How to find the letterboxes
While some of the letterboxes are easy to access, others are more challenging to find. Be prepared to ford burns, scramble up hillsides and to meet cattle on your adventure. Leave all gates as you find them. Wear suitable footwear. Please close each box lid carefully when you have used the stamp and supervise children when using the ink pads. Please report any damaged boxes to Dumfries & Galloway Arts Association (email@example.com).
There is a map inside the lid of the box at the Byre indicating the locations of the letterboxes; a postcard listing the names of the confluences and with a space for the stamps can be found there, as can a leaflet for The Hill of Streams (Renga Word-Map) which also includes a map and, again, a space where the stamped impressions can be collected.
Make your way to the first letterbox by continuing for just under 1½ kilometres along the forest road up the glen and across the bridge, until you reach the point where Ramscleuch Burn meets Dalwhat Water; then turn back on yourself to search for the other seven letterboxes downstream.
Click on the map below to find out where each of the eight boxes are positioned.
Alec Finlay The Hill of Streams
Alec Finlay is an artist, poet and publisher. Born in Scotland in 1966, he settled in the North East of England in 2002, when he became the first artist in residence at the new BALTIC Gallery in Newcastle. Recently he has worked as artist in residence at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where he is creating a series of art projects on themes connected with nature and contemporary culture. He was also worked on a series of collaborative poetry and art projects with schools.
‘Your forest is growing into something beautiful… I responded to the place’s calm and the rhythm of the burns that are like a plaid pattern over the glen. And to the names. Only afterwards did I discover that Moniaive means hill of streams. That seems a fitting new title for the project.’
In summer 2005, Alec Finlay and his collaborator Alexander Maris spent a week exploring Cairnhead glen. Out of this experience has come an artwork comprising a walk, photographs, sound recordings and a poem.
With The Hill of Streams (Letterbox Walk), Alec Finlay has traced a truly beautiful walk which follows a course punctuated by eight letterboxes. Each wooden box, mounted on a wooden stob, is concealed close to a point where a burn running down from the hills joins Dalwhat Water in the glen. ‘It was Alexander’s idea that we make our work about the burns and their confluences. This became a perfect way to explore and gradually understand the glen. It allowed us to encounter the flora and fauna, to listen and to look.’
The locations of the letterboxes are indicated on a map inside the lid of a letterbox at the Byre, where postcards listing the confluences can also be found. Inside each letterbox are a rubber stamp and an ink pad. Eight successive impressions taken from these in the course of the walk – which can be done by following Dalwhat Water either upstream or downstream – make up a circular poem.
During Alec Finlay’s visit, eight photographs were taken of the confluences of the smaller burns with Dalwhat Water: ‘ Alexander takes such beautiful photographs. Susan [Maris] recorded the sounds of all the burns like they were music.’
Click below to experience each meeting of waters:
Ramscleuch Burn–Dalwhat Water
Fingland Burn–Dalwhat Water
Back Burn–Dalwhat Water
Lagdubh Burn–Dalwhat Water
Dibbin Burn–Dalwhat Water
Conrick Burn–Dalwhat Water
Benbuie Burn–Dalwhat Water
Glenjaan Burn–Dalwhat Water
Alec Finlay also composed, with Alexander Maris, The Hill of Streams (Renga Word-Map). (Renga is a 1,000-year-old Japanese form of shared writing, a bit like a chain of linked haiku.) ‘It describes a walk from the head of the glen down by way of each confluence. It describes some of the things I saw and some of my responses. Because a renga is a linked verse and involves a number of voices, it is a perfect poetical analogy for the way the burns flow into the river.’
This renga is the first to be written so that it flows in two directions: it first follows Dalwhat Water downstream, and has then been recomposed so that it turns back on itself, flowing from Craigenbeast in the glen back towards the source on the hill.
To view The Hill of Streams Renga, which is typeset to follow the course traced by Dalwhat Water, click here.
The Striding Arches information panels located in the car park at Cairnhead (OS NX700972) are equipped with sound buttons, which, when pressed, allow the visitor to hear extracts from the renga. To listen to the whole renga read by Alec Finlay and Linda France, please visit: www.alecfinlay.com/hillofstreams_audio.html
The Hill of Streams (Letterbox Walk) is part of a worldwide project to install 100 letterboxes with 100 circle poems at locations around the globe – worldwiderubberstampletterboxcirclepoem. For more information on this ten-year artist project, please visit www.alecfinlay.com.