A Walk in the Woods – part two.

Thornielee Forest lies in the valley of the Tweed halfway between the towns of Galashiels and Innerleithen. Nearby sits the former mill town of Walkerburn.  We drove here, but it seems local buses stop here on request.  Sadly, the nearby Thornielee Station, on the now-vanished Peebles railway, closed as early as 1950 so catching a train isn’t an option.

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We stopped here on our way back from our abandoned plan to walk around St Mary’s Loch, having been put off by the crowds. I’m so very glad we did. Thornielee Forest, under the stewardship of Foresty and Land Scotland (the old Forestry Commission), is a gem of a place. Part of the Tweed Valley Forest Park, there is much to explore. There are two walks here, apparently: a gentle Meadow Trail, described as ‘easy’ – mostly flat alongside some pastures renowned for butterflies, and; the Cairn Trail – described as ‘strenuous’. We took the strenuous path (of course we did) and I again struggled, panted and sweated my way to the top. The slope through the trees is pretty much a continuous, long climb, punctuated by very welcome flat parts – but these are few and far between!  Stopping every now and then, though, was a joy simply because you are surrounded by forest, with the sunlight streaming down in shafts between the trees. The trail is very broad at times and, unlike many other older plantations, the trees are spaced out, allowing other plants to grow on the forest floor. It felt gloriously alive.

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Near the start of the trail is a curious, weather worn sculpture. The interpretation plaque states that this is Muckle Mou’d Meg – heroine of a local legend which, not surprisingly, Sir Walter Scott wrote about!

Meg – or Agnes – Murray, to use her apparent Sunday name – was daughter of the Laird of Elibank, Sir Gideon Murray – master of one of the great and troublesome Border families which gave successive Kings of Scots a headache, due to their warring, cattle-stealing and thuggish, lawless activities!

Meg was one of three daughters of the family and was, it is cruelly put, Scotland’s ugliest woman.  She was muckle mou’d – large mouthed – in looks, but in temperament and disposition a happy, smiling soul.  Indeed, folk mocked that we she did smile, the smile covered the whole of her head.  Poor Meg!

The Murray’s neighbours – and sworn enemies! – was the family of Scott (of course!) of Harden, whose tall castle of Aikwood still stands, restored, today. 

One dark, winter night, William Scott of Harden decided to raid Elibank and steal their cattle – the great moneymaker of the Border Reviers –  but instead of sleeping guards, found them alert and ready for him.  He was defeated after a short battle, captured and imprisoned. 

He was sent to the castle dungeon until dawn, while the Laird of Elibank pondered his luck.  The Lady of Elibank thought the young man a possible solution to their seemingly impossible Meg problem.  And so, in the cold early light of morning, the young William was brought, tied and bound, before the Laird in his great hall.  The Laird, sitting in his high oak chair in front of the fire, looked at the young cattle thief for some time.  Then, he gave William a dilemma.  As the nineteenth century poet James Ballantine would later recall, the lad was offered a choice:  hang for his crime, or marry Meg.  William was horrified; Meg’s appearance was infamous.

And so, he chose death, by hanging.

Now, the Laird was canny and sent him back to his prison, to think again one last night.  On the second occasion he was hauled into the Laird’s hall, perhaps he feared death more than marriage to Meg.  Perhaps, he saw something in Meg that others could not.  It is said that Meg stood by, watching this drama unfold, tears in her eyes; tears which melted the heart of the handsome lad.   Whatever the reason, he chose Meg and the two were wed.

Syne muckle-mou’d Meg pressed in close to his side,
An’ blinkit fu’ sleely and kind,
But aye as Wat glower’d at his braw proffer’d bride,
He shook like a leaf in the wind.
‘A bride or a gallows, a rope or a wife!’
The morning dawned sunny and clear –
Wat boldly strode forward to part wi’ his life,
Till he saw Meggy shedding a tear;
Then saddle an’ munt again, harness an’ dunt again,
Fain wad Wat hunt again, fain wad be hame.

Meg’s tear touched his bosom, the gibbet frowned high,
An’ slowly Wat strode to his doom;
He gae a glance round wi’ a tear in his eye,
Meg shone like a star through the gloom.
She rush’d to his arms, they were wed on the spot,
An’ lo’ed ither muckle and lang;
Nae bauld border laird had a wife like Wat Scott;
‘Twas better to marry than hang.
So saddle an’ munt again, harness an’ dunt again,
Elibank hunt again, Wat’s snug at hame.

James Ballantine, Muckle Mou’d Meg, Poems, 1856.  Scottish Poetry Library.

Despite the unfortunate start to their marriage, by all accounts the two lived…um…happily ever after!  William would thrive, being knighted by King James VI and the two had at least four children.  Accounts say that they had a long, happy marriage.  They could have looked out over the Ettrick Forest from Elibank Tower, watching the hill of Thornielee change through the seasons.

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Detail, Atlas of Scotland, 1654. Blaeu. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Thornielee is marked on Blaeu’s 1654 maps – not a great length of time after Meg and William – as Thornyly and is shown as having a castle or tower house – one of ten in close proximity here along the valley of the Tweed.  There is no trace of the castle now and no mention of it in the annals of the Tweed valley.  Like most of the simple, square peels, it has disappeared from the land as surely as it has disappeared from history.  There may be remnants of a tower hidden within the present Thornielee Farmhouse – or at the ruins of Old Thornielee farm, higher up the hill.

On the opposite side of the valley, however, it’s possible to spot the gaunt ruins of Elibank Tower – also shown on Blaeu’s map as Elybanck – from the modern sculpture of Meg and her William.  It’s a lovely, startling, sculpture and a reminder not to judge by appearances!

There may not be any sign of a castle on the hill  of Thornielee, but there are other remains or earlier farmsteads although mostly hidden at this time of year beneath the heather, brambles and bracken.  Over from Thornielee, very large clearance cairns and unusual earthworks indicate human habitation that might stretch back into prehistory.

The paths climb ever higher, until the crest of the hill appears.  The woodland comes to an abrupt halt beside a long stone dyke, beyond which is rough pastureland and moors.  The Views are spectacular and well worth the climb.  Some of the path is a bit muddy and steep, so care is needed and even on a quiet day, the paths are popular with mountain bikers, so care is needed.

