Quest Stage 4 – A Quest to Heal the past and the future? the dramatic arrival at Morton Castle and EAFS 2015.

Principles, Sanquhar standard bearer Keith Wilson, Lockerbie Cornet Dave Beattie, Dumfries Cornet Ross Hyslop, and Annan standard bearer Connan Johnstone with me and Annie the sacred healing water from Hartfell Spa.
Principals, Sanquhar Standard Bearer, Keith Wilson, Lockerbie Cornet Dave Beattie, Dumfries Cornet Ross Hyslop, and Annan Standard Bearer, Connan Johnstone, with Annie and I. The sacred healing water from Hartfell Spa at Moffat.

It’s taken me a while to find the words to write the last stage of Quest. It is multi layered and needed some time to reflect on our journey and the meaning of the environmental art Quest.

So the Hartfell water was collected from the Hartfell spring at 11pm on the 28th August by Daniel Leigh (geology student and third generation Moffat person).

After an overnight stay in Moffat, Daniel set off at 6.30am on the day of the festival (29th August 2015 to bring the water up Queensberry (the highest hill in the region).

At 10.30am the sacred water was collected by myself and principals from Annan and Lockerbie Riding of the Marches and bravely escorted  across the high hills from Queensberry to Kettleton Bothy in Nithsdale arriving at 3.30pm where we would wait for principals from Nithsdale to escort us and the water through their territory to Morton Castle.

As we waited for the principals from Dumfries, Sanquhar and riders from Thornhill to join us, there was a contemplative calm, with horses and riders drinking out of the hilltop streams. It was a timeless moment when a tradition which grew out of fiercely protecting boundaries had been re-imagined to go on a “healing” Quest. Many of the ancestors of the families who went to battle on those high hills, who fought with the Maxwells and the Johnstones were riding on this “healing quest”….very powerful thought!!

Annandale and Nithsdale United - Annan Standard Bearer, Connan Johnstone and Dumfries Cornet Ross Hyslop.....a powerful moment seeing them up in those hills.
Annandale and Nithsdale united – Dashing principals, Annan Standard Bearer, Connan Johnstone and Dumfries Cornet Ross Hyslop ready to escort the water to EAFS 2015…..a powerful moment seeing them up in those hills.

So off we set, Annie in front, Bud Little who was orchestrating the ride broke tradition for me I was very touched when he suggested I went first with the sacred Hartfell healing water. A women leading the Quest and one who was not a principal was unusual although, granted, passionate about history, horses and landscape. I did once get asked to be cornet’s lass in Lockerbie but I was away at art school and wasn’t able to get home from Aberdeen to be at all the ride outs. (It is a big commitment taking part in ride outs leading up to the Riding of the Marches day and then going to all the other Ridings of the Marches across the area during the summer. Then you must committed to ride the following year.) There have been lady standard bearers in Annan, I’m not sure about Lockerbie and Sanquhar and in Dumfries the tradition is slightly different with a pursuivant leading the ride with the cornet and as yet there has never been a lady pursuivant.

Annan Standard bearer Connan Johnstone and myself leading the ride with the Annandale healing water from Hartfell.

The views over Nithsdale were spectacular and our sense of excitement and anticipation was growing as we rode over the hills towards Morton Castle down past Kettleton reservoir, which supplies the whole area with water. What was awaiting us? I had received a message to say the festival was going well when I met the photographer Alex Boyd at Kettleton. He was photographing many of the artworks including Quest although he admitted he was slightly nervous around horses.

Kettleton reservoir

As we set off, Annie, even after seven hours, was thoroughly enjoying herself she was really stepping out in a way she never has before. She seemed to know she had an important mission ahead. I bought Annie five years ago. She seemed depressed when I went to see her but she was let off the lunge rein to jump freely in an indoor arena because I wanted to see her move without a rider. She was like a dramatic Russian actress, I saw her potential. But she suffers from anxiety. Over the years I have tried to find her thing, the activity which will help her realise her potential, help her to be flamboyant and expressive. I worked with holistic practitioners to try to find the route cause of this anxiety. Had she been badly treated when she was young? Had she had a traumatic birth or been in the hands of a nervous rider? Had she a back problem, been eating the wrong diet? It’s even been suggested she may be psychic or needs to be healed from a traumatic past life experience? But she was loving Quest! Horses are often said to take on or mirror the energy of their owners. This journey for me was taking me back to being an artist again…..having worked as a project manager for 13 years I hadn’t had much time to do my own work, to be passionate, flamboyant and artistically free. Was Annie and my journey intertwined? Was Quest going to heal both of us?

