Late in 2018 we moved to a place in the countryside of Galloway, in south west Scotland. It was only fifteen miles from our previous residence but it was still an entirely different world.
To reach us you must drive along a winding single-lane road, then through a farm gate (closing it behind you, to keep the livestock in), and half a mile up a bumpy track through fields. These are bare, hard-chewed by sheep, and each contains a ruined stone house beside an elder tree – signs of the subsistence farmers who once populated the countryside much more densely, until they were replaced – driven away to form the industrial working class of central Scotland, or to America, Canada, and Australia – by ovine entrepreneurs.
The immediate topography is of the kind called ‘basket of eggs’. It consists of drumlins, small hills like buried eggs or teardrops made of the moraine formed under Ice Age glaciers. The one I see from the window as I write, the closest and biggest, looks more like a well-rounded breast than a teardrop, complete with a stone nipple.
Our land is nestled amongst these welcoming mounds, and provides four acres of diversity amid the sheep-field monoculture. There’s a stream, and two ponds connected (we call the larger one by the more dignified title of lochan, which with its untrodden island, its lilies and resident birds, it surely deserves). From the high point overlooking the water, I can see the hills of the Southern Uplands rising south to north beyond the drumlins, and can more or less trace with my eye the hero’s journey in S R Crockett’s The Raiders, a nineteenth-century novel set in the eighteenth century, to rescue his beloved from the clutches of the ‘hill gypsies’: ‘…in the wilds of Galloway that look toward Ayrshire, up by the springs of Doon and Dee, there lies a wide county of surpassing wildness, whither resorted all the evil gypsies of the hill – red-handed men, outlaw and alien…’