Sunday, June 09, 2013

Criffel: a "sweetheart" hill climb near Sweetheart Abbey...and dreaming patiently.

Just discernible across the Solway Firth...
the summit of Criffel rises, alone on the horizon.
When I was eight years old, we returned to the UK for an extended visit and spent much of that time in Silloth, a picturesque little town by the sea, in Cumbria. I would sit with my grandfather, at the end of the drive, and look across the vast water of the Solway Firth to Scotland. On the distant shore, there was a prominent mountain, Criffel. I wondered what it would be like to climb to the very top and look back - all the way to England! I dreamed of doing exactly that.

Dreams are important. They can excite and enthuse and spark imaginations. They can expand comfort levels. Besides all that, they're fun, even if they're "just dreams".

Several days ago, Joan and I were back in Silloth and looked across the Firth. The mountain didn't seem quite as high as I had remembered, but the memories returned. Now was the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.

Zooming in on the "whaleback" contour of Criffel.
The following morning, it was just an hour's drive to the mountain that had first beckoned, some fifty-five years ago.

There are a couple of possible trailheads near the town of New Abbey - the home of the very, very, old "Sweetheart Abbey".

The still-standing 700-year-old abbey church.
The ancient Abbey of Dulce Cor (Latin for "sweet heart") was established in 1273 by Lady Devorgilla Balliol in memory of her husband. John Balliol was the father of King John l of Scotland - and the founder of Balliol College at Oxford University. Missing him terribly, she had his heart embalmed, and kept it with her in an ivory box wherever she went. At her request, it was buried with her when she died. 

Once a centre of prayer and contemplation 
and staffed by monks who knew a thing or two about agriculture.
After a visit to the abbey, it was time to get on the hill. After speaking with the mobile postmistress, an enthusiastic hill walker, the "short and sharp" route sounded like the most timely option. She warned about the "bog".

Leaving the trailhead at Ardwall farm, there is an excellent path through the forestry land. No bog here!

It was clearly going to get steeper, time to expand the hiking poles.
Climbing higher, the flatlands and the Nith Estuary become an increasingly dramatic vista.

When the "excellent path" ended, the grade increased substantially and the bog began. It was, indeed, a slog - but hey, that's part of the fun. Right?

There were "several" pauses to catch our breath.
Loch Kindar is down below.
As the tide ebbed way down below at sea level, immense sand flats appeared in the estuary.

After climbing for 528 m (1732 feet), the Ordnance Survey trig point... 

An amazing 360 degree view!
...and the massive cairn of stones at the summit appeared. 

Between rocks and a trig point.
It would have been nice to stay and linger the rest of the day.

Looking across the Solway Firth, to the shores of England.
But it was time to head back down.

Visibility CAVOK - and dramatic!
The return to the trailhead parking lot was by the route of ascent...but in slightly better time.

Speaking of "sweethearts". (The one with the ball cap.)  ;)
In some ways, it seems like an eternity since I sat with my grandfather and gazed across the Solway Firth, dreaming about standing at the top of that special Scottish mountain. In other ways, however, time has compressed and it seems like just yesterday.

I've learned over the years that it is important to live in the moment. Having said that, it is also important to dream. Dreams have a wonderful way of being fulfilled if you hold onto them...and, of course, move purposely in their direction. Fifty-five years was a long time to wait to stand on the top of Criffel.

Patience, therefore, is usually essential.

This day was worth waiting for, and it was a "sweetheart" of a hill climb.



  1. Dreams are wonderful, they give us hope. Glad that you were able to fulfill your dream from so very long ago. Cool car and a "sweet" sweetheart you got there ;)

  2. Hi L, I think you're right. Holding onto a vision of something especially meaningful, draws us forward with anticipation and hope. Yeah, the car is just a "loaner", the one with the ball cap on has put up with me for 40 years so I guess I'm kind of "permanent". Haha! Appreciate your comment. D.

  3. Hi Duncan and Joan
    Beautiful pictures and blog. That is an "interesting" story about the Sweatheart's heart.
    I am glad you are having a wonderful time!
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  4. Thanks so much, Jen. The story of Lady Devorgilla is rather touching. She was quite a "lady", indeed, and did much good philanthropy amongst those of her time. Warm wishes to all. Duncan and Joan.