IN SEARCH OF THE MAN, WICKER OR OTHERWISE

The Penkiln Burn begins it’s life on The Range of The Awful Hand, part of The Galloway Hills. After eight and a half miles it merges with the River Cree in the village of Minnigaff, on the outskirts of Newton Stewart.

A rough translation of penkiln might be ‘the end of a monastic cell’.

Sunday 23rd August marked the end of something for me or maybe the end of the beginning. Which is why at 17:23 on Friday 28th August I am stood on Queen Mary’s Bridge.

Queen Mary’s Bridge supposedly takes it name from the tradition that Mary Queen of Scots crossed it during her royal progress in 1563. The Bridge is actually called “Penkill Old Bridge” on the OS Map of 1849. In a nod to Brigadoon, Queen Mary’s bridge does not appear on Google maps, but, for those on a quest, there are clues…

My trip to Scotland marked the end of my time in the monastic cell that was lockdown. Barely a week later, it seems a lifetime ago. Days without names, but Monday was delivery day. Life off the clock, but 5pm was death toll o’clock.

January 23rd (97 Global COVID Deaths) was the day I finished the text of FR3VR and sent it to my collaborator for Illumination.

August 23rd (266561 Global COVID Deaths) 266464 deaths in seven months. The population of Nottingham in 1991. The population of Northampton in 2017. But nobody wants to talk about that. It’s just water under a bridge.

But I didn’t go to Scotland in search of a bridge. I went there in search of The Wicker Man.

First stop was a Anwoth Kirk, a deconsecrated church.

Conveniently across the road was a holiday home and former schoolhouse.

Daisy hasn’t done her homework.

From Anwoth, it was a short drive to Gatehouse Of Fleet, for the exterior of The Green Man, now Cally Estates offices.

For the interior we headed to Creetown and the Ellangowan Hotel.

The hotel was closed. The note from the owner said he’s gone Perch fishing. He may not return.

We were staying in Wigtown, home of The Martyr’s Stone, a monument to the very worst of atrocities by a church not adverse to their own human sacrifices.

On our way to Wigtown, I noticed a sign that struck a chord.

Newton Stewart? Isn’t that where…?

A couple of Googles later, I stumbled across this image, from 2014.

19th November 2014. Photograph by Tracey Moberly

Now this was a challenge. I’ve already stumbled across one of Bill’s bridge messages, 23 minutes away from my house.

That time it was in a much improved state than when it was created.

Nazi Punks have fucked off.

So we parked just outside the centre and began to check the bridges. They were either too wide, too new or too suspension-y. Dejected we got back in the car and set off, but barely a minute later, I spotted something that looked promising.

Another bridge. Not on the map.

Getting down to the side of the river was slippery nightmare, particularly with the burn churning over the rocks. But we found it. Or a lack of it at least.

It seems that nothing last forever. Except maybe the (mu)sic.

Back up on the bridge, it seemed like the right thing to do to make an offering to The Penkiln Burn.

The hotel where we were staying had gone to town on Wigtown’s recent recognition as Scotland’s answer to Hay-on-Wye, with its book shops and literary festival.

The room we had was very on brand.

The next morning, we headed for the coast. Burrowhead Holiday Village. Home of not one, but two Wicker Men.

The caravan park was very quiet. The ice-cream van was probably regretting its trip up here. As holiday villages on the edge of the world go, this one was in a league of its own.

Everything by the cliffs is pretty much as it was 48 years ago.

Not actually a rabbit hole to the caves below.
Did I do it right?
You did it beautifully.

There were two Wicker Men. One that they put Sgt. Howie in.

All that remain are the foot holes and concrete foundations.

The other Wicker Man was a few steps West. This was the one that they set fire to.

Subtle metaphor klaxon

Next was St Ninian’s cave. Ninian of Whithorn may well have brought Christianity to Scotland, adding some pretty heavy handed symbolism to its use in The Wicker Man. The path to the beach is not without its obstacles, mostly mud based, but the reward makes it all worthwhile.

Then it was back in land to Kirkcudbright, which was used for May Morrison’s shop and numerous alleyways.

Finally, we returned to Burrowhead for a sunset to remember.

The journey home took in the stone circles at Torhousekie – a favourite of Julian Cope – and The Twelve Apostles near Dumfries.

So lockdown is finished. The schools are open. My bubble is about 230 students.

Things I’ve learned:

Some pilgrimages feel like coming home.

Some pilgrimages don’t start until you get there.

Dumfries and Galloway is a beautiful part of this island.

The Penkiln Burn prefers not to be graffitied.

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