I take the bus to Carlisle. From there I can connect with another bus that goes to Stranraer, and passes the road end to Cairn Holy. But a few miles short of Longtown, the driver stops, gets out, comes back in. I think we have a puncture he says.
We’ll have to wait for the next one whenever that will be. In an hour?
Some people get out and walk. I consider this. I could hitch a lift perhaps. Strangely, after about 10 minutes, the driver decides to see if it’s possible to go on to Longtown. It is. There doesn’t seem to be any problem at all. So after talking on the phone again to his boss, he continues on to Carlisle. Of course, I have missed my connection, but there is a train to Glasgow which goes via Dumfries, and I take that. In the hour or so I have to wait for the Stranraer bus, I explore Dumfries city centre which is pedestrian and peaceful, in the late afternoon sunlight. I buy potato scones and cakes from a bakery, to take to J & E.
The bus is very crowded, mostly with young people who get off at Castle Douglas. The woman sitting next to me says it’s not normally as crowded as this. Because of all these people getting on and off, the bus is running late. I want to reach Cairn Holy before the sun goes over the horizon at 6.45, so I’m told, but it’s about that time when the bus pulls up at the end of the track. After I get off and the bus drives away, suddenly, all is peaceful. The sea is very close, there is hardly any wind. Just the trees for company as I cross the road and begin walking slowly uphill. I turn around from time to time to look at the clear view of the sea below me.
When I reach the stones there are still several people there, and J is talking to them.
I missed the sunset I say. We didn’t see it either says J, there was cloud on the horizon.
|Cairnholy stones, half moon just visible over the sea|
J told me that his car broke down at the end of the road leading to Cairn Holy, twenty-one years ago. He had not been there before, it was just where he ended up, spending the night in the car.
I imagine him walking up the hill that evening, the paved road turning into a stony track. I wondered if he turned round as I did, the view of the sea as he climbed higher becoming more and more spectacular. Then he would have come upon this flat and grassy platform with its straggly assemblage of curious stones, some long and thin some short, bulging in places, oddly shaped. At right angles to this motley crew there’s a tapering...something... that looks like a corridor lined with thin stones and there’s one stone at the end that seals it off, ends it the way the curve of a bowl marks the end of the place of containment.
I wonder what questions must have come up in him as the stars began to appear, as he looked around him, noted the landscape, the rise behind to the north, the dips and slopes to east and west, with the horizons there forming curves, the edges of this bowl, while to the south, the ground fell away, and he could see clear out to the watery sea edge, far away and far below.
In ones and twos the people gathered by the stones leave and go home. The half Moon in the southern part of the sky hangs over the water and begins to glow as the sky darkens. I talk for some time to a woman who lives near Castle Douglas and has been coming here for many years. Her husband kindly makes us cups of tea in their camper van. Their grandson runs about, plays with their dog then pretends to be a dog himself, coming up to me with a stick in his mouth and insisting that I throw it for him. It’s completely dark and the first faint stars have become visible when they leave, and the boy invites me to come and have dinner with them. I thank him but explain that I’m staying here, at J & E’s house, just a 10 minute walk away.
It’s nearly 9 pm when J and I take the path through the wood that leads to the mansion house, a pale blur among the pitch black of night and trees.
Early the next morning I look out of J & E’s living room window. The light is faint, grey-blue. This getting up in darkness and watching the squares of windows turn opaque, reminds me of winter mornings. After tea and toast J and I head up to the stones, in that tremulous new light, the sky shrouded by a few colourful clouds on the eastern horizon. But a few minutes later, the clouds lift and the sun appears over the edge of hill. A shaft of sunlight falls between the two tall stones in front, and runs along the corridor.
A dance of sunlight and shadows on the stones continues for the next half hour or more (I was not looking at my watch).
J says - Cairn Holy is officially described as a chambered cairn or a passage tomb. Of course that may even be true. But it is much much more than that.
We will have to wait until J writes up all his observations and discoveries to find out about that ‘much much more’.
The patterns of light are particularly impressive (assuming the Sun is not obscured by clouds) at the equinoxes and solstices but the experience of the stones – that is there, open and available to everyone, at any time.
Megalithics.com gives you pictures and information
many more photos here, as well as a short video with some interesting sound effects!