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Annie and I having a fantastic time with our principals and riders from five communities. Each flag is different, representing a different town.

Before we talk about the arrival at Morton I thought it would be worth talking a little about the detailed aesthetics of Quest. One of my challenges was deciding what to wear so it would be relevant to the healing water and also respectful to the tradition. After much thought and discussion with friends, I had decided to wear a black jacket although initially I felt it might have military connotations. However I replaced the buttons on the Jacket with  “Q” buttons. The button tradition goes back to the hunts, each hunt has a “hunt button” to denote which area of the country they come from. In Dumfriesshire it is historically a “D” for Dumfriesshire Hunt, and now the “D and S” (Dumfriesshire and Stewartry). It used to be a great honour to be asked to wear the “Hunt Button” and only people who have been loyal to the hunt for a long time are asked. I had approached a hunt button company in Yorkshire to make me Quest buttons and they were very accommodating knowing that it was for an environmental art project.

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Water carrying bag designed by saddler Susan Maxwell, corsage by myself and scarf/stalk created with the help of Morag McPherson.

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“Q’ for Quest button printed by Calcutts and Sons who normally make Hunt buttons.

The corsage had been made by me for the riders, also a tradition in the Riding of the Marches but rather than a rosette badge, which they would normally wear, I had created a Quest corsage using a swan feather, denoting transformation and love, and heather, which is in bloom on Hartfell and in these hills above Morton at this time of year. My friend, textile designer Morag McPherson, had helped me convert an image of the Hartfell stream into a beautiful printed silk scarf that I wore around my neck in place of a riding stock.This had been printed at Glasgow School of Art.

Torpedo water bottles sourced by artist, Katie Anderson who also crafted the drinking cups.

Artist and ex-‘ lass Katie Anderson sourced the torpedo shaped water bottles I was carrying and she crafted beautiful drinking cups with the words, “breathe” and “eternity” on them. Katie and I had long discussions about what words should be used. I love working with Katie she is very talented and I wish she had been able to ride too. The case/bag which was used for carrying the water was designed and crafted by my saddler friend Susan Maxwell in her spare time from her day job as a fire officer. Also crucial to this whole decision making process was Sheila Pollock, healer and ex-cornet’s lass who was both a collaborator and advisor throughout the conception of Quest.

So back to Quest… We had to hang back a little as we were ahead of schedule and our planned arrival was at 6.30pm. I had arranged for food for the riders which was created on the festival communal barbecue by my friend and fellow horse fanatic Sue Carr who is a great cook. Sue knew the practicalities of eating while holding a horse and planned the food accordingly using local produce. So we couldn’t arrive too early.

Trotting along the road to the festival I felt excited but anxious. This was my two worlds colliding – horses and art. Would it work? Would it touch people? Would people get it? What was I going to say when I arrived? I discussed with Bud on the way down towards the castle a little of how we might present the riders and explain the tradition. Sheila Pollock and Katie were going to receive the water. Sheila had planned to say something about its energetic and healing properties but I didn’t know how this would pan out.


Bu my worries were taken away with good humour or “banter” from Ross and Connan who I was riding with at that point. They were keen to know if there would to be any “hot art chicks’ at the festival. Actually there were, as I had spend the summer working with an amazing group of talented young interns, Meredith, Ruardhi, Katie, Daniel, Sian,  Kerry and Debz McDowall, who had encouraged and supported me to orchestrate EAFS and it was thanks to them taking some of the management off my shoulders that I was able to do “Quest”.


The aesthetics of the journey had been carefully planned to create a beautiful experience for the riders and from the perspective of seeing the horses travel through the landscape from a distance, for the castle community and visitors coming across the horses as they walked through the landscape. As the riders approached the castle we had also planned where they would go where they would first be seen from by the EAFS community based at Morton Castle, what time they would arrive, where we would ride and enter the castle, moving in and out of view within the landscape to create a sense of excitement. Was this an art action or a performance or both? Whatever it was it began to feel very natural.

We didn’t plan the magical moment which happened next. As we stood for a moment on the grassy hill opposite the castle looking over to the artists’ community, many of the riders experiencing Morton for the first time, Connan and the other riders very naturally shouted “Ayyyyyyayyyyyyayyyyyy”, the cry of the riders as they enter the town on Riding of the Marches day…… our delight the artists’ community and visitors returned the cry. It was an incredible moment for all of us connecting over the loch, quite emotive and timeless. Knights returning from a Quest, but from a very real history deeply rooted in place. This was not just a performance it was utterly real, utterly authentic.

