Reaching Across Borders
There comes a point in a new environment when you begin to truly inhabit it. We have achieved a rhythm of living in Dodge City; waking and writing, drinking coffee and eating biscuits, and watching Britain’s Best Home Cook on Netflix, in the brief moments between changing into pyjamas and falling, exhausted, into bed.
Our sightseeing has begun to transform, with our list of interesting sights beginning to be knitted together into something greater, perhaps into the experience of living here, as the tendrils that would eventually form roots begin to peek out and stretch for a place to land.
At the counter of Dumfries’ gorgeous Waterstones Bookshop (to buy a copy of Wolf Hall), the bookseller asks us what we think about Novak Djokovic, which has dominated British airwaves since our arrival. When given the green light, she tells us, is no uncertain terms, exactly what she thinks of him. ‘Ah certainly hope he disnae win it’, she calls as we depart.
Our breakfast roll order at The Lunch Box comes with a casual what-are-you-up-to-today?, which grows into a rich, cross-counter discussion about our respective countries; the weather, the light, families, history. ‘Ma cottage is aulder than that!’ our server exclaims in surprise, upon hearing the oldest building is Australia is a mere 200-and-something years old.
Jimmy, as always, does most to gift us the Scotland of living.
We drive to Morton Castle, which is little more than a ruin. Its appeal comes from its position beside Morton Loch, described as being ‘as breathtaking as it is remote’, and the promise of solitude, with it apparently being notoriously difficult to find.
We take a wrong turn, to which Jimmy replies:
‘Ah used tae say, ‘Ah’m lost, mother’, and she wud say, ‘ye’ll come tae a road, then anoother road, and ye will ken’ and she’s right, an aw’.
We pass Irongray Church on our winding back road:
…before finding ourselves on an unsealed version with potholes nearing the size of lochs themselves. Jimmy soldiers on with his trusty Kia and Lucy and I are soon traipsing through the mud (there may have been some actual frolicking), to the ruins of this hall-house, probably built in the late 1200s.
On the way to our next stop, Drumlannig Castle, Jimmy reveals that he has six miles of petrol left and that his petrol light has been on ‘foor ages’. He is certain there is a petrol station in Thornhill, however, our phones tell us otherwise. The picturesque scenery on the road to Dumfries (14 miles away, plus the miles used looking for a non-existent station in Thornhill) does little to assuage the anxiety I am feeling about now:
We limp into the station – ‘Ah dinae ken hoo it’s moving’ – fight over paying (Jimmy wins by throwing cash like confetti, leaving us to sneak it back onto his coffee table at home), then go looking for the standing stones where a witch is said to have turned a king and his men into stones. Alas, we have confused our standing stones and soon discover we are instead looking at the Twelve Apostles, making them decidedly less interesting and unworthy of a closer look.
After ages trying to search for ‘Bonny Ive’, and one of the coffee shops that Jimmy has frequented across the country, we are eventually en route to Moniaive, where we stop for coffee and half pints in the Craigdarroch Arms. Every now and then, the world serves you up a moment with your half pint, making this stop particularly special.
Later, after dinner and a walking tour of Carlisle with my cousin (who points to this imposing building and calls it an ‘old something’), we chat animatedly outside his home for ages about food – ice lollies vs ice blocks, why our chips don’t confuse us, the merits of salad cream, where and when to use brown sauce – while an irate neighbour shouts at us to shut up from her window.
In one of my favourite articles, Pamela Druckerman’s What You Learn in Your 40s, she states:
‘More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.’
I disagree with the latter part of her sentiment, finding it neither. For me, recognising that there is more to connect than to separate, especially when crossing borders, is an ongoing source of delight and wonder.