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We were chuffed to notice that at the top, the view stretches as far as our own Wedale – the windfarm at Long Park clearly visible.  This view is really only accessible by foot, as the roads linking Stow with Ettrick are low and twisty.  I’m glad we made the effort to see this and highly recommend the trip.  Given the crowds of people sticking to the more obvious, roadside stops, the Tweed Valley Forest might still offer an escape from the staycationers.  Just don’t tell anyone, aye?

Near the top, I spotted this stone (lefthand photo) – which is almost certainly part of a dyke that had collapsed, but there’s something about it I really liked.  In my head, I can clearly see worn carvings on the surface – there’s something of a double-ended Pictish rod and discs, surely? Or maybe a salmon? Or both!  Probably not, but fun to imagine. 

Also nearby are the supposed Shepherds’ Cairns, of which I could find very little information.

This was a brilliant route to walk on a wonderful sunny / breezy day which, apart from one bloke on a mountain bike and a family of three, we had to ourselves for the couple of hours it took.  Far, far better than squeezing our way through the crowds jammed around Saint Mary’s Loch.  There are a good few other walks in the Tweed Valley Forest Park I hope to do soon – and, of course, a return trip to see Meg’s old home at Elibank, too.   That will need to wait for another time. 

An A-Z of Wyrd Scotland

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If you’re looking for a spookyish podcast to wile away an hour or so, may I recommend our very own Tales from Wyrd Scotland to you?

The latest episode is a bumper hour-long dander through the first half of a supernatural alphabet of Scottish wyrdness.  Narrated by me –  featuring breathily wyrd intonation – and the electronical genius of Nick Cole-Hamilton and You Better Run Media, it’s the prefect accompaniment to plotting a trip around our strange little country or merely getting the ironing or hoovering done!

So, curl up in your favourite dark corner and join me on a journey through some of Scotland’s oddest places and weirdest moments in history, from Auldearn to Men (Green)…

Available here or where other devilishly good podcasts can be found…

Movie Horror: The Ballad of Tam Lin, or, The Devil’s Widow, or just Tam Lin, or The Devils’ Woman.

I recently, accidentally, watched again a little-known film which you may or may not be aware of.  I was interested in this title because it was filmed half an hour’s drive from where we live, at Traquair House – just outside the little town of Innerleithen – and also, briefly, in Edinburgh and South Queensferry.

Traquair is one of my favourite places in the Scottish Borders: a beautiful, ancient building which feels homely and welcoming with the added attraction of their own private brewery.  I can, heartily, recommend the Jacobite Ale!

The film I watched again was the 1968 “THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN“.  Starring Ava Gardner, directed by Roddy McDowell (I just mistyped that as Oddy McDowell) and loosely, very loosely, based on an ancient Scottish fairytale.  Sounds good?

Well, femme fatale Stephanie Beacham plays a ‘local’ lass.  And young Ian McShane performs the stud part extremely well as Tom Lynn.  Sound better?

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If I mention that Joanna Lumley’s in it, too, delivering a line that should be engraved somewhere important or carved in stone for all the world to remember, I think we just might have hit the jackpot!

Except, not so much.

The film begins with some beautiful drawings that look like they were engraved on glass, showing what appear to be characters from folklore.  There’s a medievally-looking party of ladies and gentleman, a castle and the Horned God, Cernunnos (?) being mauled by hounds…?  Plus a unicorn.  And a praying monk (?), too.  All very folklorey so far and nods to the 16th century origins of this story.

The opening shot drops from a scarily large chandelier hanging over Ava’s bed.  And there she is.  With the studly McShane.

The party then set off, walking past a modern screen of engraved glass, in the townhouses’ hallway where  the drawings appear for the briefest of appearances.

With a chirpy

“I hope you’ve all  had enough to eat, we’re not stopping for lunch.”

from Ava, they’re off.

Photographer Ian McShane papps away at his friends using his big camera; the group of young things who were apparently also in the large town house all troop into the waiting cars and they drive to Scotland.

And, uh, what?

Spurned lovers and a questionable line that may be racist later, lots of driving shots and the credits roll.   Lots.  I’m hoping they had had enough to eat.

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Then there’s a Scottish voice over, at Hadrian’s Wall.  It’s suddenly dark now, so who knows where they got to as they passed through Newcastle in the bright sunshine?  The tweedy Scots bloke explains that there is a story in verse from this place, of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Fairies, The Ballad of Tam Lin.  The cars drive past in the background…

Cue Stephanie Beacham, the next day, riding her bike to Traquair House!

Traquair House is used as the setting for exterior shots of Gardner’s country lair, which is her country home, her hangout, surrounded by a gaggle (coven?) of young, hip swingers.  With a folk-prog-rocky background, courtesy of Pentangle.  There’s about a dozen young things, playing frisbee (mostly in slo-mo),  drinking wine and being glamorous.  Yes, Glamour is very much involved.  Geddit?  Oh and Space Hoppers!

McShane and Beacham meet over an astray frisbee, and give each other a meaningful look.  Uh-oh.  Scared, Beacham approaches a reclining Lumley, asking where to leave the puppy (?) she is delivering.  Lumley, languishing with aplomb, directs her to the Tarot-reading young things on the terrace above.  She is then directed to a xylophone-playing dude with a momentous perm and moustache.  And then suddenly Ava appears, a vision in red, bewitching all whom she sees.  Ava and Beacham then have a chat.  Beacham’s from the Vicarage apparently.  TUT.  Vicarage, indeed!  Manse, I should say.

Inside, the wonderful and downright gloomy Richard Wattis appears as some sort of Steward.  Sadly, the interior is not shot inside Traquair and instead an out-of-scale faux castley set is used, with much split-level balustrading.  And dazed looking young things scattered about like cushions.  This is a shame as Traquair’s interior is stunningly beautiful.  But the sense of Elphame, or another place, is clear.  Ava’s home is enchanting all those within.  The folkloric elements can be spotted throughout, but in a subtle way.  I wouldn’t call this a horror film, even less a folk horror film, but it has elements of both.  It’s not explicit that Ava’s character is the Queen of Elphame: her enchantment powers could be more to do with her wealth.  But, the ambiguity of the plot allows you to believe one way or the other. Only in the final quarter of the film are elements of the supernatural more pronounced, with a sort of Wild Hunt leading to the tense ending.

Before that, though, Ava wanders about, flapping her flowing dresses around in a variety of hues and directions.

