from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 12 April 2013

in the hills

Off one of the Lake District's highest steepest fells visible from the M6 north, there's a little splinter of human hanging from a small fingernail of rainbow nylon kite-stuff – a hang-glider launching him- or herself from the summit, and being slowly carried by the vectors* round the edge of the hill and out of sight.

It's interesting, isn't it, how we need to test and court death, temper (or test) ourselves by challenging it. When I was in my teens an older friend was killed hang-gliding in Alaska (as you do); and yet I see the attraction. I'm noticing though that, as someone who likes edges – they're full of creative ferment – mine are more often internal these days.

A handful of hardy black-face sheep and their lambs, and a small flock of Swaledales, grey enough to look like they've been used as chimney-brushes, crane their necks up at the man-machine, only mildly interested. Or are they Herdwicks? I've forgotten. (Once upon a time I spun, vegetable-dyed and knitted or wove wool into garments – blissful days out on the Devon coasts and moors with my baby daughter slung off my chest collecting gorse and lichen and blackthorn bark for dyeing [me, collecting, not my baby daughter]. Sometimes I used the naturally-coloured fleece of native pied, grey, brown or black sheep, too.)

For a few moments there's brilliant sun, but north, eclipsing the mountain ranges that are beginning to push up into consciousness in brief glimpses, there's that kind of wild stormy sky that presages Weather of the dramatic variety, and throws whatever is in front of it – in this case full-bellied conical hills with their necklaces of Cumbrian stonewalls and the odd brooch pin of tree – into transient brilliant relief. The occasional willow tree is flame-red, extravagant and showy.

Last leg of the first day's journey to the Hebrides. 400 miles today feels challenging, especially since I only had 3 hours' sleep last night and a stressful lead-up to the drive, culminating in being so unmindful I took my wing-mirror off again late last night clipping a Highways temporary sign by squeezing through a gap that was simply too small – for the third time in a year. I'm quite spatially aware, and in all my many years of driving vans, left-hand drive cars, wider vehicles generally, etc, I've never done this before this car. My garage mechanic looks at me in disbelief. Good man – 8am I call by, en route for my epic journey to the Hebrides, and by 8.30 someone's delivered a new mirror and he's fitted it.

I muse on this. What has it been about the last year that has me squeezing through gaps that are simply too small for me/my vehicle?And why when I have so little money and like looking after things have I smashed a mirror three times? For years, my various cars seemed to reflect my life-problems around brakes; and two cars I've owned have spontaneously burst into flames. But this is a new one.

I'm not sure I like the implications of this, so instead I fall to musing on place-names a la Douglas Adams and John Lloyd's The Meaning of Liff. In their book, which ascribes imagined definitions to place-names, Kirby Lonsdale that I'm just passing meant something like finding, under a table under which you've been running your hand, someone else's cast-off chewing gum. Ecclefechan, I decide, means the curses of someone who arrives too late at a feast to find anything other than crumbs.

And then I'm over the Scottish border - in fact I was already – and there ahead suddenly behind the lowland mountains of Dumfries and Galloway are the snow-capped higher peaks of the Highlands, and in this moment, after the temporary home of the road I know so well and which passes through such stunning scenery (after Lancaster), the sun flames on the lambs in the field ahead of me, the sky releases a little burst of hail, and I'm about to make landfall in the home of a B&B in the little Scottish border town of Moffat.

More from the Isle of Iona, soon...

* Do I mean vectors? You know how, when you're tired, words slip their leashes? - Like that.


  1. Miriam again!
    The sheep you think are Swaledales might be Herdwicks if they have no horns (usually, I think), hair on their heads like an old lady's grey perm (or my hair in frizz after much rain!) and that wonderfully foolish smile on their faces. They're the most cuddly of all sheep, I think, and for me represent the Lakes and are therefore A GOOD THING. Swaledale's with their aristocratic curling horns and rather elegant faces are handsome – saw some very like them in Scotland. Your descriptions of Cumbria make me homesick (it was our playground though some 70 miles up the M6). It's the north and I miss it. As for place names and their imagined meanings – what invention! I know Kirby Lonsdale well. I'm so literal, always seeing a church and a long valley in my head when I hear the name. Shall try your game on our next long car journey

  2. Here it is, Miriam - and thank you for that too - think maybe cyber-holes ate my response...! Rx


Blog Archive