Some steps on the Southern Upland Way; a haibun
From the War Memorial in Cockburnspath I walk along the path by a field’s edge. I recall how this was home, in the early 1880s, to a group of artists who called themselves ‘The Boys’, now better known as ‘The Glasgow Boys’. James Guthrie’s masterwork – A Hind’s Daughter – was painted here, as were others by Henry, Melville, Walton, Crawhall and others. The Boys are the subject of a wonderful exhibition in the Kelvingrove just now. I was discussing it on Sunday night with the poet David Kinloch, whose own work is at times inspired by paintings, as is my own.
girl in the painting
silvery knife held down
a threat to cabbages
The path turns sharply here and follows an underpass below the A1 and the East Coast Main Line, before crossing a minor road at Cove Farm and heading down to Cove village. It’s a common name in Scotland, Cove, but this is one I’ve been visiting since I was a wee boy in the 1950s. The field edge here is splotched with the bright pyramids that are Early Purple orchids, and from the hedges and fields the sounds of Grasshopper Warblers, Meadow Pipits, Willow Warblers and Skylarks fill the air. There’s a warm scent of Sweet Cicely in the air too, and the ground herbs include Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, buttercups, campions and coltsfoot.
in the gorse bush –
At the path’s junction above the Cove clifftop I make a detour to the hamlet, to see a new bronze sculpture commemorating the loss of 11 out of 21 Cove fishermen in the East Coast fishing disaster of 1881, along with many others from fishing towns along the coast.
within sight of families –
the price of fish
The path carries on, with several jinks and stiles to avoid landslips. This coast is eroding very rapidly, the red clay capping the vertically-dipping rocks being sloughed off all along the route, leaving the green slopes punctuated by red scars. Efforts at stabilisation now focus on planting trees – willow, holly, hawthorn, briar and the occasional rowan. Their intertwined roots offer the best chance of holding back the soil, but for how long?
deep roots of horsetails
for dear life
The path now reaches the cliff overlooking the beautiful Pease Bay. I see the big waves rolling in to break on the sandy shore, and wonder why there are no surfers here today. The next steps will take me up Pease Dean, and into Penmanshiel Woods, but that’s for another day. I listen to watersounds on the bridge over the Cockburnspath Burn, a bubbling rill on one side of the path, and a waterfall on the other.
quenches the thirst