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11 Jul 2019

Morton Writing Competition – Part IV: The Kirkcudbright Girls / Farpais Sgrìobhaidh Mhorton – Pàirt IV: Clann-nighean Chille Chuithbeirt

Written by Lily Barnes – Morton Documentation and Digitisation Officer
A black and white photograph of two girls sitting in the branches of a tree above a pond or lake.
Two unidentified girls near Kirkcudbright (c1900–20) / Dithis nigheanan neo-aithnichte faisg air Cille Chuithbeirt (c1900–20) © National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House
We asked you to write short stories and poems in response to one of four images from our photographic collections. Here are the winners and runners-up who were inspired by ‘The Kirkcudbright Girls’. Dh’iarr sinn oirbh sgeulachdan goirid agus bàrdachd a sgrìobhadh a’ togail air ìomhaighean às an tasglann againn. Seo an fheadhainn a bhuannaich agus a bha san dàrna àite a thagh ‘Clann-nighean Chille Chuithbeirt’.

Trust in the Tree

Euan Warrick

I trust you tree very much,
When my sister and I sit on your branches,
We feel your barky touch,
You are as strong as a wrestler but you have a kind soul,
Your branches are elegant,
And your bark is old,
In autumn your leaves turn as red as the summer skies,
But in the summer they are as green as my eyes.

I can still remember the day mother found you as a seed,
You were small tiny and weak,
But look at you now with all your might and glory.
You don’t need watered,
And you aren’t weak,
Birds sleep on your branches,
And rabbits live next to you, 
You leaves create shelter like a home.

But now you’re dying,
And you’re turning weak,
So I’ll get an acorn off your branches,
Then I’ll put it in the ground,
And watch you grow.

Winner in the English 0–11 category

In Ma Heid

Matthew Keeley

“There it is!” Ah pointed and Elsie wriggled back intae me. We splashed wur feet, soakin’ the hems ae wur dresses, gigglin’ and pretend-squirmin’ away. But then we dipped wur taes back in, waitin’ tae see it again: slimy skin, a floppin’ tail, big black eyes the size ae fryin’ pans — that’s whit Catherine at school had telt me. Once, it leapt oot the river and snatched ma dolly fae ma hauns wi’ its diamond teeth. When ah telt Mammy, she said ah’ll no be gettin’ anither wan, even when ah said it was Elsie’s fault.

“C’mon, up tae the big rock!” Ah tugged at Elsie’s dress and jumped ontae the pebbles. As ah ran along the bank ah wasnae carin’ aboot the stanes diggin’ intae ma soles and ah could hear Elsie’s wee feet crunchin’ the gravel behind me. When the pebbles turnt tae boulders, ah took big steps, balancin’ fae stone tae stone. The big jaggy rock wis ahead and when ah climbed up onto it, ah scraped ma knees and had tae turn roon’ at the tap tae pull Elsie up behind me.

“Look!” We peered ower the steep drop intae the dark, grey water ripplin’ below. “Ah’ve seen a selkie in there,” ah said. “Catherine says there’s a mermaid too.” The wind pushed at ma skirt and blew ma hair across ma face. Under the water, somehin’ black writhed. Elsie gripped ma haun’.

“Ah want tae see wan up close!” Ah squealed and stepped closer tae the edge but Elsie squeezed ma fingers tighter. “Come on! Ah can tell a’ the lassies at school.”

Ah thought ae them aw, ribbon-haired and squintin’ and Catherine jabbin’ at me wi’ her clean fingernails. Ah pulled Elsie tae ma side, rubbin’ her knuckles wi’ ma thumb, ma gulpin’ breaths matchin’ hers.

“Wan…”

We shuffled wur feet forward, taes clingin’ tae the rough edge ae the rock.

“Two…”

Wur joined hauns swung back and ah sooked in a big breath.

“Three!”

Ma eyes clamped shut and the wind whooshed up ma dress. Ma stomach felt like it wis haudin’ its breath tae and then the freezin’ cold roared ower me, closin’ oot the sound ae everyhin’. At first ah thought a monster had swallowed us up in its jaws until ah burst oot the water again, splashin’ and gaspin’ and kickin’. Ah swished ma arms aroon’ feelin’ fur a scaly tail or warm seal skin. Ah even ducked ma heid back under and opened ma eyes tae look fur a face peerin’ back at me, but it was only blurry green-brown that stung.

