Extraordinary things you can find online. Scanned and transcribed are the diaries of Alexander Curle, RCAHMS secretary 1908 - 1913. They include a section from 1908 in which he visits the Wrinklaw 'hill fort' near Longformacus.
"Driving towards Byrecleugh I left the trap about a mile about Rathburne & descended to the Dye to find the Wrink Law fort on the opposite side. A mistake as to its position gave me an extra walk of a mile or so. It appears to be much as described."
He then goes into the specifics you would expect from RCAHMS, a ditch of such and such a length, the mound curves from this direction to that, remains of such and such a height.
Then he adds something extraordinary:
"On returning to the trap I slew an adder on the loose screes of stones below the fort. I had to take off my shoes etc. to get over the water, a painful operation."
Had the second sentence alone existed I would have thought this remarkable, as someone who has several times removed their 'shoes etc' to cross just that water at just that point to head up to Rathburne, though I seem to enjoy the process rather more. But the first sentence, tossed in as a casual observation and matter of course; "On returning to the trap I slew an adder on the loose screes of stones below the fort." I know just that section of scree, was up there looking down upon it (for I was here, alone, in the mist, as I shall describe later). "I slew an adder". With what? An adder is a poisonous snake, I wouldn't be casually trying to take it on. But he appears to have done so and succeeded, and made no more of the affair than a quick note which he follows with the apparently far more difficult affair of paddling through a small body of shallow water. Oh, if only crossing a shallow, narrow stream were as simple as crushing a poisonous snake with my bare hands, he doesn't say. Not in so many words. For a moment I'm impressed with this gentleman, but then I mostly just feel sad for the snake. Why would you slay a snake just because you happen to see one? That rocky scree would be nice and warm on a sunny day, and the snake being a cold-blooded creature would have been greatly enjoying his day lying out on the hot rocks in the hot sun. Ah, this is the life thinks the snake, because life is always so much more enjoyable on a pleasant day. What a great day to be here and to be alive, thinks the snake. I'm so glad that I'm able to be alive at this time and in this place. Let's have a look around. The river is gently flowing on by, there's a light breeze rustling through the grass, the faint calls of red grouse from the moorland above, a man is walking towards me removing something from his case, there's a smell of heather and *THWAP*. Darkness. Eternal darkness.
I walk out of the door of the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel where we're staying overnight to begin the week's holiday, the light just beginning to fade. The gardens of the abbey and the gardens of the hotel come together at a point, the same point where I stood on the abbey side of the wall looking out at the river. Today I walk on the hotel side, where the path leaves the garden and walks outside the abbey wall to the river itself. But before the river, an Australian man. Australian is a funny accent. It can be awful, it can be stupid, it can be annoying. AW YEAH FAIR DINKUM MATE. But there's a certain kind of Australian accent, and it's just the kind that this man has, it's quiet, considered, suggestive of a knowledge of the world and its contents; that certain kind of Australian accent is nice. He's asking me about the access laws because he understood that in Scotland you could walk anywhere, but he'd been just a little down the river and there were large signs saying private property. I tell him it's true that he can more or less walk anywhere, and though there may be signs saying private property, in reality they are meaningless and tend to be put up by large landowners who are a little reluctant to embrace the situation. I repeat the often-heard phrase that you have a right to responsible, non-vehicular access to any piece of land in Scotland. He looks around him, nodding gently, then smiles and says simply "I like that". Simple, elegant. No more than is called for, but an invitation to more should you care to want it. I too nod, then inelegantly add something pointless like "it's one of our better laws". Too much, too many words used to too little meaning, a thing to say just to be talking, to fill space. I feel an idiot.
