Words and pictures: Sarah Mason
This was originally published on Sarah’s blog. Thanks for allowing us to repost.
‘Turn left at the bins’. I remembered this instruction given by my aunt and uncle 10 years previously. It seemed like we’d been driving too far on the single track road out of Newton Stewart. But there they were, a line of green flip tops on wheels. A short drive down the narrow lane, and we caught our first sight of Auchinleck Lodge sat on a lush green lawn. I slowed the car down as we passed over the Penkiln Burn on the old stone bridge. My aunt and uncle welcomed us as we hurriedly unpacked the boot, dodging the ever-increasing raindrops. With hot steaming mugs of tea, we sat in the kitchen and watched rivulets racing down the misty window panes.
After a catch-up, we sat in the lounge and watched the curling flames of a new fire. About this time, Suzi was introduced to a new saying: ‘the sun is over the yardarm’. I translated this as gin and tonic time. We were all reading. I’d just started Caught by the River’s collection of short stories written by different folk about bodies of water – how they’ve inspired them, become a part of who they are. My aunt picked it up, and realised that one of the stories was about The Penkiln Burn, the very river that runs at the bottom of their garden. The story is written by Bill Drummond, formerly of The KLF. He grew up close to where my aunt and uncle now live, and in the short story, he remembers the best spots for fishing, and a boulder he used to sit on by the side of the burn where he watched the water and the world around it. ‘This is where I come from, where I belong, and where I will come back to when I die. The passport in my pocket may say different, but this boulder on the bank of this modest river, the Penkiln Burn, is at the core of my existence’.
You can hear the river from the house. As the rain persisted, the volume increased. From the warmth of the house, we watched the burn spill under the bridge, like gallons of ale. The water had started to creep up the garden. That night, after good food, wine, cheese, and the latest family news, I propped myself up in bed and read Bill Drummond’s story about the Penkiln Burn to the soundtrack of the river racing down the valley. In the morning, the rain had passed. We explored Garlieston & The Isle of Whithorn, but more of them on another post.
The next morning, before we headed for the M6 and home, we took a walk around the garden. The smell of wet grass and moss cut through the air. The water had subsided, and the Penkiln Burn shimmered in the morning sun, the raging torrent a distant memory. There’s a bench facing the river, a handy place to watch the water swirling in the pool, and look out for the telltale rings on the surface where a fish has just risen to snatch an unsuspecting fly. I’d just stopped filming the water under the bridge when I saw a salmon leap clean out of the water, suspended in the air for a split second before crashing below the surface once again. It’s a sight that sets my heart racing – it always has done, since I was little, when Dad would take me and my sister on river walks to see if we could spot trout.
As I walked from the river, I thought that this was a garden on the edge of autumn. Between seasons, holding onto the past and not quite ready for the new. The leaves, still mostly green, but the appearance of acorns on the oak, and bright red berries on the rowan. The bracken with brown tinges, and the apples plump & enticing in a Snow White style. The sun, teasing with its beautiful hue, but confusing with its warmth.
As we packed the car again and drove away from Auchinleck Lodge, I slowed down over the bridge and looked back at the Penkiln Burn. A few leaves drifted from the trees and landed on the water’s surface. We said our goodbyes to the garden on the edge of autumn.
Sarah Mason photography / Sarah on Twitter
Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water is available in our shop, priced £12.
Click here to listen to Bill Drummond read ‘The Penkiln Burn’ in a recording produced by John Hirst and Chris Watson.