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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, November 26, 2012

We are all made of stars

Plough anchor  as votive offering Loch Enoch
Sic hominum cuneos graui de morte uocatos

Duxit ad astriferi rutilantia sidera celi

In this way he led companies of people summoned from grievous death
To the golden glowing constellations in the starry sky
[From the eighth century Miracula Nynie Episcopi]

Carlingwark Cauldron circa AD 100
Buried in the bowels of a museum in Edinburgh lies a bronze cauldron hauled up out of the murky depths of Carlingwark loch by two fishermen in 1868. Laid out in the glass case alongside the cauldron are a selection of the objects found within the cauldron. These include scythe blade fragments, a piece of Roman chain mail and woodworking tools. The Roman items give a rough dating of 100 AD for when the cauldron was placed in the loch. Two miles to the north of Carlingwark loch the Romans built two (perhaps three) forts and several marching camps beside a ford on the Galloway/ southwest Scotland river Dee.

Torrs Pony Cap circa 250 BC
The same museum also holds a beautifully crafted bronze pony cap which was found by a workman  digging a ditch to drain a nearby loch in 1826. The pony cap is about 300 years older than the cauldron, but like the cauldron was deliberately, rather than accidentally, deposited as a ‘votive offering ’.  Found fifteen miles to the north in 1861, the Balmaclellan mirror (dated to first century AD) was probably a similar votive offering.

Balmaclellan Mirror  circa AD 100
Present day archaeologists  think that such votive offerings may be connected to climate change, when wetter conditions in the late Bronze Age/ early  Iron Age made life more difficult for the people living in Britain then. The scythe blade fragments found in the Carlingwark cauldron may be connected to this change. Until controlled by the Galloway Hydro-electric scheme 80 years ago, the Dee was prone to dramatic floods which swept away crops growing on the fertile lands beside the river. Carlingwark loch flows into the  Dee, so the Carlingwark cauldron may have been an offering to the river goddess, in the hope of calming her floods. Local author S .R Crockett  provides a vivid description of the impact of  such floods in the 1860s.

Well, at the Lammas-tide, that is to say just as our hay was ready to be stacked, the Dee used
to over-flow, and these Lammas floods were the terror of all the Deeside farmers. And though
I was only a very little boy at the time, I can remember how often I was startled from my bed
with a wild cry, in Scots, that the Dee was out, and about ; a wild cry to arms against disaster
and ruin. How we all tumbled from our beds, and in the hastiest attire we rushed out into the
night, under the light of the stars, or by the flickering torches, the old men, the women, the
males, and even such children as I was, each to wrest from the waters some portion of the
spoils ; for our hay meant the rent of the farm, the bread for the winter, the daily loaf for many
days to come.

And into the water we went, and snatched all the hay that could be saved, and plunged, andgroaned, and struggled in our fight for our bread against the disastrous waters. I can still see my uncles, breast high in the black flood, holding armfuls of rescued hay above the water, whilst my old grandfather, standing in the loaning of the farm-house, pointed with his stick into the night, and guarded the bestowal of the salvage in shrill Scots. And so we plunged, and struggled, and saved, till after long hours of work we withdrew, dripping and triumphant, whilst the defeated Dee rolled on placidly into Grennoch, under the pale light and the stars.

Loch Enoch is 30 miles to the north west of Carlingwark loch, 1500 feet higher up and its waters are 100 feet deeper. Since October 2012 it has contained a puzzle for future archaeologists - a gold painted plough type anchor.[ Invented in 1933 by mathematician and physicist Sir Geoffery Ingram Taylor. ] In 2000 years time, will it take its place in a museum as a ’votive offering’? Or will it be taken as a sign that boats once sailed the waters of the loch? And, if they survive, what might future archaeologists make of the small gold discs attached to rocks around the loch?
Plough art work map
Charted on a map, the gold discs reveal a familiar pattern - the stars which make up the Plough, part of the Ursa Major/ Great Bear constellation. From the perspective of the present, this discovery collapses speculation. On 16 November 2009 the Galloway Forest Park (which includes Loch Enoch) became a Dark Skies Park, rated 23.6 on a scale where Maximum Darkness = 25. In  October 2012 a Dark Skies observatory was opened near Dalmellington a few miles north of Loch Enoch. We can therefore resolve the mystery of the golden plough and starry discs  - they are an art work connected to the Dark Skies Park.

