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Trail talk: ‘treasure’ on the Southern Upland Way

Isabella with treasure

From the outset, this blog is not intended as a ‘spoiler’. I am not giving grid references or Kist locations (beyond images), or even much in the way of clues on how to find the 13 Kists situated along the Southern Upland Way. It is a treasure hunt, so go out and find them yourself. That is what I did when I walked the trail. Or attempted to do, as I never found all of them!

The Waymerks project

The original Waymerks project was conceived by Borders artist John Behm. His idea was to distribute specially designed ‘kists’ along the length of the Southern Upland Way and place specially hand-minted lead and copper tokens inside each. Once these were depleted, replacement tokens of copper and pewter were also planned. These miniature art works could be carried away by anyone discovering a kist. He called the tokens ‘waymerks’, a play on the word merk. A Merk was a coin in medieval Scotland, worth a thirteen and a third pence of English currency, i.e. a ‘thirteenth’. The merk was abolished in 1707 but the waymerk tokens would last only until they had all been taken by passing hikers.

Quarter thistle Merk, James VI, 1602
Quarter thistle Merk, James VI, 1602

The Waymerks co-operative art project was administered by Behm’s wife and artist Rachael Long together with environmentalist and writer Fi Martynoga. It was funded by Scottish Arts Council through the Awards for All scheme, Scottish Natural Heritage, The National Museums of Scotland, Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries & Galloway Council, South Lanarkshire Council, Forest Enterprise, Southern Upland Partnership, and a consortium of four wind-power providers. These were: Renewable Energy Systems, National Windpower, The Natural Power Company, and Scottish Power.

The Scottish Borders Sculptors Collective, Dumfries & Galloway Arts Association and Southern Upland Partnership Arts Committee co-operated in the creation and installation of the kists that were originally planned to remain in place from April until the end of October 2002 though Behn has stated that they were actually installed in 2001. The Southern Upland Way naturally breaks down into thirteen distinct stages and each stage had it’s own kist installed to contain the souvenir Waymerks. Fi Martynoga suggested that artists, sculptors and poets be asked to design the thirteen kists and they mostly took inspiration from the history, geology, nature and industry found along the route of the trail.

  1. Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy. Kist maker was Alice Mitchell, poet. Her design was inspired by a Bronze Age axe from Knock & Maize in Stranraer Museum.
  2. Castle Kennedy to New Luce. Kist maker was Lizzie Farey, artist and basketmaker. Her design was taken from the 1000 year old Whithorn cross from Glen Luce in the National Museum of Scotland.
  3. New Luce to Bargrennan. Kist maker was Andy Priestman, ceramicist and potter. He used a design from a Clendrie burial cist pot in National Museums of Scotland dating from 3500 years ago, however his design altered prior to installation.
  4. Bargrennan to St John’s Town of Dalry. Kist maker was Trevor Leat, basket maker, who used an otter design.
  5. Dalry to Sanquhar. Kist maker was Andrew Weatherhead, ceramicist. His design was taken from a 340 year old leather mask previously worn by Covenantor and Scottish minister Alexander Peden in an attempt to disguise himself. The mask is now in the National Museums of Scotland.
  6. Sanquhar to Wanlockhead. Kist maker was Max Nowell, Stone Dyker & Sculptor. His design was taken from a waterwheel from the Wanlockhead lead-mine.
  7. Wanlockhead to Beattock. Kist maker was Matthew White, wood worker. The design was taken from a bronze armlet from Stanhope in the National Museums of Scotland, dating to 1800 years ago.
  8. Beattock to St Mary’s Loch. Kist maker was Sam Wade, sculptor. The design was taken from a carving of a cattle reiver in the National Museums of Scotland dating from approximately 400 years ago.
  9. St Mary’s Loch to Traquair. Kist maker was Brunton Hunter, sculptor. His design was of the ‘The Tree of Life’, an ancient image adopted by the early Christian church.
  10. Traquair to Melrose. Kist maker was Linda & Rankin Kinsman Blake, ceramicists. Design was taken from a 1200 year old gold finger-ring from Selkirk in the National Museums of Scotland.
  11. Melrose to Lauder. Kist maker was Nick Sneller, wood worker. His design was taken from a medieval stone carving of a wild boar. This was part of the insignia of the XXth Roman Legion, which was temporarily stationed at Trimontium.
  12. Lauder to Longformacus. Kist maker was Patrick Green, designer & woodworker. The design was taken from the triple rotor from a modern wind turbine.
  13. Longformacus to Cockburnspath. Kist maker was Rachael Long, sculptor. Her image was from the 1900 year old Blackburn Mill Sickle in the National Museums of Scotland.

The word Kist in relation to the Waymerks project came from Andy Priestman’s submission. During part of the Bronze Age, people buried their dead in stone-lined graves that archaeologists call ‘cists’. A preliminary design by the artist was based on one of these, though the spelling was changed to the old Scottish form, and to make it clear how to pronounce the word. Andy’s design was ultimately changed but the word Kist remained.

Postcard produced in conjunction with the initial waymerks project. This shows a hoard of the hand struck “art tokens” or waymerks

Waymerks was launched in a suitably oddball artistic manner. Starting out from the Tibbie Shiels Inn, some two hundred hikers strode up on to the hills where the artist Joy Parker facilitated the building of a Shoe Cairn, comprised of their shoes, boots and whatever other footwear was presented.

