TAC 35 Index
It's been a while since TAC discussed "Electric" streams or lochs. The idea comes from Electric Brae in Ayrshire, and involves any tarmac or water which appears to slope the wrong way, or any loch which drains in both directions. There are surprisingly many of these, but little new information of late. Perhaps the world has been waiting, eagerly, for hot theories and revelations. Perhaps not. Either way, Graham Benny hasn't forgotten ...
Noo, Sark runs tae the Solway strands,
And Tweed runs tae the ocean,
Tae mark where England's province stands ...
"Parcel of Rogues", Robert Burns
Wouldn't it be nice and neat if there was a wee electric stream connecting the Sark and Tweed, or their tributaries, to provide a "proper" geographical boundary to fit Burns' definition?
With this in mind I started a search of the relevant OS maps, as one usually does anyway in the dark and dreary arse-end of the year when most spare time is spent indoors. (Although nowadays map searches tend to be devoted to finding obscure names and features for quiz answers!) The obvious starting point was around the watershed on the political border, but this revealed nothing more than a few areas where there was probably plenty of water lying about, trying to decide whether to seep away to the North Sea or the Atlantic - but no definitive thin blue lines. The search widened.
Before I realised how far from the Border I had travelled, cartographically speaking, there it was, like the treasure on a pirate's map: a blue line joining the west-flowing Garvald Burn and the east-flowing Tarth Water near Dolphinton. The Tarth soon became the Lyne Water which in turn flowed into the Tweed. But following the Garvald westwards into the South Medwin then into the Clyde near Carnwath ... the Clyde! Wait a minute; this won't do, I must have missed something. Back to the map, frantically searching for an elusive blue line anywhere south of this shocking discovery. Soon another candidate revealed itself, running east-west across the flats between Biggar and Broughton and joining the Tweed and Clyde at their closest points. But it was still the Clyde and not something more acceptable like the Nith.
Perhaps searching maps was not the correct approach. There was another possible source of information, with an impeccable pedigree: the editor's wee stroll up the country without crossing water (allegedly). Re-reading the first chapter of Walking The Watershed eventually led, on Day 11, to an unavoidable water crossing - between Biggar and Broughton! "Now, between roads nine and ten, comes an awkward obstacle ... The wide strath connecting Clyde and Tweed, seven miles in length, contains a daunting irrigation ditch: sluggish and deep, steep muddy banks dropping to dark, reedy water giving no hint of a bottom ... So flat is this stretch of land between the two great rivers that times of exceptional flood see the Clyde burst its banks and spill into the Tweed - technically creating an island of Scotland north of here." Confirmation, alas!
The implications of this (almost) natural boundary were initially too horrific to contemplate. Where, geographically, did England's province stand? On this evidence, it could be argued that the whole of south-west Scotland belongs to the English land mass. As an Ayrshireman, born and bred, my own Scottish credentials were now under threat. A retreat to the pub to regroup my thoughts was called for. Over a few pints of Greenmantle Ale, brewed in Broughton, right on the "Scottish" bank of this usurper of an electric stream, the full horrors unfolded. The great heroes of Scottish history - William "Braveheart" Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and even Rabbie Burns himself - were all from the wrong side of the watery divide. And more modern Scottish heroes would have to be removed from future history books - Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson, Ally MacLeod ... (OK I'm a closet Ayr United fan). My only consolation seemed to be that at least when I moved from Ayrshire to Glasgow I had chosen the north, Scottish, side of the Clyde to live on. But hold on: the Biggar/Broughton ditch is an artificial feature and must have been constructed long after the time of the historical heroes, so they were redeemed. That still left the rest of us in limbo ... until salvation arrived in the shape of the Abberley Hill saga in TAC32's Baggerwatch column! Applying the Abberley Uncertainty Principle, the status of this artificial feature is open to debate, and thus cannot be considered to exist until a decision is reached.
But the AUP ("Ey up?" Is thee Derbyshire, me duck? - Ed.) might also apply in reverse to the original Border problem. There is a short stretch of supposedly dry ground at Note o' the Gate (NT588029) between the Caddroun Burn, which flows Solwaywards, and the Swire Sike, which makes it to the Tweed. Anyone got a JCB?
Ed. - But for how long will the AUP apply? Read David Purchase on p13. Also of interest is a passage from p319 of David Marshall's excellent Best Walks in Ireland: "... here is one of the few places I have experienced that peculiar phenomenon of water running uphill. One December morning whilst ambling up the bohereen over Bull Bog and towards Monicknew Bridge, after a night of incomparably heavy rain ... my head bowed towards the horizon, the river coursing over the asphalt was actually running, at a most alarming rate, straight uphill towards me ... it was an illusion created somehow by the route of the bohereen up the flanks of Monicknew Glen and the height of the hedges there. But it was only by making myself very conscious of my footfall that I convinced myself that I was slowly climbing, and that the water running toward me was actually going downhill. This phenomenon continued for several hundred metres as I progressed up the glen. Safe as it is, it can be a very disorienting experience after a few minutes, creating the strangest sensation in your stomach."
TAC 35 Index