning the restoration of this habitat with a long term vision.

Through the gushing ford and up and over high ground pasture: grasses interspersed with heath bedstraw, tormentil and phagnum moss; the medicinal properties of each were discussed, but a meal they will not provide. Taking shelter under the tree line, we skimmed past the boundary of a small patch of woodland that includes spruce and pine trees, the new tips of which are packed with vitamin C and make a great tea (careful ID needed to avoid poisonous yew & lodgepole pine). We came to a rowan tree and took pause to reflect upon the plentiful lore surrounding this tree. With the wide spread belief that it is unlucky to fell a rowan- and the ubiquity of rowan trees being planted outside a homestead, Ali encouraged us to ponder upon the link between these superstitions and protection of particular species- what better way of a tree being protected than by a belief that it is unlucky to cut it down! We compared notes of the edibility of the berries- the making of rowan jelly to be served with game is widely known, but the berries can also be enjoyable (if a little tart!) as simple compote made by stewing the rowan berries along with other autumnal fruits such as hawthorn and rosehips (removing the hairs first).

We roamed on, entering the main area which has been replanted by Borders Trust. Suddenly the sightline changed: we were surrounded by the short but luscious growth of newly planted alder, birch and hazel. Over the past 8 years, the Trust have planted thousands of trees and the effects are already apparent. An increase in biodiversity is noticeable as our feet push through swathes of sorrel, meadowsweet, foxglove and lousewort. We paused to nibble a succulent leaf of common sorrel, the sour tang providing pleasant refreshment. Ali’s excitement was palpable as she led us down the sloping side of the valley- heading into what she has described as a fragment of the original woodland which once prevailed on this hillside.

Dipping down a steep muddy bank, hanging onto the generous limbs of an enormous ash tree for support, we were transported to a different world where the group reassembled on a level outcrop overlooking a small waterfall. The canopy layer above us was thick with leaf patterns of great diversity, the sound of fast flowing water surrounded us as the Tweedhope Burn traced its way in a curvaceous gush down the glen. Swallows darted upstream into shafts of sunlight that shone luminous through the multiple levels of greenery. Beside us was a mighty hawthorn in full bloom with a richly perfumed scent promising a full fruiting to come. Beyond it stood numerous hazel trees- the ancient Celtic tree of wisdom, offering indication of the sustenance that a feral wanderer such as Merlin must have depended upon. We stood quietly for a moment, immersed in the atmosphere of this precious fragment of ancient woodland. Then we reached for our lunch boxes to meet our own immediate needs for sustenance. For now, these hills may not be able to support the dietary needs of our group, but it is apparent that through the vision of Borders Trust, restoration of this hillside will gradually lead to increased biodiversity- with the fortuitous side effect of a greater abundance of edible and medicinal species.

Leaving the ancient woodland behind us, we retraced our path down the hill- this timing pausing at the ridged remains of the Iron Age settlement, Broad Tae. It is a humble reminder that these hills once supported not only the foragings of Merlin, but once supported a whole population who presumably effectively combined farming alongside the gathering and utilisation of wild plants and herbs. As we walked back past the planted orchard, through the meadow and back to the farm, I looked behind us to the replanted hill from which we came. With time, those contrasting sections of planted hillside and the remaining fragments of ancient woodland will merge and enmesh together to become one continuous restored habitat: a magic of which Merlin would surely support.


Thanks to Amy Clarkson for writing this Blog – Amy is a Glasgow University student of the Mlitt Environment, Culture and Communication postgraduate course which is taught at the Dumfries campus.

Quest for the Hidden Energy of Water – Drumlanrig

Professor David Munro led our quest on a beautiful Sunday at Drumlanrig Castle, where we explored the extensive grounds. Our walk followed the water systems, both natural and constructed, that make up the lifeblood of the estate, following paths that have changed over time and those that have remained constant.

As the geographer in residence for the Duke of Buccleuch, Professor Munro brought us inside the castle to see some of the maps in the archives there to start. The oldest was dated from the early 18th century and was a beautifully drawn plan used to design the gardens for the newly-built estate. These plans showed an intricate garden for several hundred gardeners to tend, based on square sections that surround fountains for easy watering. The view from the rear of the house draws the eye with a straight path leading to the cascade.

There are newer maps that show the planning of the extended grounds. It is setup to create vistas at the end of long straight paths cut through the forest. From these maps, the grounds look like a web of walking paths, at odds with the winding waterways that refuse to be confined to such simple linear routes. Although much of the water supply for the castle is based in these free flowing rivers and streams, simple modifications like dams are not always sufficient, so extensive amounts of piping and cisterns were built to allow for the water flow envisioned by the human design.

The maps that we were able to see from the massive collection showed the requirements of these significant features of a managed landscape throughout time in beautiful hand drawn detail. With this vision in our head, we set out to explore it for ourselves, taking in several subtle details in the architecture, like the flying heart motif, the angle of the railing columns, and an old ice house that has become so grown over it would look like a hill that was part of the landscaping near the house if we were not told what it really was.

