Some years ago, I became fascinated with the Galloway Forest. It’s a remote, depopulated region in south west Scotland, hundreds of square miles with scarcely a road across it, and a diminishing number of working farms on its inhospitable hills and moors. It’s become a place famed now for its dark skies, and it’s visited by astronomers and those curious to see a sky without neon. I’ve very belatedly set up a blog to record my explorations and the poems that came out of them. Click here to have a look.
I grew up in rural Cumbria, among small family farms, and so recognised that what I saw in 2011 in the Galloway Forest was disappearance. The disappearance of the hills under the conifer forests which were mass planted there in the 1950s and 60s, and the disappearance of small farms, some overwhelmed by the new conifer forests, and many more slowly abandoned as hill farming has become so uneconomic that only the oldest are still farming, often without the assets to retire.
So I went looking for the ghosts of stables, and cart-sheds, and sheep rees (the Galloway word for a sheepfold). I went looking for the ghosts of placenames and farm names. I found places where the severe weather has reduced cottages to a threshold stone and a hearth stone. Cottages overtaken now by birches and brambles. I found a rural museum with a black leather bull mask and a necklace of horse’s teeth. A farmhouse with its windows bricked up – truly a Dark Farm.
I took the photographs at the time, on days of being savaged by midges, falling into peat clefts, wading upland burns where the O.S. map still marks the place as a ford, long since washed away. The poems were published in 2012 in pamphlet form by Roncadora Press, enhanced by Hugh Bryden’s rich artwork.