Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21

Some three miles east of Lockerbie, on the road to Langholm, is Tundergarth Church.

In the cemetery adjacent to the church there is a small stone building. This is where I go to remember those who died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up by a terrorist bomb on December 21, 1988. Of course, just outside Lockerbie itself, there is the Garden of Remembrance and the Lockerbie Disaster Memorial, in Dryfesdale cemetery. But the memorial at Tundergarth is very special.

One reason it's there is because the nose section of the airliner came down in a field just across the road from the church. You will have seen the photograph - everyone has.

Tundergarth is a place to visit on one's own. I have often taken visitors there. I wait outside and let them explore the place in their own time. It is one small room. On a table against one wall there are two books. This is one - and turning the pages of this book brings home the magnitude of what happened.

Each page of the book has one name, beautifully inscribed thereon. Just one name on each page, and as you turn over the pages the extent of the loss becomes more and more evident. It is a large book.

It is one thing to say that 270 people died. It is quite another to give each of these people a name.

Back in 1988, there was no Internet nor World Wide Web. Today of course, one can just search for information on the bombing, and about those who died. Having opened the book today, randomly at the name of Sarah Susannah Buchanan Philipps, it was to find she was one of the thirty-five students from Syracuse University who were killed that night. She is not forgotten. Material about her is held in the Syracuse archives, see here, and you can read this personal tribute on the Web.

On the same desk is a copy of On Eagles' Wings, a collection of photos and information on all 270 people who were killed. This book, first published in 1990, was compiled in remembrance of the victims, by Georgia Nucci, whose son Christopher Jones was aboard the flight. Most of the information in the book was collected from the victims’ families and was gathered from obituaries. Some pages are left blank respecting the wishes of the families.

I have never been able to read more than a few of the pages when visiting Tundergarth. It is an emotional experience to even try. Away from the memorial, one can appreciate Georgia's work more dispassionately. The book is now available online, via Syracuse University archives, see here.

Just reading the prefaces to the first and second editions, pages 6 and 7, gives an understanding of Georgia's motives, and why there are blank pages.
There is a Visitors' Book too, at Tundergarth. And it is emotional to read the entries in that. Twenty-eight years on, family and friends still visit Lockerbie to remember those who died. They are not forgotten.

Terrorism never seems to be out of the news these days. The many victims should always be more than a number in a news report. This sandstone plaque is on the wall at the Tundergarth memorial. One hopes that the sentiment is true as we go forward into a new year.

Photos © Skip Cottage.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Curling Pond 'Visitation'

I'm near Johnstonebridge on a sunny December day, heading along this old trackway.

This ditch at the field's edge does suggest that winter hereabouts is not always so dry!

This old beech tree has taken a bit of a battering!

We've not had a real storm this winter (yet), and some leaves are still clinging to the branches.

This is the Plucktree Burn, which will eventually join the Annan. It may not look much, but is of significance to today's story.

The old OS 6in map, surveyed in 1857 and published in 1861, shows an area near Johnstonebridge as 'Used as Curling Pond'. The Historical Curling Places website (here) shows places where curling was played in times past - on lochs and artificial curling ponds of various kinds. Sometimes an area of flooded field was pressed into use, but such sites are rarely recorded on old maps. The Johnstonebridge place, with its description 'Used as Curling Pond', is unusual to see on an old map.

The area is crossed by the Plucktree Burn, and it does not take much imagination to see how the burn could be dammed to make a low lying area of field into a temporary pond, and on freezing this would become a safe place to curl.

The area as it is today, looking down from the north west.

A closer view from the west. A fenced off area today is still very wet, the hollow draining the surrounding sloping fields, and crossed by the Plucktree Burn.

The 'curling pond' lies just to the north of Skemrigghead Farm at Johnstonebridge. One can find references to play there in the middle of the nineteenth century, such as this one from 1845 which describes an inter-parish match on 'Skimrigg Loch'. The place is referred to elsewhere as 'Skemrigg Loch' and 'the loch at Skemrigghead'.

The curling pond is not marked on later OS maps. Visiting the site this month, it was fun to imagine the contests that had taken place there on winter days more than 170 years ago!

The differences that 170 years make in the evolution of a sport - the European Curling Championships at the Braehead Arena last month!

Photos © Skip Cottage. Other images courtesy of the National Library of Scotland maps website, here, and the British Newspaper Archive, here.