When ah waded oot ontae the stony bank, ma dress clingin’ tae me, ah knew Elsie was gone fur th’day. Ah’d meet her here again next time. She wasnae allowed at home. Daddy doesnae take notice ae her but Mammy says I’m too big fur that noo. “Enough ae that ‘Elsie’ rubbish, Mary,” she says. “That’s whit wee weans make up.”

But wait ti’ ah tell Catherine.

Winner in the Scots category

Ùrnaigh

Hannah Morrison

Ruith iad. Ruith iad cho luath ’s a b’ urrainn dhaibh.

Cha robh fios aca dè eile a b’ urrainn dhaibh a dhèanamh. Cha robh seo a’ tachairt. Cha bhi rudan mar seo a tachairt gu nigheanan àbhaisteach mar iad fhèin. Bha suidheachaidhean mar seo glèidhte airson prògraman TBh, chan ann airson beatha fìor. ’S e droch aisling a bh’ ann, smaoinich iad. Dè dhèanadh iad? ’S e an t-àm a bh’ ann gus teicheadh.

Stad iad gu luath air cùl craobh dharach mhòr. Bha iad a-mach à anail a-nis. Bha am pathadh orra, ’s cha robh iad air criomag bìdh ithe airson latha neo dhà a-nis nas motha. Chlisg iad leis an fhuachd. Bha na bodhaigean aca a’ crathadh leis an eagal, a’ ghaoth a’ sèideadh sìos na druim aca. Chuala i a buille-chridhe gu fuaimneach am broinn nan cluasan aice. Ghlac i làmh a piuthair, Sarah, a bha a’ caoidh. Shlìob i na deòir a bha sruthadh sìos a h-aodann agus chuir i corrag suas ri beul a’ phàisd’. Ghabh i anail mhòr agus chur i a ceann bheag ruadh aice air bodhag fuar Lindsay. Dh’fhuiricheadh iad an sin airson greiseag. Neo, ’s e sin a smaoinich iad co-dhiù.

Bha an aimsir na coimeas ri modh na nigheanan. Droch aimsir, droch modh. Bha e ag usage, le sgòthan mòr dorch’ a bha nan laighe mar phlaide dhubh os cionn nan nigheanan. Dh’fhàs an uisge nas làidire agus nas luaithe, ag obair tro gach pìos aodach a bh’ air na nigheanan. Bha iad dhruidhte chun a’ chraiceann. Nas fuaire agus nas cianalaiche na bha iad riamh. Le smuaintean de bhlàths agus fo chabar, thuirt Lindsay ri Sarah, “Tromhad. Gluaisidh sinn gu àite eile, le fasgadh.” Le sin, ruith iad tro an uisge trom, tron choille dhorcha, an uisge a’ leum a-steach do na sùilean aca. Chuala iad an fuaim. Stad iad. Chùm iad sàmhach. Dh’èist iad. ’S e an aon fuaim a bh’ ann a-rithist. Ghreimich na làmhan beaga bìodach aca càch a chèile nas teinne. Bha gach nì cho sàmhach.

Guthan. Na h-aon guthan galldach. Boireannaich agus aon fireannach. Bha e ro anmoch. Chunnaic am boireannach as sinne na clann-nighean. Dè dhèanadh i an turas seo?

“Bidh sinn ceart gu leòr Sarah,” arsa Lindsay ann an guth ìosal. “Bidh sinn ceart gu leòr.” Bha greim teann air na gualain aca. Làmhan làidir gan tarraing air falbh. A-rithist. Ann an greiseag bha na nigheanan air an togail suas agus a-steach dhan bhan. Bha e dorcha agus fuar anns a’ bhan. Bha Sarah na suidhe le a ceann air broilleach Lindsay. Stad a’ bhan. Chaidh an stiùireadh a-steach do seòmar tais, grànda, ràsanach. Cha b’ urrainn dhaibh dòigh fhaicinn gus teicheadh a-rithist. Cha b’ urrainn dhaibh càil a dhèanamh a-nis ach ag ùrnaigh. Ag ùrnaigh gun lorgadh na pàrantan aca iad mus biodh e ro anmoch.

Ag ùrnaigh.

