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  • Barry

Day Out In Dumfries


So, what do you do when you find out that one of Scotland’s most spectacular gardens is to be opened for visitors for one day only throughout the year? You clear your calendar and book tickets; that’s what you do!

Garden of Cosmic Speculation

The garden that I am speaking of is the delightfully named Garden of Cosmic Speculation, situated at Portrack House, Holywood, Dumfries. We came across details of this garden quite by chance when researching an itinerary for an American client of ours who was visiting Scotland. Details of this garden opening were on the http://www.scotlandsgardens.org website, which, by the way, is an excellent website for getting details on Scotland’s many beautiful and fragrant gardens, as well as any special events being held throughout the country.

We decided to make a weekend of it, spending the Saturday in Edinburgh (always one of our favourite destinations) and staying over in the Days Inn at Abington, then heading down to the gardens on Sunday, 30th of April. Before this, however, we had a quick detour to make, visiting The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall, near Moffat.

Grey Mare's Tail

Grey Mare’s Tail is a waterfall which plunges 60 meters down into the Moffat Water Valley. It is Britain’s fifth tallest waterfall and a superb example of a hanging valley. There is a steep, but well maintained path up to the top of the waterfall, and we were reliably informed by the National Trust employee manning their outdoor station, that it would take up to an hour to ascend. With our impending garden date later that morning, however, we only had time to hike up to the first observation points on the trail, which took a calf-burning 10 minutes to get to. Very worthwhile!

After a quick comfort break in the quaint little town of Moffat, we were back on the road again to make our cosmic connection.

Traffic Jam!

First impressions of the garden, however, were made a few miles away from the site itself, when we hit the massive vehicular queues waiting to get to the attraction. It seems that everyone else had the same idea as ourselves and wanted to visit this exclusive garden. Impressions did not improve much after half an hour once we had managed to get to the car park, as the only toilets for the site were the three portaloos stationed before the entrance. There may have been others further back in the carpark, but we found that we had to wait another half an hour in this queue before even getting inside the garden.

Out of this World

This was all forgotten, however, once we gained entrance, and the awe inspiring and downright weird delights of the garden were viewed! The Garden of Cosmic Speculation covers thirty acres, with gardens, bridges, landforms, sculptures, terraces, fences and architectural works and it is all presented in a quirky way, as if it were someone’s private joke. Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick, conceived this unique garden in 1989 and it has been evolving ever since.

The pleasures include: a water cascade of steps which recounts the story of the universe, a terrace which shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole, a “Quark Walk” that takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter, and a series of landforms and lakes that recall fractal geometry!

Well, I am not sure that I quite saw all these scientific resemblances, but we did have an excellent time walking through, along, up and down these curiosities, and we delighted in finding all the semi-hidden little quirks and touches.

Lincluden Collegiate Church

Although the garden was our main objective, it would have been remiss of us not to check out some of the other attractions that Dumfries had to offer. First stop was the ruined Lincluden Collegiate Church.

This former priory of Benedictine nuns, established in 1160, was found somewhat off the tourist trail, hidden at the back of housing estate. The main attraction of this derelict, but romantic site is the tomb of Princess Margaret, daughter of King Robert III which was built after her death in 1450.

Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum

Next up was the small but well maintained Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum, which is based around the original control tower of the former RAF Dumfries. The museum houses a fascinating collection of aircraft and flight memorabilia, run by an enthusiastic and informative group of volunteers.

We then headed into the center of the Dumfries itself, parking up near the historic Devorgilla Bridge. The bridge was an attraction in itself and very photogenic.

It was first built around 1270 by the Lady Devorgilla of Galloway (her son, John Balliol, became King of Scotland in 1292), but by the middle of the fifteenth century the original wooden bridge was replaced by a stone one.

The Bard

The main reason for our trip into Dumfries, however, was to retrace the steps of Scotland’s national poet, or bard, Robert Burns. There are various museums in Dumfries dedicated to this iconic Scottish hero, but unfortunately, we were well past closing time to visit these, so we contented ourselves with checking out his statue in the town center, the Globe Inn (which was one of Burns’ favourite haunts), and one of his old houses.

The whirlwind Burns tour ended with a trip to St. Michael’s and South Parish Church, where the cultural hero was buried. After his early death of rheumatic fever at the age of 37 in 1796, he was initially buried in the north east corner of the churchyard. His devoted army of fans, however, had other ideas, and in 1817 the money was raised to build a small, but impressive mausoleum.

As it turned out, the churchyard was very interesting in itself, and we spent some time inspecting the somewhat spectacular gravestones.

The mausoleum may have been the end of the road for Rabbie Burns, as he was also known, but it was only the start of the long road home for us. An almost 4 hour journey was now before us, but it did leave us plenty of time to start planning our next trip.

Join us next time when we visit the medieval home of the Teutonic Knights in Torun, Poland.

Until then, happy reading and safe travels!

Barry

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