2 Sep 2016

what we saw on our holiday

Back in June we went on a trip to Cornwall. Here are some of the places we saw there and on the way.

Lud's Church, just south of Macclesfield, is like the Whangie's bigger English cousin. It's a labyrinth compared to the Whangie, but wasn't as tricksy to find, thankfully.

While we were there we heard a guide telling his group that legend said it had been made by a battle between Morgan le Fay and Merlin. We also saw a man with a very long beard and a strangely conspiratorial gait who I can only assume was an old druid come to pay his respects and maybe do a naked dance or something.

After several hours of driving on day two of the journey we stopped at Glastonbury to climb the Tor and eat our pies from Gloucester services (described as 'Heaven's waiting room' by a very weary James). It was a blissful respite at seven in the evening, the sun just starting to dip. As I was lying slumped on the grass, someone started to play the flute in the tower and I became even more reluctant to get up and back in the car for another two hours.

Continuing our Arthurian theme, we went to Tintagel and saw Merlin's Cave.

The waterfall at St Nectan's Glen would easily have been the best thing we saw all trip if it weren't for the fact that it's privately owned and you have to pay four quid to see it. You buy a ticket and then they let you through these big metal gates to get down. It takes away a lot of the magic of the place, which is a great shame because it is magical. Call me old fashioned, but I just don't think you should be able to own a naturally occurring waterfall in a forest. It seems wrong, you know? You wouldn't have to pay to see a waterfall in Scotland. It was very beautiful anyway.

Carnglaze Caverns are old slate quarries that you can now go and walk round. Also home to the UK's only licensed underground bar, apparently. It wasn't open.

Roche Rock is supposedly where a hermit used to live, but it's pretty extravagant for a hermit. You can climb up to the top via ladders which is fun.
And that's what we saw on our holiday.

25 Jul 2016

summer bylines

 The last couple of months I've found myself printed in two super lovely lit mags. It always feels more exciting to be published on paper rather than just online (not that I'd ever turn my nose up at digital platforms, or any platform, scrawl my poems on the backs of bus seats, please). Still, my old fashioned soul just feels giddy seeing my name in ink on the page.

When I saw that Severine was calling for submissions for their 'heroes' issue, I decided to send them a mini-biography of my great-grandma that I wrote last year. I was so happy they chose to include it, and I've been surprised and touched by how many people have told me they loved reading about my super cool great-grandma. I think all the print copies of the mag have sold out now, but you can read it for free online here.

Last month I was also extremely excited to be featured in issue three of RAUM alongside some honestly fantastic poets. I have to admit that I don't always read the publications I appear in cover to cover, but this lovely wee magazine I did and I loved everything. I love the poems individually, I love the variety, and I especially love how well they were chosen and put together because despite the call for submissions not having any specific theme they still form a perfectly cohesive collection. Hooray for great editing!

You can find my poem Rosslyn in the issue, which is one that means a lot to me as I first drafted it after my now-boyfriend took me to Rosslyn Chapel on our second date. It changed quite a lot between that first version and the version that appears here, but when I read it I still go right back to that strange, significant day. You can't read RAUM online but you can order it for not very much here, which I highly recommend doing and not just because I'm in it.

13 Jul 2016

a black and white time capsule

Some pictures from a black and white film I recently had developed that had been hanging out in my camera for over two years.

16 May 2016

the whangie, at last

Our Whangie tale starts about this time last year: James and I had been on a mini road trip and the last stop on our roughly plotted itinerary was the Whangie. It's just a wee bit north of Glasgow, and since all our resources told us it was an easy walk (and because it made me giggle) it seemed like the perfect conclusion to the weekend. So we parked up and set off on the well-worn path, the sun winking through encouragingly even though it was late afternoon by then. We asked a walker going in the opposite direction how far it was to the Whangie and she said ten minutes, tops.

When we hadn’t seen another walker for twenty minutes or more and found ourselves wandering across the top of a hill with no sign of a natural stone corridor, we started to think we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere. The sun was gone: it was now raining and the grass had become mud and essentially swamp land in some areas. James was not especially enjoying the way dirty sludge was oozing up around his toes in his sandals. We trudged along the crest of the hill looking for the way down, eventually staggering down a steep slope out of desperation and rejoining the path. Rather than go back and try again we decided to give up and go home, Whangie-less and moist.

A number of times over the last year we've thought about going back to finish what we started, but every time it came to it we were either too tired after a day of activity, or there was something more pressing or local to be done. Which is how the Whangie became a kind of running joke that we started throwing out as an insincere suggestion to the question What shall we do today?

"There's always the Whangie," one of us would scoff, hilariously, as though the Whangie didn't actually exist and so it would be totally impossible for us to visit it.

This weekend, however - almost exactly a year since we first tried to find the popular rock formation and failed embarrassingly - we decided to try again. Our egos had sufficiently recovered and it felt right. This time we went prepared in walking boots and coats, which turned out to be very unnecessary since it was a beautiful day. We walked up the hill again with a sense of trepidation and déjà vu, determinedly took the path we had forsaken last time around, and just as we were beginning to get a bit anxious that we'd cocked it up again - whammo! The grassy slope of the hillside became the distinctive ragged jaw of the Whangie.