McShane flirts about a bit, has a deep and meaningful with Ava next to a small model of a Knight overpowered by a Queen on horseback (folklore alert!), then it’s off to bed.

Inevitably, the young stud and local innocent get it together, following an unusual sequence of still shots by a burn.  Ava knows this, which eventually leads to McShane’s downfall as her chosen one.    Beforehand, though,  after McShane visits the Kirk and listen to Beacham’s father preaching the two young lovers have a picnic.  A subsequent confrontation in the Great Hall of Ava’s court leads to a scuffle, the end of festivities and – out of nowhere – Joanna Lumley turns to her fellow courtiers, pronouncing

“Life is an illusion therefore nothing is permanent. I think I shall go to Sweden”!

And, presumably, she does.

It’s one of the oddest lines in any film.  I love it.  I’d like a mug with this printed on it.

Richard Wattis informs McShane of the previous young men who have held Ava’s affections.  And their grisly ends.  There’s a slight gay subtext going on at this bit, but McShane’s character is not so modern as to respond politely.  This is interesting, as only in the previous year, 1967, was male homosexuality partly decriminalised in England and Wales.  Scotland would wait another thirteen years to follow suit.

More arguments ensue and, not wishing to give away more spoilers, the plot drifts towards its conclusion.

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The film possesses a dreamlike quality, especially when views of the countryside and house feature.  It is a rather beautiful thing, with a sense of scale of landscape and understanding of the themes of fairy and folklore.  The slow pace and lack of action only adds to a sense of Otherworldliness, while the dated fashions and groovesters only add to the charm.   Filmed in 1968, shelved for some years and edited into a number of  versions with as many alternative titles, it was to be Roddy McDowell’s only film direction, which is a shame as there is much to praise here.  It’s not a great film, but it’s not awful.  The last ten minutes are a little bit iffy, though – and a little too dark to be able to see.  Bt here, in this last act, the links to the old ballad are most obvious.

What is a little bit magical is that much of the filming took place in the part of Scotland where the original ballad of Tam Linn originated.  The Forest of Carterhaugh is no great distance from Traquair, where Tam Lane’s well can still be glimpsed.

Well worth watching for the setting if only as a folklore-inspired oddity.  And for Ian McShane’s obvious talents.

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The film can be found here.

More about the ballad can be found in this excellent website.

A merry Beltane to you!

The dawning of the first day of May, Beltane in Scotland and Ireland, is an ancient time of celebration which has enjoyed a form of revival in recent years, particularly in Edinburgh – although the current pandemic will see major events cancelled.  The Edinburgh Beltane Society are holding a virtual celebration, this year.

There were many traditions to mark the dawning of May 1st and the beginning of the new quarter of the year, throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.  Fertility looms large, with dancing around May Poles a possible phallic celebration still performed in parts of England.  The colour green also features strongly, from the costumes of dancers, to garlands and swags of foliage that would once have graced many a cottage or village lane, to the modern interpretations of the Green Man (and Green Lady).

In the Celtic lands, the celebration is mentioned in very early historical documents, showing the antiquity of the importance of the occasion.  Marking the start of summer, or the hope for bounty and plenty, it was also the time of year when cattle were moved out to the summer pastures.  Rituals, charms and ceremonies were used to ask for protection of these valuable beasts which were crucial commodities for rural communities. For peoples dependent on the welfare of their livestock, pleasing the divine was essential.

This was the time of year when the sheilings were used for the first time.  Sheilings are simply simple summer huts or dwellings adjacent to pasture land, apart from main farm buildings.   It is the shieling that gives Galashiels, the largest town where we live, its name.  Simply, the sheiling by the Gala Water.  The stone remains and turf embankments of abandoned sheilings can still be glimpsed in many parts of Scotland.

Ceremonies involving fire were central to this turning of the year, in many parts, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland.  As purifier, one or two bonfires were lit, in between or past which people and their cattle would pass, to symbolise protection and cleansing for the year ahead.  Most of these ceremonies were ancient, but dying out at the end of the 18th century, particularly where the Church held a tight grip on the parishioners.  The obvious pagan overtones were thought ungodly.  Household fires were often extinguished and new fire brought into the home from the Beltane bonfire.   Fire features at the heart of the new, reimagined Beltane festivities in Edinburgh and elsewhere.

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F. Marian McNeil, in her Scottish Folkore and Belief (1957), noted a Highland charm listed in Alexander Carmichael’s wondrous Carmina Gadelica, which recalled the nine sacred woods that were used to light the fires at Beltane – and Hallowe’en, in pagan times:

Choose the willow of the streams,

Choose the hazel of the rocks,

Choose the alder of the marshes,

Choose the birch of the waterfalls,

Choose the ash of the shade,

Choose the yew of resilience,

choose the elm of the brae,

Choose the oak of the sun.  

Beltane, Là Bealltainn,  is said to be derived from ‘bright fire‘  in a common-ancestor of the modern Celtic languages.  To others, it is derived from the Fire of the God, Bel, Belenus or similar.  Regardless, teine is the Scottish Gaelic word for fire.  Like the Green Man, the origins and meaning are lost in time, being appropriated by people today in myriad of forms and where is the harm in that?  It is, simply, a celebration for people, together in the land.

Carmichael, in Carmina Gadelica, also noted a Beltane Blessing, part of which is repeated here:

BEANNAICH, a Thrianailt fhioir nach gann,
Mi fein, mo cheile agus mo chlann,
Mo chlann mhaoth ’s am mathair chaomh ’n an ceann,
Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann,
     Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann.

Gach ni na m’ fhardaich, no to ’na m’ shealbh,
Gach buar is barr, gach tan is tealbh,
Bho Oidhche Shamhna chon Oidhche Bheallt,
Piseach maith, agus beannachd mallt,
Bho mhuir, gu muir, agus bun gach allt,
     Bho thonn gu tonn, agus bonn gach steallt.

Tri Pears a gabhail sealbh anns gach ni ’na m’ stor,
An Trianailt dhearbha da m’ dhion le coir;
O m’ anam riaraich am briathra Phoil,
Is dion mo chiallain fo sgiath do ghloir,
     Dion mo chiallain fo sgiath do ghloir.

BLESS, O Threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse, and my children,
My tender children and their beloved mother at their head.
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling,
     On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling.

Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
     From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.

Be the Three Persons taking possession of all to me belonging,
Be the sure Trinity protecting me in truth;
Oh! satisfy my soul in the words of Paul,
And shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory,
     Shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory.

