Marion Hume | July 30th, 2011
Photo Courtesy of Striding Arches
The challenge with loving the work of Andy Goldsworthy is that his monumental site specific art is hard to visit; on an ice flow; in the middle of a forest. Goldsworthy is one of the foremost artists working in the landscape. So you have to hike through a fair bit of that landscape to enjoy his creations.
Grab hiking boots, Kagool and Explorer map OS 328 (2 and a half inches to the mile), drive to the little Southern Scottish village of Moniaive, hope to spot the one road sign to Striding Arches, then drive on. And on. And on until the road has turned to track and you are sure you have done more than seven miles. You are in Cairnhead although there’s nothing to tell you so. Eventually, the track peters out and up a hill, you’ll see a stone barn. Walk up to it. A Dumfriesshire sandstone arch seems to leap out of an old stone walls of a byre. It is a work of wonder and yet, like all things Andy Goldsworthy, you cannot articulate why it is so powerful.
Turn around. Way in the distance, on the top of a faraway hill, you will see a vast sandstone arch, four metres high with a span of seven metres and weighting 27 tons. If they could haul those rocks up there, you can walk it, right?
Start walking. Uphill. Even though the sun is shining, don’t be surprised if on the hike ahead, you experience heat stroke, lashing rain and mist so thick you can’t see your own arm, this being Scotland, after all. You did pack the map? And the GPS? And a compass in case it fails? And the torch? And the sandwiches? And the whisky? You’ll be there by a week next Tuesday. But you will be so thrilled.
Visiting the arches is challenging. You’ll cross open moorland and forest tracks. A 6 mile walk (one way) takes you to Colt Hill arch (altitude 598). It’s 9 miles (one way) to Benbrack arch (581) and there’s no marked track to Bail Hill arch (517) so you will need to find your own way to the arch you
can see from the Byre.
From each of the three hilltop arches, you can see the others. The complete perimeter walk heads over hilly terrain, with the idea that walkers themselves mark out a track over time. The arches echo the stories of the Scottish people; emigrating and returning; driven out of their lands and
being called back.
You could however just do The Byre, then turn around and see the arch far away on Bail Hill and be utterly satisfied. After all, there’s always next time, when you’ve remembered to pack the full Scottish survival kit including, of course, your Tunnocks biscuits for when the going gets really tough.