But is this knowledge the end of the story? Since July 2012 , the Dark Skies Park and the Galloway Forest Park have also become part of  the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere  Reserve.  Loch Enoch is within the core zone of the Biosphere Reserve. Carkingwark loch is on the edge of the  transition zone.

The area which makes up the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is not based on some abstract concept or administrative boundaries but reflects the physical characteristics of the natural environment. Biospheres are living (working) ecosystems and this is reflected in the proposed boundary. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire biosphere is based on the  upland area centred on the Merrick which acts as a water catchment for a large part of south west Scotland and which feeds water flowing from its source via the rivers  to the coast and out to sea. Rain which falls on the hills, moorlands, forests, farmland, roads and other built structures eventually finds its way into streams, rivers and lochs. The area of land that catches the rainfall which feeds a river is known as the catchment. The area’s many small towns:  Castle Douglas; Gatehouse of Fleet; Newton Stewart; Wigtown; Girvan; Maybole; Dalmellington; New Cumnock; Cumnock; Sanquhar; Thornhill and their surrounding villages are in the biosphere and just as important to its existence and well-being as the National Nature Reserves of Cairnsmore and Silver Flowe  and the Merrick Kells SSSI which are its Core Areas. The biosphere will feature the strong cultural and local identity of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire and the common thread of water connecting the natural environment, landscape and everyone living and working in the area and on which they all depend. It is through water that everyone living and working in the biosphere is connected with everyone else.

Once upon a time the waters of Loch Enoch  found their way down Eglin Lane [lane is a local word for a usually, but not always, slow flowing stream, derived from the Gaelic leana, a marshy meadow] to the Carrick Lane and into Loch Doon, then down the river Doon into the lower Firth of Clyde near Ayr. The Doon is the boundary between the Ayrshire districts of Carrick and Kyle. Then, in the 1930s, as part of the Galloway Hydro-Electric project, Loch Doon was dammed and its level raised. A tunnel was made through Culldenoch Hill to the Carsphairn Lane so that water from Loch Doon could be fed into hydro-electric power stations on the Ken/Dee river system, weaving its way ultimately to the Solway Firth below Kirkcudbright.
Galloway Hydro-electric Scheme

Even before this manmade change to the geologically determined watershed, the waters of Loch Enoch  had been affected by human activity. The burning of coal for domestic and then industrial purposes in the north of Ireland acidified the loch. The export of coal from Cumberland to Ireland began in the seventeenth century. Then, as the north of Ireland became industrialised in the nineteenth century, the demand for coal was met by coal from Ayrshire exported through the ports of Troon and Ayr. In a circular process, coal from mines along the Doon Valley in the Biosphere  transition zone was burnt in the north of Ireland then blown by prevailing westerly winds back into Galloway and South Ayrshire to fall as acid rain.

By 1900 the water of Loch Enoch had already become acidic. J. McBain in his 1929 book The Merrick and the Neighbouring Hills. Tramps by Hill, Stream and Loch describes a trout that 'bore the unmistakable marks of a Loch Enoch trout, i.e., it was minus the lower half of its tail and part of its ventral fins' McBain writes that the last recorded trout caught was in 1899. Since 1940 the loch became more acidic due to industrial emissions and in the 1950s it completely lost its fish population. In 1994 it was restocked with 3000 trout. The loch has not become more acidic since the mid 1970s and has become slightly less acidic from the 1980s onwards with the pH increasing slowly from around 4.3 in 1978 to 4.9 in 2003.