Washing your face in the morning dew at sunrise on 1st May was said to bring health and beauty for the coming year (or forever, depending on who you ask!) and is one of the few widely remembered and still observed customs.  In Edinburgh, an early hike up to the summit of Arthur’s Seat is the preferred destination for this ritual.

In the Borders, the ancient town of Peebles is mentioned in late medieval writing, as celebrating Beltane.  The Maitland Manuscripts, compiled by Sir Richard Maitland in the 16th century, includes a poem called Peblis to the Play.  This is a bawdy romp of a poem, in the language of Middle Scots and describes celebrations of May Day in the town.  Some academics suggest that the poem is the work of the poetic James I, King of Scots, having witnessed the Beltane celebrations for himself.  Others are more inclined to suggest the Makar (court poet), William Dunbar, although King James V has also been seen as a contender.  Regardless of the author, the poem gives an insight into medieval life, love and brawling!

At Beltane, when ilk bodie bownis,

To Peblis to the Play,

To heir the singin and the soundis,

The solace, suth to say;

Be firth and forest furth they found,

They graythit tham full gay,

God wait that wald they do that stound,

For it was their Feist Day,

They said,

Of Peblis to the Play.

 

All the wenchis of the west

War up or the cok crew;

For reiling thair micht na man rest,

For garray and for glew.

Ane said my curches ar nocht prest

Than answerit Meg full blew,

To get an hude, I hald it best;

Be Goddis saull that is true,

Quod scho,

Of Peblis to the Play.

The poem goes on at some length, and I’ll come back to it more properly in a future blog when hopefully I can do it justice!  I love the fact that the annual celebration of the town, which like so many other Border burghs includes a common riding, is still called The Beltane, having been revived in 1897.  Sadly, this year, the event will not be taking place.

Other celebrations or rituals for Beltane included visiting holy wells, with folk walking around the well sunwise (never widdershins!), whilst reciting prayers or charms for good health.  The truly ancient practice of leaving offering in wells, and also at Clootie Wells and Trees or Coinzie trees, was also common as May 1st dawned.  I don’t know whether this happened at the centuries-old Our Lady’s Well, here in Stow – but I would imagine so!

 

(Left, Our Lady’s Well. Stow; right, a modern clootie tree, Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, Eskdalemuir)

Water has a long history of association with healing powers and divine assistance, long before Christianity replaced the local Gods.   Many pools, lochs and springs still have associations with healing powers or magic, and the practice of throwing coins in wishing wells derives from leaving offerings to the Gods.   There are some 600 holy or lucky wells throughout Scotland – from the Well of Youth, on Hirta, St Kilda, to the Saint Margaret’s Well in Edinburgh.  Before the arrival of Christianity, many of these pools and wells would have their own deity.  Later, they would be associated with the Saints.

Our Lady’s Well in Stow is accessed through some fields, so this year – due to the Covid-19 restrictions – I won’t be wishing or washing there tomorrow at dawn!

Feasting was another integral part of traditional Beltane customs in Scotland until well into the modern age.  Beltane Bannocks, cakes, were baked – and cakes or bread featured in the other three quarterly feasts or celebrations of the year.   There’s a wonderful recipe here in the Cailleach’s Herbarium for a Betane Bannock.    We may not be able to gather together by the fireside this Beltane, but we can maybe try a bannock or two.

Wishing you a safe and well Beltane – wherever you may be.

Merry (virtual) meet!

Green Men. Part two.

The origins of the ‘Green Man’ which can be seen in medieval churches, Victorian graveyards and New Age shops, is one that has many contradictory versions depending on where you look.

To some, as mentioned in the previous post, he represents a nature spirit; to others, he is an echo or remnant of the head cult of the the ancient Celts.  To others, still, he is a symbol of rebirth or resurrection, whether that of Christ or of the world.

Supposedly one of the, if not the, oldest depictions of a Green Man in a Christian setting can be found in the Church of Ste Hilaire, in Poitiers, France – a basilica dating to the 10th century.  The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site and can be found of the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.

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Church of Ste Hilarie, Poitiers

Carved on a tomb which is suggested as dating to the  early 5th century CE, the face of a green man looks at us clearly,  after so many centuries.  A Christian appropriation of an earlier symbol?  Possible, as Christianity adopted the places and trappings of Pagan worship as it advanced across Europe.

5th century Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul, on the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople,  show a face we could recognise as the Green Man, but to the creators of these beautiful images, they may  have known him as: Achelous, the God of Water and Rivers in Greek and Estruscan culture; Bacchus, Roman God of wine, fertility and agriculture, whom the Romans borrowed from the Greek Dionysus and whom may have been a Hellenic version of Osiris…; a Wild Man, representing the Pagan and therefore uncivilised, barbaric heathens yet to be enlightened.  No-one knows.  But, given the reach of the Empire and the geographical location of Constantinople, it’s not a great leap of faith to see direct links and similarities with the mosaic face and the earlier Hindu carvings of the Indian sub-continent or Parthian Empire of the Middle East, which show similar designs.

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Grand Palace Mosaic Museum, Instanbul (left).  Hatra, Iraq,  2nd century, CE (right) 

Whoever he is, his image has been carved thousands of times.  Perhaps, he is nothing more than a style of decoration, an artistic motif.  Just like, say, a stylised sun with a face, or a moon, a creative design that proved popular and so was replicated.  Scotland, an ancient European nation with cultural links to the continent and further afield, would see churches and monasteries built through the centuries, often by craftsmen from the continent.  They brought with them their skills and their craft, but also their ideas and cultural influences.

In Culross, Fife, we can see more Green Men.  At the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey, built in the 13th century on the site of an older monastic site, a carved frieze survives. Two green men, at either end of a vine? branch, can clearly be seen.  Like so many similar designs, they have foliage sprouting (or vomiting?!) from their mouths.

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Culross Abbey

Interestingly, the older religious community at Culross was said to have been founded by Saint Serf, adoptive father of Mungo – later canonised as Saint Kentigern – who would go on to baptise Merlin! (More on this later!)  Early Christian stones found here date back to the 700s or 800s, showing that the site was religiously important for many centuries before the Abbey was built.  The Protestant Reformation of 1560, the religious revolution that converted Scotland from Catholicism to Presbyterianism, saw the Abbey closed and allowed to fall into ruin.