At the river I walk out on the rocks that cut into the river like a little peninsula. I walk out as far as I can and then I stand. The sun is setting behind the trees and turning the sky into purple and pink. The water flows by unhurried. The treetops lean gently in the faintest of breezes. Occasional plops from the river signal fish jumping. I am out here alone, the slow river flowing, the sun silently sinking down. I'm standing out on this point and I'm not moving, have no desire or need to move. I want to be only here. I think about all sorts of things, about everything and about nothing. There are flies on the river, flies all around, in their hundreds, thousands. They are flying all around me, in front of my face, the sinking sun lights them up. All around my body is a flurry of intensive life, the whole evening is alive and I'm out there alive with it. I think of the words of 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider', those which I now know were written by Bob Dylan and not Roger McGuinn; "The river flows / it flows to the sea / Wherever that river goes / that's where I want to be / Flow, river flow / Let your waters wash down / Take me from this road / to some other town". I stand absolutely still, and I realise the flies are not touching me, they fly around and around, but they're not landing, they're not biting, they're not even an irritation. This gives me a tremendous rush of feeling completely withinh my surroundings and within this moment. The treetops are fading to silhouettes of dark against a slightly lighter dark. I think of those long film sequences of lake and treetop in 'A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness'; was it this feeling, this communion that the directors were trying to get across? I think of how appropriate that would make it, but also I think of how utterly impossible it is to transfer that feeling onto film. The sights, the smells, the sounds, without all of that working together it's just empty image. I close my eyes, still I am unmoving, and when I open them a heron is flying upriver, it comes right by me and carries on. Still and dark, to that heron I have become the landscape, I am a tree trunk, I am an outcrop. Each and every single moment of life can be beautiful and amazing, if we allow ourselves to be opened to it. I so often choose not to, choose to shut myself away, choose to ignore the here and now. But not right here, right now. The euphoria of that moment cannot accurately be described.
At Samye Ling I felt myself in a foreign land at first. All these symbols and traditions arranged everywhere, and all unknown to me. What if I should offend through ignorance? I later learn that even if I had, Buddhist teachings say that it would not be my fault and I would be immediately forgiven, but I didn't know that then. The path leads to a tower, and around it a three-sided cloister. Prayer wheels are turned electronically, which makes them look like kebab meat. In the first cloister are collections of pet ashes, with photographs. Beloved pets, some with little stories or dedications about how much they are missed. We take the time to look over dozens of them. One ginger cat has a little urn bearing the name Eric Blood Axe, a perfect photograph of him with open mouth like a proud Viking warrior. As we are looking at these someone walks past and spins the prayer wheels by hand, turning them faster. He walks along the line spinning each as he goes and I'm faintly aware that this is something I have seen before in mountain monasteries, this wordless tradition. This man is like a ghost from another world.
There are gardens here which ask that you walk them in a clockwise direction. Hundreds of ribbons are tied under trees. Shrines and golden figures are dotted all around, dragons and prayer flags. From this, it is sad to note that the accommodation buildings of the monastery itself are all extremely modern, thin prefab walls and UPVC glazing, it seems the opposite of spiritual to me. But spirit is all in the mind, after all. We go to the restaurant, where they serve only vegetarian food, and eat vegetable curry with rice. And then there is a shop. Who imagined there could be so many consumer items associated with Tibetan Buddhism? But it all goes to fund what they do here, which shows that Buddhism is nothing if not pragmatic. There is wonderful incense of every variety. Sharon buys a little hanging fish. They have cds, many of them discs of MP3 files, of prayers and chants. Most of all there are books. Some are on sale at a reduced price, including one by the founder of this monastery, Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche, who came here in 1967 and opened Samye Ling as the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery and learning centre in the entire western world. I flick it open at the first chapter.
"From the moment we are born until we die we train how not to be ourselves. We go to school. We are educated. We are influenced by society. All the time, every day of our life, we practice how not to be ourselves and how to be someone else."
Now that is an interesting thought. I glance a little further on;
"We are looking for enjoyment, looking for an ideal world where nothing unpleasant ever happens, where nobody grows old or dies. We wear ourselves out trying to fulfil these impossible aims. We indulge in short-term remedies and try to find pleasure, but all the time we are growing older and no closer to our goal of finding freedom and happiness. In the end, we may look towards the spiritual life and go to a spiritual place, but the place itself cannot give us peace. Peace has nothing to do with a physical place, it has to do with our mind, how to accept our mind and how to train our mind. Going from one place to another and not finding what we are looking for could make us feel worse, or even cause us to panic."
