Sunday, April 28, 2013

Murder Loch

The two main roads that run through Wamphray meet at this point and head south towards Lockerbie. There used to be a cottage here, where 'Jean O' the Bield' stayed. She lived from 1729 to 1823 and was the proprietor of one of the four inns that served the needs of the travellers on the road through the parish in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The bushes on the left conceal a secret!

Driving past in a car, it is easy to miss this little loch. It's known locally as the Bield Loch, but on the maps it's marked as 'Murder Loch'!

This is a screenshot of the 1881 OS 6in map (from the magnificent maps site of the National Library of Scotland, see here) showing the fork in the road and 'Murder Loch'. I wonder why it's called that? (Part of me wants to make up a story, but again, things written in jest have a way of becoming fact on the Web this days, so, for the moment, I'll refrain from giving my imagination free rein! And anyway, how many of you immediately thought of Taggart? Click here.)

Jim Storrar, author of the Moffat Miscellany books, kindly sent me this old postcard of the loch, one of the 'Annandale Series' by J. Weir, a Moffat photographer. That's the Bield at the top of the photo much later than in Jean O' the Bield's time. The caption reads, "Wamphray. The Bield. Near here Jean O' the Bield kept a roadside Ale House. In the old Coaching days the house was a great resort of travellers on their journey through Annandale."

The caption includes two lines of poetry (an 'Auld Rhyme'): 

"The auld wife O' the Bield may repent till she dee,
For mony a braw penny has been spent there by me."

I wrote about Wamphray's 'Murder Loch' here in 2010, and proposed that it was the venue for the inter-parish curling match reported in the Glasgow Herald in 1881. The reference is from the Glasgow Herald in 1881, when curlers from Kirkpatrick-Juxta played against those from Hutton, in the neutral venue, Wamphray, which sits between these two parishes.

Even earlier, the Bield loch is likely to have been where Wamphray's curlers played in the eighteenth century. In the first Statistical Account of Scotland, compiled in the last decade of the eighteenth century, the Reverend William Singers, says, "We have but one general amusement, that of curling on the ice: and the parishioners of Wamphray take much credit to themselves for their superior skill in this engaging exercise. After the play is over, it is usual to make a common hearty meal upon beef and greens, in the nearest public house."

These days the loch is much overgrown. Depending on the light, time of day, and time of year, it can be quite an atmospheric place. Some might say 'spooky'!

At other times it is much more welcoming and one can see that it is big enough easily to accommodate a number of rinks of curlers! It is deep though - local legend says that there is actually a carriage somewhere in the depths.

Is there any evidence, apart from conjecture, that the loch was indeed a 'curling place'? Apparently yes. I've recently been told that some years ago a couple of curling stones were recovered from the loch!

It would be (more than) likely that those who curled on the loch made use of the adjacent 'ale house'. But where exactly was that? If you look closely at the map (above), there are two buildings marked in pink. The cottage at the junction (the Bield) is the main focus of another old postcard in the "Annandale" series. This is shown here. Note that the caption is exactly the same, and says that the 'ale house' was 'near here'. Mike, the Liverpudlian who shared this second old photo of the Bield, suggests in his post that it is the more southerly of the two buildings seen on the map. Jean O' the Bield was his great, great, great, great grandmother. She was Jean Wilson and died age 93. She's buried in Wamphray graveyard.

Coming up from Lockerbie towards the road junction, you have to look closely (on the right of this photo) for evidence of the two buildings.

A few boulders indicate where the second building was, and you can see foundations of at least one wall. The humps in the background no doubt conceal demolition rubble from the Bield cottage. And at different times of the year, clumps of snowdrops and daffodils provide evident of habitation sometime in the past.

Pix © Skip Cottage

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An April Storm

Skip caught quite a storm last night. There was rain, and a fair bit of wind. Enough certainly to flatten these clumps of daffodils!

This was the view from the bottom of the garden around noon. The river Annan, so low recently, see here, was well over its banks, flooding the bottom field.

 This is a field.

 These two seemed to be enjoying their new lake!

I suspect that it wasn't just rain than had swollen the river. The snowmelt from the fells upriver likely contributed. 

I just hope that I won't be seeing this sight too often this summer. Last year was bad enough. All my fault of course. I said yesterday that everything was very dry and the garden could do with a little rain. Careful what you wish for! I hear too that the storm has caused subsidence on the A708 between Moffat and Selkirk near the Grey Mare's Tail, and the road is closed to all traffic. There's an impressive photo of the problem, taken by Hayley Inglis, on DGWGO's Facebook page, see here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Steam Chaser

There are many who make fun of trainspotters. But they are a hardy breed! Take me, for example. The sun had come out and I was spending an hour or so in the garden this afternoon. Now, Skip Cottage is but a field away from the West Coast Main Line, and when I hear something going by, it is an instinctive reaction to look up and see what it is. And, over the years, I've got used to the regular services passing at specific times, both passenger and freight.

But this afternoon was different. It sounded different. I looked up and there was an A4 Pacific steam locomotive heading north!

Would it be a case of drop everything, grab keys and camera (with a quick check that the memory card was inside - caught once, learned from the mistake), jump in the car, and drive slowly and carefully after it? Now, I've been 'steam chasing' before, see here. A bit daft, really. So today I checked on the locomotive movements page of the brilliant and essential website Mainline Steam, and when I had ascertained that a stop had been scheduled at Beattock, only THEN did I jump in the car and drive slowly and carefully after the loco.

