Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday in (and around) Moniaive

If it's Tuesday and I am in Scotland, then there must be encounters with sheep.

With that in mind, may I suggest some music? I first heard this song exactly six years ago, when Ed and I did our big Scotland exploration. Our b&b host then was a teacher at a school that emphasized the preservation of the old Scottish Gaelic language and culture and he brought back a CD that his students put together of traditional Scottish music. The song "Ca’the yowes tae the knowes" (roughly translated: "call the ewes to the hills") quickly became my favorite and I talked him into selling me the CD so that I could listen to it again and again.
Most people think the song is Irish, which is a terrible insult to the Scotts, because the lyrics are by Robert Burns. You probably know of Robert Burns, but the Scottish people more than know him -- they burn with pride at the mere mention of his name (a couple of years ago, the Scottish TV did a survey on whom the Scotts consider to be the most important Scottish person of all time and the winner was Robert Burns. There wasn't even a close second). He put the poem to a traditional Scottish tune (toward the end of the 18th century). I listened to all the top interpretations available on youtube. None of them are nearly as good as the one on the CD from the school, but this comes closest:


Call the ewes, to the hills,
Call them where the heather grows,
Call them where the river flows...

Hark the evening thrush sang,
Down among the Clouden woods,
(the Clouden is a tributary to the river Nith which runs right through Thornhill!)
Then let us go and gather the sheep
Let's put you in the mood. These lambs and ewes are from farmer Neil's herd and I watched them cavort outside as I ate my breakfast.



The day is misty and gray and though the forecast assured us that there would not be rain until the afternoon, I was not going to trust those words. The weather in Scotland does not conform to what others wish it to be, or will it to be. It does its own thing.

Breakfast this morning is a Scottish rendition of what I have at home: oatmeal with fruit, yogurt and honey. Only it is quite substantial here, and the fruits vary, and the honey comes from the heathered fields of the Highlands.


And now comes the dilemma. The things I want to do here require decent (a low bar indeed!)  weather. Tomorrow is supposed to be wet. Today -- well, you know. Iffy.

Here's the plan: go to the village down the hill -- Moniaive (pronounced "money-I've;" population: 520) and see what it's like. If the skies stay dry, drive the seven miles to the base of the Striding Arches.

What's that? Oh, everyone in the district of Dumfries and Galloway knows about the Arches. And you've seen one too! Remember yesterday's post? There's a small one just outside the Castle grounds, by the river bank. They are made of large sandstone bricks and built to form a standing, self supporting arch. The artist, Andy Goldsworthy, has placed several arches in spots around the globe, but the Striding Arches -- three of them -- on the hilltops just north of Moniaive you could say are closest to his Scottish heart. He spent much of his life in this region. (You can read more about him and his arches here.)

The driving down to village is easy!


It's a wee place and so it takes me five minutes to explore it.


(at the cafe/general store, you glance at the ads on your way out)

(getting ready to pull out on the road... careful! pedestrians use it too!)

The skies remain dry. Good! I turn my car toward the road that takes you to the base of the Striding Arches.

And oh, what a road it is!

I'd say that my tiny Fiat 500 was far too wide for the single lane offered to us! And after a few miles, the pavement disappears and rocky gravel takes over. With holes and pits and flying rocks. And when I pass through pasture fields, cow dung sprays the side of the up-to-now crispy clean cream car.

But the really tricky part is the narrowness of the road. Every half mile, there is a small passing spot, off road, but who should be the one backing up along a narrow road with steep ditches on both sides and how this should be accomplished is beyond me.

(how the cows were laughing... Later I find out that they're farmer Neil's cows...)

The only reason, the only reason I am cool and collected is that I have the good fortune of not encountering a single other vehicle along the entire seven mile stretch of road. This part of Scotland is unbelievably remote. No one comes here. And in this lies at least part of the region's beauty.

At the end of the "road" there is a small parking space (empty, of course) and you have two choices: The first is the easiest: walk up a bit and in ten minutes you see a singular arch that is attached to an old farmstead house. For hundreds of years, the land north of Moniaive was used for herding sheep and cattle until the farmers figured out they could make more money on the timber.

I take this first choice, still keeping an eye on the skies.


(a timed release pic)

Your second option is to take the hike to one of the hilltop arches. The tourist info sheet describes this walk as "strenuous and requiring waterproof footwear." Warnings about changing weather are posted on a billboard. Let someone know of your whereabouts! -- the sign reads.

That sounds pretty ominous, but I tell myself -- I can always turn back if the going gets too rough. My host knows where I am. I don't have waterproof footwear and I forgot my walking stick (tucked nicely into my suitcase where right now it doesn't belong), but this is forested land so there must be sticks and my hiking shoes have seen mud before. Let me try.

After a few minutes, I almost turn back, but not for the danger or the strain of the climb (it's a six mile hike total and you're either ascending or descending the entire time). Instead, I am saddened to see what the lumber industry does to these beautiful forests. Oh, I know -- I use paper like the rest of the world, but honestly, after today, I resolve to use that much fewer paper towels! We already tear the smallest pieces in half; now I'll be tearing them into quarters. A token act, I know, but oh, those beautiful trees look sad when felled to feed our appetites for paper!


But the weather gods have gifted me a day that is perfect for hiking -- near 60F, windy, with a cloud cover that in my mind did not spell "rain," so I persevere.

And oh, am I rewarded!

I reach the summit of the nearest arch on Colt Hill (elevation just under 600 meters, so about 2000 feet -- not too bad a climb).

The last mile of the ascent is already stellar.

(do you see the arch on the next hill? the point is to be able to mark one from the vantage of another)

But at the top -- the views are simply sublime! And the clouds do not stand in the way of the panorama!


You have a 360 degree span of this remote, hilly country. It's unbelievably beautiful.


Here's another selfie (on a timed release) -- to give some perspective to the size of the arch that I find here.


During this entire excursion, I do not see a single human being, but that's not to say I see no living things. The cows,  and, too a fleeing hare,


... a fleeing buck,


... and of course - sheep.


On a smaller scale, I am enchanted by the flowers. There are clusters of buttercups everywhere and, too, flowers whose names I'll never know. But these common forget-me-nots take my breath away for the beauty and purity of their color.


And the rains never came and the winds calmed down (once I was off the summit!) and in all, I could not have had a better hike!

The reward: a lovely pot of tea in the sun room at Three Glens.


Today's dinner is with my host farmer, Neil and his dog, Stanley.  They come over to Three Glens...

(come on, Stanley-- jump up!)

(such a good dog!)

 ... and Greg -- the man who runs the house while Neil is still not retired -- prepares for us a tomato/mozzarella salad and a beef and mushroom risotto, with stewed apples and ice cream for dessert.

(the zucchini and arugula are from Neil and Mary's garden...)

In the course of our meal, I learn a lot about the life of a successful farmer in Scotland. About the progression of events that lead to the expansion or contraction of a farm. About generations of families and how they fit into the future of the business. About optimism. About taking chances, about risks, about happiness.


I'm better for it all, I know that.

Tomorrow -- oh, let's not look ahead. Let's just revel in today.