Similarly, Melrose Abbey, Selkirkshire, fell into ruin after the Reformation.  Here, another Green Man can be seen, although somewhat eroded.   Melrose was also a Cistercian Abbey – the first in Scotland – and founded by King David I in 1136.  One of the finest examples of medieval religious architecture on the island of Britain, it is well worth visiting.  In addition to the Green Man, the heart of Robert I The Bruce lies here and there are many other beautiful carvings to see.

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Melrose Abbey, Selkirkshire 

The Green Man here tends to be overlooked by visitors who are searching for a better-known carving on the facade of the church: the bagpipe-playing pig.  This is understandable, as this happy looking porcine musician is a fun reminder that church-builders had a sense of humour!

The High Kirk of Edinburgh, St Giles’ Cathedral, claims to have 66 Green Men, although I confess to having missed virtually all of these the last time I visited.  Once the Covid-19 lockdown ends – hopefully – I’d like to go back and try to discover them all.

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(l-r) St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh; Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian; Roslin Glen, Midlothian.

The Holy Grail (!) for Green Men spotters, though, must be the magnificent Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.  Famous worldwide as a result of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, much has been written about the mysteries of this spectacular building – with its elaborate carved interior.  One hundred or so Green Men can be found inside, with the most famous looking more than an little mischievous (above).  Less well known is the more naturalistic Green Man, carved into living rock in the valley below the Chapel, Roslin Glen.  The legends concerning the glen would fill a book, with everything from sightings of Robin Hood – yes, him again! – to hidden temples, spectral hounds and UFOs!  You get your money’s worth here, if you like that sort of thing!  I’ll feature Roslin again, sometime soon.

The Green Man is a symbol which can be interpreted in different ways, to suits people’s own beliefs.  It seems likely that a figure which is part-human, part-vegetation in its most basic form illustrates humanity’s dependence or interdependence with the natural world, divine or otherwise.  The Green Man’s origins may be lost in time, but in the second half of the last century and now into our own, the appeal of a spirit of nature and of man’s vital reliance on the environment, is a compelling one.  As we endure years that are routinely hotter than every previous one, as climate chaos moves us ever closer to near-future scenarios that we pretend are unthinkable, the totem of an Earth deity is one we may cling to more fervently than before.  With extinction rates increasing and global warming already near the point of no-return, perhaps, we all need to be the Green Man.

 

Green Men. Part one.

Like King Arthur, Robin Hood is most firmly associated in the world’s collective imagination with England – and specifically Sherwood Forest.  However, as with King Arthur, when we look back in history we find that myth, legend and established history are not quite so simple and both these strange, alluring figures also have links to the place we now call Scotland.

Indeed, many of the earliest written references to Robin Hood, can be sourced from southern Scotland and not England.  The important 15th century history of Scotland  Scotichronicon begun by John of Fordun in the 14th century and completed by Walter Bower, Abbot of Inchcolm, in the 1440s, contains possibly the first written mention of Robin Hood – but as a very old legend.

John of Fordoun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum or Chronicles of the Scottish People was concluded, unfinished, around 1385 and lamented the lack of older records which were destroyed during the almost continuous warfare of the 1300s.  Indeed, this first attempt to write a continuous history of Scotland was written as an expression of national identity  and in reaction to the invasion of Edward I of England – whom Bower describes as a tyrant whose invasion led to the destruction of much of Scotland’s ancient manuscripts and histories, during the Wars of Independence.  Bower extended the reach of this history, which he titled Scotichronicon, up to the murder of James I, King of Scots, in 1437.

The Scotichronicon is a fascinating insight into medieval Scotland.  The founding legend of the Scots as descendants of Scota, a daughter of  Pharoah, is included as is a passage on why many Englishmen have tails!

The reference to Robin Hood, under the year 1265, refers to

the famous armed robber, Robert Hood, along with Little John and their accomplices.  The foolish common folk eagerly celebrate the deeds of these men with gawping enthusiasm in comedies and tragedies, and take pleasure in hearing jesters and bards singing of them more than in other romances.  Yet some of his exploits thus recited are commendable…

An alternative translation starts this passage by calling him the famous murderer!   Robin, of course, is a nickname for Robert.  Robert Burns, Scotland’s eighteenth century national poet, for example, was never (never!) known as Rabbie Burns – despite the common use of this today – but he was, in his lifetime, known as Rob or Robin.

Fourdon / Bower mention Barnsdale in the English county of Yorkshire as the location of the tale of Robin Hood.  The passage concerns his devout worship and godliness, rather than glorifying some daring deeds.  It is interesting, though, that it is the celebration of the figure of Hood by the people that takes most of the author’s attention here.  Also notable is the fact that ballads or stories of Robin were not simply confined to England.  Like Arthur, the legend of Hood – or the spirit of who (or what) he represents – would cross national boundaries.

Around 1450, a ballad was written in Middle English, “A Gest of Robyn Hode” and may well be a printed version of a much older oral ballad or story, which travelling minstrels may have sung to audiences.

Lythe and listin gentilmen
That be of frebore blode
I shall you tel of a gode yeman
His name was Robyn Hode

Another ballad, “Robin Hood and the Munk” [Monk], was also published around 1450 in England and, like “A Gest‘, may incorporate much older folk ballads and tales, perhaps dating back to the period of the Wars of Independence in the 14th century.  That would help explain why the ballads and legend of Robin had travelled around southern Scotland – minstrels perhaps accompanying the soldiers of the English army.  Robin seems to have been a central part of plays that were performed around May Day, in both England and southern Scotland. These plays included performances of tales of Robin Hood, dancing and feasting, celebrating spring and fertility in the land.  It is interesting that where May Day celebrations take place today, a man in green – or a Green Man – feature, including in the resurrected (or manufactured, depending on your point of view!) Beltane Festival in Edinburgh.

greenman

In the first half of the twentieth century, the idea that Robin, dressed in forest green attire,  was a symbolic figure taken from folklore or earlier folk-belief gained some support.  Margaret Murray, whose Witch Cult in Western Europe, became one of the set texts for those who claimed historical witchcraft to be alive and kicking into the modern era, claimed such.   Robin Goodfellow, Puck, the Green Man and others, besides, were proposed by a number of different authors as being a nature spirit, or remnant of pagan Briton’s ancient belief system.  It’s also worth remembering that green clothing was associated with Fairies and also featured in witchcraft confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

robinhoodnadsirguy

The idea of continuous witch cults, surviving from the pre-Christian era into the present day is an idea which still divides opinion, academic and popular, to this day.  Now, however, there is little mainstream support for the idea that Robin was some type of spiritual entity, linked to the woodlands – an erstwhile nature spirit or guardian.  But, the idea still appeals to many.  To some, Robin Hood is a simple corruption of Robin of the Wood, a green god which lingered on long after Christianity replaced (partially?) the Old Ways.

