Even without this skittish, Scottish wind I’d be shivering.
I’m standing at The Martyr’s Stake, a pillar-and-cairn memorial to two local women, Margaret McLauchlane, aged 63, and Margaret Wilson, aged 18, who were executed in 1685 for committing to the Presbyterian faith and refusing to recognise the English King as spiritual head of the Scottish church. On this spot, on the wide saltmarsh wildness of Wigtown Bay, the two women were tied to a stake and left to drown as the fickle tide trickled in.
Mixed in with the wind, I think I can hear the distant whistle of a rock pipit, but otherwise, there’s little sign of the rich bird life I’ve been expecting. Beyond the memorial, just a few scattered cattle graze on tufts of red fescue. Even Hooper, my bouncy young Labrador, usually boundlessly excited at the mere glimpse of a cow, is subdued here, keeping close to my side on the boardwalk instead of plunging onto the spongy surface of the merse, and neglecting to lift his leg against a stone upright for the first and only time in his life.
dark clouds smother
the huddle of hills –
a curlew cries
Turning my back on sandflats and firth, I scoot up a lane to reach the soothing centre of Wigtown. There’s a well-pruned park, a much-preened bowling green and a main street teeming with second-hand bookshops. One of these, ‘ReadingLasses’, bills itself as the only second-hand bookstore in the whole of the UK to specialise in women’s studies - since it also has a café, I claim a table outside, hoping the rain’s not quite set to arrive. While Hooper slurps from his water bowl, then plonks a muddy paw on my knee to cadge a treat, I peruse the menu, eschewing the ‘witty and satirical’ Cappuccino Jane Austen and choosing, instead, the Latte Virginia Woolf, topped with chopped almonds and whipped cream.
The first sip slips like stream of consciousness down my throat, and my mind shifts again to the agonising end of the two Margarets, martyred on the marsh.
mudflat memory –
curved beaks seek
Reprinted from British Haibun Society Haibun Anthology, 2009.