There are only four gardeners now, so the gardens are certainly not as extensive as the original plans show them to be, but the general shape of the gardens have been retained in order to remain to true to the original vision and its first incarnation. Sometimes these shapes are merely implied with some creative grass cutting, leaving this open space available for the modern day play of children visitors. Much of the water in the design has been removed. The fountains have been replaced by statues, since their practical function can be met with modern conveniences like hoses. The cascade is now left dry.

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As we wander further from the gardens and out into the trees of the wider grounds, the precise lines give way to paths that follow the curves the land more closely. Over time, the webs of straight-lined paths that cut bluntly and harshly through the tree line have softened as the ownership of the castle changed hands. Each one had a different vision of the perfect estate, based on their personalities, their preferences, and the changes in fashion over time. If I had walked about without having seen those maps, I might have assumed that these paths had always been there, gradually ingrained by passage through the trees over time until they were eventually widened and adapted for common use. Instead we saw the culmination of land management and how easily the green world can swallow up abandoned infrastructure so that it disappears, sometimes without a trace.

 

 

Our walk followed the water. We walked into the trees on a path directly over the piping that used to bring water from one of the many rather unusually housed cisterns to the castle. We walked by ponds made for water use and now commonly used for fishing; by rivers flowing free and rivers with dams; over bridges whose names have been changed through errors in record keeping; by the “Leaping Arch” artwork of Andy Goldsworthy near the abandoned hydroelectric power station; by the natural well hidden off the path; by the still usable water access for the farmers’ livestock; and over the now dry cascade.

 

Each pause is a place that could have easily been missed on a casual walk without such a knowledgeable guide. For example, the Bellstane, an erratic stone transported by a glacier and shaped like an upright bell, that could be easily passed by if Professor Munro had not stopped us. It requires viewing from the other side of the path to appreciate it fully. Its human connection may be unknown apart from the story of a group of boys playing too rough and breaking the curve it balanced upon, but that does not stop us from wondering whether it had more significant meaning to the people of the past or whether it was assigned meaning more recently when the area around it received druid names because that was the fashion of the time.

Although this stone is visible from the path now if we are looking for it, later in the season the plant life between it and the road can completely block it from view to be easily missed, just like the well. It is a small perfectly round spring of unknown origins known as the Duchess well. Set back from the path, it could be overlooked by the casual walker who did not know it was there. Its water is sweet and refreshing. These small features are gifts to the fertile imagination.

One of the most beautiful things about the walk is how the result of centuries of land management has resulted in a space that is so different and so connected. We can walk through a space that is fully enclosed in trees just to emerge at a pond or at a massive pasture with a ruined stone building used by some farmers’ predecessor. So, anything becomes possible to imagine, like the remains of a Roman fort on a hill that is now covered in sheep and this years lambs.

 

Our final stop is a recent discovery. There is a large stone that may have cup mark engravings from the bronze age in one of these sheep pastures. It had remained unnoticed for centuries, or found and forgotten again. The meaning of these engravings that must have required so much time and effort to create has been lost, and is left to our imaginations and musings for now at least. We let water flow from the cup down an unexpected path to the ground as we try to see if it could be lined up to a direction or constellation. Could the broken off section of the stone have occurred before its creation or was it originally a more extensive design that was lost when that portion of the rock broke away? Are the eroded parallel stripes a natural result of scraping from glacial retreat, or could the incomplete segments indicate a more deliberate creation? Perhaps one day these questions will all be answered, but either way we are left with an energy of thoughtful excitement from our trek even if our feet may be a bit sore.

Looking at the forest that is next to the walled pastureland, it is easy to imagine a landscape that has emerged and grown naturally. Yet these places are can still be the product of human impact and management over decades or centuries. We often see human management as an intrusion on a separate, natural world, forgetting how much each species interacts to create the world around them as it will be in the future. Together on this walk we had a glimpse of a world where human management is just another force of evolution that has brought about today’s landscape through time.

Gathering along the Belinus Line

Gathering along the Belinus Line

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Belinus is the ley line, an energy line on the earth’s surface, that runs from the north to the south of Britain. This energy line is made up of the male and female currents, Bel and Elen. Our quest went from Gretna Green to Langholm; with the help of professional dowser Grahame Gardner and Dr. Jan Hogarth, we explored the development of human gathering places and sacred spaces along this section of the energy line.

Our small group of intrepid winter questers met up in Gretna Green to gather at the Lochmaben Stone for our crash course in dowsing. We bundled up against the rather cold and windy weather that lent a certain mystic atmosphere to the day. We passed out L-shaped dowsing rods, two each, made of brass, set aside any doubts or skepticism, and had unexpectedly good results for a group of raw beginners.

Grahame demonstrated some general dowsing techniques explaining how to focus your thoughts when dowsing for energy or water, to ask your rods questions, and to let them respond. We practiced trying to locate the energy line by asking for the center and then for the edges, walking back and forth across the area where Grahame’s rods responded. After few tries, each of us managed to get a locating response, so moved on to learning about the energy directions. Each line is made up of energy bands that flow in alternating directions. Because there is always an odd number of bands, the direction that more bands flow in, is the overall direction of the energy flow, and in our practice area the energy flowed directly towards the stone we were headed for.

