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