Nearly 2000  years separate the placing of  bronze cauldron in Carlingwark loch and the placing of a golden plough anchor in Loch Enoch. Will Levi Marshall’s  act has done more than create  a ‘tangible connection between  the skies and the earth’. It has also created a tangible connection between the past and the present. Alongside the tangible connection between the two physical events, Will Levi Marshall’s work also has a series of less tangible resonances, as if, although separated in time, ripples from the two events have created a cultural/historical interference pattern.

Since 1185, the northern shore of  Loch Enoch has marked the boundary between Galloway ( now Dumfries and Galloway) and Carrick (now South Ayrshire), when what had been the kingdom of Galloway was divided between the grandsons of Fergus of Galloway. Lachlan (aka Roland) acquired Wigtownshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright while Donnchadh (aka Duncan) became the first earl of Carrick. The division was a consequence of the fratricidal rivalry between Fergus’ sons Gille-Brigte and Uhtred. By 1285, through marriages the Bruce family had acquired Carrick and the Balliol family Galloway. The death of King Alexander III in 1286 triggered a struggle between the Bruces and Balliols for the Scottish Crown. The death of Edward Balliol without an heir in 1364 followed  by the death of David II in 1371, also without an heir, brought the struggle to and end.

After Edward Balliol’s death, Archibald ‘the Grim’ Douglas began a takeover of Galloway, proclaiming himself as its new Lord. After Archibald bought  the earldom of Wigtownshire in 1372, King Robert II (formerly earl of Carrick) made John Kennedy of Dunure in Carrick keeper of Loch Doon castle and kenkynnol (head of kin = chief of the clans of Carrick) to block any attempt by Archibald Douglas to extend his influence into Carrick.  In support of David II, in 1346 John Kennedy had led raids from Loch Doon castle down the Glenkens to attack Edward Balliol’s forces  on the Burnt Isle - Threave island on the river Dee.

It was on this island in 1174 that Uhtred was captured  by his brother Gille-Brigte then was blinded and castrated before dying of his injuries. In 1286 the island was attacked by Robert Bruce’s father and in 1308 it was burnt by Robert’s brother Edward. In 1369, Archibald Douglas had a castle constructed on the island. The castle was besieged by James II in 1455 and its fall marked the end of the Douglas lordship of Galloway. In 1641 the castle was again besieged, this time by the Army of the Covenant in their struggle against Charles I.

On a small hill overlooking the castle island are traces of an imposing Iron Age roundhouse which provides a link to the era of the Carlingwark cauldron, Balmaclellan mirror and the Torrs pony cap. Beneath the hill is also a small pumping station built on the Carlingwark Lane. The Carlingwark Lane was constructed as a canal in 1765 to carry barges laden with marl (a lime rich clay) from Carlingwark loch to the river  Dee and then upstream to the head of Loch Ken. Before the pumping station was built in the 1930s  as part of the Galloway Hydro-electric scheme, the river would flood back along the canal and into Carlingwark loch- as S. R . Crockett noted in 1904.

Still, occasionally in winter, one may see, upon some day of high flood in the river Dee, that peaceful canal pour a red and ridgy torrent into the loch, raising it in a few hours to the level of the road, putting half the islands under water, and altering the whole face of nature.
Carlingwark Canal built 1765
The canal was built for Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw. Gordon’s intention was that it would be part of a far more ambitious project which anticipated the  transformation wrought by the Galloway Hydro-electric scheme. Gordon proposed constructing a deep water harbour in Ross Bay at the mouth of the Dee as well as a 26 mile long canal from Kirkcudbright to the Boat Pool of Dalry on the river Ken. From Dalry, Gordon proposed  an extension north to Dalmellington for 'traffic in coals and lime' either by an open cut to Loch Doon or 'by subterraneous passage … through the excellent bed of coal which is worked at Cumlarg'. [Cumlarg or Camlarg is adjacent to the former deep mines and present opencast coal mines at Pennyvenie near Dalmellington.]

