Thursday, 20 September 2012

Leave Nothing But Footprints.

Yesterday I walked to St Ninian's Cave. It's a wonderful place, at the very tip of the Machars in South West Scotland. It strains to be the most southerly point, falling a little behind the Mull of Galloway, another peninsula, visible across the waves to the west.
It was a very windy day and as I walked down through the glen, the trees that have grown so tall searching for the light creaked and groaned, their crowns top heavy. The forecast was for rain but the sun was shining and the strength of the wind almost knocked me from my feet as I arrived at the beach, emerging from the shelter of the narrow glen.
It is a lovely place, a place of pilgrimage since the time of St Ninian in the fourth century. There is a path that will take you along the coast to the Isle of Whithorn, but most people follow in the footsteps of previous pilgrims as far as the cave and then retrace their steps. Taking away the memory of the place but leaving nothing. The cave, and the cobble beach featured in the cult film 'The Wickerman' but even this little piece of cinema history is not shared with visitors. There is no information board down at the beach, though there is something about St Ninian and pilgrimage at the car park.
Yet someone has left their own little plaque, riveted and cemented into the rock in this wild place. They felt the need to have something professionally engraved about how they 'chilled out' in this 'special place'. And there it is attached to the rock as you walk by on the way to the cave where many have scratched tributes and memories of loved ones into the walls. But not permanent memorials. People leave stones chosen from the beach or crosses made from driftwood. A number of small cairns trace the route to the cave, cairns that will change, grow, collapse and perhaps disappear with a high spring tide.
However special this place is to the family who left the metal plaque, whatever grief or difficulty they were having, I fail to understand why they needed to display this so publically in a place where so many remember in private.

Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.
~Motto of the Baltimore Grotto, a caving society

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