Puffs of hogweed buzz with wasps. Vibrant dog roses quiver in the soft breeze. The stone slab sits in the leafy shade, its inscription hard to read. This is the spot where blood was spilled nearly 500 years ago, when Mary, Queen of Scots surrendered to an army led by the Confederate Lords, a group of Scottish Protestant rebels. Sometimes you see bouquets here, left in remembrance. It was summer when she was defeated, after her third husband, Bothwell, fled the battlefield, so perhaps she, like me, saw cheerful patches of herb robert on her way up here. Did they make her smile too, in the midst of loss?
The view from Carberry Hill sweeps down towards the glittering Firth of Forth; I see clouds glowering over Fife, and green and yellow fields dotted with pylons. Much about this land has changed, but look at a map from Mary’s time and you can see that settlements like Cousland exist now as they did then. You can even glimpse Fa’side Castle, where the queen rode out from on that fateful morning.
Yet Mary is not the only thing whose ghost is felt here. Recently, this place that I have known since I was a baby, regularly brought here in a pushchair by my dad, doesn’t feel the same. My dog, Seamus, had to be put down in May. He used to bound through the barley fields near here, disappearing and reappearing like a tiny Scottish kangaroo. His absence is a physical pain. I forget he’s not with me, my hand reaching down to stroke him or to select a stick to throw.
The thick tree trunks that surround the monument bear decades of graffiti, initials etched into bark, long-forgotten promises. And down the path, there’s a hillfort built in the iron age – probably for the commanding views – that’s now a crater of ferns. So many people have marked this place over thousands of years, and it has marked them in return.
Mary’s Mount is emptier than it was before – there are no cut flowers today, no deer or hares as I have seen in the past – but I can still imagine Seamus with me, trying to eat something he shouldn’t. And Dad is still beside me, pointing out interesting things and teaching me about umbellifers. We walk back down the hill, past white and purple foxgloves that are starting to go over, echoes of the past singing in my ears.
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• This article was amended on 20 July 2022. Mary, Queen of Scots surrendered at Carberry Hill to an army led by a confederation of Scottish lords, not to “the English army” as an earlier version said.