Caught by the River

Letter from Dumfries and Galloway

2nd November 2009

From Frank Cottrell Boyce;

At this time of year, Dumfriesshire mornings have the look of a Balkan war. The muddy roads are thronged with pick-ups full of gun-toting men and women in camoflage jackets. The beautifully edible barnacle geese have arrived. From a distance, the great skeins arriving from Iceland look like faint scribbles in the sky. Close up, it’s a bit different.
Today we walked down to the WWT reserve at Caerlaverok. Sunken walkways shielded with hawthorn and brambles, stretch out into the goose-grazed merse. Looking out from the hides, we saw what looked at first like a big, grey rocky outcrop. Then the rock formation swelled into a massive mexican wave and a couple of thousand barnacle geese lumbered into the sky. They wheeled and crossed the lane, two thousand stone of honking goose meat battering the air just a few feet over our heads.
A couple of hundred whooper swans are also wintering here. The rangers feed them at two o’clock every day. At ten to two, the swans swagger out of the pond and form an orderly queue, waiting for the ranger with the yellow wheelbarrow full of grain. One of the older males is tagged with some kind of tiny satnav device according to which he got from Iceland to Annandale in eleven hours. Which is more amazing? The fact that a swan can pass onto its young the information that there’s yellow wheelbarrow just off the A74 that’s really worth queueing for. Or the fact that a barnacle goose can come year after year to the same spot on the Solway and never seem to notice that if you go past the castle, you’ll get shot.