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I found that my rods sometimes moved very confidently, and at others, they moved slowly in a halted and jerking response as though they were not impressed with my amateur focus and meandering thoughts wondering if the wind was affecting their movements. We were passed a small cardboard slip with an array of color blocks. We were to use these to see if we could find the color of the line’s energy. Most of the group agreed that the line responded to blue that day, while I confess that I never got the hang of figuring out the line’s color. At least I was much better at distinguishing the direction of flow in the energy bands.

We crossed the fields at Old Graitney farm to what was left of the stone circle here. Most of the stones have been removed or buried, but two remain. One is half buried, embedded in the fence line, and the other sits mostly above the ground a few meters away looking out at the Solway. The Lochmaben stone has been a gathering place throughout history. It is thought to have been a central site for Celtic worship of Mabon, a god of fertility. Armies have assembled, fought, and exchanged prisoners here. Even the energy line currents gather; we watched Grahame use his rod to follow the paths of the two nearby lines as they converge in a node at the stone then return to their paths.

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Jan is the group’s expert at finding energy vortexes; her dowsing rods spin in circles whenever she finds them. There is usually an energy vortex over the top of the stones, because of something termed “megalith energy bands.” Earth energy is absorbed into the stone creating seven bands or chakras that flow in opposite directions, five of which are above ground. We used our rods to find the fifth band and place our hands on it. By moving our feet farther away from the stone and slightly bending our knees, we can feel the energy of the fifth band. Grahame said that the energy pushes you off the rock, twisting you in the direction of the energy band. On this rock, I could feel the energy pulsing through my palms up my forearms to just below my elbow, but it did not push me away like it did for others. We tried again at the end of the day at another stone circle. There, I felt the twisting power pull one rock out from under my hands.

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The remnants of this stone circle is an ancient one, but as time passes and more people gather at the energy lines, newer structures are layered on top. Our second stop, Half Morton Church House in Chapelknowe was built in the late 18th century just to the North of the Lochmaben stone along the current. In the churchyard, are graves inscribed with reiver family names, border raiders with a long history of turmoil and war, at rest in their place of worship. However, in the fields behind church are the parallel lines of a neolithic cursus, long earthen banks that are some of the oldest monuments in the British Isles. They are easiest to see by aerial photography, but Grahame was able to dowse them from a distance.

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We also had a chance encounter with the current owner and resident of the church house. He was happy to talk to us and share the story of how he came to live there. He told us that after a very difficult time in his life, he experienced a calling to convert to Christianity, sell his business and relocate to this church. His story is the latest of people called to this spot throughout time as layer upon layer of gathering places have been built here from 3000 B.C. to the present.

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According to Grahame, the male energy current is usually aligned with elevated parts of the landscape while the female energy current is associated with the valleys and low areas of the landscape. The supposed location for the ruins of St. Bride’s Chapel, for the Celtic-British mother goddess, is unusual because it was located on the top of a hill along the feminine current. Unfortunately, here the elevation meant it was the windiest place in our excursion and far too windy to properly dowse; it was impossible to decide if any of the boulders in the field could have been the remains with the energy line running through it. While seeking shelter from the blowing wind, a few of us found a valley where there looked to be a spring, and we decided it could be St. Bride’s Well since our dowsing rods did find some energy there, which was an exciting and unexpected discovery.

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Continuing northward, we arrived at the merging of the Black and White Esk. The point where the rivers converge is a traditional gathering place called the Handfasting Haugh. The handfasting celebration was for unmarried people to commit to living with a companion of their choice for one year. After that year was up, they could choose to separate and make a new choice or to continue for life.

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Here we were protected from the wind, so we spent a lot of time from the bank practicing dowsing the water’s energy and using the dowsing rods to ask questions which required a very different concentration to dowsing energy lines. While we wandered we wondered together just how the dowsing works. The dowsing rods require concentration so it seems safe to assume that they do not channel the earth’s energy on their own. We wondered if perhaps, people used to be able to recognize and interpret this energy without the use of dowsing rods. Does that mean our bodies can still speak to the earth in a way that our mind has forgotten? So in this way does our body register the energy of the lines and help our hands make micromovements to move the dowsing rods without conscious noticing to tell us what we already know or is it something more mystical and mysterious?

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In this place, even the cloudy sky seemed lighter and the gurgling of the two rivers down their paths lent a vibrant serenity to this secluded area, as though the positive energy of generations of companionship ceremonies had permeated the rocks and grown into the trees, grasses, and mosses. Or did that positive energy originate from the line, which drew people to this place for their ceremony?

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Snow started to fall as we made our way to Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center. This center was built on the location of an ancient holy spring along the feminine current, Elen. The temple and its surrounding gardens are peaceful and calm. It is a perfect place to break for tea in the cafe and meditation in the temple. We compared the energy at the river here to the river energies of our last stop. I thought that both places felt serene, however, the Handfasting Haugh was a joyful serenity compared to this quiet serenity covered in a light dusting of snow.

