A couple of weekends ago we drove down to the Scottish Borders in search of a nice woodland hike. We ended up at Yair Hill Forest, tucked right up against the River Tweed. These have been important hunting and fishing lands since the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago. In the middle ages Yair was a royal hunting ground, reserved for use by Scottish kings. Between 1296 and 1305 these woods provided shelter for William Wallace as he and his army engaged in battles throughout the Borders.
The purple heath and heather (Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea, among others) were in full bloom. Blaeberries (Vaccinium myrtillus--related to the common blueberry) were covered in tiny, tasty black fruit.
An area of low pressure was moving in off the North Atlantic, prompting all sorts of high wind and gale warnings. Though the valley floor was warm and sunny, by the time we made it to the top of the hill the wind was blowing the trees horizontal and even pushing me off the trail.
Despite the weather the Southern Upland Way, Scotland's coast-to-coast path, tempted us higher on the moor, led on by the sight of cairns in the distance.
Summiting the peak we found the Three Brethren Cairn, which marks the ancient boundary of three properties. Each year more than 500 horses and their riders support the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer in a ride to the cairns during the Selkirk Common Riding Festival. This is a tradition that dates back at least 500 years and has its roots when riding around land was the way of preserving ownership and preventing encroachment by neighboring lairds.
This was my first time seeing an old Scottish cairn, and I immediately understood what one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy, is referencing with his stone cairns. Though I have always found his cairns beautiful and technically awe-inspiring, and delighted whenever I came across one in my travels, I didn't until this hike really understand how they reflect a sense of place and lifestyle that is so inherently Scottish.
My favorite Goldsworthy's cairn piece is in De Moines, Iowa, at the De Moines Art Center. My brother and I stumbled upon it in 2008 while in town for our grandmother's memorial. Titled 'Three Cairns," these dry-stone structures were completed in 2002 of Iowa limestone.
Leave it to Scotland to surprise me with unexpected art appreciation on a random weekend hike.
After just a few minutes on the blustery hilltop we descended back through the forest, stopping to watch the swallows dive over a field of peacefully grazing sheep. I don't think I'd ever get tired of watching a scene like this. It's always changing as the weather rolls over and the animals mill about. Beautiful.