Biggar, Brownsbank and thistles

MacDiarmid's thistles

Thistles grow at Brownsbank – rather appropriate

Off a couple of sunny but breezy days ago through hills and Tweed Valley to Biggar where Independent Bookseller of the Year for Scotland 2013, Atkinson Pryce (, was holding one of a number of talks as part of a week-long national celebration of Independent Booksellers. In intimate surroundings, glass of wine in hand, we listened to Imogen Robertson talk about the way she writes, and about her latest novel The Paris Winter, published by Headline Review.

Separation by Hugh MacDiarmid

Hanging on a wall in Atrkinson Pryce bookshop a print of MacDiarmid and a verse by him on Separation. Below is MacDiarmid’s signature.

Biggar is a small, historic town full of museums, a puppet theatre too, and with a close connection to one particular Scottish writer and poet. Christopher Grieve (better known as Hugh MacDiarmid) lived for many years with his wife in a farm labourer’s cottage up a track a mile and a half outside the town.

Plaque to MacDiarmid in Biggar

Plaque, with another thistle, on a building near Gladstone Court Museum which was opened by MacDiarmid in 1968. The inscription reads ‘Let the lesson be – to be yersel’s and to mak’ that worth bein’.’

A leading light of the 20th century Scottish Renaissance, MacDiarmid prompted controversy through his work and politics. He wrote in both English and Scots with probably his best-known work being his 1926 book-length A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, regarded as one of the most important long poems in Scottish 20th-century literature and one of the great poems of Modernist literature.

Brownsbank, near Biggar

The track winds up the hill past Brownsbank Cottage where MacDiarmid and his wife once lived.

Blue gate at Brownsbank

Brownsbank Cottage, near Biggar where MacDiarmid and his wife lived for many years

Brownsbank Cottage has been restored by Biggar Museum Trust to the way it was (artifacts and books included) during the period of MacDiarmid and his wife Valda  – from 1959 until 1978 (when MacDiarmid died) to Valda’s death in 1989. During their lifetimes renowned literary admirers from near and far were drawn to the remote cottage.

Thistles – but sober ones

Another of MacDiarmid’s thistles – this time a carved wooden door-knocker.

Over the last 20 years writing fellowships have been offered to writers, willing to provide time each week to encourage and support writing in the community whilst pursuing his or her own work. To date, the Brownsbank Fellowship has been held by five writers  – James Robertson, Matthew Fitt, Gerry Cambridge, Aonghas MacNeacail, Linda Cracknell and, most recently Andrew Sclater.

I see a horseshoe

Through the window at Brownsbank Cottage, restored to the way it was in MacDiarmid’s day.

The drive back home in the late evening, surrounded by shades of green and with the sky still full of soft light, was a fitting end to an interesting visit.

Seat at Brownsbank Cottage

To sit where MacDiarmid sat and see the world through his eyes.

‘…to be yersel’s and to mak’ that worth bein’ is surely a phrase worthy of remembering.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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7 Responses to Biggar, Brownsbank and thistles

  1. What a sweet little cottage… thanks for sharing your day in Biggar.

    • Yes, it looks sweet, but I rather think living in its cramped rooms would would be a challenge. I’m not sure it even has electricity, and its probably damp. Great that it is now looked after and available for other writers to use, if even for brief periods.

  2. Walter says:

    This peaceful cottage where a writer produced his work. A nice post and photos are great.
    Esta cabaña pacífica donde un escritor realizó su obra. Una lindo post y las fotos son geniales .

    • Thank you. Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if something of the spirits of MacDiarmid and his wife still lingered. I like places such as this that tell of the lives of ordinary people.

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