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To finish, we backtracked a little to two nearby stone circles, where Grahame taught us how to check for permission before entering a stone circle, an important step because sometimes the energies held by the circle can have negative physiological effects. Around the circles are thin concentric circles of energy, and inside is a convergence of earth energy and water lines, Each circle has multiple water lines flowing inward to a water upwelling with one water line flowing outward

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The first circle, the Loupin’ Stanes, is smaller with only 12 stones, only two of which are vertical. The one energy line that intersects this circle goes directly out between those two stones in a straight line to the Girdle Stanes, a much larger circle, half submerged in the river, with 26 stones of the original 45 remaining. This straight path between the two close stone circles has lead to speculation that the two were oriented to lead from one to the other. If this is true, I think it is more likely that the Loupin’ Stanes points toward the Girdle Stanes following the direction of energy flow to where a second energy line crosses Elen directly in the center.

This circle was our final point of gathering, where we wandered about in the snowy dusk exploring with our dowsing rods. Here is where we experienced the earth’s energy move us through the rocks for a second time that day, and although, I could not feel any energy from the fifth band of the third rock that I tried, it was the perfect rock for laying down and resting on. We took turns with the earth’s energy soaking up through our backs instead of twisting us away.

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Our path followed Belinus and along that line we found the sacred and spiritual gathering places of the ancient, the modern, and the in-between, sometimes built adjacent and sometimes layered on top of each other. Throughout the world castles, temples, and monuments have been built along these energy paths as people gather there, and we are left to wonder how much was intentional and how much was instinctual. We know that people built their sacred spaces in these areas, but we do not know if building those had an effect in the opposite direction. Does building on the energy line affect the path of the lines as well, like the lines curl and bend around the node of the Lochmaben stone? Ultimately, we are left with the wonderful thought that there is always more to discover.

Blog written by Laura Schrader who is studying “Environment, Culture and Communication” at University of Glasgow’s Crichton Campus in Dumfries .

A Legend in a Landscape

Ascending Hartfell with Queensberry hill in the distance.

Ascending Hartfell with Queensberry hill in the distance.

This quest was a return trip for some, like our fearless leaders: Justin K Prim, an upcoming Merlin scholar, and Jan Hogarth, a landscape artist. For others, it was our first time hearing the legends and standing in the places where they are believed to have occurred. When I met Jan that morning, she welcomed me with her message: the story is rooted in the landscape, so it takes on new meaning when we explore the legends while in the landscape.

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Illustration by Alan Lee

The story was of Merlin. This was not the wand-waving Merlin supporting the legendary King Arthur that I had grown up with. This landscape told the story of a tribal leader’s bard named Myrddin. He may be credited with shamanic or druidic magic in some sources or hailed as a prophet in others, but this Merlin felt much more corporeal than the magician caricature presented in many modern retellings of the legends. His was the story of a simple man fleeing into the wild forests in the hills of Southern Scotland, ‘driven mad with grief’ or maybe PTSD, and seeking sanctuary from his trauma and the enemies pursuing him. As with any legend it was a quest of imagination, but I think it was easier to picture this man running from his suffering with the grasses of the hills beneath our boots and the breeze on our faces.

Our quest group met up in Moffat, the spa town that blossomed due to the healing waters of the well we were seeking: the spring on Hartfell Ridge. Together we crossed the hills that are divided up into farm plots for sheep and deer to graze. Our first real pause was by a row of evergreens. There Justin read his first selection to us. He shared some poetry that tells the story of Merlin wandering in the forests, searching for food, struggling to survive, and running from the King of Strathclyde.

It’s not difficult to imagine the rolling green hills covered in forests.

However, it is jarring to remember that even these green and brown hills covered in growth and life are so fundamentally different now because of human impact. The forests in Merlin’s time, just before 600 C.E., would have blanketed the entire area apart from the very tops of the hills, according to the poems around a century old. One of our scientific questers tells us that this is because the ground at the top of the hills would have been too wet and boggy for trees to be supported. Now the hills are adorned primarily by long grasses, although seedling trees remind us that it may change yet again.

Justin recites....

Justin recites Myrddin poetry from the Black Book of Carmarthen.

Our journey to the top of the hill is punctuated by these pauses. We stop to catch our breath. We stop to drink water or take off a sweatshirt, but mostly we pause to listen and discuss. Justin reads to us, telling the story of Merlin’s journey over the same ground. Our discussions have an emphasis on this man, but also an emphasis on humanity in general. We talk about how climate change is changing these hills. We discuss the accuracy of these stories that were only written down at least 500 years after the stories were to have taken place. How much were they changed by the people who passed them on? How much came from the monk scholars who finally recorded these stories?

Laura contemplating the landscape view at lunch

Laura contemplating the landscape view at lunch

We ate our lunch sitting on the hill above the valley where the water rushes up out of the earth and turns into a river. Together we pondered the allure of nature, whether truly wild or a manicured nature like this one. Nature is a solace for us, a place to go in a time of struggle. We could all share stories of being hurt or shocked by life and finding refuge in the arms of mother earth, just like Merlin did when he fled in grief.

Nature holds wisdom for people to seek out in times of struggle.

A guru lives isolated on the mountainside. The Buddha found Enlightenment while meditating under a tree. It is a common thread wound through society. A troubled person can leave man-made order behind and seek the life of nature. The seeker returns to their with a sense of peace or new meaning. Merlin was seeking solace for his pain. Today we were seeking Merlin.

