Nowhere is the world to my thinking so gracious as between the green woodlands of Earlstoun and the grey Duchrae Craigs.
Glimpses of the Glenkens
'Woodhall Loch is like many another. Half its beauty is in the seeing eye. Yet not only the educated or the intellectual may see.’
The loch runs alongside the four mile stretch from the Duchrae to Laurieson. Crockett describes one small part of it as follows:
‘I know a bank, where the wild thyme grows—with an infinitude of other things. You will find it past Blates Mill, past the Bogle Thorn, just where the loch opens out, and when, standing on tiptoe at the side of the road, you can see far away, set on the selvage of the northern moorland, the chimneys of the Duchrae.
Now look down. Between you and the rippling water what a blaze of colour! You will hardly find such a wealth of flowers anywhere else in Galloway. The loch, alternate white and blue according as the sunlight or the breeze catches it, stretches away for all its length of three miles, cloud and firwood mirroring themselves upon it.’
These days it is all too easy to ignore nature, especially that with which we have a familiarity. I suggest that Woodhall Loch is one such place. Crockett observes: ‘for others who think more of themselves than did Ebie Farrish the ploughman, the art of admiring nature is chiefly a matter of habit and leisure. The scytheman, the ploughman, the lowland hind, even the ordinary farmer, see little of the mysteries of that Nature in the midst of which they work, dull-eyed as the browsing bullocks.’
Crockett knows the beauty and also the history of the place: ‘A certain name-changing fiend brought into our Erse and Keltic Galloway a number of mongrel names, probably some Laird Laurie with a bad education and a plentiful lack of taste, who, among other iniquities, called the ancient Clachan-of-Pluck after himself—Laurieston. His mansion-house he changed from the ancient and honourable ‘Grenoch,’ by which name it stands in Pont's map of (about) 1611, to the commonplace Woodhall. Later the loch had a like fortune. Loch Grenoch became Woodhall Loch (or in the folk speech of the parish, Wudha' Loch).’
Crockett walked this way every day to school and was perhaps led astray like his character Kit Kennedy, by his dog:
‘The tempter gambolled in front, barking joyously. He said as plain as print, ‘Now then, we're off! Hurrah for the water!’
But for awhile—for at least as much as a quarter of an hour—Kit manfully resisted. By that time a considerable distance had been put between the cottage and the wayfarers. The loch was very blue beneath. The little waves sparkled distractingly. The wind waved the yellow broom in a way it really ought not to. The universe was ill-arranged for a small boy attending school that day.’
Like Ebie Farish, we might also find something special in this most ordinary of places. If we look through Crockett’s eyes:
‘He saw the stars, which were perfectly reflected a hundred yards away on the smooth expanse, first waver, then tremble, and lastly break into a myriad delicate shafts of light, as the water quickened and gathered. He spat in the water, and thought of trout for breakfast. But the long roar of the rapids of the Dee came to him over the hill, and brought a feeling of stillness with it, weird and remote. Uncertain lights shot hither and thither under the bridge, in strange gleams and reflections. The ploughman was awed.’
Crockett’s writing reveals that it is a place of many possibilities – in fact and fiction. There are more descriptions of Woodhall (Grenoch) Loch in Men of the Moss Hags, The Dark o’ the Moon, The Lilac Sunbonnet, Kit Kennedy, Sweethearts at Home, and Raiderland.
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