Supporters of this idea claim that this is why the figure of the Green Man can be found in so many medieval churches.  The term Green Man is modern – dating to a 1939 volume of The Folklore Journal, where Lady Raglan wrote of  “The Green Man in Church Architecture”. Jack-in-the-Green is an alternative that has been used, as has Herne, Cernunnos, Bacchus and, of course, Rob or Hob.  The origins of the figure and the reasons why he has appeared carved in some many churches and temples around the world is obscure. Examples can be seen from Saint Magnus’ Cathedral, Orkney; to Nicosia, Cyprus; Istanbul and beyond.

In Scotland, the image is more rare, but can be found in spectacular detail in Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, with over 100 different appearances in this spectacular building.

There is also at least one little green man in Melrose Abbey, Selkirkshire which, not surprisingly is less well known that his near neighbour, the bagpipe-playing pig.  But more on this another time…

 

A Loch without a bottom and a lot of Bull

Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford is well worth a visit (when the current lockdown eventually ends!), for it’s fantastical architecture and antiquarian collections. It’s a place of romance and legend, showing the character of the author of Waverley, Ivanhoe and Red Gauntlet – the J. K. Rowling of his day.

Abbotsford

The estate that surrounds Scott’s conundrum castle is important for its pioneering landscape and beautiful walks.  It was only last year that I learned of Scott’s passion for forestry and his great planned arboretum.  Abbotsford became one of the first and largest re-imagined woodlands anywhere.   In its heyday, the estate reached some 1400 acres, as Scott bought farm after farm, creating the landscape visible today.  Bankruptcy would see the estate shrink back to the 120 acres looked after by the Abbotsford Trust today.  An army of volunteers help the Trust to restore and maintain a vast network of paths and the historic gardens.

Many dignitaries would call on Scott during his lifetime here – often to his annoyance – given his global fame as an author: the visiting book in his house notes such celebrities as Oscar Wilde among its pages.

The estates contain as much romance and history as the mansion.  At one point, the lands included an area promoted as being the haunt of the legendary Thomas the Rhymer.  Scott allowed and actively encouraged free access to his estate, except for the private gardens immediately next to the house, unlike many other landowners at the time, or since.

Another visitor hosted by Scott may be of interest to those of a slightly gloomy, supernatural disposition.  Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, visited Scott in 1817.  Paying homage to Scott, Irving would then travel to Newstead Abbey,  the gothic seat of the late Lord Byron.

His journal of the visit was published in 1835 and evokes a warm, image of the man and his house, his dogs and grimalkin, the cat:

The evening passed away delightfully in this quaint-looking apartment, half study, half drawing-room. Scott read several passages from the old romance of “Arthur,” with a fine, deep sonorous voice, and a gravity of tone that seemed to suit the antiquated, black-letter volume. It was a rich treat to hear such a work, read by such a person, and in such a place; and his appearance as he sat reading, in a large armed chair, with his favorite hound Maida at his feet, and surrounded by books and relics, and border trophies, would have formed an admirable and most characteristic picture.

While Scott was reading, the sage grimalkin, already mentioned, had taken his seat in a chair beside the fire, and remained with fixed eye and grave demeanor, as if listening to the reader. I observed to Scott that his cat seemed to have a black-letter taste in literature.

Scott accompanied Irving around his lands, including up a carriage route which travels uphill from Abbotsford towards a loch, Cauldshiels.  It is a very pleasant route – we walked it in the height of summer and did not see another soul!

Cauldhsiels

Cauldshiels Loch was known then – and now – as being a special place, because of the water spirit or bogle that lies within its depths.  It was also said to be bottomless!

The sprite that haunted this place was a fearsome and enormous Water Bull – a supernatural being that is now less well known that it’s cousins, the kelpies or selkies. Water Bulls – known in Gaelic Scotland as tarbh uisge – were widely believed to be real well into the nineteenth century.  Said to be malevolent – or benign! – these creatures lurked in the depths of lochs, but could shapeshift into human form and wander on land.  They were feared but also thought useful as they were less of a threat to humanity than their enemies, the terrifying Water Horses or Each Uisge.  Perhaps a remnant of pre-Christian, ancient animal worship, Water Bulls lingered in the popular imagination for centuries.

Scott mentioned the spirit to Irving, as they paddled across the loch in a small boat.   He recalled this in his book:

We had a pleasant row about the lake, which commanded some pretty scenery. The most interesting circumstance connected with it, however, according to Scott, was, that it was haunted by a bogle in the shape of a water bull, which lived in the deep parts, and now and then came forth upon dry land and made a tremendous roaring, that shook the very hills. This story had been current in the vicinity from time immemorial;—there was a man living who declared he had seen the bull,—and he was believed by many of his simple neighbors. “I don’t choose to contradict the tale,” said Scott, “for I am willing to have my lake stocked with any fish, flesh, or fowl that my neighbors think proper to put into it; and these old wives’ fables are a kind of property in Scotland that belongs to the estates and goes with the soil. Our streams and lochs are like the rivers and pools in Germany, that have all their Wasser Nixe, or water witches, and I have a fancy for these kind of amphibious bogles and hobgoblins.”

Whether Irving believed this tale or not, is not made clear.  What is certain is that Irving seems to have developed a genuine friendship with and admiration of Scott.  His journal is well worth reading and it’s still in print, or available free online.

The path that leads away from Cauldshiels is now part of the Borders Abbey Way – a trail we hope to follow when we can.

On the day we visited, we saw no sign of the Water Bull, although I do remember hearing a surprisingly loud Moo! at one point…

 

 

The Shelly Coat: part four

Waiting.  Just waiting.

It seems like a very long time to have been here.  But also no time at all.

It isn’t possible to remember where I was.  Before here.  But I must have been somewhere.  Or, maybe not.