We made our way down the hill and into that valley. Following the path of many pilgrims looking for the healing waters of a chalybeate well, naturally rich in iron and calcium to heal their various maladies. Here we listen to the end of Merlin’s story. He has wandered for 50 years in these woods, tormented by poor mental health and paranoid of being taken prisoner. He was known as a prophet having visions primarily of death and war. Was it predicting the future or were they flashbacks? Poor, tortured Merlin drinks from the Hartfell Well and is miraculously cured.

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Jan Hogarth talking about the healing spring from the chalybeate well.

Stream above Hartfell spring

Stream above Hartfell spring

The story says, his mind returns to him then and despite being offered places in court, Merlin resolves to remain in the environment that has sheltered him for the past 50 years. There is nothing for him in the castles of civilization anymore. Maybe that is the true message that we search for in nature, how to give up the conveniences of modern life and live immersed in the natural world. If it is, we haven’t reached that point yet. Instead we return after drinking from the spring together.

Our story in the landscape ends where Merlin’s began. We make a short drive over to Longtown, just over the border of England. Hidden away in more fields is the remains of a fort. All that is left are the hills, built up as embankments to add an extra layer of protection for the fort defenders. The defensive nature of the structure is easy to see, and through the trees to the north, you can just make out the hills we had climbed earlier in the day with a river connecting the two landscapes.

Entering the woods close to the fort at the site of the battle of Arfderydd.

Entering the woods close to the fort at the site of the battle of Arfderydd.

Merlin Academics believe that this was the location of the Battle of Arfderydd. We look to the south with the Cumbrian hills in the distance and imagine the armies of the King of Strathclyde spread out across the fields between us in 573 C.E. Here the bard, Myrddin or Merlin, watched his Lord Gwenddoleu die with many of his closest comrades. It was from here that he fled after the long and bloody battle and after three days of mourning for his fallen.

Fort at the site of the Battle of Arfderydd.

Fort at the site of the Battle of Arfderydd where Lord Gwenddoleu and Myrddin resided.

We imagine even more. Could his madness be from more than just grief or PTSD? Could it be survivor’s guilt? If Myrddin were a shaman rather than a bard, could it have been his duty to raise the druidic mist to protect the army during battle? If that failed could guilt over not protecting those who died have caused him to go mad? We can let our imaginations run free here, at the place where Merlin’s journey into the hills began.

People have a connection to the land they live on, whether it’s a land mostly untouched by human hands or if it’s built up into towns, cities, or skyscrapers. The land we live on shapes our lives, and I think most people would agree that the natural landscape invigorates us. On this quest we came together to travel over the hills. Through our imaginations we could travel even further, through time and into legend, each of us returning with something special and a day to remember.

Battle of Arfderydd, the root cause of Merlin's madness?

Battle of Arfderydd, the root cause of Merlin’s madness?

Laura Schrader is from the United States and is studying for an MLit in Environment, Culture and Communication at the University of Glasgow’s Crichton Campus in Dumfries. A big thanks to artist Katie Anderson for the stunning images.

Landscape and Science: an exploration

Art often draws inspiration from the landscape- indeed, the very word landscape can be traced to the Dutch word landschap, describing the sixteenth century novelty of painting a scenic view, “framing the picturesque”.

Science can also draw inspiration from the shape and form of the land. Although this notion is often overlooked, landscape can be a fertile source for the scientific imagination, informing constructive thought and reasoning.

Glenlair

Glenlair

So, appreciation of the land can bring forth creativity in both art and science; our day’s quest explores these ideas through the work of a scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, and an artist, Charles Jencks. Both have lived and worked here, both draw creative strength from their landscapes.

Duncan Ferguson introduces us to the world of James Clerk Maxwell

Duncan Ferguson introduces us to the world of James Clerk Maxwell

Our day started at the home of James Clerk Maxwell, at Glenlair, Corsock. Here, we were met by Duncan Ferguson, owner of Glenlair and Trustee of the Maxwell at Glenlair Trust, which promotes Maxwell’s legacy and aims to rebuild Glenlair, twice badly damaged by fire many years ago. Duncan explained that Glenlair was James Clerk Maxwell’s family home until age ten; his mother taught him to “look to nature”. He returned for five years, between appointments at King’s College London and Cambridge University. At Glenlair he formulated his Electrodynamic Theory, uniting the properties of light, electricity and magnetism. This revolutionary work underpins our electrical and electronic worlds; this achievement alone puts him in the same league as Newton and Einstein. Duncan told us more; he devised many principles used in structural engineering, pioneered work in optics and produced the first colour transparency. And he explained the stability of Saturn’s rings… in those days, James Clerk Maxwell would be called a natural philosopher… the newer name, scientist, perhaps loses some of the essence of the words it replaces.

Whilst at Glenlair, James designed and supervised extensions to the House, incorporating his own ideas, such as the trichromatic floor tiling, a reminiscence of his experience in photography, and the design of the supports for the rain gutters, ironwork cast in the curves and spirals of his geometric thinking.