If Alexander Gordon’s vision had prevailed, the waters of Loch Enoch would have fed a canal carrying coal from the Doon valley down through the Glenkens to fuel cotton mills clustered  around Carlingwark loch…  The notion of an industrialised Galloway seems fantastic, but improving landowners in the eighteenth century  did attempt just such a transformation. Gatehouse of Fleet had its cotton mills as did Castle Douglas. At the same time as these new towns were being created, a group of young men from the Glenkens  were busily engaged in the transformation of  Manchester into Cottonopolis. One of these young men was John Kennedy. After the collapse of the Douglas lordship of Galloway, the Kennedies of Carrick  became landowners in Galloway, mainly in Wigtowsnhire. In the mid fifteenth century, a minor branch of the Kennedy clan became owners of Knocknalling in the Glenkens. John Kennedy was born at Knocknalling in 1769. As a younger son he could not inherit the farm so was apprenticed to William Canaan. Canaan had left the Glenkens a few years earlier and had become a machine maker near Manchester. After serving his apprenticeship with Canaan, John Kennedy  and James McConnell (another farmer’s son from the Glenkens) set up shop in Manchester in 1791, first as makers of cotton spinning machines and then as cotton spinners themselves.

By 1815, the firm of Kennedy and McConnel was, along with A and G Murray - founded by brothers who also came from the Glenkens- the largest cotton spinning business in Manchester. Between them the two firms employed 3000 workers. With their practical knowledge of cotton spinning machinery, the two firms were the first to successfully apply steam power to cotton spinning. John Kennedy was also instrumental in establishing the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and was one of the judges at the Rainhill locomotive trials in 1829.

In ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’(1845), Friedrich Engels identified the steam engine and machinery for working cotton as the inventions which gave rise to an industrial revolution. Although Alexander Gordon’s coal carrying canal was never built, the ability of John Kennedy and his compatriots to combine the power of steam with cotton manufacturing shows that Galloway contained the cultural potential for an industrial revolution.

In 1840, stimulated by the railway mania which followed the financial success of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, a proposal was made for  a railway to run from Ayr to Dalmellington and then on through Galloway to a new port at Balcary Bay on the Solway Firth. This proposal led to the creation of the Dalmellington Iron Company which built blast furnaces fed by iron and coal mines in the Dalmellington area. The iron furnaces lasted until the 1920s, the coal mines until 1978. Open cast coal mining is still carried on, served by a rail link to Ayr which was opened in 1848. As with  Alexander Gordon’s coal canal, the route into Galloway was never built.
Geology south west Scotland
The darkness of the skies above Loch Enoch reflects the absence of human settlement. Like the absence/ presence of coal, this is a consequence of geology. A fault line runs across southern Scotland from Girvan in the west to Dunbar in the east. Coal is found north of this Southern Uplands Fault. In Galloway, around Loch Enoch,  an eruption of molten rock  solidified into granite and also metamorphosed the surrounding rock (originally laid down on the floor of an ancient ocean) which survives as the Merrick range and the Rhinns of Kells. A thousand years ago, Gaelic speakers established farms around the edge of this area, grazing their cattle on the Rhinns of Kells and Merrick range during the summer. Historical records show that some of these farms belonged  to the Douglas lordship of Galloway in 1455. In the seventeenth century, a tack (lease) for one of these farms -Drumbuie on the east side of the Rhinns of Kells-  refers to cattle grazing on the west side of the Rhinns during  ‘the summer half of the year’. The adjacent farm of Clenrie is from the Gaelic clon airigh meaning sloping (summer) pasture.

However none of these medieval farm settlements extended into the granite fastness of Mullwarchar and the Dungeon range. Then in the 1790s, sheep replaced cattle in the hills. The Old Statistical Account for  Minnigaff (which takes in Loch Enoch) estimated there were 30 000 sheep in the parish. Neighbouring Carsphairn also had 30 000 sheep and Kells had 17 400. Unlike the cattle, the sheep stayed on the hills all year round and so a handful of shepherds cottages were built in the valley between Loch Doon and Loch Dee. High and Low Cornarroch on the western edge of the Silver Flowe (a raised bog which fills the valley) had already been abandoned by the 1840s when Galloway was mapped by the Ordnance Survey, but Backhill o’ Bush (earlier Backhill o’ Burnhead and Elderholm) on the east side of the Silver Flowe was occupied by a shepherd and his family until 1943.