Nothing has changed but everything has changed.  There’s a pile of rocks over there, just before the broken tree but after the little river.  That pile of rocks used to be bigger.  And there were people living in it.  Before them there were other people.   And the pile of rocks was tall.  And other people came to the place and threw fire at it.  And the people inside were eventually pulled out and cut down on the flat earth outside.  Then they all went away and I was left by myself.  Waiting.  As the rocks began to fall, one by one.

And the trees!  The trees have been and gone many times.  Once, about as far back as I can remember, the trees were everywhere.  There were trees in the very bottom of the valley, right up to the tops of the hills.  There were hardly any people, which made waiting all the more boring.  But, still, there were trees and trees and trees.

I’m not even sure why I am waiting.

But I am good at it.  Every now and then, someone comes close and I stop waiting.  But it seems that in the past little while, there have been fewer people coming close.  So, I have started to not wait.  But to go.  This has made all of the difference.   The last one.  That was funny.  He made…I think it was he…he made funny little noises, like words but not like words.  Just sounds.  He looked sad at the end.  It made me feel sad.  But not for very long.

I walked to a new place.  I went very slowly, so that he wouldn’t hear me.  I do this sometimes.  It makes the surprise better.

This new place is a very old place that I knew a long time ago.  There’s a rock in the middle of a field.  There were many more rocks here before, but not now.  The man who lives in the big, white house in the valley is the last of a line of men who took the other rocks away a long time ago.  But I remember when there were many rocks.  There were people here as well.  They thought no-one could see them, but I could see them, through the trees.  While I waited.

I think I will go back there again.  Yes, I will go.  And when I get there I will wait.  I will not have to wait for long.

The Shelly Coat: part three.

The mist was rippled by a slight breeze as he walked across the gravel to the porch and the front door.  The tops of the pines at the far side of the field over the road were still hidden, but it looked as if the mist was finally moving away.  The eerie, quiet whiteness unnerved him.  It was when the world was at its most still that unfortunate things happened.  Or so it had seemed.

He looked back along the road as he reached into his pocket for the keys.  He was expecting a delivery this morning and didn’t want to miss the lorry.  He was completely out of Thomas The Rhymer and his regulars wouldn’t let him off another night without any.  Silly buggers, there were plenty of other bottles of cider, ales and spirits.  Creatures of habit, though, the local ale was his best seller to his regulars and he’d be buggered to lose money if he could help it.  No sign of the lorry,  he unlocked the door and walked into his pub.  Turning on the lights, he smiled as he looked around the bar.

The Hoppringle was his pride and joy, which he knew was a bit of a cliché, but one that was true.  Once a large farmhouse with a stone courtyard, for at least two centuries it  had served the old road as an Inn.  Built of solid, stone walls, it was, he thought, a rather beautiful place.  Bare wooden floors shone with a polish and colour that only the passing of time could provide.  The grey walls inside showed the old prints on the plastered walls to good effect, sharply contrasting with the golden wood that panelled parts of the room.  Just right.

The marks in the wooden door and window frames were all intact, he was relieved to see, and he’d already noted that there was no sign of any disturbance in the gravel outside the pub.  All good, then, he sighed.

He took the log basket he’d filled the previous evening from the log store outside up to the pot-bellied stove in the corner and started building a fire to warm the bar up.  He could see his breath in the air, even inside, on days like this.  It was always noticeably colder up here on the ridge road, compared to down in the village.  He shivered and stood up from the stove, taking from his pocket the red yarn wound tightly around an old bobbin.  In his other pocket, he felt for the little plastic envelope which contained the berries and rowan twigs.  He’d see to this later, he thought.

A sharp blast of a loud horn announced the arrival of the draymen.  At least Janey wouldn’t have to endure another night of moaning from the locals, providing the keg of Thomas was here.  And where the hell was she anyway?  Not like her to be late.

He walked across the room, checking that the fire in the stove had taken, towards the door.  He pulled it open and met Lanney, his regular brewery drayman.  Lanney was scratching under his wooly hat with a pencil.  He liked Lanney. One of the good guys around here.  He was also a regular, which still struck John as odd.  He’d be as well drinking at work and saving time and money than trecking up to the pub.

‘Alright, Lanney,’ he said.

‘Hiya John.  Six kegs, aye?’

 

It was at least half an hour later than Janey finally arrived.

‘Afternoon, Janey’, said John.

‘Aye, very good, John.  I’m not that late.  I’m sorry, the bus was ridiculously behind,’ she replied, as she hurried across to behind the bar, taking her coat off as she walked. ‘I’d have called you, but you know what the signal’s like at the stop?’

‘Aye, alright Janey, no bother.  The brewery delivered, so at least we’ve got Thomas for tonight.’

‘Thank God for that.  I couldn’t be bothered having Roddie whining on and on again, like last night’.

John smiled.  Maybe it was going to be a good day after all.

 

Around five o’clock, the pub was warm, cosy and beginning to get busier again. Outside, the land had disappeared into the night.  The mist had cleared during the day and now it was cloudless and very cold.  A slight frost was glistening already and, judging by how many stars glowed overhead, it was to be colder still.  The sky had that faint snow smell that the farmers knew well.   By the end of the week, the snow would cover the hills, much later than normal this year. Inside, the lamps gave off a warm, subdued glow.  The music in the background was just right with Maddy Prior’s voice just audible above the friendly conversations that were taking place.

Roddie was perched on his usual stool by the bar, a pint of Thomas in one hand and a vaporizer in the other.   He was chatting to Janey, his left leg bouncing up and down repeatedly, as always happened when he was talking about something he had an opinion on.  On this occasion, Brexit.    John watched them both from the corner of his eye as he collected empties from across the room.  The pub has been busy that afternoon, thanks to the ramblers from Gala.  Janey was smiling slightly at Roddie, whilst she twisted willow stalks in her hands.

John could tell that Janey was enjoying the chat, even if her expression  said otherwise.  She was used to the peculiarities of his customers after all these years.  Roddie was harmless.  Just lonely.  And far too bloody chatty.  It must be difficult for him, though, stuck up at Cauldhaugh ever since Malcie had gone.

Thinking of Malcie always made John’s cheeks burn red and he was thankful that no-one was watching him.  He gathered up the empty glasses and took them behind the bar to the sink.  Roddie was still talking, but John wasn’t listening.  It was only when Janey touched him lightly on the arm that he began to listen again.  Janey leaned in closely, turning her back on Roddie.  Roddie didn’t seem to notice, or care, that his audience was moving away.  Maddy Prior had been replaced by Toni Arthur and Roddie was now in full song.

‘Did you see that there’s been another one, John?’, she asked.

‘Another what, Janey?’

‘You know what.  At the Sentinel Stone, this time.’

‘Ach, Janey, that was early last year.  You must have seen the posters, surely?  It was all over the news, too’, said John.

‘No.  I didn’t.  I don’t know why.  That was when I went to Edinburgh, to the University, to see Bethan.  But, John, The Sentinel Stone.  It’s getting closer.  That can’t be good, can it?  What does it mean?’.

Janey looked a little scared, he was surprised to see.

“It was last February, Janey.  I think we’re okay now.’

Janey wasn’t convinced.  ‘You saw the marks on the wood, didn’t you?  That daft bugger’s been trying to erase them, hasn’t she?  She thinks if she rubs them out, it’ll let it loose, doesn’t she?’

John stopped polishing the pint glass he was holding.  He turned to look at her, smiling.

‘Janey.  The marks are all still there.  Not that that matters a bit.  If that daft old bitch wants to play games, then let her. We’re safe.  We follow the rules and we stay safe.  Now, don’t worry.  Go and see what Roddie wants, will you?  He looks like he’s never had a drink in his life, the way he’s waving that pint glass at us like a loon.’

As she walked away, John’s eyes flicked to the dark grooves and patterns in the beams by the window.  They all looked right.  Didn’t they?  He picked up another clean glass and polished it, without thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

The Shelly Coat: part two.

The bus was late again.  This wasn’t unusual and she didn’t mind at all.  The sooner it arrived, the sooner she’d have to start work and that could wait.  If only it was a bit warmer.

The mist still hadn’t shifted and that made her feel sad.  This time of year usually did, but something had changed in the last month that she couldn’t quite explain.  She shivered, drawing her collar higher up.  Sighing, looking at her watch again, she shifted her position against the bus shelter seat that wasn’t a seat.  It was more like a shelf that you had to prop up against.  At her age, she could have done with a proper sit down.

She smiled.  At her age, she shouldn’t be working at all, in which case she could be back in her cottage in front of the fire.  Life hadn’t quite worked out as planned, though, had it?

She stood up, trying to stamp some warmth into her legs.  She turned, glancing at the notices someone had taped to the scarred plastic windows in the shelter.  Two new homemade posters begged for help in finding missing cats.  Peachy and Sparky.  One black, one white.  Ebony and Ivory, she hummed.

The older posters carried other photographs.  Missing: Jakob Drewes, 23, from Bonn. Last seen, 17/01/18 on the Borders Towers Way near Scarrigg Water.   And, next to the fading photograph of the German student, his friendly, bearded face fading as the seasons bleached the printer ink, another face.  Missing –  Aylie Liddel, 17, from Galashiels. Last seen walking near the bus stop at the Sentinel Stone, February 2019. 

She sniffed.  The hopes that these folk had, desperate to see their loved ones again.  She  had felt like that once, long ago.  She remembered putting notices up, full of expectation and terror, checking every day for months that her posters could be seen.  She had walked the paths around the village and beyond the valley every other day, terrified of missing a call from the Police but fearful of doing nothing but wait.  That’s when she had started going to The Hoppringle.  At first, it was to talk with the landlord, John, to see if there was any news.  Then, to talk with the customers to see if they could help her; locals mostly but with hillwalkers and cyclists regularly visiting.  No-one ever had any news of any use.  Visiting more frequently, she had become a regular herself without realising.  After a few months, John had asked if she needed work, with money not coming in any more.  Her job there had now lasted a little over fifteen years.  And still, she had no news. Or, rather no news that anyone sane would believe.

The Hoppringle Inn  was one of the best old pubs in the county.  Everyone said so.  At least two hundred years old –  the souvenir T-shirts and mugs claimed 400 years – the pub was a  sturdy stone building, two storeys tall and cosy in winter with the fires burning.  Halfway along the Towers Way, the pub had become increasingly popular with walkers and cyclists and less so with locals.  Nothing to do with the influx of strangers and more to do with drink driving checks and the smoking ban, there was still a loyal following of Borders who still visited regularly.  Real Ales, dogs welcomed and football barred, she loved it.  John’s only concession to the outside world was a jukebox and a fading Saltire fluttering outside, the word Yes printed across it.  Were it not for these intrusions, the pub could be a hundred years ago.  That’s what folk said.

She shivered again.  Where the hell was the bus?  It was definitely getting colder.  She took out her mobile, wondering whether to call John.  The wind picked up, her coat flapped around her legs and she tightened her belt, hugging her arms together and hopping from foot to foot.  No cars had passed on the road for some time.  She wondered if Alasdair would be on his way soon.  Or, maybe, Mary.  Either would be able to give her a lift, as the pub quiz would be sure to include them both.  It usually did.

It was beginning to get dark, now.  The bus stop was in an exposed spot, overlooking the river valley.  The dry stane dykes that lined the verges on either sign of the road providing a bit of a shelter, but this was a bitterly cold place to have to wait.   The Hawthorns and Scots Pines that managed to grow here were more twisted and stunted than elsewhere, showing their shared history of storms and high winds that blew along the valley.  Only gorse seemed happy here, and the rough, shaggy grass that grew in strange waves and bumps on the ground.  Too far outside the village to be useful to most, she normally had the shelter to herself.  Only occasionally did anyone from Calzeanie Farm use the stop, preferring their pick ups or ATVs to the infrequent buses.

She began to think that maybe she should retrace her steps, back down the hill and home.  She could call John and explain.  He’d understand.  She turned round, unsure of what to do next.  Her eye caught the face of Jakob Drewes, 23, from Bonn.  Glancing again at his poster, an email address begged for information to be sent to Helmut and Suzie Drewes.

Oh, Helmut, Oh, Suzie.  That’s not going to happen, is it, loves?  Not now.  She had received no good news fifteen years ago and nor, now, would they.  Eventually, she was sure, they would move beyond grief but they would never be able to understand what had happened to poor, handsome, friendly Jakob.  Nobody could possibly understand.  Except the Shelly Coat, of course.  The Shelly Coat knew why, when and where.  But would never tell.

The red and cream bus was announced by the sound of hissing breaks, bringing her back to the present.  She climbed aboard, nodding her usual greeting to Tam the driver.  Wearily, she sat down, thinking of the Hoppringle and the work that awaited.