Crawick Multiverse

On Easter Monday we set off for home after a lovely weekend in Galloway. We planned to stop at Crawick Multiverse, but were first distracted by the Red Deer Range in Galloway Forest Park. I admit I wasn’t too keen, as I thought the deer would just be a few specks in the distance, but they came right up to the hide.

Onwards to Crawick. What is it, I hear you ask? A former open-cast coal mine, it lay abandoned for 30 years until the landowner, the Duke of Bucclech, commissioned landscape artist Charles Jencks to transform it into the artland it has been since 2015. The site’s themes are space, astronomy and cosmology, with features and landforms representing the sun, universes, galaxies, black holes and comets. Having seen Jencks’ work at the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and at Jupiter Artland I was very keen to visit Crawick. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m not sure I can explain much more – you really have to see it. All the features have names, but I haven’t included captions because a) I can’t remember which is which in some cases and b) it would be very time-consuming to label them all. The two mounds with spiral paths which appear a lot represent the Milky Way and Andromeda, but other than that I’ll let the slide-show do the talking.

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There is absolutely nothing else at Crawick Multiverse – maybe this will change in the future, but for the moment the ticket office is a Portakabin and there’s also a portable toilet. If you want to eat, the nearest town is Sanquhar – although you might find, as seems common in this area, that kitchens keep very restricted hours. However, we had a good lunch in the Oasis Restaurant, part of the Nithsdale Hotel.

So ends our short stay in Galloway, a beautiful part of the country to which I can’t wait to return.

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Two Galloway gardens

Glenwhan Gardens

We arrived at Glenwhan Gardens just in time for morning coffee in the friendly tea room. This was Easter Sunday so I had expected it to be busy, but the weather was dull and damp and we seemed to be the first people there. Not so – apparently a woman had arrived earlier with a small girl in tow and enquired about their Easter Egg Hunt. When told she would have to pay the garden fee to participate, she stormed off saying it would be cheaper to go to Tesco to buy an egg. I would say 0/10 for parenting skills there! We spotted bags of mini-eggs hanging throughout the garden but, although it got a bit busier, we didn’t see many children. What a shame.

Anyway, after coffee we admired the peacock in the car park before heading through the entrance with its lovely stained glass panel.

Started in 1979, the 12 acre site was created from a hillside of bracken and gorse, with two lakes created by damming up bogs. The paths wander upwards to various viewpoints – it’s just beautiful.

There are many sculptures dotted around.

My favourite is the Peace Pinnacle, seen here from both sides.

The garden is surrounded by 17 more acres of wild land – it was even wetter under foot than the rest of the garden, but we enjoyed the moorland walk all the same.

As luck would have it, we passed the tea room again just in time for lunch (delicious) before returning to the car and setting off for our second garden of the day. However, we decided on another stop in between.

Glenluce Abbey

Glenluce Abbey was founded in 1191/2 by Roland, Lord of Galloway. The ruins are now in the care of Historic Scotland.

Finally, it was on to Castle Kennedy Gardens.

Castle Kennedy

The castle ruins date to the 16th century, but the gardens are more recent being the inspiration of the second Earl of Stair in the early 19th century. I was struck by the terraces and landforms, very reminiscent of contemporary work by Charles Jencks (and we’d be visiting one of his creations the next day). However, they have been there since the beginning, created by men with carts and horse-drawn equipment. Amazing work!

Lastly, at the top end of the gardens we found Lochinch Castle, which was rather more comfortable looking than Castle Kennedy!

We got wet several times throughout the day and it was cold (spot that I’m wearing gloves, even though it was April) so it was good to head back to our cosy cottage to dry out and warm up. We were leaving the next morning and planned to go home via Crawick Multiverse. Coming next!

Isle of Whithorn and Wigtown

Harbour at Isle of Whithorn

A tale of three walks

Easter Saturday (and also John’s birthday) was the first full day of our stay in Galloway.

Isle of Whithorn

Our first stop was Isle of Whithorn for morning coffee in the recently built Village Hall. From there, we set off for a walk round the “Isle” which is actually a peninsula – although Isle Head has a very narrow connection.

