A map of memories

Today I went on a journey without leaving my living room. Busyness and a bout of flu have meant that I have not been able to get out and about recently and I was feeling restless so, as an antidote, I decided to explore a map. This is something I have always enjoyed doing. Maps are so much more than a tool to get from one place to another; I find a map can transport me to another, perhaps unfamiliar place, but it can also trigger memories of past engagements with places, reminding me of those locations that I know or used to know. Maps engage the imagination and they are works of art in their own right. Even as a child I was fascinated by maps and I even remember settling down with a piece of paper to draw my own maps of imaginary places. My early adventures in cartography were always of islands, if I remember correctly, with topographical features annotated and contours drawn, then neatly folded to mimic the Ordnance Survey maps with which I was familiar. I no longer try to draw my own maps, but that fascination has never waned and if anything has increased, particularly with the availability of historic maps online. Now it is possible to explore the spatial history of a place at the click of a button. But my starting point today was my own small collection of OS paper maps. Browsing through the maps stacked on my bookcase, I selected the 1:50000 map of Stirling and decided to look for the village of Kippen. A short distance west of Stirling, this was the home of my grandparents when I was a child. I have many happy memories of staying with them in their little cottage, of day visits with my parents and of the village that I found fascinating when I was younger. It seemed like a good place to start.


With that familiar rustle of the paper, I unfolded the map and located the small settlement that is Kippen. Positioned at a crossroads, it appears to draw the roads together in a four pronged embrace. It sits among the contour lines depicting the edge of the hills and the beginning of the flat expanse that is Flanders Moss. Such is the change in topography here that the map appears to change colour, from the orange of the contour-rich hillsides, to the abrupt white of the flat valley floor. Settlements cluster at the valley edges among the contours, while single farms are strung along straight roads across Flanders Moss. This is a discontinuous landscape, and a human landscape of different ages. Perched between the Gargunnock and Fintry Hills, overlooking the valley of the River Forth, Kippen sits at a transitional point; a key location elevated above the flat expanse below. I could picture the steep and winding climb up the hillside, from the main road that pushes straight across the valley floor, up the hillside to Kippen above. A journey I took many times in my parent’s car as a child. As I looked at the orange line of that road on the map, I noted the intriguing annotation of ‘earthwork’ in antiquity script adjacent to that road and took a mental note to investigate further.


Gazing closer at my map, I tried to make out the location of my grandparent’s cottage. I could find its general position in the village, but the map I had chosen was not detailed enough to pinpoint it exactly. So instead, I returned to it in my memory. It was set down a little lane, that small cottage. I remember a large (or so it seemed to me) back garden full of lush flowers, greenery and fruit bushes tended by my grandparents. There was a little pond at the bottom of the garden with golden fish and a net to protect those fish from hungry herons. Then, closer to the cottage, there was the intriguing coal shed, holding the coal for the open fire in the living room; interesting because no-one else I knew had a coal shed. In fact no-one else I knew had an open fire. The novelty made it curious. I remember the little clock in the kitchen with the cuckoo who could never quite say ‘cuckoo’ correctly and the steep stairs leading up to the attic bedroom, where I would sleep when staying with my grandparents. I remember lying in bed there, listening to the village clock chime in the night. I remember, too, afternoon walks down to the bottom of the lane, turning either left or right onto the ‘old road’. A favourite walk of mine, for even as a small child I found anything that was old fascinating. Turning left, the road descended the hill until a gate blocked progress. Right took us back towards the village, past fields and then spaced cottages until we reached what I remember as a small cobbled courtyard with clustered old buildings. On one side was a wheel rim anvil, an unusual and incredibly fascinating object for me, and the old smithy. I don’t remember this smithy being open or in use, apart from once perhaps more than 30 years ago when, one weekend while staying with my grandparents, it was opened up and put to work as a smithy for one day only. I think it must have been a gala day or similar event, for in my mind I connect the smithy opening with seeing a gala queen crowned in the main street. Whatever the reason, this was an unusual event and the village had come out to view this workshop in operation. I don’t remember much of that visit, but I do remember a red-hot fire, a man standing by it, metal tools and a sense that I was seeing something old and unusual. I must have been interested for, although I know I was very young, it has stuck in my mind. I was reminded of that visit recently when I came across images of a survey of that smithy undertaken by RCAHMS last year (https://canmore.org.uk/site/228519/kippen-rennies-loan-the-smithy). It looks to be in a much more sorry state than I remember, but still recognisable as the workshop of a metalsmith, complete with anvil, tools and bellows. It is an echo of an older village, a ghostly reminder of Kippen’s past when the blacksmith was central to the life of a village.

My map reminded me, too, of my own past. I remember the wide main street, the little newsagent’s shop where my brothers and I were permitted to choose a small toy for ourselves when we came to visit. I remember endless moments of indecision in that shop as I tried to choose from the tempting plastic toys, and nearby the small playpark with enticing climbing frame. I remember, too, the stone horse trough, solid and green with age, still holding water, by the side of the road near my grandparent’s cottage. As a child, I always wanted to stop and look at it and I remember my grandmother happily indulging my curiosity. For some reason, that old horse trough intrigued me. It was an important landmark in my childish mind. I remember too idyllic autumn afternoons picking brambles in the countryside around village. Intrepid expeditions with our plastic containers, filling both them and our mouths with the sweet fruit, my grandfather always able to pick the hardest to reach, juiciest of the fruits.

It is a long time since my grandparents lived in Kippen and a long time since I waked around those once familiar streets. I know now that the ‘old road’ that we used to walk and on which the smithy is positioned is indeed very old, for it is thought to be the original route through the village to the market cross. A medieval route, for Kippen is a medieval village. The clue is in its layout, with the meeting of routeways at the market cross, but also in the old parish kirk, known to have been built or rebuilt in 1691. Not, though, the oldest ecclesiastical foundation in the village as there has been a church at Kippen since 1238. Knowing the antiquity of the village, I turned to the historic maps and found Kippen on Roy’s map of 1745-1755. It is shown as a little settlement comprising a crossroads with buildings lining a long street. My grandparent’s cottage, constructed sometime in the 19th century, has not yet been built. But this map provides another perspective on the village. The map itself is split into highland and lowland and Kippen, at the junction of that divide, is depicted on both, a rare accolade. But although the village itself does not differ materially between the maps, the depicted surroundings do and this has a profound influence upon how this little village may be interpreted. On the lowland map, the village teeters on the edge of blank space, appearing to tentatively reach into the unknown that is the highlands, a last outpost of the lowlands. But, on the highland map, it sits comfortably among cultivated fields, firmly rooted in its rural location. At the junction between highland and lowland, it appears as a village that doesn’t quite know its place in the landscape; it truly was and is a transitional place.

Kippen_historic map

I realise that I have not travelled far in my exploration of my map, but I am satisfied with my little journey for I have travelled into a place connected with fond memories and one that will always remain special to me. I have explored a place that I will never be able to fully return, my own map of memories. For even if I do visit Kippen again, it will not be the place that I saw through my childish eyes. Instead, altered by time and age and with my perception and understanding of the world profoundly changed, it will look and feel different from those memories. But that does not erode the connection I feel to this place. Nor can it diminish my memories, and the fondness I continue to feel for this little village. High above the Forth valley, it is a lovely place, suffused with remembrances of the past and, with my grandparents buried in the little cemetery down the road, one to which I am forever connected.

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