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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Beyond the fields we know

Carlingwark Lane- looking towards pumping station from railway bridge.
 Photo John Howat circa 1970

The railway line from Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright opened in 1864 and closed in 1965. It ran past my parents' house. Soon after it was closed, my father took me and my brother Ian for a walk out along it, before the track had been lifted. We walked out to the bridge over the Carlingwark Lane canal and then along the edge of the canal to the Blackpark pumping station then up an access track to Blackpark farm and then back into town.

For a 7 year old and 5 year old it was an exciting adventure, one which we repeated on our own and with schoolfriends over the next few years.

Mostly we played in the deep railway cutting beside our house, hacking paths through the nettles and brambles which soon grew up once railway workers with scythes stopped mowing the grass. But every so often we would walk under the railway bridge and on to the embankment beyond. It ran beside a field and the golf course for a few hundred yards then curved past the town's sewage works before passing under the road to Blackpark farm. We would pause by the sewage works to throw stones (railway ballast) into the settling tanks. Beyond the bridge was another smelly place- the town rubbish dump, the cowp in Scots.

Here there were pools of thick green slime with white bones sticking out and further along, where the edge of the cowp crept slowly out into the marshes beyond, it smoked and smouldered as still hot ashes from coal fires consumed yesterday's newspapers and other flammable rubbish. Occasionally the smoke would turn into fire until the town's volunteer fire brigade came and damped it down.

Beyond the cowp, the railway ran on embankment across the marshes towards the Carlingwark Lane which we called the Tarry Burn, since that is what my father had called it. Strictly speaking, the Tarry Burn was a stream which ran alongside the railway to enter the Lane where the railway bridged it. It had an oily, iridescent sheen to it- hardly surprising since as well as picking up seepage from the cowp, it was the outfall from the sewage works and collected up run off from the town gas works...

I recently found an illustration of the original wooden railway bridge over the Carlingwark Lane, but this was later replaced by an iron one. The iron bridge was supported on brick piers standing on concrete pads. The footbridge over the Lane still uses the conrete pads.

Once we walked beyond the bridge along the railway towards the woods on Barley Hill, but usually we would scramble down from the embankment and walk along the marshes which edged the Lane towards the pumping station. It was a strange landscape, open, flat and eerily quiet apart from the wind in the reeds. The water in the Lane seemed deep, unmoving and ominous. Closer to the pumping station the ground rose up and became a field.

The white square block of the pumping station was the only sign of civilisation. It emmitted a low hum of electricity, occasionally becoming louder when the pumps kicked in and the water would surge around the intake grills. A few strands of barbed wire were no deterrent to us climbing up and around the pump house.

Once we ventured beyond it, skirting the edge of a shallow lagoon into what seemed like a true wilderness. I still remember the plaintive cries of hundreds of peewits (lapwings) as they rose up out of the wetlands around the lagoon. It must have been winter because there was a flurry of snow. We took shelter beneath some trees and found dozens of shot gun cartridges left by wild fowlers. Skirting the lagoon, we saw another, smaller pump house on the edge of a wood, but it was on the other side of a deep drainage ditch.

With wet feet and feeling cold and tired, we left the primal wilderness behind and began our long walk back to civilisation. As we passed, the peewits ceased circling and started fluttering down to the damp earth like flakes of snow in the gathering darkness.

1961- train just after crossing Carlingwark Lane bridge. Cowp on left.

1964 - red  X my parents' house. Golf course left, sewage works right.

Blackpark Pumping Station, built 1938

Carlingwark Lane Canal today- from Castle Douglas A75 by-pass bridge


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