MarySmith’sPlace – #Otter #Otter Pool #Dumfries&Galloway

After my last Silent Sunday post here my blogging friend Jemima Pett left a comment asking if I knew the wood where there is an otter pool with a bronze statue beside it. By sheer coincidence, as part of my never-ending task of sorting old photos for scanning, I had a photo of the otter statue on my desk! I couldn’t not blog about it, could I?

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The Otter Pool is situated on The Raiders’ Road, a ten-mile forest drive through part of the Galloway Forest. The pool, on the Back Water of Dee was always one of our favourite places for picnics when my son was small because of the wonderful, smooth flat rocks, the pools, some shallow, some deep depending on the amount of rainfall, and small waterfalls.

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My son was a total water baby from the day he first crawled into the ocean and he loved being at the Otter Pool, spending the entire time in – or under – the water while I pretended not to be terrified.

This is the poem (from the collection Thousands Pass Here Every Day published by Indigo Dreams) I wrote for him in those days.

(To David)
Sun-gleam on wet bronze limbs,
seal sleek you slip
into the deepest pool.
From the rocks I watch,
afraid of your fearlessness,
breath held as brown water
closes over you.

Surfacing, you laugh,
a careless toss of your head
scattering miniature rainbows –
my water god of the Otter Pool.

Other children splash,
playing safe
in sun-warmed shallows.
Their mothers silently question
my carelessness of you.
They do not know
how deep the fear,
how powerless
the mother of a deity
who believes he’s indestructible –
my water god of the Otter Pool.

The bronze statue of the otter Jemima remembers was, unfortunately, stolen some years ago. He stood on a flat stone overlooking the water and every visitor stroked his head so it had turned to a gleaming gold. He is greatly missed.

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MarySmith’sPlace – #HolyIsle #Arran

When we were on Arran recently, this was the view of Holy Isle from our rented accommodation in Lamlash.

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We couldn’t not go.

In spring and summer, a small ferry takes people on the ten-minute (if that) trip to Holy Isle from Lamlash. The timings of the crossings are dependent on tide and weather. When we were there, sailings were on the hour-ish.

We were met on Holy Isle by one of the volunteers who welcomed us, gave us a brief introduction to the island and asked us to keep to the pathways, to respect the privacy of the nuns who are on closed retreat in the south of the island and not to feed the animals. There are Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats. The goats are believed to have been on the island for 700 years, possibly left there by the Vikings. The ponies and sheep were introduced by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare who at one time owned the island.

The DH and I decided to walk up the hills, Mullach Beag and Mullach Mor and walk back along the coastal path.

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I like the sign for the path up the mountain.

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Looking back to Arran and Goatfell – a climb for another day

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Ailsa Craig in the distance – home of the granite for making curling stones

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Coming down Mullach Mor looking down onto the closed retreat centre and the lighthouse

The earliest recorded name for Holy Isle was Inis Shroin, which is old Gaelic for Island of the Water Spirit. In the 6th century Molaise (later Saint Molaise) came to the island from Ireland. Despite being offered the throne of what is now called Ulster, he chose to live in a cave on Holy Isle, near a well whose water had healing properties. The island became known as Eilean Molaise, Gaelic for Molaise’s Island. Later, Molaise went to Rome to be ordained as a priest and back in Ireland he became abbot of the monastery in Leighlin.

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St Molaise’s Cave – sorry it’s a useless photo.

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Information boards at the cave.

In 1263 King Haakon of Norway brought a fleet of ships to the shelter of Lamlash Bay, before fighting the Scots at the Battle of Largs. Vigleikr, one of his marshals, went ashore at Holy Isle and cut runes with his name on the wall of St. Molaise’s cave. It’s also likely there was a monastery on the island in the 13th century or 14th century.

Lama Yeshe Rinpoche is the founder of the Holy Isle Project. He is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master in the Kagyu tradition and is Abbot of Samye Ling Monastery in Dumfriesshire. Holy Isle is home to the Centre for World Peace and Health which runs a full programme of courses and retreats. Visitors are welcome to stay at the centre provided they accept the Five Golden Rules: To respect life and refrain from killing; to respect other people’s property and refrain from stealing; to speak the truth and refrain from lying; to encourage health and refrain from intoxicants including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (have to admit I cheated and had my nicotine replacement mints with me); to respect others and refrain from sexual activity that causes harm.