I think that perhaps this book has something to teach me, that perhaps all of this has something to teach me somewhere sometime. I buy the book, and a meditation mat, or rather Sharon buys them for me; this is my birthday week. I feel I am getting closer to a breakthrough, definitely moving in the right direction to the life I want, but there remain certain obstacles that are like walls, walls in the mind. Default ways of thinking and behaving that keep dragging me back in. Can this be overcome? Not without an effort. Do I have that effort in me? Time shall tell.
We're drinking in a fake pub, I suppose there's no getting away from that. Beamish has been a little disappointing. In principle it's a great idea, saving old buildings from destruction and relocating them into an open air museum where time is frozen at set points, costumed staff on hand with knowledge of their area. But it's pretty expensive at over £16 each, and it seems that each building is just an opportunity to squeeze you for more money. The baker shop is selling bread and cakes, the sweet shop is selling sweets, the photography studio you can peer at through the glass but if you want to go in then you have to pay for a photo session. There is no information on the origin of the buildings laid out for you, although I do have this because I paid still yet more for the guidebook.
In the garage I got more of a sense of how this place works best, which is a kind of therapy for the old. They can come here and see things as they remember them long ago and take comfort from it, then they open up with stories and little pieces of information about how things worked or how they were used, which is noted by the staff so they can then adjust their information or their presentation, and so it is very much a living museum. I sense you get the most from it if you interact with the staff to a greater degree, but of course yrs truly prefers to slink around quietly in the shadows. I'm assailed by the dentist duo who ask what they can do for me today. "Hopefully nothing" I say, and they move on to a woman who has just entered behind me. She plays along, concocting a story about her sore tooth, what it feels like, how long it's been hurting. There will be no dentistry here today of course, this pair spent all day long looking for launching points into the gruesome history of historic dental practice, full of pulling teeth without anaesthetic, spurting blood, disease and infection, and just how extra miserable being poor would have made you.
And so to relax on a hotel bed, where my tiger-print luggage looks completely at home. Wheeling into a finely-clad room in black velvet and waistcoat, celtic brooches and all, with this loud glam accessory all the more shocking by its contrast, I feel just a tiny little hint of a bit like Rod Stewart or the great rock stars of the classic rock era, though I doubt many looking on would agree. Lying on the bed I give more thought to the kind of life that I want to lead. It should be a life of travel, of romantic adventure, of history and literature and art, of music, aesthetics, finery and sexual perversion. Well, one does as one can. As my birthday is fast approaching I decide that I'm going to buy a present for myself, and that present is a vintage concertina, of fine communist construction from the German Democratic Republic (that's East Germany to you and me). I try to trace back where the idea came from, and it's all a bit uncertain. Certainly of recent times I trace it back to an awful horror film called Crypt Of The Living Dead in which a man of the sea is shown playing a little squeezebox. That's the recent spark, but the idea was not born there for I've thought several times of obtaining an accordion of some description. Perhaps it goes back to Christian Death, imagined reveries of decadence in the heartland of Europe. A life of music can be more than a passive thing. I am not seeking mastery, professional standard, just the ability to entertain myself and perhaps others to some basic degree with some folk tunes on a variety of instruments. How can I have gone for so many years with no instruments in my possession?
Durham is a town stacked high on spiralling streets, little closes reaching back into strange constructions, buildings stretching into buildings, merging and exchanging, modernising and extending, receding. There's an Oxfam bookshop over multiple floors where everything costs a fortune, an original Pentangle 'Sweet Child' LP by the wall is asking £40. I fear I could lose days of my life in here, and a lot of money I don't have, so I get myself out again. Sharon likes it here because she's found a cafe through a close that she likes, and there's purple everywhere as it's the town colour. The buses, the signs, everywhere. There are two Waterstone's here, the normal shop and the university shop. There's the cathedral of course, but we don't go within a hundred feet of it today.
