For the past 12 months I have been planning a series of poetry trails all around the Upper Nithsdale area of Dumfries & Galloway and I am pleased to say that I am making good progress with my project. My aim is for these trails to inspire more people to learn about the history and beauty of this area through the poetry written about it.
The Upper Nithsdale Poetry Trails were initially inspired when I began to learn about the work of Kirkconnel’s most beloved son, Alexander Anderson. Anderson was an interesting character; beginning his working life as a plate layer (or ‘Surfaceman’) on the railways, before teaching himself a number of languages and later becoming Chief Librarian at Edinburgh University. In between this he wrote many wonderful poems about the area of his birth.
But it was in fact when I discovered the poetry of another Kirkconnel native, Cushie Knowe, when I really began plotting the actual routes. This involved many happy adventures, following in the footsteps of Knowe and Anderson, and many others. There are so many locations and beauty spots which I would never have known about had it not been for the poetry written about them, as well as stories of Upper Nithsdale’s past which I many have never heard had they not been recorded in verse.
The first two trails, The Curlew and The Lapwing, are both epic adventures with a combined length of 90 miles (42 and 48 miles respectively). Of course, these routes can easily be broken up into smaller chunks, with ample accommodation options along the way, or done in little sections on days out. The Heron Trail is a more reasonable and gentle 10 mile circular route. These first three trails take in nearly 50 locations with a different poem written about each one. The other couple of trails I am thinking about plotting in the future will perhaps be driving/cycling routes.
Among the many poems written by old dead dudes, I have tried to include as many more modern poems as I can, including a couple of pieces written by local poets especially for the trails. I tried (unsuccessfully) to have an equal balance in terms of gender with the poets but this proved quite difficult. I don’t describe myself as a Feminist (I prefer to call myself an ‘Equalist’), but perhaps in the future it might be cool to devise a poetry trail consisting of just poems by female poets? That depends, of course, on whether I manage to uncover enough poems to make it work.
There is still a lot more to be done, but I aim to have the first three trails ready by the end of March, along with glossy guide booklets for each route. I really hope that people will enjoy walking the trails as much as I have enjoyed planning them. Keep an eye out here, and on our @rigghousebandb instagram, where I will be updating you on further progress as it happens. And please keep your fingers crossed for me; next week I should be finding out whether or not I am successful in regards to a funding application for this project. Really hoping for some good news!