Sunday 29 March 2015

Sweetheart Abbey

Thoughts turn at this time of year to spring cycle trips. And where better than Galloway, with its quiet roads, rural charm, and coastal villages?

Roadside dell:

We took the bikes from Rockcliffe to New Abbey on a glorious spring day, intending to climb Criffel and visit the ancient abbey.

The streets of New Abbey:

But clouds were gathering as we climbed Criffel. A shame, as it must make a grand viewpoint over Galloway and the Lake District on a fine day.

View over the Nith from Criffel summit:

The main attraction after Criffel is Sweetheart Abbey, founded in 1273 by Devorgilla, who inherited the Lordship of Galloway. She had her husband's heart buried in the abbey grounds. He was John de Balliol, a member of the French-speaking Norman aristocracy who ruled much of Western Europe by this time, an elite who seamlessly traversed the single, rarefied establishment ruling the French, English and Scots courts.

Devorgilla's sons and grandsons would play an integral part in the Wars of Independence - her eldest surviving son was legitimate heir to the Scottish throne, but was opposed by de Brus, another half-Norman family with nearby roots. (Though the Bruces eventually triumphed over the Balliols, the legitimacy of Devorgilla's son, Scotland's hapless King John I, should not be lost in the glare of Robert the Bruce's fame.)

We headed back to the campsite in the teeth of a strong wind, a now wet and raw day. Spring is like that sometimes.

Carsethorn on the return journey:

Tuesday 17 March 2015

St Patrick and the O.K. Connection

St Patrick, while not the first evangelist in Ireland, was the most famous. By the time he was done at the end of the 5th century, Ireland had been converted to Christianity. Thanks to the spread of the Irish diaspora, he is famous throughout the world.

Less well-known is his Scottish connection. St Patrick was from somewhere in the west of Britain, and Old Kilpatrick, at the western end of the Antonine Wall and at the base of the Kilpatrick Hills, claims him as a son. (Although as his father was a bishop of Carlisle, the odds are higher that he was a Cumbrian.) Certainly however he wrote to Cortoticus the King of Strathclyde in his castle at Dumbarton, to lambast him for allowing newly Christianised Irish citizens to be captured and sold as slaves.

In the Kilpatrick Hills:

Given Patrick's connections to the West of Scotland, and the West of Scotland's large Irish community, it seems strange that St Patrick's Day is not a more notable affair. Beyond a festival in Coatbridge, largely unknown in the rest of Scotland, St Patrick's Day passes without comment.  

Perhaps the reason is historical. The religious wars of the 17th century and plantation of Ulster continues to cast a weak shadow over the West of Scotland even into the 21st century. The flying of Irish flags inevitably leads to a reaction of Union flags and a rejection of Irishness by antediluvian elements of Scottish society. It is not unknown for Scots who identify as Irish to be told not to be daft, they are Scottish. As if the two things are mutually exclusive.

But is this not hypocritical? Do Scots abroad not like to celebrate their ancestors' heritage? And is it not possible to live comfortably with more than one identity? Scottishness and Britishness, after all, commonly reside comfortably in the one body.

So let's celebrate the culture of all our immigrants and natives - whether Irish, British, Indian, European or whatever - and not fear the dominant culture is too small-minded to accommodate them all.

After all - St Patrick may well be one of ours!

Saturday 7 March 2015

The Trossachs Way

Do you spend your time looking at maps and dreaming up new walking adventures? I do. And it was while looking at OS Landranger 57, Stirling and the Trossachs, that I wondered if it would be possible to link a number of lochs in the Trossachs together in a circular walk whilst avoiding main roads. And you know what? It is.

Route map (alternative route as dotted line):

Start in Aberfoyle, and there are any number of routes through the Queen Margaret Forest towards Loch Venachar - cycle tracks around Loch Drunkie, or the Rob Roy Way for example - that lead towards a quiet backroad into Callendar.

Loch Katrine:

From Callendar, the busy A84 can be bypassed completely via the track of an old railway on the opposite side of Loch Lubnaig, passing the scenic rapids of the Falls of Leny, before picking up another very quiet backroad between Strathyre and Balquidder, where Rob Roy's grave can be visited.

Loch Lubnaig © Copyright Liz 'n' Jim:

Thr route from Balquidder to Stronachlachar is the longest and most exposed stretch, and would require hillwalking experience. However if one stuck to the scenic public road on the north side of Loch Voil, rather than the forest track on the south side, it would be possible to break the day at Monachyle Hotel.

Loch Voil:

From Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine you follow the lochside road east until striking up the hillside along an unusual series of towers - vents for a tunnel - towards to Loch Chon. Forest roads lead you past the south banks of Loch Chon and Loch Ard - with another optional stop at Kinlochard - and finally back to Aberfoyle.

Loch Ard:

(An alternative, on reaching Loch Katrine, would be to walk down the private road towards the heart of the Trossachs, then take the forest tracks on the south side of Lochs Achray and Vennachar back to Callendar.)

Loch Achray:

The whole walk would be about 80km and take 3 days. It is all very do-able. Of all my fantasy walks, this might be the one I am most likely to do in the near future.