“Ayyyyyyyayyyyyyayyyyy” the travelling to and fro across Morton loch connecting two communities passionate about the landscape.
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View towards the Land of EAFS, the festival community.

Feeling welcome, feeling like we were coming home we could see the crowds of people, of friends.There was a stillness and the smell of wood smoke from artist Jules Cox’s community barbecue. We set off up the hill and through the wood appearing again at the back of the castle and rode over the grassy dam up towards the castle. Annie was slightly nervous about leading the gallop up to the castle, so Connan went first and we followed. How hugely appropriate on a healing Quest that a “Johnstone” from Annandale, should bring the water to Morton Castle which was historically held at one point by their arch enemies the Maxwells. How poignant. But none of this was planned it was fluid, organic and intuitive.

Riding across the dam up to Morton Castle.
Principles galloping into the EAFS camp at Morton Castle.
Principals galloping into the EAFS camp at Morton Castle.

So we had arrived in this atmospheric and otherworldly temporary community.  Greeted by friends and family it struck me that if there was an environmental disaster and we needed to take to the hills these are the people I would want to share a post apocalyptic community with. Emotions ran high and some people where deeply moved by the experience which makes me proud – it was conceived to touch people’s hearts, their consciousness.


I talked about the water and introduced the principals to the art community before handing the water over to Sheila Pollock and Katie Anderson. Sheila using the water, did a kinesiology demonstration helped by Ruardhi, Sian, Meredith, Daniel and Katie. It was quite a bizarre scene, principles with flags, horses and Sheila demonstrating the quality of the water. Sheila had really put so much thought into this demonstration and it was brave of her to do this in public. Sheila was a cornet’s lass in the 1960s in Dumfries and Katie Anderson was a cornets lass in Annan. This meant they were also connectors between communities.

Later the water went to the fireside conversations we had as part of EAFS 2015. Under the full moon we sampled the water and hoped its power would help us prophesies the future as it was said to have done for Merlin when he retreated up into the forests of Hartfell in the 6th century.

Friend, healer and vibrational medicine practitioner Sheila Pollock, demonstrates Kinesiology with Daniel Leigh, Sian, Ruaridhi and Katie looking on.

The following images are of the communities coming together, horses, artists, local people, friends, relatives, people who have moved to Dumfries and Galloway because they fell in love with this very special place and people whose families go back hundreds and hundreds of years sharing a moment in time. Many, many people had helped me on my journey to create Quest and knew the struggle I had been through over the last 7 years (another story for another time). Thanks to Andrew Lyons and Mike Bonaventura who through their knowledge inspired EAFS and who’s ideas also informed Quest. Thanks to Robbie Coleman and Matt Baker for seeing the potential in Quest and helping my journey back to being an artist and thanks to Bud Little for grounding the Quest and helping make it happen. And thanks for all the new friends I made on the ride.   X

Annie exhausted after her 9 hour epic journey, in need of some Hartfell water!!
The lads looking as tired as Annie. On the left the blond haired lady Anne Smith thanks so much for your beautiful photographs. Centred local legend Alan Moffat who helped organise the Dumfries riders talking to Sheila.


Merlin researcher Justin K Prim (with the horns) and Ross Hyslop, Dumfries Cornet.

I want to share the kind words of artist Mark Zygadlo who experienced Quest first hand:

The most extraordinary moment at EAFS was a demonstration of just this. On Saturday evening a mounted squadron of Cornets from the region’s Common and March Ridings, dressed in full regalia, galloped into the encampment and delivered water from a well at Moffat. Leaving aside the earth symbolism of this journey and the shocking power of the beautiful animals they rode, the meeting of these two communities represented by the Cornets and, let’s call them, the Dowsers, for want of a better description, was perhaps the most significant moment of the weekend. Nothing needs to be done about this except to remember and consider it, and I hope I am doing that here. These are two communities that may never have met before and, one can imagine, may have little time for each other yet here they were standing together on the same ground, on common ground. What could be more significant? This action has made a new community possible.”

Thanks to Richard Buccleuch for being so passionate about the arts and for sharing this stunning landscape with Quest and EAFS, thanks to farm manager, David Rogerson, to Duncan Mackison, thanks to farmer Richard Colley and to Emily Mason and others working on the estate for their advise and support.

Thanks to my family and friends particularly Dugald and Charlotte who had to become feral environmental art children during their summer holidays and to Nicola for helping me with Annie and to Neil for putting up with me doing two jobs.

Quest is just the beginning of a new body of work it has stimulated so many ideas. The next Quest I will do is with Count Nikolai Tolstoy up Hartfell…….coming soon…

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