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Wild Flowers of Scotland
Chapter IX. On the Links


TO those who sail, or walk along, our coast presents three phases: the cliff, the seaside moor, and the links.

The moor differs from the links, in that it usually has a considerable proportion of some darker deposit among the blown sand. Those with which I am best acquainted are near the mouths of rivers, and may have been formed of the mud brought down by the current, when the volume was much larger.

The three bear quite distinct wild flowers. Though directly facing the rude sea, the cliffs have still many ledges; and niches so cunningly placed as to be shut in from almost every wind. There they gather a comparatively rich soil out of their own decay, on to which seeds fall. In this way are formed little gardens, often of rare forms, worth risking one’s neck to see.

The moor is open from end to end to every wind that blows. There are no corners formed by jutting points, where delicate wild flowers can hide. So much is included in the very conception of a moor—not in the sportsman sense of a shooting ground, but in that of a flat expanse, laid down under such conditions as to make it interesting to the artist, the naturalist, and the wild bird.

Still, by reason of the darker deposit among the sand, it not only affords richer food, but also retains more moisture. And there are generally marshy spots to add to the interest, and still further to vary its plant as well as its animal life.

Examples occur, all in a row,—a somewhat unusual sequence,—on the East Coast, south of Lunan Bay. Cliffs run along almost to Arbroath, and the mouth of the Tay. And such cliffs 4 Sheer down to the water below, or ploughed into gorges by some stream; or picturesque by reason of the outliers, cut off by the water in their retreat. Cliffs—not stupendous, but breezy and exhilarating, and with every element of natural interest.

From the Tay to the Eden, filling up the whole space between the estuaries, and possibly partly formed by the silting process referred to, lies Tents Muir. Beyond the Eden run the two miles of golf links, the length of St. Andrews.

Anyone who wishes to see what the three phases of our coast have to show—where each is of considerably more than local interest—could not do better than spend three summer days between Red Head and St. Andrews. I have spent, in each of the three, many days I am not likely to forget, and feel in a position to advise.

Unlike the cliffs, the links have no sheltered niches. Unlike the moor, they have no dark deposit. They are made up of pure blown sand. Therein consists their excellence for golfing uses; seeing that the rain so rapidly runs away; those who play on inland courses will understand what I mean. But as life-supporting areas or wild gardens, they demand, on the part of the plants, that they be easily satisfied, and able to make the most of what there is.

On the sea side of the links, shutting out a view of the water from the players, is a row of the most picturesque sand-dunes imaginable. Beginning as round mounds, these have been worn into various shapes; and, in certain conditions of the atmosphere, present very weird effects.

A breezy day must be chosen for watching the growth of the young sand-dunes; and a very curious study it is. Seated on the leeside of some maturer pile, exposed to the attentions of late-building coast-birds, the situation has a certain rude charm. Borne on the wind, the blown sand eddies or swirls round the infant mounds, before it comes to rest on their flanks or summits.. With every gale, the process is renewed, swelling the bulk and height of the mound. After a while, when the pile is about on a level with the rest, and may be said to be finished, the busy winds begin elsewhere.

Then the great lime-grass and rushy wheat-grass take possession, and net-work it with their hidden stems, until the surface of light blown sand becomes almost as hard as inland turf. This is the beginning—the babyhood, if we may apply the term to anything so rude — of the life of the links.

Thus, these compact dunes, besides presenting a miniature mountain chain to that exceptional golfer who has an eye for anything but his ball, serve the more practical purposes of preventing drifting over the links, and farther inland, to the detriment alike of golf and agriculture; they also prepare the way for the richer turf behind.

It is interesting to notice how many flowers can grow on pure sand. No doubt, after a while, the roots of the grasses form a certain superficial soil, varying in depth as one proceeds from the sea margin to the fence which marks off the links from the fields.

Imperceptible in the dunes, where the lime-grass seems to find sufficient in the sand for its broad brittle leaves and long stout stems, it appears just beyond as a thin streak, and deepens, it may be, to an inch in the older parts of the links. In replacing turf, the course-keepers sprinkle soil underneath; thus artificially increasing the depth.

But the layer is never very deep, and nowhere gets beyond the tawny hue, mingled of yellow and brown. The main condition of these links wild flowers growing; is that the sands cease the restless motions of the open sea-coast, and be brought to anchor by the stolons of the lime.

I have already spoken of the whins, which burn with their yellow flames, through so many of the earlier months. Some of them rise into bushes, branching out above several feet of bare stem; while, on the ruder parts of the links, others are contented to lie along the ground. Ought I to speak of two species ?

