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Jim Gilchrist recalls an unexpected reed encounter amid the Kirkmichael International Guitar Festival


I HAD just left Kirkmichael’s eponymous parish kirk, having enjoyed an wonderful recital there given by Martin Taylor, renowned jazz guitarist, local resident and presiding genius of the April festival when this picturesque little Ayrshire village becomes guitar capital of the world. I was in a bagpipe-free zone, or so I thought, but then I had an interesting little encounter in the kirkyard.

The kirk was built in the late 18th century, and its churchyard, according to the Rev. R Lawson, in his Places of interest About Maybole (1891) “is one of the sweetest ‘God’s acres’ in this neighbourhood. It has indeed all the elements of beauty and interest in a typical Scotch burying- place. It has a church in its centre to impart a living human interest, is embosomed in trees, encircled by a burn (the Dyrock), possesses one of the oldest tomb- stones in the county (1506), and, most precious of all, can boast of a Martyr’s monument, so dear to the Scottish heart.”

Ambling about this mossy backwater, intimations of mortality jostling with lingering strains of the sweetly laid-back improvisation on What a Friend We Have In Jesus with which Taylor had finished his recital, I found myself regarding an ancient gravestone, dated 1721. On one side is a lichen- blotched inscription commemorating Arthur Fulton, miller of this parish, but the other sports a fairly lively trio of figures. They include a gesticulating angel, probably representing the late miller’s soul, with a mill wheel beside him and the symbolic bone at his feet, and a winged child angel, clinging to her senior. But on the left, a wee lad is sitting playing what looks very like a stock and horn - the near-universal pastoral chanter which crops up in “Gentle Shepherd” style illustrations and an example of which Robert Burns owned (and is now in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland).

Visions of cherubim tripping the light fantastic to earthly (and earthy) hornpipes flashed through my mind, though I can’t imagine how Lassie Gae Milk on My Cowhill would go down in the great Elysian ceilidh.

An illustration and details of the tombstone appear on the website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland on