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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Ladies' Well

"Near the spot where the Roman road to High Rochester crossed the Coquet was a holy stone where a missionary preached the gospel; and in his footsteps a little community of nuns who built a priory near a sacred spring which to this day is called the Ladies' Well.

It is a big basin of clear water in an enclosure surrounded by tall beeches, and from it springs a swift sparkling stream which flows rapidly between the banks of greenest grass. In 1780 the pool was given a rim of masonry, and in the middle was raised a tall stone cross with an inscription perpetuating the doubtful legend that " In this place Paulinus the bishop baptised 30000 Northumbrians. Easter 627." At one end of the pool stands a moss-covered statue of Paulinus brought from Alnwick, and at the other are two stone supports bearing an altar named the Holy Stone.

Statue of Bishop Paulinus

Statue of Bishop Paulinus standing to west of the pool with the stone cross in the centre of the pool

In 1291 there were 27 nuns here, with four lay brothers, three chaplains and a master. A few years later, when Bruce was devastating the northern counties, we find the Bishop of Durham writing that:

The house, situated in the march of England and Scotland, by reason of the hostile incursions which daily and continually increase, is frequently despoiled of its goods, and the nuns themselves are often attacked by the marauders, harmed and pursued and put to flight and driven from their home, and are constrained miserably to experience bitter suffering. Wherefore we make these things known to you, that you may compassionate their poverty, which is increased by the memory of happier things, and that your pity and benevolence may be shown them, lest (to the disgrace of their estate) they be forced to beg."

The above excerpt was taken from the King England Northumberland by Arthur Mee first published in 1952. Today this lovely ancient spring is still surrounded by beech trees, but an earlier description of the Ladies' Well from D. D. Dixon upper Coquetdale and first published in 1903 describes the well such ...

"a spring of beautiful water in a grove of fir trees, a little north of the village"

it also states that...

" A stone statue of an ecclesiastic, originally stood in the centre of the well, but a few years ago, this was removed and placed at the west end of the pool, and a cross of stone bearing the following inscrition was substituted:-

                                                               + In this place
                                                            Paulinus the Bishop
                                                   three thousand Northumbrians
                                                           Easter DCXXVII +

So one or two changes over the years but undoubtedly still a very special place to visit and one of Northumberland's treasures.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Bodach

Kilbrannan Sound from Arran looking toward Campbeltown.
I came across the following account in an archived copy of the Campbeltown Courier. It describes an encounter with a Bodach, the Gaelic word meaning “old man”. I thought it was interesting, as it was
set round the ““wee toon”” (Campbeltown) where I have spent so much time.

"Good folks and honest, it was in the days of the drift net fishing, and never a trall was in it, from the Cowal shore to MacCrummon’s Point that on a night o nights a boat from the “wee toon” was at the hauling of the nets, and never a tail in them, but many, heavy was the last of the nets. And when aboard it came, my wonder: on there in the meshes was an old Bodach with a blue fish’s tail on him, and he webbed between his fingers like a prize duck. Well: Well: aboard they got him and a fine job they had getting him out of the net – but they got him out, and here he sat glowering at them from the fo’c’s’le head. “What’s the next move now boys,” said the owner of the boat, “for as sure as death this is no canny.” So back into the sea they tried to fling the Bodach. Well if they tried, they just tried for round the mast he would fling his arms, and no power would move him. And things did not improve, when at last the Bodach found his tongue. “Aye aye,” said he “since I am aboard, here will I remain,” and with that he started hammering with his tail fit to knock the timbers asunder. Well, there was nothing for it now but home for them. “Where are you for now,” said he. “Home,” said the boy. “Not if I know it,” answered he, “but to Paterson’s Rock,” and with that the boat started off like a gannet down the wind. And sure enough they came up to Paterson’s rock, and an ugly sea running, but the boat sailed right through on top of the rock. At that moment a door opened like a hatch and through it slipped the Bodach as the next serf carried them clear of the rock. And a weary beat home they had of it. Well! well! when they reached “the wee town,” and started redding up their nets the last net that the Bodach was in, the meshes were full of real golden scales that he had lost off his tail. “Boys, you and me are the greatest, fools in “the wee town” this very day,” said the owner, “for not having cut the tail off him, for it is grand folks we would be this day.” But the money they got for the golden scales set them up for life, and after that they had no great notion to be going to the fishing."

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour

Sunday, 4 September 2016


The Rowan tree grew precariously on the side on the old Dun, it’s roots stretching under the fallen stones had found a tenuous hold. It was late September and the bushy branches supported a few clusters of bright red berries. From where I stood on the highest point the sides of the Dun fell steeply down to the ancient valley, where, the river Add meandered its final course before emptying into Loch Crinan. The vale spread wide below and beyond the river’s reach it ran in a rich verdure towards the sea in one direction and the Moine Mhor Bog in another.

View from the top of Dunadd September 2016
Seaward the valley stretched evenly, beyond the small cup of blue that denoted the ocean the northern tip of Jura lay grey and low beneath the sky. Rising in a gentle rocky fold at the eastern edge of the valley the land began to climb, here pockets of trees grew on the hillside, on the following downward slope a band of green conifer tops spread wide until the land climbed once more. The distant rocky hilltops rose under the moving shadows of clouds in a random haze of green and brown.

"The distant rocky hilltops rose under the moving shadows of clouds in a random haze of green and brown."

A pleasant wind blew on the top of Dunadd, turning some of the Rowan leaves to expose their silvery backs and tugging through the grass. As I climbed I noticed a timeless element about the place that presented itself more strongly on the plateau. I sat on a large stone that looked like it could have been part of an ancient wall, and my gaze drifted over the landscape. A raven cried in the hollow of the wind, the sound cracked from the woodland below and carried down the valley.  It has often been remarked that there is a particular atmosphere at the top of Dunadd. The volcanic plug on which it stood dates far into pre-history; perhaps there is an echo of the climatic rigours that wrought this landscape residing in the rock, shockwaves pulsing in diminishing radiance through the Earth’s mantle.

Footprint Dunadd 2016

On the elevation below lay the famous footprint carved into the rock, exposed to changing weather conditions and facing Northward. It is quite something to place one’s foot into the carving and imagine how it might have felt for a king to be inaugurated in such a place; with the stunning vista spinning out in all directions. When these ceremonies took place however the fort was not a ruin but a stronghold and almost certainly surrounded by thick high walls. The footprint seen here was placed over the original in 1978 ensuring the ancient carving below will survive during the years to come, whilst enhancing the experience of reaching back in time and touching history by being raw to the elements. The original carving which is buried beneath can be seen in the photograph in this link.

The ceremonial use of footprint carvings in rock is mentioned in late medieval writings from Scotland and Ireland and they are thought to have originated during the Iron Age.

“The 17th century Hebridean writer Martin Martin, for example, tells that the ceremony had been used for inaugurating the Lords of the Isles, as a symbol for the new Chief walking in the footsteps of his ancestors. Dunadd, then, was almost certainly the place of inauguration of the kings of Dál Riata.”

Alan Lane

Despite the rich concentration of pre-historic monuments already discovered in this area, I couldn't help but acknowledge the sense that deep under the surrounding river and sea beds, marsh and Dun there are stories yet to reveal themselves concerning the history and climatic changes of this fascinating place...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Remembering The Commonwealth Flotilla

Two years have passed since we took park in the Commonwealth Flotilla - here is an excerpt from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour describing our journey from Princes dock in Glasgow back to Campbeltown... 

One of the great things about writing this blog is that I can include as many photos as I like - I really feel they help illustrate the atmosphere onboard!

We left Princes dock the next morning in the rain and sounded the Claxton as a goodbye to the remaining boats in the flotilla. Soon all we could see was the mass of flags that ran to the tops of the masts still sitting in the dock. The riverbanks were wet and quiet but we still enticed a wave or two from people out for a Sunday stroll or a spot of dog walking. We continued on to Greenock where we said goodbye to our crew and helped to unload their gear. Then it was just the two of us again alone on the water heading for home.

The forecast was for winds up to force five, occasionally gusting to force six. We decided to take a route round Bute, an island in the Firth of Clyde, and keep to sheltered waters. There was a thin gap between sea and sky as Shemaron entered the Kyles of Bute, heading towards the ever-closing space. Eventually it became impossible to see where the sea and sky met, and the Burnt islands were almost lost in the fog. There was only an opaque grey wall ahead. I soon discovered our new exhaust was a comforting source of warmt it was like holding a hot water bottle in a chilly bed, and standing behind the wheelhouse, I could stay reasonably dry.

We picked out the buoys marking the safe channel through the Kyles and by the time we cruised round the western side of Bute the weather began to clear. We had thought to stop for the night in Portavadie, the old favourite place from our early voyages, but with the up-turn in the weather conditions we changed our minds and decided to press on for Campbeltown.