No whin grows on the coast-side of the dunes; nor on the dunes themselves, so long as they are bare and exposed; nor anywhere, on unanchored sand. But just within the shelter they thrive marvellously. So far from being starved and dwarfish, they are beyond the ordinary height and robustness. As in the case of the almost bare rock, they feel along the surface for any soil there may be.

The unbroken sheet of daisies which puzzles the golfer, does not spread so near the sea. It belongs to the older part of the links, where the turf has been changed more than once. The wild flowers proper of this scene must be sought for on the rougher belt between the daisies and the sand-dunes, where there is less suspicion of tampering.

The links can be very attractive, on a July day. They are warm, but not so hot as the sand; their green covering keeps them pleasantly cool. No glare rests upon them. Mark out a little patch, and you will see the reason why. Look at the countless lights and shadows, due to the grass blades,—to every lit blade a shadow: the intenser the light, so much sharper the contrast and darker the shadow.

With this miniature as guide, glance over the whole, and see how mystic lovely it is. You hardly know whether to describe the effect as shaded light or lit shadow. Under the mounds the shadows gather ; toward their tops the light increases. From the woods to the links, the change seems greater than it is. In the one the shadows are massed, well marked, sometimes almost unbroken; here they are in fairy lines and panicles.

Not only is there light, but colour as well. Now we have mass, more than in the woods. The colour is inlaid on the green. From a little distance it seems a glow rather than a growth, born of the air and not of the earth—a reflection from above rather than a flower bank. This is due to the shortness of the stem, scarcely sufficient to raise the flower above the sand. Everything goes to colour.

It were hard to tell which flower forms the largest patches. The light purple or pink of the thyme seems to be everywhere. Not a bank on which it does not grow. What a wild natural smell it has ! Not a namby-pamby garden smell— not a sweet sentimental odour.

There are none such, if we except the faint cocoa-nut of the whin by the seaside—no perfume proper. Such would be out of place; the scene is too rude. It would be like scent on a ship captain’s handkerchief. It smells of the breeze. Imagine the salt breeze scented—of the open—of the bank. Wilder still, only slightly harsher, is the scent of the pink restharrow.

The lotus—children call it crowfoot, or craw’s taes—comes next. Not tall as under the hedge, or medium - sized as by the roadside, but with its crimson, buds and yellow flowers hugging the ground.

Near the lotus, and almost as common, is its purple cousin, with the same butterfly - shaped flowers, the milk vetch. Whereas the lotus is found everywhere, this is one of the forms which, after leaving the coast, we shall not meet again all over the plain, and until we have climbed a little way up the mountain slopes. Under the most favourable conditions for growth, the flower is large in proportion to the stem and leaf. Here it seems all flower together, quite top-heavy with blossom. One must look carefully before he discovers the delicate leafage.

The common bedstraw forms other large patches of yellow. I have noticed that, when growing inland, and there is 110 commoner roadside form, the flower has an extremely pleasant, if somewhat wild, odour. There it shares with the white clover the function of scenting the summer day. Here the sweetness has departed, while the wildness remains, and is intensified.

It is not easy to explain this deficiency in seaside plants. Where sight fails, scent is supposed to act as a second guide to the insect in search of the j)lant. . It may be more needful, where the luxuriant leafage of inland scenes hides away the colours, or where the plant is playing bo-peep behind the hawthorn hedge, or has retired several yards within the shadow of the wood, or is nestling under the steep bank, than on a flat scene of bare vegetation and profuse blossoming. No insect with half an eye could miss the glow on the links, especially flying over it as they do.

There is also abundance of the delicate little white bedstraw, not quite so self-assertive, but even pleasanter to look upon.

Harebells are, of course, abroad in their favourite haunt—short-stemmed like the rest. Perhaps also a little paler in shade. At the seaside there is a tendency to part with colour as well as scent, partly from the bleaching influence of the air, and partly because less will serve to attain the end in view.

Many other plants are there whose names it would be tedious to mention. All that seems necessary is to point out the general conditions of that scene, midway between the seaside moor and the open coast, and to indicate those forms which, while they refuse to grow among the restless sand, ask no more than that the sand shall be moored by the grass roots, and so brought to rest.

Not the harebells themselves, not the scent of wild thyme, not the many-shadowed links, not the salt breeze, nor the sea, nor the whispering gush of water, is so delightful in these July days as the blue seaside butterflies. They are the veritable Ariels of the scene, appearing for a moment, then mingling with the blue of the sea or vanishing into the blue of the sky—returning to light on the grass blade, and straightway, by the simple closing of their wings, becoming once more invisible.


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