In that same year a Forestry Commission report suggested creating a ‘Glentrool National Forest Park’, and this was established in 1947. Now called the Galloway Forest Park it covers nearly 300 square miles of Galloway and South Ayrshire. In the later nineteenth century, forestry had been proposed as a way to halt the depopulation of the Highlands. However it was national security which prompted the creation of the Forestry Commission in 1919. The British coal industry had relied on imported timber to supply pit props, which became a weakness in the First World War, a realisation reinforced  by the Second World War.
Beoch No. 4 mine under construction 1936. Near Dalmellington, at 1080 feet it was the highest coal mine in Scotland.

New forests in Galloway would have been convenient sources of pit props for the Ayrshire coal industry. However, it was not until the  late 1960s that  the afforestation of Galloway began in earnest. There were several reasons for this. One was that consumers began to prefer lamb to mutton and artificial fibres began to replace wool. This meant that the already marginal upland sheep farms were no longer viable so could be bought for conversion to forestry very cheaply. Another change was the realisation that in the event of a nuclear war, ensuring supplies of pit props for coal mines would not be a priority. This led to a change  of priorities for the UK forest industry. Supplying wood for paper making now became a key objective. Finally, the ability to deep plough with machinery and the use of fertilisers meant that areas previously unsuitable for forestry could now be exploited. The result was the blanket afforestation of the Galloway Hills with Sitka spruce.

In late 1973, I walked with my brother Ian along a newly made forestry road which stretched from Loch Dee between the Rhinns of Kells and the Dungeon range. Our objective was Backhill o’ Bush, which was now a mountain bothy. The first plantings had already been made, but the tiny trees did not obscure the dramatic contrast between the massive rounded outline of the Rhinns of Kells and the sheer granite walls of the opposing Dungeon Hill. Our guide to this remote area was The Merrick and the Neighbouring Hills by J. McBain, published in 1929 and OS 1 inch to the mile map 73 (New Galloway) - which did not show the new forests and their roads.
Gallowau Hills before forestry in 1920s.

From Backhill the route to Loch Enoch and the Merrick involves cross the Saugh Burn and the north end of the Silver Flowe heading towards the Nick of the Dungeon which slopes steeply up from between the Round and the Long Dungeon lochs (there is another Loch Dungeon on the east side of the Rhinns of Kells).  Since our objective was the Merrick, we skirted  rather than explored the shores of the loch. On a later expedition, the loch itself was our goal. I had read The Raiders by S.R. Crockett in which he explained that the silver quartz sand around the shore of the loch was used  to sharpen scythes.. I collected a sample of the sand in an empty crisp packet  S.R. Crockett gives a dramatic description of Loch Enoch  and its surroundings in The Raiders-

Presently I found myself on the topmost ledge of all, and crawling a few paces I looked down upon the desolate waste of Loch Enoch under the pale light of the stars. It is not possible that I should be able to tell what I saw, yet I shall try... I saw a weird wide world, new and strange, not fairly out of chaos–nor yet approven of God; but rather such a scene as there may be on the farther side of the moon, which no man hath seen nor can see.
Golden plough anchor in Loch Enoch

In  March 1918, when the loch was frozen, McBain succeeded on his second attempt to measure the depth of Loch Enoch.  Using a hammer and chisel, he made a series of holes in the ice and dropped a rope, marked in fathoms, through the ice. The maximum depth he found was 127 feet. Looking at the photograph, it seems the golden plough anchor rests in the shallows of Loch Enoch rather than its depths. Gold, like all the heavier elements, is created when stars explode as super-novae. The seven gold star discs which surround Loch Enoch  were therefore once part of actual stars.

Finally, in the late 1970s, Mullwarchar, which overlooks Loch Enoch, was proposed as a possible  dump for high level nuclear waste.


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