Winner in the Gaelic 12–17 category / Neach a bhuannaich sa Ghàidhlig aois 12–17
(Sarah and Lindsay are fleeing from people who wish them harm. Their hopes for a safe hiding place in the forest are thwarted when their pursuers find them and carry them off, and all they can do is pray that their parents will find them before it’s too late.)

Taobh na craoibhe

Beth Frieden

Cha chreid mi nach eil cuimhne agam air gach duine
a bha còmhla rium ann an craobh.
Tha taobh-a-staigh ann,
agus taobh-a-muigh,
agus an uair sin than craobhan ann,
a’ faighneachd rud beag a bharrachd oirnn
ach a’ tabhainn barrachd dhuinn.

Rùisg an dithis againn ar casan ron chraoibh
agus shreap sinn tro a gàirdeanan
ar craiceann ri a rùsg,
dhan taobh eile sin
agus thùm sinn ar casan
a’ coimhead orra a’ dol cam fon uisge,
gun bhall no ceann san t-saoghal
às an tàinig sinn.

Runner-up in the Gaelic 18+ category / Dàrna àite sa Ghàidhlig aois 18+
(Climbing trees together forms a lasting bond of friendship. The poet remembers someone with whom they once climbed a tree, barefoot and carefree.)

Shades of Time

Holly Stewart

From the wicker basket large beads of water dripped, trailing a thin, damp line behind her on the flagstones as she carried the laundry out of the house and across the garden to the washing line.

The first wet item she pulled up after placing the basket at her feet was a linen sheet. She hauled it over a portion of the line, straightened it out and nipped two wooden pegs onto either end. But ere she bent down to obtain another item, she caught sight of her two young daughters playing by the willow tree overhanging the pond which occupied a portion of the garden. They were each bare-foot and stockingless.

Their mother smiled a sombre smile as their laughter echoed through the warm Spring air. It was that innocent ignorance of children that she prayed would remain with them as long as it could.

The Great War whirled on in foreign lands, but in that moment the languid chatter of birds and wavering warmth of sun could almost cause one to forget entirely the brutality that was being suffered elsewhere. However, her mind was ingrained with ghastly thoughts conjured up on sleepless nights of her husband and son who had each enrolled. She knew, then, nothing of their location nor their health and that tore at her more now that the war was approaching its final few months. She longed, then, to know the innocence of childhood again.

She glanced back at her daughters, still crouching in gay chatter by the pond, and all at once that scene recalled in her mind one of her own childhood, before reality had severed from it the fantasy. She was brought back to a moment when war was an unknown word to her. It was the day her own mother took she and her sister to the river near the cottage where they lived.

They had thrown off their own boots and stockings and run down to the waterside, its silvery surface barely moving until they slipped their little feet in, grabbing at twigs and branches of a trees corpse that lay in the river to support themselves as they waded in glee further into the water.

She smiled at the memory. Then the smile faded from her face; her mother was gone now and she never knew what became of her sister.

Runner-up in the English 12–17 category

Da Aald Hoose

Marissa Henry

Dir wis a smaa beam o light shining in da middle o da room,
Trough a boannie shaped window,
But dir wis darkness in da corners,
Whar a chair sits lonely in da dark,
A door sits juist open on da idder side o da room.

Apun da fireplace sits a photo o da boanniest lasses,
Dey sit apo a tree branch, smilin and laughin.
Next tae da fireplace is a carpet.

Just imagine.
Da twa boannie lasses sitting playin in front o da warm fire
Dir midder and faidder watching dem as dey play.

Da nixt day dey’ll maybe watch dir faidder tae geen tae his work trough da window,
Wha keens whit will happen next. Only dey wid keen.

Written in Shetland dialect. Special mention in the Scots category


Special thanks to the Gaelic Books Council for their assistance with judging, and their generous offer to provide prizes for the Gaelic runners-up. If these stories have made you interested in learning Gaelic, find out more about the work of the Gaelic Books Council or find them on Twitter at @LeughLeabhar

The Morton Charitable Trust has been funding fieldwork on the National Trust for Scotland’s photographic collections since 2014. In 2018–19, this work will further raise the profile of the collections through research, articles, talks and dedicated projects. The project will also involve the digitisation of the Margaret Fay Shaw photographic archive of mid-20th-century Hebridean life, leading to an updated database with high-quality images.

Banner of four different images: Kellie Castle tower; two girls; cat and crayfish; small boy in front of wall