Saturday, September 08, 2012

Castlelaw Hill Fort and Penicuik

Entry for 8 September 2012:

For this week’s Saturday Adventure, we started out at Castlelaw Hill Fort, a bit south of Edinburgh, not too far from Rosslyn Chapel.  This is an iron age hill fort, from around 500 BCE, with at least two concentric ramparts and ditches still visible, especially from the hillside above and behind it. It’s perched on a ridge above Castlelaw Farm.  Just beyond is a military firing range, from which volleys of gunfire sounded every few minutes, making the sheep nervous.  The most interesting feature of this hill fort, however, is the earth house or partially-underground storage chamber built into the inner rampart in the early years of the common era, possibly used by the local people to store up grain for trade with the Romans.  We spent about an hour rambling about the site, walking the inner rampart, climbing the hill above, and watching the rows of military at their gunnery practice in the valley below.

Lately, we’ve been following up our visits to historical sites by picking a nearby local village or town to explore.  Today it was the town of Penicuik, just a few miles from Castlelaw.  The town is filled with shops with “penny” and “cooking” in their names, playing on the name of the place, which actually comes from “Pen-Y-Cog” in old Brythonic (the Celtic language from which modern Welsh is derived):  “Hill of the Cuckoo”: A wonderful name for a somewhat grey town that has clearly seen better times.  I kept imagining the cry of the cuckoo echoing through the place.

As we walked down the one block of the High Street, we stumbled, almost literally, into the annual Doors Open day at the Penicuik Town Hall, also known as the Cowan Institute, a 100-plus-year old community centre created to support and uplift the citizens of Penicuik, especially the workers in the papermills below along the River Esk.  “Paper mills?”, we said, as the bored volunteers rose to greet us with smiles (for we had come to provide entertainment for them in the waning minutes of their day-long stint).  “Oh yes!” said the bearded gentleman who attached himself to us in order to take us on an expedited tour of the place, and to bring us up to speed on the history of Penicuik, its famous papermills and the progressive social practices of Alexander Cowan. 

As usual, we got just the barest introduction to another interesting little Scottish town, enough to glimpse a richness unfolding fractally before us:  The closer you look, the more complexity you see, repeating level after level, all the way to the base of world, which is the lived experience of each individual living being in each moment, opening forever new but always the same.

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