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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 18


WOOOHALL LOCH

 Barbarlsms.

 IT is vain, I fear, to call it Grenoch–as it should be called. A certain name-changing fiend brought into our Erse and Keltic Galloway a number of mongrel names, probably some Laird Laurie with a bad education and a plentiful lack of taste, who, among other iniquities, called the ancient Clachan-of-Pluck after himself–Laurieston. His mansion·house he changed from the ancient and honourable "Grenoch," by which name it stands in Pont's map of (about)

1611 to the commonplace Woodhall. Later the loch had a like fortune. Loch Grenoch became Woodhall Loch (or in the folk speech of the parish, Wudha' Loch). Farther afield we have a crop, happily thin sown and soon finding away of Summerhills, Parkhills, Willowbanks, and such like–of which that most to be regretted is the merging of the ancient name of the Duchrae estate in that of the mansion-house of Hensol, a word which has no historical connection with Galloway, but merely preserves a souvenir (Jf ltv; f;arly yr)uth f)f a late proprietor.

  But Woodhall Loch (after you have become accustomed to the barbarism) smells as sweet, and its water ripples as freshly as ever did that of Loch Grenoch–which at least is some comfort.

  Setting out northward away from Laurieston, there lie before you five miles of the most changefully beautiful road in Scottland, every turn a picture, and in the season every bank wonder of flowers. If the journey is prolonged to the borough of New Galloway itself, the marvel becomes only the more marvellous, the changes only the more frequent I have heard an artist say that a lifetime might be judiciously spent in painting those ten miles of road without once leaving the highway, and yet the painter need never repeat his effect.

  The fIrst mile to the beginning of the loch itself is through scenery curiously reminiscent of some parts of central France–the valley of the Creuse, for instance, George Sand's country –or some of the lower tributaries of the Tarn. The tall poplars in front of the ruined smithy, the little bum that trips and ambles for a few hundred paces beside the traveller and then is lost, hurrying off into the unknown again as if tired of being overlooked–all these are more French than Scottish.

   Myriads of wild flowers throng on every side, at all seasons of the year when wild flowers can be found in Scotland–indeed many even in winter.

  But as I write I am reminded that remarkable and historical events happened close to this place where now we pause to look about us,

Greystone.

  The house to the right among the trees is Greystone, which in the days of my youth boasted a genuine ghost–a Lady in White who walked up and down among the trees, chiefly by moonlight, when I took care not to be in the neighbourhood. Besides which, the owner and builder of the beautifully fitted mills, barns, outhouses, ponds–a certain General J –, much held in awe by all

schoolboys, used to come on Sundays with a gay company and a team of four horses, and depart (as we boys firmly believed) with a forked tail hid under his coat, and leaving in his Sabbath-breaking wake a faint but unmistakable odour of brimstone.

  Greystone, or North Quintainespie, was never finished in the builders lifetime. The exquisite machinery rusted in the mills and barns. Not a wheel ever turned. Not a sheaf of corn was ever thrashed. The byres and stables stood locked and silent till a later and better day arose, when ghosts were laid and Greystone became no more a marvel, but only one home among many. But at the time the place feared us more than the ministers sermons, or even the crack of the schoolmasters dog-whip.

  Here too, at the beginning of these better days, came a certain small Sweetheart of mine to do her messages, deliver her orders, drink her drink of milk, and return in haste to her own. And on that dusty road a certain “Heart of Gold" was abased–abased in order to be exalted, tried, and proven, all which is written in the book called “Sweetheart Travellers," and need not be repeated here.

  Farther along is Blates Mill, where (so they tell me) one Leeb M'Lurg put up her remarkable notice concerning eggs, and held her siege against her weasel-faced uncle Tim, ere the bull did its ultimate justice upon him.

Yet a little farther on, its branches bent by the furious blasts from the loch, stands at an angle of the road, the famous Bogle Thorn. It seems somehow to have shrunk and grown commonplace since I used to pass it at a run, with averted eyes, in the winter gloamings on my way home from school.

The Bogle Thorn.

  Then it had for me the most tragic suggestions. A man, so they said, had hanged himself upon it at some unknown period. He was to be seen, evident against the drear dusk, a-swing from the topmost branches, blowing out in the blast like a pair of trousers hung up to dry, or Dante's empty souls in the winds of Hades.

  Recently, however, I was glad to notice that Sweetheart had not forgotten the old thrill of fear as we passed it on cycle-back, its limbs black and spidery against a waning moon.

  "In an incautious moment, once upon a time, I had informed Sweetheart that on the branches of that tree, in years long past, when I used to trudge past it on foot, there used to be seen little green men, moping and mowing. So every time we pass that way Sweetheart requires the story without variations. Not a single fairy must be added or subtracted. Now, it happens that the road goes uphill at the Bogle Thorn, and to remember a fairy tale which one has made up the year before last, and at the same time to drive a tricycle with a great girl of five thereon, is not so easy as sleeping, So, most unfortunately, I omit the curl of a green monkey's tail in my recital, which a year ago had made an impression upon a small girl's accurate memory. And her reproachful accent as she says, 'Oh, father, you are telling it all different,' carries its own condemnation with it." 1

  Woodhall Loch is like many another. Half its beauty is in the seeing eye. Yet not only the educated or the intellectual may see. At the close of this chapter, I will quote what feelings were excited in the breast of a country lout by the solemnities of night as viewed from the Crae Bridge.