On a walk last year (see here) I had noted what would be a good location if ever I was looking to photograph a steam locomotive on the West Coast Line. That's where I headed, checking as I drove past Beattock that the engine and its support coaches were indeed in the passing loop there. They were.

By the time I was installed at the edge of Greskine Forest, the sun had disappeared, the east wind had got up, and there were flakes of snow in the air. Of course, I hadn't wasted time in dressing for the occasion! I waited, and waited. I had worked out that the steam loco would have had to pull aside for the Machester Airport service (15.07 out of Carlisle) for Glasgow, before tackling the Beattock gradient. I waited, and waited more, and eventually the First TransPennine service did pass (above).

By this time of course, I was so cold, I could hardly hold the camera! But, as I said above, trainspotters are hardy souls.

Listening for the sound of a steam locomotive in these surroundings should have been a pleasant experience. However, the sound of my teeth chattering was drowned out by all the noise from the nearby M74 (which I've left out of the photograph), and it was this little white cloud of smoke in the distance that showed me that my wait would soon be rewarded.

Getting closer!

A4 Pacific 60009 Union of South Africa, double headed with K4 61994 The Great Marquess, pulling just their support coaches on their way to Thornton Yard, in Fife. Thornton incidentally was where 61994 was based prior to withdrawal in 1961, as I found out here. 60009 is scheduled on the SRPS 'Forth Circle' railtour on April 21 (see here), and both 60009 and 61994 are involved in the Railway Touring Company's 'Great Britain VI' (here) which gets to Scotland on April 23.

Note to self. Make sure you know which was the wind is blowing before deciding which side of the line to position yourself to get a good photograph. Ah well, can't win them all, but it was great to experience steam on the Beattock climb today!

Meanwhile, back at Skip, I've been trying over the past few years to get some little patches of Chionodoxa established. Pretty little bulbs. I like the common name - Glory of the Snow. And who knows, there may yet be more of the white stuff to come this year, although I do hope not.

These daffodils have decided to flower anyway, despite the cold!

I had a visitor the other day. The bird feeders have been busy these last few months. Sitting quietly at home, perhaps reading or working at the computer, I sometimes jump at the sound of birds scattering and crashing into the conservatory glass doors. Usually, they seem to be able to pick themselves up, and they fly off apparently unharmed. Occasionally I've observed them completely still on the ground, before coming round and taking to the air again.

What can startle them? Sometimes it's a loud car or lorry passing; sometimes it's someone walking a dog. But the biggest panic is when a grey missile flashes round the edge of the cottage into the birds' feeding area. A sparrowhawk in attack mode! This one, above, had a successful outcome on yesterday's foray, and it stayed on the ground long enough for me to get this photo through the double glazing.

I suspect my favourite blackie just hadn't been quick enough. More about sparrowhawks here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A night without power

There's still not a lot of warmth, and of course the grass is not growing yet. But yesterday was a lovely day. On my walk I stopped to take a photo of the lambs, and the significance of the guy in the fluorescent yellow jacket did not hit home at the time. I continued my travels without another thought.

Despite the blue skies there's still snow lying on the fells. Here, I'm looking across from the River Annan, over Newton Wamphray, with a train of empty coal wagons heading north to be refilled.

It has been very dry recently and the river is very low. I'm on the east bank of the Annan just north of the Jocksthorn Bridge.

Despite the proximity to the motorway, it really was a peaceful spot yesterday.

This is where I was headed - where the Wamphray Water, coming in from the east, meets the Annan.

This is looking up the Wamphray Water from near where the two rivers meet. It was little more than a wee stream yesterday.

But in winter, and indeed for much of last summer (!), the Wamphray was a formidable river, carving away at its banks. A river has no respect for fence lines.

Whose tracks?

Dandelion-like. Precise identification? Main characteristic - no obvious leaves. (Added later: Turns out that it's Tussilago farfara, commonly known as Coltsfoot. Thanks to my friend Hugh for his email.)

Anyway, having shown that I've no skill as a naturalist...

 ... I returned to the village to find the reason for the man in the fluorescent jacket. He had been a contractor working for Scottish Power and doing a routine check on the poles which carry the power lines. And he had discovered that this one was close to falling down!

It has split, and you can see right through the pole.

The emergency team was called in, and by this morning a new pole was in place.

The electricity had to go off of course. Given an hour's warning that you would have no power for the evening, what do you do? Have an early shower - tick. Have the evening meal early - tick. Look out the candles - tick. Set a battery alarm for the morning, so not to be relying on the alarm clock radio - tick. Fill a flask of coffee for later - tick. Make sure there's enough wood for the stove - tick.

And this was Skip come 9 pm. It was all reminiscent of happy days bothying throughout Scotland in years past. No television, no WiFi, no computer once the battery had run out, no music, no central heating, no cooking facilities. No problem really, it was only going to be a few hours. But the one thing I missed was being unable to read. Time I got myself a Kindle, methinks!

So it was an early bed, and sometime in the middle of the night I was woken by people talking. The television had come back on. Well done and thanks to those that worked into the early hours to set things right!

Photos © Skip Cottage