Monday, July 30, 2007

Mission Completed: Return to Scottish Borders

Entry for 29 July 2007:
(see also photos at: )

Last February, we took my mom and my sister Anna down to Elliott country in the Scottish Borders, in order to help our mom carry out instructions she had received from my dad to help heal ancient injuries. My mom’s initial understanding was that this had something to do with witch burnings, but as we learned and observed we saw much more than that: the centuries of running battles as the armies of England and Scotland fought over the territory; the thieving and pillaging of our ancestors, the Border Reivers (especially during the 1500’s); and, in more modern times, the mono-culture of the pine plantations.

As I recounted in an earlier blog entry, ( ), our quest was only partly successful, because we ran out of time and energy and so were unable to make it to the middle point of the triangle that my mom had charted, a point near Wyndburgh Hill, which is midway and a bit east of a north-south line between Hawick and Hermitage Castle. We did see what we took to be the top of Wyndburgh Hill, but it turned out to be the broadcast antenna on top of Wigg Knowe, a smaller nearby hill. As a result, I promised my mom that this summer when Kenneth was here, he and I would undertake to complete the mission.

This past weekend was our last chance for the summer to carry out this mission. (Kenneth returns with us to the US in a week.) We arranged to stay at the same B&B we stayed at last February. However, we got off to a somewhat inauspicious, late start on Friday afternoon. (I had forgotten the crystal and medallion we were supposed to place and had gotten partway to the city centre before Kenneth thought to ask about it. The positive side of this was that we missed much of the rush hour traffic.) Nevertheless, we made good time, stopping for an excellent dinner in Melrose, before continuing from there to the B&B a bit south of Hawick, arriving a bit after 10pm.

The next morning, after a hearty but somewhat heavy Scottish breakfast, we set out. I had determined what appeared to be the most efficient, straightforward route. After we arrived at the trail head, Diane walked in about a kilometer with us, then said goodbye and left us to go back to the car to wait for our return. She agreed to wait for nearly 4 hours before driving back to Hawick to check for phone messages from us.

Kenneth and I had intended to run much of the way, but found ourselves weighed down by our breakfast, so we walked for the first hour, entering pine plantation after a couple of kilometers. It was a beautiful day, dry and with cool breeze, the sky scudded with clouds so that we went in and out of sun the whole time.

As the photos show, the logging road went up and around gently. From time to time, we stopped to see if we could get a signal on our mobile phone. After about 45 minutes, we rounded a bend and got our first look at what we took to be Wyndburgh Hill, then, a bit after that, away on our right, we saw the broadcast antenna of Wigg Knowne. This time, when we checked, we got a strong cell phone signal, so I left a voicemail message for Diane giving the time and where we were. (She was out of range down in the valley, but in case of emergency would be able to pick up any messages we might have been able to leave by driving back to Hawick.)

Wyndburgh Hill, now on our left, kept getting closer, until we passed beneath it. Plantation was on our right, but the hill was bare: Parts had never been planted and were covered in tall undergrowth, while elsewhere it had been logged off and was now covered a rumble of dead tree branches. It looked like a difficult climb, particularly if approached directly, but we figured that we could go along to one of the ridges to the south or north of it where the approach might be manageable.

The map showed two cairns in the middle of plantation another couple of kilometers further on, almost exactly at the point at the center of the large equilateral triangle that my mom had drawn. My mom’s instruction was to place the crystal and medallion in one of these cairns, if we could, so we decided to push on further into the plantation, toward the cairns.

After another couple kilometers, the road forked into three, and we took the leftmost way, an overgrown path between the trees. (See one of my favorite pictures at: .) British pine plantations are densely planted, a crop more than a forest, as I have noted before, but the map showed the cairns only 20 meters or so off the road, so we expected to able to see an opening in the trees on our left, by which we would be able to see and reach each cairn. As we walked along this overgrown path, flies buzzing around the black hood of his jacket, Kenneth said, “Now I really feel like I’m on an adventure!”