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As Duncan guided us past the building, along the burn and through the byres, the harpist Wendy Stewart played a selection of her music inspired by James’ life and work: Folds in the Fields, Reflex Musings and Glenlair House. A song too: a poem by James, Rigid Body Sings, set to the tune Comin through the Rye.

Travelling north and east, joining Nithsdale at Thornhill (for lunch), we followed the river to Sanquhar. Just beyond, is the Crawick Multiverse. This is landscape art on a grand scale. Previously an opencast coalmine, the Duke of Buccleugh funded construction of these massive symbolic earthworks to the design of Charles Jencks; here, science informs art, inscribed on the land in a series of sculptured landforms linked by walkways bordered by thousands of aligned standing stones.

We walked the high road of the Comet’s Walk to Northpoint, a viewpoint for the multiverse, Crawick, Sanquhar and beyond, to the heather hills, north and south, bisected by Nithsdale, east to west.

Sound experiments with Wendy Stewart at the Crawick Multiverse

Sound experiments at the Crawick Multiverse

Resting here, first we contemplated, then we conversed, then we chimed: along with her harp, Wendy had brought a selection of metal rods…collectively, in a circle atop Northpoint, each holding a rod, swinging and arcing together to meet in an ensemble of unique sound. Here too, Wendy played harp, also letting us try the strings for harmony.

Wendy Stewart on Antromeda at the Crawick Multiverse

Wendy Stewart on Antromeda at the Crawick Multiverse

Onwards, away from Northpoint, over and upwards to the spiral mound of our Andromeda where we discussed the harp music in relation to its environment and Wendy shared her knowledge giving us all an opportunity to play the harp, then south, to the Omphalos, the Centre, through the Solar Amphitheatre and to our completion.

Retracing our way to Sanquhar, well fed at the Nithsdale hotel, we met at A’ the Airts, Sanquhar’s community arts venue. There, Professor John Brown, the astronomer Royal for Scotland gave his lecture Black Holes, White Rabbits and the Multiverse. His insights into the wonders and mysteries of our universe at its extremes, the realm of black holes and other universes were made even more memorable with his skill as magician and illusionist. These tricks were entertaining in their own right, but were given extra salience as a source of metaphor in scientific thought at the limits of thought and reason.

Finally, into the darkening night to the Merz gallery to visit the Landscape of Waves exhibition. Charles Jencks collaborated with Alex Rigg, a performance artist and founder of Oceanallover. On display were paintings, drawings, sculptures and costumes for the grand opening of the Multiverse on summer solstice, 2015.

A complete day of exploration and imagination: art and science from the landscape.

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Our “Quest for a Landscape of Science” team

Further Reading

www.glenlair.org.uk

www.wendystewart.co.uk

www.crawickmultiverse.co.uk

www.oceanallover.co.uk

www.all-the-airts.com

Cat, J. Glenlair: a brief architectural history. Available at: www.glenlair.org.uk/glenlair-history

Acknowledgements

Jan Hogarth for curating our day; Wendy Stewart for her music; Duncan, Frances and Angus Ferguson for their hospitality at Glenlair; Professor Brown for his lecture; staff at Crawick Multiverse and A’ the Airts; all those attending the quest.

Thanks to David Ball for writing this article. David Ball has retired as an anaesthetist, but continues with charity work and teaching in Africa. “But now I can walk, run and cycle more. Or just sit. So I’m listening to what the landscape is telling me”.

Landscape and Science: An Exploration

Duncan Ferguson and Wendy Stewart at Glenlair

Duncan Ferguson and Wendy Stewart at Glenlair

Art often draws inspiration from the landscape- indeed, the very word landscape can be traced to the Dutch word landschap, describing the sixteenth century novelty of painting a scenic view, “framing the picturesque”.

Science can also draw inspiration from the shape and form of the land. Although this notion is often overlooked, landscape can be a fertile source for the scientific imagination, informing constructive thought and reasoning.

So, appreciation of the land can bring forth creativity in both art and science; our day’s quest explores these ideas through the work of a scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, and an artist, Charles Jencks. Both have lived and worked here, both draw creative strength from their landscapes.

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Duncan Ferguson explaining the history of Maxwell’s improvements to Glenlair

Our day started at the home of James Clerk Maxwell, at Glenlair, Corsock. Here, we were met by Duncan Ferguson, owner of Glenlair and Trustee of the Maxwell at Glenlair Trust, which promotes Maxwell’s legacy and aims to rebuild Glenlair, twice badly damaged by fire many years ago. Duncan explained that Glenlair was James Clerk Maxwell’s family home until age ten; his mother taught him to “look to nature”. He returned for five years, between appointments at King’s College London and Cambridge University. At Glenlair he formulated his Electrodynamic Theory, uniting the properties of light, electricity and magnetism. This revolutionary work underpins our electrical and electronic worlds; this achievement alone puts him in the same league as Newton and Einstein. Duncan told us more; he devised many principles used in structural engineering, pioneered work in optics and produced the first colour transparency. And he explained the stability of Saturn’s rings… in those days, James Clerk Maxwell would be called a natural philosopher… the newer name, scientist, perhaps loses some of the essence of the words it replaces.

Whilst at Glenlair, James designed and supervised extensions to the House, incorporating his own ideas, such as the trichromatic floor tiling, a reminiscence of his experience in photography, and the design of the supports for the rain gutters, ironwork cast in the curves and spirals of his geometric thinking.

p1100340

Wendy Stewart performing in Glenlair’s inspirational landscape to artists and scientists

As Duncan guided us past the building, along the burn and through the byres, the harpist Wendy Stewart played a selection of her music inspired by James’ life and work: Folds in the Fields, Reflex Musings and Glenlair House. A song too: a poem by James, Rigid Body Sings, set to the tune Comin through the Rye.

 

Travelling north and east, joining Nithsdale at Thornhill (for lunch), we followed the river to Sanquhar. Just beyond, is the Crawick Multiverse. This is landscape art on a grand scale. Previously an opencast coalmine, the Duke of Buccleugh funded construction of these massive symbolic earthworks to the design of Charles Jencks; here, science informs art, inscribed on the land in a series of sculptured landforms linked by walkways bordered by thousands of aligned standing stones.

Here, we contemplate the relation of the earth with the four zones of grassland, mountains, watercourses and deserts, beyond to the sun, to our galaxy and further, to the grandly speculative ideas of the Multiverse, a theoretical notion of multiple universes, each, perhaps, with their own constants and laws of nature. These are represented as carved shapes or forms in the landscape, weaving a pattern for our imagination.

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Sound experiments with chimes at the Multiverse

We walked the high road of the Comet’s Walk to Northpoint, a viewpoint for the multiverse, Crawick, Sanquhar and beyond, to the heather hills, north and south, bisected by Nithsdale, east to west.

Resting here, first we contemplated, then we conversed, then we chimed: along with her harp, Wendy had brought a selection of metal rods…collectively, in a circle atop Northpoint, each holding a rod, swinging and arcing together to meet in an ensemble of unique sound. Here too, Wendy played harp, also letting us try the strings for harmony.

p1040811

Wendy Stewart performing in Andromeda

Onwards, away from Northpoint, over and upwards to the spiral mound of our Galaxy, then south, to the Omphalos, the Centre, through the Solar Amphitheatre and to our completion.

Retracing our way to Sanquhar, well fed at the Nithsdale hotel, we met at A’ the Airts, Sanquhar’s community arts venue. There, Professor John Brown, the astronomer Royal for Scotland gave his lecture Black Holes, White Rabbits and the Multiverse. His insights into the wonders and mysteries of our universe at its extremes, the realm of black holes and other universes were made even more memorable with his skill as magician and illusionist. These tricks were entertaining in their own right, but were given extra salience as a source of metaphor in scientific thought at the limits of thought and reason.

Finally, into the darkening night to the Merz gallery to visit the Landscape of Waves exhibition. Charles Jencks collaborated with Alex Rigg, a performance artist and founder of Oceanallover. On display were paintings, drawings, sculptures and costumes for the grand opening of the Multiverse on summer solstice, 2015.

A complete day of exploration and imagination: art and science from the landscape.

 

Further Reading

www.glenlair.org.uk

www.wendystewart.co.uk

www.crawickmultiverse.co.uk

www.all-the-airts.com

Cat, J. Glenlair: a brief architectural history. Available at: www.glenlair.org.uk/glenlair-history

 

Acknowledgements

Jan Hogarth for curating our day; Wendy Stewart for her music; Duncan, Frances and Angus Ferguson for their hospitality at Glenlair; Professor Brown for his lecture; staff at A’ the Airts; all those attending the quest.

 

 

Hartfell Spa – A Quest for the Mind, Body and Spirit

By: Nadiah Rosli

The signboard that greeted our group under clear blue skies in Moffat on May 7th located just a few metres before the Annandale Water Hall set the tone and pace for our quest. Akin to the winds that carried the word, ‘Hartfell Spa’ on the isolated road, we echoed each other’s names against the backdrop of this Border landscape. This exercise wasn’t merely a genial induction held between 9 individuals. Instead, it marked an immediate space of inclusivity and attentiveness to each other and our surroundings. Place names like our own, after all, are imbued with meaning, stories and memories. Indeed, this was a fitting introduction to the retreat guided by Environmental Artist, Jan Hogarth and Folklore Expert and Scottish Ethnologist, Dougie Strang to find the healing water of Hartfell Spa.

Dougie Strang, folklore expert and performers shares with us the secrets of Hartfell Dougie Strang, folklore expert and performers shares with us the secrets of Hartfell, the folklore of the landscape and reminded us of our ancient relationship to nature.

Dougie Strang, folklore expert shares with us the secrets of Hartfell's landscape

Dougie Strang, folklore expert shares with us the secrets of Hartfell’s landscape

What’s in a Name?

River Annan – In Irish mythology, Anu (or Ana) is the name of a goddess or great mother.

As we began our walk towards Hartfell, the highest hill in Dumfriesshire, we were informed that the gradation of space is not only defined by height. Culture and nature too, have stitched their enigmatic cloak across the landscape. Through Dougie’s engaging stories, together we unearthed Hartfell’s contours that have been carved by history, mythology and imagination throughout the centuries. The junction of 3 rivers (Clyde, Tweed and Annan) can be found on these hills which were also the abode of Neolithic dwellers, the Frisians and Celts. Perhaps, its most famous resident is the sixth century figure, the Wizard Merlin, who was believed to have spent his last years of exile in the wild forests of these Southern slopes.

