Recently, the CCC team, one of our trustees, and two colleagues from the biosphere took to the dusty tracks and hiked up to Silver Flowe.
Silver Flowe, it could be argued, is the jewel of peatlands within Galloway.
It lies in the heart of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere
And has been designated a Wetland of International Importance under Ramsar
The name conjures up a flow of silver moving along a valley bottom.
Is that why it’s called Silver Flowe?
Some people reckon it's because the pools look silvery when viewed from above.
Others say it was Slieve or Suilven Flowe: the craggy mountain flow.
Or was it that the flowe was originally surrounded by Silva (woodland)
We eventually reached Silver Flowe – it’s quite a hike. We were not disappointed.
A hidden, remote, huge, empty place
Rimmed by cliffs, rock, mountains and forest
Walkers hate crossing it: if you haven’t got wet feet when crossing the marginal burn, you will have by the time you’ve struggled through tussock grass, heather and moss,
Unless you’re on a path, there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck in a maze of pools too wide to jump and too deeply soft to dare stepping in
not to mention the sinkholes
I’ve been told that landscapes like this can swallow diggers whole. This coloured my experience with a degree of trepidation. But I was in safe hands as I literally followed in the footsteps of the peatland experts navigating their way through a large pool system; my first encounter of a series of dark, shallow, peatland pools.
Don't step into the pools!
I wanted to.
Instead, I chose to sit by the pools, legs outstretched, wellies touching the water. The rest of the crew headed off to find pipe holes and a second pool system at the far end of the site. I wanted to stay and soak up the atmosphere.
Before they left me to my own devises, I was given a High Vis jacket and a whistle – just I case I stepped into difficulty.
As I watched them walk off I felt a strong urge to catch them up: to stay in the conversation, and to see a pipe hole too.
But where their boots had trod had already sprung back.
So I stayed put, to be quite, to be still, to be ‘alone’, in this sublime landscape.
I wanted to appreciate Silver Flowe through my senses and to be inspired.
Art can inform our appreciation of landscapes. In fact, art has informed our appreciation of landscapes and nature and shaped how we protect, conserve, and use (or miss-use) landscapes.
The Italian painters of the seventeenth century shifted public opinions of the Alps from treacherous to magnificent: the sublime. Viewed in the safety and comfort of galleries, the awe and wonder of the Alps became palatable. More, they became hugely appreciated and valued for their magnificent grandeur and beauty; a legacy of those artists that continues today.
These early painters ventured into - what was then - the largely unknown. They took treacherous journeys to be within these landscapes and begin to understand them and capture them through art.
Peatlands have long been maligned, and vilified. They have been perceived as dangerous landscapes, challenging landscapes, and landscapes of little worth or value. They have been:
Divided by tracks
Our knowledge of the value of peatlands has expanded and we now know just how valuable they are as carbon stores. We know they are unique ecosystems supporting flora and fauna that only exists in peatlands. We know they regulate water flow and water quality.
We know peatlands in a very practical sense.
But what of the sensory sense?
Our aesthetic appreciation of peatlands appears to be lagging behind our scientific knowledge.
To fully appreciate these landscape, and for more people to appreciate and connect with them, perhaps we need more artful and alluring interpretations too.
Like the Alps of the past, peatlands are hard to access. They can be remote and require long walks in rugged boots, and then wellies to wade through the wet and the glar. They are also potentially treacherous. Perhaps we need to be able to experience them from the comfort of our armchairs, or at a concert, or in unexpected social spaces.
I sat at the edge of the pools.
Deep hanging-out immersed in the aesthetics of the bog.
Leaning forwards to draw, my elbow crunched on dry purple moor grass, cotton grass, and heather. Then, it sank into the wet ground.
Extreme dryness in contrast to the immediate wetness.
My wellies in the water.
Spiders walking on the surface tension of the pool.
Tiny silver bullets darting across the water surface, dancing together in the sunlight,
frenetically, poetically, yet never once bumping into one another.
The darkness of the peat, the textures of the grasses and mosses.
The subtle colours.
The sound of meadow pipits and bumblebees and the breeze on the grasses and shrubs.
The expanse of the site reaching out to the crags of the Dungeon Hills and the eye being drawn upwards to the sky.
Feeling at the top of the world while in a valley basin.
Extraordinary feelings unlike any evoked from being in other, more romantic landscapes.
Such a landscape has the power to inspire nature and landscape art anew.
One visit is not enough to know Silver Flowe. It’s enough to wet the appetite and get the creative juices flowing – in numerous directions.
Like a spider’s web, my imaginings are radiating outwards from the centre point: Silver Flowe.
Silver Flowe was once an integrated blanket of peatland making its way along the valley bottom to Clatteringshaws, now a manmade loch over a peat bog.
I was not disappointed by my experience of Silver Flowe. I was disappointed that this magnificent peatland has been cut up, divided, afforested, and drained. Human action has the potential and know-how to reconnect this landscape, transforming this valley into what it once was and should be.
This is a huge, rare landscape at the core of the Galloway Forest Park.
It has the potential to be a huge restoration landscape,
a place for beauty, wildlife and carbon at the heart of Galloway.
At present, Silver Flowe is a silver icon entombed in a dark case.
What if... more of the bog could be restored, so that all the peatland on the floor of the glen was covered in soft healthy moss;
What if... the conifers were restricted to the slopes,
What if... native woodland were to fringe the bog with moss, willows and birch buffering and softening the environmental impact of the conifers.
Work continues to open up the landscape.
In future, Silver Flowe could be the beating heart of a living landscape.
With thanks to MAS for her reflections in italics.
For more Silver Flowe refections from our day out together read Reflections from the Bog