Instead of cairns, however, all we found was a wee burn every 100-200 meters. A couple of times we struck off through a promising-looking break in the trees, only to find ourselves hunched over trying to scoot under or around the closely-placed, scratchy branches, which rained dead needles down on us. No cairn! The second time we tried this, the deer trail took us to a fire break on the other side of the section of plantation, but no cairn. As far as we could tell, the plantation had completely obliterated the cairns! So much for the sacredness of British Ordnance Survey maps! Commercial interests trump all!

We were beginning to run out of time, so we made the decision to plant our objects on top of Wyndburgh Hill instead, and turned back. On the way in, we had spotted what we thought was road up to the top, so we took this when we came back to it. Unfortunately, the road quickly ran out and we were left to clamber through the bracken, thistles and litter of dead branches left from past logging operations. Once we reached the main part of the hill, the undergrowth cleared a bit, but now we had to contend with the fact that the ground was basically boulders covered by ferns and other marshy plants. It was steep going, with tricky footing, and we were out of breath by the time we finally neared the top.

There, in front of us, at the very top of Wyndburgh Hill were a couple of piles of rocks, the ruins of a small collapsed hut, probably 3 metres across, with a side building, also in ruin. In the middle of the collapsed hut were a couple of sheets of corrugated metal, the crude roof of the hut. None of this had been visible from below, but it was obviously the perfect place for our objects, better in its splendid isolation and ruin than our missed cairns.

The wind was blowing so hard that we could hardly stand, so without delay we pulled out the two objects: One was a crystal, one of my dad’s collection from his work as a shaman. The other object was a medallion, a laminated replica of the Murray Creek silver coins minted many years ago and given to all of my siblings and their children: on one side, the Cretan labyrinth design; on the other, a depiction of the great mother oak that looms over the Murray Creek labyrinth. I pulled a stone off the top of the pile and placed these objects in the crevice there. Then, Kenneth and I took turns reading the liturgy my mom had written, and that we had said last February at the three points of the surrounding equilateral triangle. This prayer asks for healing for the afflicted spirits and parts of spirits in the land. We finished the liturgy, then piled stones back over the place where we’d put the objects, forming a small cairn on top of the ruin.

We took a few more pictures, left another phone message for Diane, reporting our success, and started down the other side of the mountain… and right into very tall weeds and thistles. Stepping very carefully to avoid twisting or breaking something, we painstakingly made our way down Wyndburgh Hill.

What this reminded me of, more than anything else, was the summers I spent as a kid in Carmel Valley, exploring my grandmother’s knoll, finding or making trails through the tall grass, sometimes with my dad, sometimes with my brother Willy, and almost always with one of my grandmother’s dogs. This was my adventure, and it took me right back to my childhood, and with these memories came a set of 50-year-old skills and sensitivities to terrain, footing and vegetation.

Fortunately, we made it down without serious mishap, with nothing worse than soggy socks and a few thistles, thorns and scratches. On reaching the road, Kenneth did his version of the victory dance from the Final Fantasy computer games, and headed back down the road, with about 45 minutes left before our rendezvous time with Diane. We took turns running and walking, trading the backpack back and forth between us, and made it back, tired, dirty and impressed with ourselves, with ten minutes to spare. Mission complete!

I don't know what other adventures Scotland has for us, but as I finish this entry, I am sitting in bed several nights later, Diane gently snoring next to me. It's just gone 1am, and I notice the full moon rising over the tenements on Polwark Street, shining through the slatted blinds of our bedroom. It will be interesting to see what comes next, what next needs healing here in Scotland. I started seeing clients again last week, and was greatly relieved to find that I still had it in me to help my clients face difficult and prickly feelings, search for experiences that are illusive and hard to find, and finish incomplete tasks. Wyndburgh Hill isn't a bad metaphor for all that!

No comments: