Trea­sure In The Hills

Dave McFadzean vis­its an art in­stal­la­tion with a dif­fer­ence in the south-west of Scot­land . . .

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

Dave McFazdean vis­its an out­door sculp­ture

DRIV­ING up the lonely val­ley to Dal­what Glen, it seems at first just like many oth­ers. Pas­toral farm­land gives way to high sheep graz­ings as we me­an­der up­stream, and the rolling cirque of hills is a tran­quil set­ting.

Even­tu­ally, as the glen closes in on us, we come to Cairn­head For­est. This sub­stan­tial rib­bon of up­land for­est stretches right over the hills north from here. It passes through the Scaur, Euchan and Kello head­wa­ters and sur­round­ing hills.

It re­minds me of the old lo­cal rhyme about the source of these up­land rivers: “The Kello, the Scaur, the Euchan and the Ken all rise out of the one hill end.”

This southerly glen has now been put right on the map with a mag­nif­i­cent art pro­ject.

Cairn­head Com­mu­nity For­est Trust looks af­ter the amenity as­pects of these woodlands. Set up as a char­ity in 1998 to work along­side the own­ers, it ben­e­fits the com­mu­nity both eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally.

As you move on up the glen, visi­tors en­counter some of the Trust’s first en­hance­ments to the for­est. At the old slate quarry we dis­cover signs of past in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity.

This river­side set­ting is al­ways pop­u­lar with visi­tors and lo­cals alike. It was the nat­u­ral thing for the Trust to make this into a pic­nic area by the bend in the Dal­what River.

Salmon come to spawn here in au­tumn where sum­mer visi­tors pad­dle in the burn.

In­ter­pre­ta­tion signs and seat­ing en­tice visi­tors to the quarry wood. The feeder burn here has also been dammed to make a very ef­fec­tive wildlife lochan where drag­on­flies feed in sum­mer.

Things all re­ally fell into place for the Trust when renowned land­scape artist Andy Goldswor­thy was look­ing for a lo­cal ven­ture.

Cheshire-born Goldswor­thy grew up in York­shire. As a young­ster he laboured on farms, where he de­vel­oped a con­scious­ness for the ever-chang­ing land­scape around him.

Mov­ing north to Scot­land in the 1980s, he even­tu­ally set up home in Dum­friesshire.

Goldswor­thy was busy mak­ing a name for him­self as a global land art ge­nius. His work has taken him to many corners of the world, but still he wanted to do some­thing spe­cial in his own back yard.

TRAV­EL­LING ever deeper into the for­est, even­tu­ally you ar­rive at the old cot­tage at Cairn­head, at one time a walk­ers’ and cy­clists’ bothy, now derelict and aban­doned by all. The old byre next to the bothy has been thor­oughly ren­o­vated, though.

Bizarrely, there’s a huge sand­stone arch bound­ing out of a wee win­dow on its gable end. This is the first of the renowned Strid­ing Arches. How did it get there?

Ac­tu­ally, it was quite sim­ple. They just lifted off the roof and dis­man­tled the gable – then they built the arch half in and half out the byre and sim­ply re­built the gable and put on a new roof. The byre now also gives some ba­sic shel­ter from the el­e­ments.

The Byre Arch is the only one that can be easily reached by ve­hi­cle. Look­ing back down the glen, we can just make out another arch­way on top

of Bail Hill.

The sculp­tor’s in­ten­tion was that the arches should be in­ter­linked and seen from one another.

Bail Hill gives us a stiff and tus­socky climb from near the quarry. The wide panoramic view from the sum­mit is well worth the strug­gle, though.

Pop­ping out of a for­est fire­break, it’s only a short wan­der up­hill to the arch. Look­ing through the four-me­tre-high art­work here, we can sur­vey the en­tire Cairn­head For­est stretched out di­rectly be­low us. The vista framed in the arc of sand­stone blocks is ab­so­lutely en­chant­ing.

Time to sit and savour our sit­u­a­tion for a wee while. In the dis­tance we can see the other two arches on the hills at the head of the val­ley.

Sky­larks fill the air with their trilling, climb­ing bois­ter­ously high above us. They hover a while and then sud­denly they plum­met like stones back to the ground. Buz­zards wheel in the sky be­low as they hunt along the for­est edges.

At a high sad­dle, take to the tus­socky hills above the for­est. Care­ful nav­i­ga­tion is needed here to find our way to misty Ben Brack. The 27-ton arch of 31 rough blocks even­tu­ally looms out of the mist, and as it clears we can see all the way over to our fi­nal arch on Colt Hill.

By the time we’re head­ing back down, we’ve had a fair walk round these lovely hills and seen a good help­ing of the lo­cal wildlife.

If ever you need a rea­son to ex­plore these rarely vis­ited hills, these unique sculp­tures cer­tainly pro­vide a good ex­cuse.

The arch spills out of the Byre.

On top of the world.

The path rises up into Cairn­head.

It’s a grand day out in the hills.

The Byre Arch be­fore it was built.

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