We cruised in to the Kilbrannan Sound welcomed by a southward tipping swell. After eight hours we were tiring, so thankfully there were only two more hours to go before we would be tying up in Campbeltown harbour. The weak evening sun leaked through holes in the sky, casting watery rays to our starboard side. Shemaron dipped into the swell and rose on its back. We turned on the radio and songs of the 1960s floated along the sound with us. The sight of the sun after the long grey hours lifted our mood and we passed Davaar in high spirits. After so many hours on board we were happy in the rhythm of everything, comfortable with Shemaron and the sea. Despite being tired, we found ourselves reluctant to bring an end to our journey by climbing on to the quay.

 If my husband hadn’t been interested in fishing boats I am fairly certain I would never have stepped onto the deck of old ring netter. My husband wanted to help preserve these incredible old boats but we never expected to unlock such a treasure trove of experiences. The changing times of dawn and dusk, where the sky meets the sea or the waves meet the rocks, places on the edges of energies that have manifest over thousands of miles, have a powerful pull, and I can feel them all from the deck of our boat.

Excerpt taken from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour
Published by Mascot Books for Ring Net Heritage Trust

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Shemaron Log June 2016 Cairndow

“…and there was the softest voice, so fragile that I almost missed it, as if she whispered, “I have been here before.” The sound of it was lost in the rotation of her propeller; I caught it as it fell. It brushed my senses but I couldn’t hold it. I lost it in the brilliance of the day.”

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour

It had been a while since I had felt any communication with Shemaron. During the months of her enforced inactivity Chris and I had become like slaves, working long hours until our shoulders burned and our backs ached. Climbing up and down ladders while balancing equipment and tools, caused our muscles to recoil in shock, by evening, exhaustion had set so deep that we couldn’t think straight and our eyes closed against the pain of it all. In the mornings when we woke it was to the realisation that Shemaron demanded even more tortuous rounds of physical labour. We bent so low under her hull to apply toxic antifouling that we thought we might never be able to straighten our spines again. We hauled steel so high our muscles bunched tighter than the knots that secured the long metal bands onto the ropes that we inched upward, before moulding them into place along her upper quarters. When the soft planks were taken out and the winter wind blew around her ribs scouring the dark places that perhaps afford comfort to an old wooden boat, I imagine Shemaron felt it too, but if she voiced her anguish I didn’t hear it. Even when she was re-launched I did not hear her. Perhaps she was drowsy like a patient on waking from anesthetic and then quiet through her long weeks of convalescence, for myself, I was too involved with my own coping mechanisms to remember to listen out for her.

I was simultaneously attempting to undergo my own private metamorphism, trying desperately to find within myself the qualities needed to push the Shemaron project forward. After years of working from snug comfort of our kitchen the thought of putting the project out for public scrutiny via the development of the trust and publication of a book took me so far out of my comfort zone I thought I would never feel calm again. I have somehow survived so far. It was therefore soothing to share a communication with Shemaron, one that rose in the warmth of her fo’c’sle, a small bloom of latent memory. The warmth of it was consolatory and I was reminded of the bond we shared. I can know little of her fishing career having only known her since her working days were finished; despite this there have been many powerful situations on the sea that we have experienced together. I appreciated her reaching out, we both look forward to an uncertain future and can only hope we have it within us to do enough to make it all come right. 

Since her re-launch we have taken Shemaron to the head of Loch Fyne. The trip had a double purpose, one, to see that everything was in working order and two, to say hello again to Argyll. It was approaching mid summer the days were long and unusually hot. I lay on the fish hold listening to the engine steady up the loch, above me, dissected by the cross masts, the sky stretched away in acres of blue. We passed Otter Spit then navigated the Minaird Narrows, we said a quick hello to Ivererary, and the engine steadied away nicely. We passed people paddling and picnicking on the loch side and we eventually stopped at Cairndow where we caught a mooring. 

We sat on the scorched deck, Shemaron was so still, she didn’t tug on the mooring, or rock, or sway, she sat just so. Everything was easy, the loch was mirrored, the trees unruffled, and when we cut her engine she simply became part of the tranquil landscape connecting imperceptibly to her former life. We stayed on deck while evening tiptoed across the sky turning the hills from green to grey under the shadow of the summer night, then we slept, the three of us taking a well-earned rest. When we woke the loch was bright with the reflection of morning, the air was deliciously cool and it seemed to me all too soon that our bow slid away from the mooring buoy causing lazy ripples to roll towards the shore. 