We climbed higher on a grassy track and were asked to converge at the spring in silence. It was not just in sight that we approached the waters as all of our senses were magnified and the path demarcated our own zones of intimacy. Each step towards the Spa was connecting us to our presence at the hills while disconnecting us from the hustle and bustle of our lives. From ancient seers to the sickly, those who made their journey to the Spa were most likely guided by both external and internal compasses. We too, were pilgrims that day; our bearings shifting to what each of us were seeking for in the sojourn.

Pilgrims on our way to find the water

Pilgrims on our way to find the water

The Hartfell Quest was a delightful opportunity to journey into a sacred place through moments of solitude and conviviality, via interwoven paths of myth, folklore and language. An invitation to explore the landscape through sight, smell, sound, touch and taste enlivened the quest and heightened the stories heard as we walked. This confluence of the senses proved to be an enriching way to commune with the landscape and the other folk on the journey at a beautiful level of depth, glimpsing lives lived through experience, cultural values and memory – Jon Randall, Quest participant

Hartfell Spa

Hartfell Spa

Drinking the water from a victorian spa drinking jug

Drinking the water from a victorian spa drinking jug

The waters of Hartfell Spa which are rich with iron salts and minerals are famous for its healing and prophetic properties. It seems Hartfell water cures nearly everything according to a gentleman’s description in a Victorian travel book talking about Moffat’s medicinal waters: “I have likewise known many instances of its particular good effects in coughs proceeding from phlegm, spitting of blood, and sweatings; in stomach eruptions attended with headaches, giddiness, heartburn, vomiting, indigestion, flatulency, and habitual costiveness; in gouty complaints, affecting the stomach and the bowels;in obstructions and diseases peculiar to the female sex. It has likewise been used externally with great advantage, in teterous eruptions, and obstinate ulcers. Such is the strength of Hartfell water that it must be used sparingly”

We followed the gully and stream that brought us to the Spa and the quest culminated in the drinking of the water. One by one we entered through a small arch that led into a stone cellar. The wooden fence creaked as we had to bend low into the vaults. It is thought that Hartfell is an entry into the other world and this gesture at the Spa was somehow symbolic of the intersection between the tangible and intangible, the physical and the spirit. Soon, the rising wind was our receptive company and it could be appreciated why the Spa was a main source of spiritual wellbeing and inspiration for so many before us.

Jan Hogarth explaining the history of the Spa. Hartfell spa was discovered in 1748 by a John Williamson, whose memorial can be found in the old Moffat cemetery. It was considered into Victorian times and in some cases, even today as having healing powers.

“I thoroughly enjoyed our quest. I am still processing my experience. I enjoyed connecting with the land, the ever changing terrain and energy, the views and character of the water that flowed through the valley and trickled off the hills. Witnessing and sensing nature from so many perspectives, ancient nature, newness of saplings, the here and now in an instant of flowing water, nature’s embrace as I experienced the comfort and warmth of sitting in the grass. The engagement of the animals; the deer, the birds, the sheep and the poppy and penny too!

What stood out for me is despite being in love with nature I tripped myself up by believing I was more connected than I truly was. The moment of realisation came in the well, when silly me drank out of the muddy puddles on the well floor. Only when I turned around to leave did I spot the well the natural spring water!

Susie sharing her stories

Susie sharing her stories

Happy to report that even the muddy water up at Hartfell Spa is clean and pure – I suffered no ill-effects.” Susie Jamieson, Quest participant

After having lunch nearby the Spa, we headed down with a partner and exchanged stories of connection to nature, place and life. Later on the grass and heather, we shared our personal reflections. The Hartfell Spa was a conduit for these experiences as it was markedly a pensive occasion, fueled and nurtured by the 3-hour walk to the Spa.

“I enjoyed the relaxing company and a chance to talk about experiences and memories rather than the usual “what do you do” stuff. I also thought the mother of the rivers formation was awesome.” – Phoebe Marshall, Quest participant

The retreat concluded at the Annandale Water Hall with afternoon tea. These treats weren’t the only things that nourished us at the end of the journey. With our spirits refreshed, the encounters and connections we experienced – with fellow Quest participants, the landscape, folklore and stories of Hartfell will continue to be signatures that rest on us as we return to our daily routines.

The famous scones

The famous scones

“Cosmic speculation in good company, beautiful surroundings, rounded off by excellent scones!” – Will Marshall, Quest participant.

Nadiah is a postgraduate student of Environment, Culture and Communication at University of Glasgow, with a wide experience of conservation, including working as a Marine Communications Officer with WWF-Malaysia, an Environmental journalist with the Malaysian News Agency and a Programme Development Coordinator with APE Malaysia, a social enterprise working on improving captive wildlife welfare in the South East Asian region.

For more information about the Hartfell Quest and for opportunities to join the next one contact jan@wide-open.net or tel. 07801232229

 

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