From the bay opposite the Hall we continued down Main Street to the harbour.

Looking back from the harbour, we could see on one side the castellated-effect sea wall of  the Captain’s Garden, a 19th century private house, and the Kirk, and on the other side Harbour Row with the Steam Packet Inn, named for the days when the Isle of Whithorn was a key destination for Galloway’s steamship trade.

Onto Isle Head where we found the Solway Harvester Seat, a tribute to the seven-strong local crew of the fishing boat Solway Harvester which sank in a storm off the Isle of Man in January 2000, and a witness cairn dedicated to St Ninian, an early Christian missionary. It’s situated in what was once the Isle’s lifeboat station.

Close by are the ruins of the 13th century St Ninian’s Chapel. And here’s a lovely picture of the birthday boy standing next to it!

Climbing to the top of Isle Head, there were good views back to the chapel and the village.

At the top is the Isle’s most prominent landmark, a square, white tower known as the Cairn which has been a navigational aid for hundreds of years. Next to it is another memorial to the men of the Solway Harvester.

From here, we retraced our steps back to the car and headed a few miles round the coast to St Ninian’s Cave.

St Ninian’s Cave

St Ninian’s Cave is somewhere John remembers visiting as a child, so he was keen to go back. From the car park it’s about a mile down the wooded Physgill Glen to a stony beach.

Turning right, the approach to the cave is obvious (though hard on the ankles).

It’s surrounded by crosses and other tributes in every nook and cranny.

The views back along the beach are beautiful.

Once again, we retraced our steps to the car. This time we were in search of lunch, but were about to learn that this is almost impossible in Galloway after 2pm. We stopped in a few places on our way to Wigtown where, fortunately, we found a suitable café – can’t have John starving on his birthday!

Wigtown

County Buildings

Wigtown used to be Galloway’s chief town, but declined over the 20th century until 1997 when it was designated Scotland’s national book town. The Wigtown Book Festival was inaugurated in 1998, and these two things have kick-started a regeneration as an attractive town for visitors. However, I resisted the siren call of bookshops and we set off on the town trail, starting at the magnificent County Buildings which seems to have pretensions as a French Château.

A short distance away was the church to which we returned via a long loop, enjoying the views from Lovers’ Walk and Windyhill.

A boardwalk then took us to the Martyrs’ Stake. In 1685, five people were executed in Wigtown for refusing to accept Episcopalian services and, in particular, that the King had the right to call himself head of the church. Three men were hanged, but Margaret Wilson (aged only 18) and Margaret McLachlan were sentenced to be tied to a stake within the flood mark of the Blednoch stream until they drowned. Today, a granite memorial marks the spot.

The path continued through wetlands to the harbour (rather muddy looking) and a bird hide before returning to town via Station road – with an appropriate weather vane.

After that it was back to our comfortable Wren’s Nest for the night. The next day did not dawn so bright, but we braved the rain to visit two Galloway gardens.

Wren’s Nest

View from Wren’s Nest

The Easter weekend coincided with John’s birthday this year, so as a gift I booked a short break in Dumfries and Galloway. Our accommodation, Wren’s Nest, was bijou (read tiny), a former farm building converted into a one-room cottage, but it was perfect for our needs. (There’s also a larger cottage, sleeping four, on site.) The owner, Janet, lived next door in the farmhouse and was an absolutely lovely person, so helpful. Not only that, she provided champagne for our first night! Apparently, we were the first people ever to stay in Wren’s Nest so this was a lovely way of marking that. (Both cottages can be booked via holidaycottages.co.uk).

The nearest town of any size was Newton Stewart and we stopped here for a look around on our way down to the cottage. Despite the dreich* weather we took a circular walk between two bridges over the River Cree.

Fortunately, the next day dawned brighter and we set off to celebrate John’s birthday on the Isle of Whithorn.

* Dreich (Urban Dictionary definition) – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

On being 90

Last month, we celebrated my Mum’s 90th birthday. Here, she describes the weekend on her own blog.

It was always sunny

Chris Mitchell 90thOn the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.

John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of…

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