Once safely back down from Mullach Mor, which is quite a tricky scramble in places followed by interesting roped off areas and warnings about crevasses, we walked back to the visitor centre. It was along here we found St Molaise’s cave and lots of beautiful art work on the rocks.

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Free tea or coffee, and biscuits, are served at the visitor centre (donation box available), which is also a shop selling books and crafts.

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These little lovelies were enjoying the sunshine near the visitor centre

There was no sign of the two-ish ferry arriving. The sign post at the jetty indicated something called Red Rock was 0.6 of a kilometre further along the path. As we could keep an eye out for the ferry approaching we wandered off. We saw gulls sitting on eggs on the rocky shore, eider ducks in the water but no sign of a red rock. We did come across this.

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Gorgeous display of rhododendrons – and a television?

We were debating whether to carry on or turn back when we noticed a figure in robes and hooded jacket standing with their back to us. On closer inspection we found the person was staring silently and pointedly at a sign respectfully asking visitors not to proceed beyond this point. We turned around immediately. When I looked back the figure was sitting in front of what looks to me like a small burial cairn.

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Perhaps they had come to meditate? Or, perhaps someone stands watch when visitors are about to ensure they don’t wander where they shouldn’t. It was clear the person was not going to speak – or I’d have asked about the meaning of the television.



MarySmith’sPlace – Walking in sunshine #HoddomCastle

When my friend Rachel and I go walking it often rains, as it did when we did this walk. I’m pleased to report that this time we walked in sunshine all the way round the Hoddom Castle and Repentance Tower walk. And a very nice walk it is, too, partly alongside the River Annan, through farm and woodland with great views from Repentance Tower – not forgetting an excellent lunch at the Hoddom Castle Caravan Park.

We started the walk from the car park just south of Hoddom Bridge and the entrance to Hoddom Castle Caravan Park. The path took us along the riverside.

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River Annan

We must have missed a detour to the Hound’s Monument but I’m not really sorry about that. Apparently it’s a monument erected in 1898 in memory of an otter hound called Royal, who is said to have perished having spent too long in the water pursuing an otter.

The riverside path skirts the edge of a golf course until we went through a gate and over a footbridge across the river. Here we found the Salmon Pole – one of four installations illustrating the life cycle of the salmon.

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We also met some cute lambs.

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After Hoddom Mill, deserted and a decidedly creepy the path brought us to the banks of the Water of Milk, a tributary of the Annan. Here a stone wall with orange floats represents the salmon eggs in the gravel riverbed.

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The path meets the River Annan and continues downstream to a wooden carving of a salmon and its predators, an otter and eagle. Further on is a sculpture of a salmon fly before the path brought us back to the footbridge we’d crossed earlier.

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Rachel smiling in the sunshine

From there, we carried on through the wood to Hoddom Castle Caravan Park and lunch at the café.

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Hoddom Castle – would love to explore inside!

Hoddom Castle was built in the 1560s by Sir John Maxwell of Terregles, probably as a barracks and defensive structure against English invaders. It was invaded several times, blown up by the English, repaired and expanded in the 17th century and in the 19th century was given a Scots Baronial makeover. The army used it during the second world war after which it was in a state of disrepair and some of the Victorian additions were demolished. The old uninhabited tower can still be seen but it is all fenced off. Still, it makes an impressive backdrop to the caravan park.

After lunch we headed uphill to Repentance Tower, which was built as a watchtower on top of Trailtrow Hill at the same time as the castle. It had a clear view across the Solway Firth and had a bell and a beacon platform to warn of approaching enemies.

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One story for how it came by its unusual name is that Sir John Maxwell was trying to atone for some act of treachery. He had pledged allegiance to Henry VIII of England during the 1540s and, when he dramatically changed sides at the Battle of Durisdeer, hostages, mostly members of his family, held as assurance of his loyalty were executed.

Around the tower is a small graveyard containing family graves of the Murray family who bought Hoddom Castle in the 17th century.

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One story which I found most fascinating was that Sir John Murray went to America and brought back a slave called Moses. They were close friends and Moses became a free man, taking the Murray name and is buried next to the family. Now, I have to find out more about this Moses Murray.

We headed back down the hill, and were soon back at the car park – and the sun was still shining.

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Looking down on Hoddom Castle – the caravan park completely hidden by the trees.