  But for others who think more of themselves than did Ebie Farrish the ploughman, the art of admiring nature is chiefly a matter of habit and leisure. The scytheman, the ploughman, the lowland hind, even the ordinary farmer, see little of the mysteries of that Nature in the midst of which they work, dull-eyed as the browsing bullocks.

  The man of the high hills is vastly different. There are few shepherds insensible to the glamour of the mountains and the strange wild poetry of their occupation. But to the lover, the poet, to the intelligent townsman all things seem to speak. Ralph Peden, the city divinity student, lying well content under a thorn-bush above the loch, drew in that heather-scent which makes the bees tipsy and sets the grass-

1 “Sweetheart Travellers," p. 224. (Wells Gardner, Darton, & Co.)

hoppers chirring in the long grass by the lochside. It caused a glamour to come into his head also, in spite of all the philosophies,

  I know a bank, where the wild thyme grows–with an infinitude of other things. You will find it past Blates Mill, past the Bogle Thorn, just where the loch opens out, and when, standing on tiptoe at the side of the road, you can see far away, set on the selvage of the northern moorland, the chimneys of the Duchrae.

  Now look down. Between you and the rippling water what a blaze of colour! You will hardly find such a wealth of flowers anywhere else in Galloway. The loch, alternate white and blue according as the sunlight or the breeze catches it, stretches away for all its length of three miles, cloud and firwood mirroring themselves upon it. If it be June, the first broad rush of the ling will already be climbing the slopes of the Crae Hill opposite to you–a pale lavender near the lochside, deepening to crimson on the dryer slopes where the heath-bells grow shorter and stand thicker together. At the upper end of the loch, scarcely yet in view, the wimpling Lane of Duchrae glides away as discreetly from the sleeping lake as if it were eloping and feared to wake an angry parent. The whole range of hill and wood and water is drenched in sunlight. Yet everywhere silence clothes it like a garment, and the wind that blows hither and thither is sweet with the wild free scent of the moors.

Flowerland.

  I cannot even pretend to catalogue the flowers one may hope to find here–I had almost said, at all times of the year. The outrush of golden yellow across these braes, gorse and whin, pranked Iike a gay lady, gave me my first sense of gladness in nature" I used to hurrah all the way home from school, just because everything–the banks, the knowes, the roadside, all were of the gladsome yellow. It was my true age of gold, and even now something throbs in my throat as I think of it. It was the head-time of all the year–that and the long rush through the spring grass, when, for the first time, stockings were taken off, and the bare white feet felt the cool thresh of the close-set herbage, soft and moist and velvety.

  It is true that merely to have bought and to have read so much of “Raiderland"–a book wholly given up to the seeing of the eye, argues an intelligence in the reader wholly different from that of Ebie Farrish, the ploughman. But still it will do no harm to remember that, with such beauties ready to her hand, Nature does work its mysterious work on the dullest and most animal of human beings.

  Ebie has been ”night-raking," as it is expressly called in Galloway, and now is on his way back to his own proper couch.

  “But returning home in the coolness of this night, the ploughman was, for the time being, purged of the grosser humours which come naturally to strong, coarse natures, with physical frames ramping with youth and good feeding. He stood long looking into the Lane water, which glided beneath the bridge and away down to the Dee without a sound.

  “He noted where, on the broad bosom of the loch, the stillness lay grey and smooth like glimmering steel, with little puffs of night wind purling across it, and disappearing like breath from a new knife-blade. He saw also where the smooth satin plain rippled to the first water-break, as the stream collected itself, deep and black, with the force of the current behind it, to flow beneath the arch. When Ebie Farrish came to the bridge he was no more than a material Galloway ploughman, satisfied with his night's conquests and chewing the cud of their memory.

  “He looked over. He saw the stars, which were perfectly reflected a hundred yards away on the smooth expanse, first waver, then tremble, and lastly break into a myriad delicate shafts of light, as the water quickened and gathered. He spat in the water, and thought of trout for breakfast. But the long roar of the rapids of the Dee came to him over the hill, and brought a feeling of stillness with it, weird and remote. Uncertain lights shot hither and thither under the bridge, in strange gleams and reflections. The ploughman was awed.

He continued to gaze. The stillness closed in upon him. The aromatic breath of the pines seemed to cool him and remove him from himself. He had a sense that it was the Sabbath morning, and that he had just washed his face to go to church. It was the nearest thing to worship he had ever known. Such moments come to the most material, and are their theology. Far off a solitary bird whooped and whinnied. It sounded mysterious and unknown, the cry of a lost soul. Ebie Farrish wondered where he would go to when he died. He thought this over for a little, and then he concluded that upon the whole it were better not to dwell on that subject. But the crying on the lonely hills awed him. It was only a Jack snipe, from whose belated nest an owl had stolen two eggs. Nevertheless it was Ebie Farrish's good angel. Of a truth there was that in the world which had not been there before for him. And it is to his sweetheart's credit, that when Ebie was most impressed by the stillness and most under the spell of the night, he thought of her. He was only an ignorant, godless, dull-natured man, who was no more moral than he could help. But it is both a testimonial and a compliment when such a man thinks of a woman in his best and most solemn moments.

  “A trout leaped in the calm water, and Ebie stopped thinking of the eternities to remember where he had baited a line. Far off a cock crew, and the well-known sound warned Ebie that he had better be drawing near his bed. He raised himself from the copestone of the parapet, and solemnly tramped his steady way up to the 'onstead' of Craig Ronald, which took shape before him on the height as he advanced like a low, grey-bastioned castle." 1

1 “The Lilac-Sunbonnet," p.168. (T. Fisher Unwin.)


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