This had been the tonic we had all needed, a restorative interlude in a busy year that allowed the three of us become reacquainted.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Here I am with my head among bluebells

A few weeks ago I found myself once again in the little cottage by Seal Rock and captivated by the night. After a winter in the city when the nights are long and so cold that we draw our curtains across them for much of the time, to have the night flood into my room alight with stars is always a special thing. Over the city, nights tend to hang like a hard flat canvas, if we are lucky we see a few stars, tiny pinpricks of light in an unyielding black sky.

Kintyre is a great place for watching stars because of it’s dark skies. On this particular night the stars were so low that I thought if the wind lifted my hair it could touch the stars and leave a trail of starlight through the sky. Instead of the hard city night sky, here, I looked up through layers of darkness, they moved at different speeds and in different directions. This was something I had never noticed before and was at odds with the sea, which, on this occasion was ever so still…

Here I am with my head among bluebells.

Here I am, with my head among bluebells,
Lost in dreams, in the little bay that sings with spirits under the stars.  

On another night, I had watched wild geese swim beneath a copper moon.

But tonight...


I am lying on the edge of the silent sea.

Round the rocky shore of Arran the Pladda light spills out, I catch it as a gleam that dashes across the bay.

The stars hang so low they almost touch my head, they well like pools and glisten like water under the sun.
They, are guardians of the ancient night. 

I hear their aria's calling, caressing millennia through the lucid layers of ages.
Past years watch over present under starlight.

A circle blushes on the curve of the horizon, another beam, 

Spinning out, 

Over the owl clipped night.

"On another night, I had watched wild geese swim beneath a copper moon."

Saturday, 7 May 2016


The starboard sea danced a sliver jig with the sun on a spring day that delighted us with its brilliance. Light sparked on the slight undulation that moved between us, the Ailsa Craig, and beyond to the tip of Northern Ireland. Smoke from the chimney billowed over the deck, but just behind it, I caught the fresh tang of the sea and instinctively knew that Shemaron rejoiced in the wash.

The winter has been long and wet, and despite the year having moved into spring the weather has continued in its melancholic mood, even so, it has not been wet enough to prevent gaps appearing in the aged larch planking of Shemaron's hull.  During the weeks since she has been back in the water, enjoying a restorative bathe, the sea has soaked slowly into her wind dried crevices. She has taken up well but unable to find any shelter in the boat yard her starboard shoulder has suffered from the sun and wind. Although soothed by stories of the ring net during our short stay in Irvine the brackish waters of the estuary prolonged her thirst, to feel the salt on her bow once more suits her well.

A calm silver sea was pretty much the state of affairs for the whole journey, interrupted by the wake of an old herring boat happy to be under steam once more, slaking her thirst. Sometimes a gannet flew some distance off,  I have watched strings of them tracing waves, flying low on the back of the sea, for now only one or two cross our bow; perhaps they look for food for their mate who sits on a nest on the Ailsa Craig.  Four large ships rippled ahead of us like a mirage in the distance, we couldn't be certain exactly what we were seeing, but they were some way off and when we looked again they had vanished.

The new stem Shemaron had waited so patiently for, letting men climb about her hull in order to reach the highest point at her bow and mould into place the finely crafted piece of oak, pushed forward into the sea. Adorned with a strong steel guard her stem has pulled together the strength of her planks. The steel rubbing strips that were forged into place by the sheer strength of human muscle, bind her tight, and the skilled workmanship that replaced her weakened planks now allows her hull to work in harmony with the water. She is confident in her strengthened sate. The recent hours of long and painful labour are slipping into the past,  Shemaron looks forward to a new stage in her life. 

Whilst in Irvine visitors enjoyed the step back in time on descending to the fo'c'sle, a welcome experience, and one which facilitated the resurgence of stories based round the ring net, other ring net boats and stories of the sea. The fo'c'sle became a lively place and every now and again I heard congenial laughter from the open hatch which mingled with the general happy chat and smiling faces of other guests standing on the deck.

We had left Pladda Island and the Ailsa Craig behind, Sheep Island had moved behind Sanda Isle and Davaar Island lay ahead, Shemaron was almost home. We passed Davaar as the gap in winter that had allowed Spring to fall through closed hurried on by a south east wind. The blue skies disappeared and without the sun we fell back into winter, it was about 5pm by this time and the warmth went quickly as cold once again overwhelmed the day. 

Shemaron was home repaired, rejuvenated, strong and grateful for the coinage that enabled this extension to her life. Welcomed by the gulls, she rocked between gusts on the winter wind, her ropes tugging on the harbour wall.

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