Tuesday, May 5, 2009
What links Romans and motorway engineers; opium and cattle-reiving; cheese and sandstone; saints and hunting dogs; wind-bleached uplands and mud-sea shores; the salmon and the Solway; Burns and Scott?
Last week I walked the Annandale Way and found all these links and more. Running between the headwaters of the Annan river at the Devil's Beef Tub north of Moffat, and Barnkirk Point on the Solway, just south of Annan, this 54 mile walk surprises almost because much of the landscape is so unassuming. As I stepped across the veins of the river catchment, stories unfolded of the travel of ice and water; after which came feet, hooves the lines of wheels, rail and road. From reedy upland to pastoral lowland, the river gushes and then meanders through friesian-bright meadows. It finally slows, tide-tugged and moon-torn, to mingle with the Solway Waters amongst desolate smears of mud and sky, horizons haunted by curlew call and a demolished lighthouse, described by Burns as 'this wild place of the world'.
I found flashes of kingfisher, crumbling mansions, the blink of a hare. Oak trees twisted through centuries of growth and willows sprung quickly from the earth to harvest for the bio-mass station which pumps smoke into the air near Lockerbie.
Rivers are mysterious, and they demand us to think in holistic ways. What befalls the land leaches its effects into rivers and thence the sea. Rivers endlessly cycle through millenia, from hill to shore and back, witnessing our history, shifting in their course or level, perhaps commenting if we allow them to. Sometimes I walked slower than the river and sometimes faster. But I was always going in the same direction, warned by the river of its powers, 'Walk against me if you will, but I'll sweep you down again in your sleep when you can't resist, so you have to start again.'