Sunday, January 06, 2013

Scottish New Year – Dumfries & Galloway

Day 1 – Castles, Birds & Towers

Christmas period was spent in Edinburgh and Glasgow but it was in Twynholm that we spent New Year with old friends Tony, Ruth, Ken, Fran, Hilary and Ron. We spent New Year here two years ago and had a great time, it was just as good this time round.
This is not the Scotland of Bens and Glens but rolling green hills, huge sandy beaches and castles. Our first walk was a trip to Threave Castle. This single tower castle surrounded by later fortifications, sits on an island in the River Dee. The river was in full spate but this made it even better for bird watching.
All along the path we saw robins, so friendly that they sat, literally inches from the camera. Every fifty yards or so another would be guarding their territory. Looking us right in the eye. Tony has a new birdwatching app that has lots of images but also plays bird calls. Not that you’d need it for the hundreds of geese we saw feeding on the farmland.
But it was the lapwings that we were after. We knew there was a Peregrine Falcon in the area as a more professional sounding bird man told us, and the lapwings were certainly skittish, which was fine as they look great in flight.
Then off to Orchardton Tower, a very rare round Tower house. It had three stories and when you climb inside, seems quite cosy. This whole area is dotted with fortified towers and castles. They’re often in well-chosen, beautiful spots and have a fascinating history. This is the land of border raids, changing royal allegiances, wars between Scotland and England.
Ruth and Tony are great cooks and their venison stew, laced with fruits was fantastic. If you're reading this guys - thanks for the food, walks and endless laughter.

Day 2 Hogmonay
Off to the butchers for some Scottish goodies – a couple of Desperate Dan steak pies, some black pudding and fruit pudding (to be fried for breakfast) yes there’s nothing we won’t fry. New Year was spent playing games, drinking and reflecting on the past year. Everyone gave their highlights and all in all it seemed to have been a good year. For me the highlights were; Best experience: Berlin debate, Best trip: Greece, Best music experience: Latitude, Best TV series: The Walking Dead, Best meal: Ljubljana, Best film: The Hunt, Best exhibition: Bronze (Royal Academy), Best theatre: Timon of Athens (National), Best Museum: Tank Museum Bovington, Best architecture: Charles Rennie Macintosh's Glasgow Art School, Best Album: EdwardSharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Best single: Willy Moon's Yeah Yeah. Best reading: Robert Macfarlane's three books on nature.
Hilary and Ron arrived in their mobile home and we got a tour. It’s amazingly comfortable inside with a fixed double bed, toilet, shower. Really thinking about buying something like this. Ron runs this as a small business, renting it out for around £800 a week.

Day 3 New Years Day – Birds and spot of geology
Down to the coast to walk. The views across the Solway look south and west and are stunning. More birdwatching – Plovers and Redshanks. It’s down this road that John Paul Jones lived, one of my favourite Scots. He left from here as a cabin boy and was commanding his own ship in his early twenties. He then founded the American navy, left to head up the Russian navy with great success and eventually was Admiral of the French Navy. Fascinatingly, he returned here as a US commander, robbed the local Earl, who had wronged his father, of his silver, then invaded and burnt down Whitehaven across the firth in England. He also sailed round to Edinburgh, pretended to be a British ship, received gunpowder, then bombarded Edinburgh. What a man!
At Abigland we walked along sandstone beds that have been seismically altered so that the current bedding is literally folded back on itself. There’s rippled beds in the sandstone at the back of the beach. The strata are at 50 degrees or so and rise up from the sand. Further along there’s a fantsastic fissure that forms a natural arch.
We stopped at the site of The Wickerman Festival, where the huge wickerman had been dressed as Santa. It takes place on 27/28 July this year may turn up as a precursor to Latitude. Finally a trip to the pub where Tony was due to play in a folk session. It was rammed and we were fleeced for raffle tickets, which the ticket collector won! Finally, Gil was kissed by the 'man with no nose'! Strange place the Borders. On the way back the stars were out and we could see the Milky Way.

Day 4 Final walk
Walked around the village with Ruth and Tony’s lovely daughter Rachael who had turned up down from Glasgow University where’s she’s studying Psychology. She was bemoaning the sociology lecturer who doesn’t believe in quantitative research and constantly disses psychology. Witches were burnt in this area, on the hill behind the village, no doubt qualitative research showed they were witches. Views were sought, people surveyed, views sought and yes the research showed that they were guilty! Discussed our planned cycling holiday on Islay and Jura – that will be something special in 2013.

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