Monday, 23 October 2017

Gwaith 23 (Catch Up): Rain-affected Site-Seeing

Hi Everyone

After visiting Clochmabenstane, as recorded in an earlier posting (here), I travelled to my next base, The Bonnington in Moffat. I’ve talked before about my time in Moffat (here), so I won’t go into any details, other than to say I was once again warmly welcomed by the proprietors, Lesley and Paul, who greeted me with banana cake and a cup of tea. As with my previous stays there, they were always extremely helpful and hospitable.
Mine hosts: Paul and Lesley
The next day I left The Bonnington and made my way to the parking place near the trail to Hart Fell. As Nikolai Tolstoy states in his book The Quest for Merlin, if there ever is a sacred place in Britain, it is here, where it is said Myrddin (the historical character that Merlin is based on) escaped to after the battle of Arfderydd, in which he went mad. I have visited Hart Fell Spar twice before and drunk of its waters and honoured the presence of Myrddin/Merlin.
Hart Fell Spar. Note the ram's skull above the entrance.
Signage at the spar.
On my first visit, I climbed to a plateau just above the spar in the mistaken belief that this was Hart Fell itself. It wasn’t. As those of you who have followed my blog about my previous trips would know, I tend to climb first and check maps, etc., afterwards. So, on my next visit, I knew where I had to go, but heavy rain defeated my trudging from crest to crest towards the ever-receding summit that kept disappearing into mist.
View of area above Hart Fell Spar (2013).
On the way to the top of Hart Fell, before the rain really set in (2015).
I was determined this time to make it, but half way to the spar, the weather defeated me yet again—mist became a drizzle then a steady rain. My new hiking boots became waterlogged, even though they had been ‘proofed’, as did my jacket and my new waterproof overpants. I was starting to think that the spirits of the place had in it for me, or at least were testing me as if they were Threshold Guardians like those in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. I returned to my car and, after picking up maps and directions from my room, I headed out to sites I hadn’t expected to be visiting for a couple of days.
Signage at Castle Loch

I travelled down to Lochmaben, a small town about fifteen miles (30 minutes) south from Moffat. Nearby is Castle Loch, on the shores of which is Lochmaben Castle, the home of Robert the Bruce when he was Lord of Annandale. I had been to the loch and the castle area before, as I was using the setting for a major druid location. This time, I wanted to check out the area in a different season to those other visits. By the time I got there, the rain had stopped, but the temperature was still so cold my breath plumed in front of me.
Woods of Lochmaben
Sky above Lochmaben 
I spent an hour or so wandering the paths around the site and through the surrounding wood, accompanied by the constant drip of water from the rowans, hawthorn, beech, oak, and sycamore, like someone’s footsteps in the undergrowth, and by the calls of robins, thrushes, tits, and jackdaws and the flashes of colour as they darted through the trees. Two crows complained to each other about the weather. Out on the loch, two swans upended themselves as they fed, a line of ducks cruised across the dimpled water, and noisy geese passed overhead.
Swans swimming in one of the bays of Castle Loch
Line of ducks across the middle of the loch
Behind the castle ruins, to the west, is a low mound on which are perched six massive, gnarled beech trees, their trunks moss-wrapped near the roots. When I wrote the first draft of my novel, I described a mound that was used for the meeting of the druid community. I had been to Lochmaben before writing this, but I don’t remember noticing the actual mound that time. Some sort of synchronicity, perhaps? This time, I mapped out the mound, its guardian trees, and the flat amphitheatre area in front of it.
The mound behind the castle
Path to the mound from the castle area
One of the beech trees on the perimeter of the mound
I then travelled to Rockcliffe to climb The Mote of Mark, an Iron Age hillfort that seems to have been a centre for metalwork, which is how I am using it in the novel. My hero travels there as a test on his decision to become a druid. Brambles, beech, sycamore oak and rowan trees line the nearby stream, some of them with vines hanging down from their branches. Around the base are hawthorn and apple trees, wreathed in moss. The mound itself is quite sparse, with grass, bracken, gorse and tufts of spinifex, though there are some oak saplings in the hollow where I imagine the master metalworker had his dwellings and smithy. Moss covers some vitrified rocks that may have belonged to the original stone walls surrounding the dwellings on top of the summit.
Signage at the Mote of Mark, which overlooks the Urr estuary
The Mote of Mark
Moss-covered hawthorn tree
The mound has a great view of the bay to the south and the hills and valleys on the other sides. On the mudflats, oystercatchers called to each other as they searched for food. At one point, they were in a line, like advancing warriors, but most of the time they were scattered around, like fighters in their individual single combats. A flock of sparrows darted above the broad flat space between the north side of the mound and the next hill. When the chill breeze from the across the bay dropped, I could hear people talking on properties a quarter of a mile and more away.
The summit
Artistic rendition of the layout of the settlement on top of the mound
Possible vitrified fortifications
The mudflats south of the mound
View to the north of the mound
After more photos and measurements, I headed back to The Bonnington for a meal from The Moffat Chippy and a relaxing evening writing up my notes, planning my next day’s research, and purchasing train tickets for my upcoming trip to Germany.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments and will answer any questions you have about these Iron Age sites.

Best wishes


Nadine Cresswell-Myatt said...

What wonderful places to capture in words and with your camera. Great we can experience it so fully while keeping out boots dry at home.

Earl Livings said...

Thanks, Nadine. Glad to hear the experiences come across so vividly, though I wish I didn't have to get my boots and everything else thoroughly wet in the process :)