It is a bitterly cold morning, the mud on Lovers Walk has a hard crust that doesn’t give underfoot until I reach the very swampy side. I am attempting my first rough species survey today but my fingers are too numb with cold to hold a pencil. There is not much to note other than something has nibbled the tops off the Bluebells I have been watching come up, the Snowdrops are magnificent and there is a very wilted, tatty, but still ‘above ground’ Campion plant near the bench. All the others are very sensibly underground.
There is snow on the far Galloway hills and the geese are very restless, flying to and from and above the inks in great straggling, honking lines. As I look down and over the marshes, marvelling at the rusty bellowing of the flock and wondering how many millennia it has echoed over the bay, the Kite glides in deadly silence across the width of the whole field just 20 feet in front of me, almost skimming the ground and rising up at the last second to swoop over the broken dyke wall with barely a beat of its wings.
Regardless of the right to roam, it is against all my culture and training to trespass but today I have. I just had to go and inspect the scraps of beautiful stone wall in the telephone mast field, they have been calling me for some time and no one is about this early on a Sunday.
This wall runs roughly east west across Kirkland hill, but is not noted on the 1850 map and about 85% has been robbed away. The few scraps that are left however, are a beautifully made wall, almost fit to be a house and perhaps even dressed, or at least perfectly flat on the faces and with the ends cut diagonally. The few parts that are left have mature Hawthorn over them and the ground is bare where the sheep shelter from the wind coming straight off the Solway, with tiny micro-worlds of moss and ferns on the southern side. I must research this wall, it is built with consummate skill and great love, and has been very carefully pointed in the past.
I walked the perimeter of the field following the three turns of The Walk. Behind the modern abomination of the phone mast is an odd shaped, circular ground feature, or at least it looks a little unnatural to me. It could be spoil from the mast, but it is the very tippy top of Kirkland hill and would be a fine place to build a cairn or similar so I must research that too. Even with the trees and walls of more recent times, the view stretches the length of the Cree estuary and away to the Pennine hills in England and would be a good vantage point out to sea. The area is known for standing stones, and cup and ring stones and my friend Donna believes she has found an un-recorded stone with Ogham markings on it nearby, so now I'm examining every rock and bump and imagining cavemen everywhere.
Perhaps the landowner that built the fine wall also planted the long row of mature trees on this side of the Way, they are probably a similar vintage and indicate a family with the right kind of pride and love for their land. They are mostly Beech with the odd Ash, and although battered by some idiot nailing pig netting and barbed wire to them, some carved graffiti and some Ganoderma and wet or burrowed rot holes, they are good trees. They are not as good as the Beeches of the chalk downlands of Kent, but bearing in mind the exposure they have endured up here on the hill, they are the finest trees in the town to my mind. One is entirely hollow down one side, although still living, and I am entranced by the way that Scottish trees grow bright green moss around their base, like a knee blanket.
Someone has planted Whitebeam or something like it, in the gaps of the row in recent years, but they are diseased and look very bad. I should think only native trees would have a chance up here.
Tomorrow is Là Fhèill Brìghde, St. Brigid's day or Imbolc; the first day of spring.
Former Warden and Reserve Manager of Vinters Valley Park Trust, and Plantlife International's flagship reserve Ranscombe Farm in Kent, I now furtle in the hedgerows of Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, drawing, printing and making books.