Odin’s ravens are poised to fly at dawn and scour the world to bring back news to the All Father. We sit on Odin’s throne beneath his ravens, Huginn and Munnin, Old Norse for thought and memory. We’ll need both in contemplation of the Galloway Hoard displayed at Kirkudbright Galleries. We’ll need curiosity and a willingness to consider afresh how Anglo-Saxon and Viking cultures interacted in Galloway in turbulent times.
A morning of sharp showers and billowing sunlit cloud over Mersehead. Alone in the hide at the visitors' centre, we watch birds feeding at tree-stumps spread with seed. Come to the dining table.
Yellowhammer call somewhere in leafy hedgerows merging with banks of vegetation spilling down to the path, providing the cover the birds need in the breeding season. Feeding the birds shows them in close-up and in detail. There are greenfinch, chaffinch, tree-sparrow and a stunning male yellowhammer.
A small boat lies out in the river, inviting us to venture over to the island and ruined castle, to explore and immerse ourselves in the beauty and tranquillity of the morning. ‘I could swim out and fetch the boat, if you like,’ he offers. Jackdaws fly into niches high in the tower, patterned like a dovecot. A peregrine flies over the ruin, perhaps her nest is in the tower. Doves wouldn’t last long with a peregrine about.
Mary Magdalene shows on the Ruthwell Cross, washing Christ's feet. Surrounding the images is a Latin text and Anglo-Saxon runes. In 700 AD Ruthwell was part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. We drove to this out-of-the-way little church to see the stone cross but I confess I was distracted.
The morning was sunlit with an ambience of lushness and May flowers. The church looks out onto green pastures and the churchyard was alive with house martins who had built their nests up against the corbels beneath the eaves. We walked amongst the lichened tombstones, half-hidden to the birds which flew in low, calling all about us. We watched them busy about their nests, mending them, tending their broods. Ruthwell is a low, little church and we were so close to the birds.
From a secret place looking down into the cliff face I have a perfect view of a male redstart. Each morning in early May I listen for a cuckoo and, not finding him yet, I return to sit and contemplate this handsome male redstart. I hear him singing across his territory and wait for him to return to his favoured perch. I can't work out whether he knows there are females listening to him, or sings simply in the hope of attracting them into his territory. Then he flies from his perch in display and alights again, showing his colours in a fresh perspective. It's a bravura performance.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)