Feeling more proud of ourselves than we really had any right to be, we high-fived obnoxiously and made our way into the crevice. The name 'Whangie' probably comes from the old Scots word 'whang', meaning a slice or to slice. It's said that it was carved by the devil's tail slashing the hillside, which is pretty typical of suspicious Christian reactions to older Pagan folklore. It's an atmospheric place to be sure: it's got all the necessary symbolic characteristics to be a natural setting for worship or Beltane-type fetivals (you can see from the photos how the sun kind of pours in strangely, and the narrow corridor is quite birth canal-like, so... yeah, all that.)

"Crikey, it's getting a bit Hanging Rock, isn't it?" I said as we walked up into the narrowing chasm. All we were lacking was some spooky pan pipe music and there might have been some floating corsets on the cards.

And that's the story of how, after a year of thwarted attempts, we finally found the Whangie.

13 Apr 2016

the tallest tree in britain

It's April, which means it's basically summer, which means we can go camping again without people giving us looks of horror. Mostly. I have to admit that the camping aspect of the weekend wasn't the most comfortable. For a start, we'd decided to leave after work on Friday night, to get the most out of the weekend, you see? So we drove for two hours into the middle of nowhere, pulled into a lay-by, and pitched the tent in the dark and the rain. I woke up at 7:20, cold and unable to get back to sleep. So I woke James up as well. Considering we had no real concept of where we were at the time, I was pleasantly surprised to find we were, in fact, on the edge of a forest, surrounded by dramatic mountainous landscape. We had a breakfast of porridge pots as we watched a trail of cloud sneak around the base of a hill.
 By half eight we were at Castle Carrick, on the banks of Loch Goil, which I'm sure is always very lovely but looked particularly wonderful in the early morning light with cloud toppings slowly drifting away like something very big and gentle was wiping sleep from its eyes. As we pulled into a quiet hotel car park opposite the castle a bus pulled in after us. It was empty. A few minutes later it left again, as empty as it had arrived.

 Puck's Glen is just a short distance away from Benmore Botanic Gardens and is a real life fairy glen. The information board described the walk as 'magical' and it was extremely justified. The place was trickling over with green, so much green. And there was water coming out from everywhere, everything from gushing waterfalls to dripping mossy banks. As we walked along the upper glen there was a quick hail storm and we just stood there laughing, in this weird beautiful place.

As with so many really wonderful places, the photos don't even come close to doing it justice (which didn't stop me taking nearly a hundred of them, but I'll spare you.) In the upper glen there were all these fallen trees crossing the river that had baby trees growing on them, and at the top of the hill there was this high waterfall that I can only describe as a flume. There's something about waterfalls: you know how falling water negatively charges ions which produce serotonin in us when they get to our bloodstream? Walking through Puck's Glen you can feel yourself getting a bit of a waterfall high, which is probably why it has that magical feel.

That's it for this edition of mystical science corner.

 Speaking of extremely beautiful places, we also went to find a beach known as Ostell which is a white sand bay that looks directly north to Arran. It was worth squelching across a saturated heather field to get to, because it was lovely and secluded and the sun was out and we both got slightly sunburnt noses from lying there, which was also worth it.

We camped at a spot further around the coast, on the edge of some woodland again but this time right next to the beach, looking across at Bute. The second night was colder than the first, but I gallantly waited until eight to wake James up on Sunday morning. We packed up and headed north to see a tree.

The tallest tree in Britain lives in Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, but we'll get to that. First I want to tell you a story about an old mill. In the late 1600s there was a man, Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas, who had eight daughters. A young man, John MacNaughton of Dunderave, was in love with his second daughter, Jean, and wanted to marry her. But it simply wasn't done for the younger daughters to marry before the eldest, and so Sir James resisted. Eventually he gave in and allowed them to marry, but to John's horror on the morning after his heavily drink-fuelled nuptuals he woke to find the woman next to him was not his beloved Jean but her older sister. (I have some issues with how he had managed to get through the entire wedding, reception, and wedding night without realising he'd married the wrong Miss Campbell, but apparently she was 'heavily veiled'.) Being an honest Christian man (and probably feeling a bit guilty that he'd consummated the wrong marriage) he continued to live with the older sister, but Jean often visited the house and when she fell pregnant John was thrown into prison. Luckily for him, Jean roped in a local fisherman and they broke him free, at which point the lovers fled to Ireland. Sir James pursued them but was ultimately wounded in a scuffle and left them to it. After a while Jean and John left Ireland and went to Holland where their own daughter, Jean again, was born. They then, for whatever reason, shipped the young child back to Scotland to her grandfather. She was known there as Sìne Dhuidseach (Dutch Jean) and she grew up and married Duncan of Achacharn. Her grandfather initially gave them a lease of Ardnomhar that would last, rather poetically, "as long as the woods grew and the water flowed". That turned out not to be true when he later tore up the lease and threw them out (who knows why, I can't find anything about it). But he did at least give them the mill so they could earn a living, which was better than nothing I suppose.

This soap opera yarn brought to you courtesy of the leaflet about the old mill at Ardkinglas (embellishments by me.)

The water of the river Kinglas is the cleanest, clearest water I've seen in a long time. It's sad that clean river water is rare enough to be a notable sight, because it's a beautiful thing.

The tallest tree in Britain is a mighty tall tree. It's a champion tree, which is a mystery in itself as the plant folk (botanists, I should say) don't know how the first champion tree seed found its way to the British Isles way back when. Ardkinglas is also home to the widest tree in Britain, and to be honest neither of them look completely out of place alongside all the other monster trees in the area. I don't know what they're doing up there. Maybe it's something in the water.