The sacrifice of trying to do a lot in a small space is the room to breathe. It's all deadline, deadline, sorry can't stop. Sharon moves at a slower pace than me, and that's to say the least. I can be all go, go, go because each fresh discovery fills me with new energy, I can maintain myself with a high sugar, high caffeine diet and then crash out when it's done. Sharon shuffles along, she wants to go to a place and stay there a while, no deadlines, no schedule. It needs a proper lunch and about a million coffee stops (well, two). It can be frustrating for me I admit, but I must re-teach myself that balance. In our early life together I would pick out a place to go, and Sharon would plod along through it, me moving ahead and doubling back, moving ahead and doubling back, spending a lot of time standing still looking back, trying to force patience upon myself. But in standing still you actually see more sometimes. I must return again and again to the scene of the river by Dryburgh Abbey in my mind, I must find and maintain that serenity.
At Corbridge I see the same cheap leather bracelet I just bought in Durham as 'medieval jewelry' relabelled as 'Roman jewelry'. No doubt at other sites it passes as Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Viking. You can call a thing what you like. Whatever you think it is in your mind, that's what it is.
We're at the Roman town, just as the weather turns. This was Coria, on the same Dere Street that runs all the way to Dryburgh. There are a lot of remains here, all at a fairly low elevation, but enough to let you wander actual streets. The drainage is the thing that gets me here. The water came in by aqueduct and from there it was channeled here, there and everywhere. Every street has gutters, there was a central fountain. The granary floor is raised up on a stone platform to allow for ventilation, and you can still climb up and walk about on it today. Walking in an actual Roman street; I had never imagined Corbridge, Coria, would be like this. As the rain falls I become the only person remaining outside. Closing time is approaching. They've sold me another guide book of course. Twice, for I bought one at the tourist information in Corbridge, the English Heritage official guidebook to Hadrian's Wall and its attendant attractions. At the Roman town they are prepared for me though, now they have another guide book, this one specifically only for the Corbridge Roman town. But the thing remains closed, I will read it later. Alone on the Roman streets, Roman streets still channeling the water away after 2000 years.
At last, after so many years of trying to make it, the Traquair Medieval Fayre! The effect is perhaps slightly dulled at the gate when Sharon pays the entrance by Ye Credite Carde, and their printed, laminated A4 signs offer typo'd admissions to each of Adults, Children and Familty. But we're inside to a world of white canvas tents, stalls and demonstrations, milling people. Archery demonstrations which I sadly don't get near, mead being sold by a man in a brown monk's robe. Sharon looks around on a stall selling antique bric-a-brac and finds fleur de lys candle holders, for which the stall owner wants to haggle.
"Come on, haggle me!", he encourages her. "Ten pounds".
She looks a little uncertain. I'm watching out of the corner of my eye, pretending not to hear or see but smiling quietly to myself. "So you tell me now what you think instead and we'll see if we can reach a deal."
"Emmm.... I was thinking.... £8."
"Deal!" he cries, and Sharon looks quite pleased.
"Is that how I'm supposed to do it?", she asks me.
"Well", I confess, "I think normally he'd say 10, you'd say 5 and then you'd say 6 and he'd say 8 and then you'd settle around 7."
"Oh... that must be why he bit my hand off at 8"
"Well, it's saved us some time anyway."
We're on our way to obtain some food when who should appear before us but our village neighbours and friends Phil and Aileen, with son James, and we spend most of the rest of the day together.
There's a maze, overlooked by the grand old house. There's something oddly sexual about a maze, those narrow confined corridors where one can well imagine chasing some young maiden, always just tantalisingly a step out of sight, until you meet, a coming together now in some secluded hidden spot. Still public, for other wanderers in the maze may discover you, may be just the other side of that hedge right now. Of all the people loose in the maze right now, I realise I am likely the only one thinking this.
