Thursday, January 21, 2010

Two Ghosts in Galloway

Tell me, did you pick stars when you were little? No, I'm not being fanciful (or only slightly) but, when I was a child, living in the country, I really believed that, given a tall chair or a step-ladder, I could have reached up into the blackness and picked any number of the vast, shining stars that clustered in the night sky above the garden. They seemed so close . . . so tangible . . . so alluring.
Then we moved to the town . . . and the stars disappeared. But the stars also disappeared from the countryside, so it was wonderful to hear on the news the other day that the first Dark Sky Park in Europe has been established in Galloway. Now the children of Scotland can go star-picking!

I love Scotland. It's a country I've visited frequently. As a student, I even worked on a pig farm near Stirling . . . but that's another story!
Dumfries and Galloway is now in the news, but it was one of the lesser known regions of South-West Scotland when I took Rupert there a few years ago.
Have you been there? As you can see from this map, it's all rugged coastline and rocky inlets . . . quite staggeringly beautiful.
Most of my time was spent exploring the coast, but, one morning, lured by the attractions of the hinterland, I took the car and followed the narrow, winding road that went deep into the mountains. Not only did it go deeply in, it also went steeply up.

With Rupert sitting happily in his usual position on the passenger seat, we climbed . . . and climbed.
I began to get slightly worried. Had I enough petrol? What if we met another car on the very narrow, winding road? As I slowly realised, this particular mountain had two distinct gradients. One very steep, a regular challenge for climbers, the other more gentle which permitted our road to ascend almost to the summit.

It was quite a relief to reach the very small, wind-blown car-park. I stopped the car and looked out. Only yards away a track coiled upwards to the mountain peak. It seemed a pity to have come so far and not make the final few yards. A pity not to be able to say that Rupert had climbed a Scottish mountain . . . all right, ninety per cent of his ascent had been on four wheels, but at least he could make the short journey to the summit on four legs.

After attaching his lead, I let Rupert jump out of the car and we both of us started up the rocky track.
I wished I had put on climbing shoes . . . or climbing attire . . . or that I looked a little less out-of-place on a mountain-top. But, stumbling in shoes better suited to London, I made it round the rocky bend.

The view down from the summit was breath-taking. Rupert and I perched on a rock and drank in the incredible splendour.
Only then did I hear the unlikely sound of voices.
Way below us, climbing the mountain by the traditional means of stout sticks and nailed boots, came a party of climbers.
I watched their slow and laborious approach until, finally, they rounded a rock and saw us sitting there awaiting them.

Looking at their startled faces, I had the feeling that they knew nothing of the car-park. That, as far as they were concerned, theirs was the only means of reaching the summit. To have discovered a woman, dressed for the London streets, with, of all things, a Burmese cat on a lead . . . well, it must have prompted fears of hallucinations at the very least!

It seemed best not to try to explain.
They clearly felt the same and, without saying a word, silently moved on.

Did they think they'd seen a ghost . . . two ghosts?

Shall I tell you what I like to imagine? I like to imagine that, for evermore, in the pubs of Galloway, when people come in after gazing at the stars, and tales are told in the chilly winter evenings, this ghostly story will surface.
Of how, if you climb to the summit of the local mountain, there, looming out of the mist, you might encounter two fearful mountain ghosts.
One, a very strange woman from the city . . . the other, a large, grey cat on a lead!