Eight people and three dogs set out on a hot, breezy Sunday morning, a week before the Environmental Arts Festival Scotland, to journey on foot and by bus from Moniaive to Morton Castle. We planned our journey as a ‘secular pilgrimage’, as an appropriate offering to the festival, without preconceptions of what this might mean, beyond following our chosen route. Instead we travelled with the intention of being open to the connections and revelations that might be offered up by the landscape and by each other in our ad hoc little community.
We walked over Bardennoch Hill and Tynron Doon. The local community bus took us across Nithsdale, stopping for lunch at the community-run Penpont Tea Room, to Kings Quarry above Carronbridge, and we completed the journey by walking through Morton Wood to the Castle.
Walking with attention has a way of shaking out the self-imposed demands and expectations that often cloud how and what we see, allowing space for new insights and perceptions. Maybe the essence of pilgrimage is in this process of moving and changing perspective, rather than in the destination alone. Where pilgrims of old (and parts of our route ran on or close to the old pilgrim way from Edinburgh to Whithorn) might express this experience in religious terms, our contemporary view can show us our place as part of nature rather than separate, subjective observers of it. More importantly, we can come to value the world intrinsically, for what it is, rather than for how we might make use of it.
So what connections and revelations did we see? Well, most striking for me was the temporal dimension, the sense that our route connected our present time and community in Moniaive and Glencairn, through the complex layering of the past evident in the landscape, to the anticipated exploration of possible futures at the festival: connections of land, people and communities through time.
More than two millennia of human history punctuates our route, from the Iron Age Hill Fort of Tynron Doon, the ancient stone pits of Stenhouse Hill, the abandoned steading on Bardennoch Hill, the medieval cross at Nith Bridge, Andy Goldsworthy’s millennium cairn near Penpont – like an exclamation mark drawing the landscape to attention – to the contemporary farming and forestry of Nithsdale. And all of these human marks are but the anthropocene blink of an eye in the long evolution of the Dumfriesshire Glens. Can we find ways, within ourselves rather than through technology, to add our own layers to this complexity rather than erase it?
We came to know each other better, listening to each other’s stories, sharing the experience of the walk and learning from each other about what we saw, from ferns to redstarts, an exotic beetle carrying a dead mouse on its back and a remarkable crop of fly agaric and ceps in Morton Wood.
And besides all that, we had a good time! The walkers were John Wheeler, Jess Shackleton, Anne Maxwell, JoJo, Wendy Stewart, Frank Hall and Peter Roberts; the dogs were Mabel, Bella and Dexter; Alan James drove the bus.
Peter Roberts, 25.08.15