I can't be the first person to think this, so I try to use Google to find out more. But what exactly do you Google? "The sexuality of the maze" offers little of use, nor do many other combinations and variations. Finally under the search 'maze pursuit maiden' I find a Google Books result worthy of note. In the book 'Love's Body', the author states:
"The labyrinth, or maze, is also a dance; the dance of life.
-Then as all actions of mankind
-Are but a labyrinth or maze
-So let your dances be entwined
The Cretan labyrinth was Ariadne's dancing ground. After their victory, Theseus and the young Athenians danced a dance consisting of certain measured turnings and returnings imitative of the windings and twisting of the labyrinth. The mazes in Medieval Europe, called Walls Of Troy, were the scene of dancing games called the game of Troy: a penetration of the maze, to win or capture a maiden."
A penetration, no less, to say nothing of the use of Trojans.
A faintly ridiculous scene develops at the falconry display. The woman running the show is very critical of other falconry shows. They use birds that are far too young, she explains, and because they don't possess her expertise they get poor results and birds that don't go where they're supposed to. As she walks around explaining this, a hairy man in his tent just in the background begins the lengthy and complex procedure of getting into his armour. The woman is walking around and the bird keeps hopping down to follow. She tells it off, saying it isn't time yet. It's amusing and, we assume, a planned part of the show. This is called into question moments later when the bird is informed that it is now time and is released properly to fly. And fly he does... straight into the tent of the man putting on his armour. Having just introduced it as a mature and reliable bird and criticised other shows for poor results in bird obedience, our host is in an unenviable public position, especially when she can't get it to come back out. She then walks into the tent and retrieves it, walking out with it on her arm. On its next release it flies over the heads of the audience and into a tree. There now begins a lengthy process of trying to tempt it down with pieces of food, which is achieved only after some minutes. A little after this it flies off into another tree, and again she can't get it down. Who'd be a falconer, eh?
In the chapel of the house is a performance of medieval music by a husband and wife team who look like they might have spent their youth in just that era. They look so old that you fear they might crumble into dust with the least exertion. But the man has life in his face when he stands to speak. The woman less so, and as she plays her viola she visibly struggles with any sections requiring quick changes of fingering. This frailty adds an extra layer of tragedy to a selection of music which is already rather downbeat, chosen just for this reason to mark an anniversary of Mary, Queen Of Scots and her tragic life.
A picnic in the woods, then. It wasn't intended this way exactly, it was supposed to be a walk in the woods to the remains of Elibank Castle, one of Scotland's many forgotten and precarious uncared-for ruins. A large 'dangerous building' sign slapped on the side doesn't detract from the grandeur of its position up on a hillside in the Tweed valley, or from the impressive bulk of its remains. It has been in ruins since at least 1722 but was already being described as "very much dilapidated" on a visit in 1934, which only serves to make it all the more perfect as the background setting for a picnic on a hot summer's day. But alas Sharon was dealing with an injured knee and the path was longer than expected, so we stopped and settled instead inside the forest itself. Surrounded by bluebells and sitting on moss-adorned fallen tree trunks we ate from plastic plates sheltered from the direct sunlight by the treetops overhead. On the track back there were tiny trees self-seeded between the tyre tracks, unwanted by the Forestry Commission and due to be flattened by heavy machinery in the years ahead, so we lifted one out and took it home to plant. On this lonely forestry track with no-one else sighted Sharon was still paranoid about having stolen something, and I discovered her trying to conceal the little tree.
Somewhere along the trail she made an unexpected suggestion that we could get bikes and go out cycling together. This immediately set my mind alive with the possibility of the thing, the extra adventures and opportunities afforded by it. Combined with the caravan, which they would sit handily inside during transport, many things would become possible. It is possible, for example, to set up the caravan in Ettrick Valley, scene of so much of my childhood, and from there to cycle on not-much-frequented roads all the way to the Samye Ling monastery, and indeed to return. We shall see if it proves an idea that sticks, but I'm keen to ensure it doesn't fade away.
I left my vintage concertina instructional book in a bag with not quite so vintage strawberries, with the result that the pages of sheet music now look as though they have been splashed with blood. All very dramatic and fitting, no doubt. I have taught myself a few basic songs, slower Scottish numbers mostly, but also a large portion of La Marseillaise. I thought a concertina would be like a full accordion, where one hand is playing melody with either a keyboard or buttons while the other presses on keys which are pre-set with chord combinations. A concertina has no such chords, just a lower range of notes on the left hand and a higher on the right. The songs I've learned are all within the range of the lower left hand, and to be honest the right hand sounds a bit too high to be of much use. Obviously the intention of this instrument is to work both together in some way, but how? I'm ignorant of even the most basic theory here. Should I be pressing multiple notes to form my own chords, working it through in my head? That's a lot of work, but already I'm thinking about actual proper music again. Unlike when I taught myself guitar, or began on the tin whistle, I am learning properly from sheet music where I'm seeing the note and not the combination and placement of fingers required to produce that note. This actually speeds up learning considerably as there are only so many notes and once you've learned them, you've learned them. You can carry that onto the next tune, whereas if you've learned it as fingers over a certain number of holes you're having to almost relearn that note each time it appears. There is a bit of forward thinking with a concertina as well. The same button produces a different note pushing the bellows in than it does pulling them out. A G going in becomes an A on the way out, so it's not simply a case of pressing in until the air is gone and then pulling out until the air has been replaced, it depends on the notes you are playing. You may have a run where you're playing G, G, B, D, B, G; 6 notes pushing in. A concertina doesn't hold a whole lot of air so you better make sure that you've extended it fully before you start that run.
Naturally within a week of receiving it, it had broken. Now the air did not travel in and out as before, it didn't tighten and it didn't slacken, it just sort of hung there in between, not enough puff to get more than one note in either direction. Something had gone wrong inside, and as a complete novice untrained in the use of such an instrument let alone the inner mechanics of the thing, there was only one thing to do. So I opened it up with a screwdriver. Inside was a surprisingly simple set-up. Each note had a self-contained little unit of a metal grill, inside which was the reed required to produce that note. These were all sealed individually and I didn't have to venture into any of them. My problem was easily spotted. There is an extra button that isn't a note, it's the air release so that you can extend the concertina out or push it in without sounding a note; handy if you hit one of those aforementioned runs and are able to work a split second somewhere in it to extend back out, actually quite a skill. Pressing that button was moving only a little wooden hammer head inside that didn't cover the hole. Obviously something bigger was supposed to be there, and it duly turned up inside the cover. The quality communist East German plywood had snapped through, but after repair with that beloved staple of silent slapstick films, the superglue, it was good as new. Screws back in, concertina back in operation.
The lack of theory soon began to bother me though, and I decided I would make a bold move. I would take lessons. Now my distrust of teachers runs deep as long-time readers may be aware, so getting me to accept instruction takes a certain kind of talent, or at least a certain degree of trust. I had a look online for accordion teachers in the Borders (the concertina is a kind of accordion after all), and the first name that appeared was rather a familiar one. It was in fact the person who had given me keyboard lessons for many years in my early to mid teens. He was still going, playing in his own ceilidh band in fact, and living just over in Galashiels. I had actually had cause to remember him just a few days previous while we stayed at the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, as I used to play in keyboard competitions there. As my teens progressed I became increasingly difficult because I was only interested in guitar music, and had actually entered a couple of keyboard competitions playing Oasis tunes. At one of these I played 'Supersonic', an appallingly basic tune that mostly flicks back and forth between two notes, using overdrive distortion guitar for my sound setting and a hard rock rhythm. I played that racket to a panel of aged judges who then inexplicably awarded me the gold medal.
In any case, I decided to e-mail him to say who I was, that he had taught me keyboard in Tranent during my difficult teenage years, that I had this concertina and wanted to learn to play it, was he still doing lessons and would he be interested in teaching me again? He obviously remembered well enough, as the heading of the e-mail that came back said "Oasis... on a concertina?!", and in the body of the e-mail he even named the street I had lived on. Despite remembering me plainly enough, he was still willing to teach me again. I haven't seen him for probably something like 18 years, but I'm confident this is the best possible way I could have gotten back into the musical world.
Alone in the fog on a hillside. Visibility is maybe 20 feet or so. A small globe of a world that travels with you. Occasional sounds from outwith, faint suggestions of shadows or shapes, but mostly a pushing grey envelope.
I will record music again. It has been on my mind for a long time, but now that time has come. When I put a picture of my new concertina on Instagram, Ross responded "the follow-up to Elsinore is going to get a bit weird". Very long-time readers might distantly recall that the Elsinore mini-album was the last thing I recorded in the impossibly far-gone days of 2003. That I recorded under my own name, but this is a fresh start. It will not be predominantly concertina-based of course, I will have to once again set myself up with guitars and pedals and all the usual rock instrumentation. But there will be some concertina here or there, some tin whistle. My thought is not to have drums but have the rhythm pounded out on a bodhran. What it will end up sounding like I have no idea, but certainly elements of black metal, doom metal, 'drone', psychedelia, neo-folk and dark ambient. It will not strive to be part of any genre; if I want to follow a jaunty accordion sea shanty with a slab of monolithic doom with tortured screaming vocals then I will; unhesitatingly. If I feel I want both in the same song, then I will. This is a project for me above all else. It will be made available online for nominal sums with the option to donate more; this is not a money-making venture, but at the same time if it can bring in a few quid to put towards more instruments or sound equipment then so be it. And it will be recorded under the name Edin's Hall, after the bronze age broch between Duns and Abbey St Bathans, near where I watched salmon leaping the waterfall, near where I entered the copper mines with Lowell.
But that place is not this place. This place I'm on my way to in the mist is a special place also. Depending on the whim of the source you take it from, it is either the Wrinklaw or Wrunklaw hill fort, just outside of the village. I was drawn here before I ever realised what it was, or had been, and I feel I can't go too long without revisiting. Today there is no view out across the river valley below, just that travelling grey envelope. The world around in a thick mist is a circle, but it's your unique circle created by your field of vision. It looks like a circular clearing, but that clearing does not exist, cannot be seen by someone in a different positions. They carry instead their own circle, endlessly portable. I have my circle, and that could be my whole world. But that also means I can sit here completely alone, completely in silence. Someone could pass 30 feet from me and never know I was there. Not that anyone would, no-one else is likely to be wandering around remote hill forts in heavy mist. It's an unusual thing to do, contrary to any general advice you're likely to be given on the matter. But the older I get, the less inclined I feel to listen to conventional wisdom about how you should be living your life.
Later farm buildings confuse the picture on the ground. A rectangular longhouse might equally be a barn, a circular hut might equally be a sheep fold. Again, this site seems unsuited for defence as the hill rises behind it. Three sides fall away to valley below, these would certainly make for good defences. As I walk to the back of the site a row of trees appears faintly from the mist on the horizon. Spread apart they look for a moment like ancient warriors marching on the fort. At the back is a strong piece of evidence in favour of the hill fort camp; a massive earthen ditch with a central gap for a gate, stretched right across that weak side. Palisaded with wood, maybe a tower, and suddenly that approach doesn't look so weak. And the gate is so clearly a gate, the earthworks so clearly a palisade, that there seems no room left for argument. This was a hill fort, in the true sense.
As I descend towards the scree slopes where our friend the RCAHMS secretary slew his adder I feel the need for some noise, so I choose 'Sister Ray', the original raw version from 'White Light White Heat'. Whatever energy has been drained by the long grass and the deep mist is immediately replenished, if the earthworks hadn't done the job already. A circle of mist, an art noise riot in a still and enclosed silence, at an iron age hill fort. I hold myself still like I was back at the river's edge at Dryburgh, there is no need to be anywhere else.
Death Is This Communion, said High On Fire. Life is my communion.