“We were encouraged to bring a spare pair of old shoes in our rucksacks and, when we reached the summit of Earl’s Hall, a pleasant climb only 40 minutes from the pub, artist Joy Parker turned them into a giant cairn. The assortment of old boots, wrecked trainers, and children’s wellies was an intimate, and, let’s face it, strongly scented portrait of those who had made the trip. But it was also symbolic of a community getting back on its feet. In exchange for the footwear, the participants were given one of the small lead waymerks”

The Herald, April 2002
Back and front of original lead and copper waymerks. There is some calcification and age related patination to both of these. Designs show Bronze Age trade axes on left and Edin's Hall Broch on right. The copper waymerk also has a Scottish 'thistle logo', punched through it. This is now Scotland’s Great Trails branding
Back and front of original lead and copper waymerks. There is some calcification and age related patination to both of these. Designs show Bronze Age trade axes on left and Edin’s Hall Broch on right. The copper waymerk also has a Scottish ‘thistle logo’, punched through it. This is now Scotland’s Great Trails branding

The waymerks themselves were designed by John Behm. The front side was common to all thirteen, showing an Iron Age broch, set within the plan of a hillfort; ancient earthworks that might have been found anywhere in the Southern Uplands though this design was based on Edin’s Hall Broch. The reverse side of each of the thirteen merks was different. Each was to be a miniature work of art, referring to six thousand years of human occupation. Designs can be seen here.

”I imagine that some will be moved from kist to kist along the way, some will go home with their finders, and others may be scattered. They’ll go with anybody”

John Behm

The die makers were Cademuir Toolmaking Ltd and 6500 hand-minted waymerk ‘coins’ were produced. The waymerk ‘strikers’ were- Liz Arkieson, Angus Behm, Kjartan Behm, Tulta Behm, Tim Davis, Rachael Long, Ben Martynoga, Fi Martynoga, Ram Martynoga, Alasdair McLean, Kenneth McQueenie, Daniel Sargent, Melissa Scott, Jeremy Walker and Rich Webb.

After one year, the Southern Uplands Partnership prepared a financial report on the Waymerks Project. This suggested that public use of the Southern Upland Way had doubled in comparison with previous years and it was Waymerks that was largely responsible. There had been a consequent uplift in business for those providing facilities to the visitors and hikers, such as pubs, cafes, shops and accommodation providers. Despite being a relatively modest increase when compared to other trails such as Wainwright’s Coast to Coast and the West Highland Way, this led to the Southern Uplands Partnership commissioning Behm to continue the project and he refreshed the art works for a further five years after which the Southern Uplands Way Partnership assumed responsibility.

Hoard Striding Arches
Hoard Striding Arches

“It was part of my initial conception, hopeful and possibly arrogant, that my Waymerks tokens would become part of the archaeological and historical record, scattered to the four winds … and so they became; full sets of the 13 designs, in each of the five metals (lead, lead-free pewter, copper, silver, and gold) are held by the National Museums of Scotland.”

John Behm, Facebook, 2017
Additional signage relating to the original waymerks project and associated kists can be found in just a handful of locations along the trail. This is the metal plaque at Wanlockhead
Signage relating to the original waymerks project and associated kists can be found in a handful of locations along the trail.
Metal plaque at Wanlockhead
Metal plaque attached to a signpost at Wanlockhead, photographed in 2022. The original waymerk designs are shown on this
First Kist
Makar’s Kist- Alice Mitchell, poet

The New Hoard

When the original Waymerks project and the five year extension came to an end the various kists continued their gradual and intended decay, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Ranger Service recognised that there was still life in the concept and began working on a successor. This was The New Hoard.

The seventh hoard
The seventh hoard- The Tweed

The New Hoard was a development of the original Waymerks project. Funding came from Scottish Natural Heritage and the three local authorities that the trail straddles- Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, and South Lanarkshire. An art competition was held in primary schools along the route of the Southern Upland Way and winning entrants had their designs included on the reverse side of the minted 13ths. The front (obverse) sides show the participating school. Some of these schools are illustrated below.

Hoard 1st Bicycle

“Once Waymerks kicked off, almost everyone I met was hunting coins. Short walkers out for the day or long distance walkers from all over the world, it made no difference, everyone loves a treasure hunt.”

Tom Whitty, Southern Upland Way Ranger

New Hoard coin. 1- Hoard Kittiwake. Image: SUW Ranger service
New Hoard token 1- Hoard Kittiwake. Image: SUW Ranger service
2- Hoard Fox. Image: SUW Ranger service
2- Hoard Fox
3- Hoard Red Squirrel. Image: SUW Ranger service
3- Hoard Red Squirrel
4. Hoard Honey Bee. Image: SUW Ranger service
4. Hoard Honey Bee
5- Hoard Striding Arches. Image: SUW Ranger service
5- Hoard Striding Arches
6- Hoard Douglas Fir. Image: SUW Ranger service
6- Hoard Douglas Fir
7- Hoard Bicycle. Image: SUW Ranger service
7- Hoard Bicycle
Wallace Hall primary children with their award winning coins. Image: Alive Radio. 2010

From the eight coins that I found on my 2022 hike of the Southern Upland Way, I know that children from Leswalt Primary School, Tweedbank Primary School and Wallace Hall Primary School designed these. Front and back images are shown below.

8- Hoard Deer. Image: SUW Ranger service
8- Hoard Deer
9- Hoard Otter. Image: SUW Ranger service
9- Hoard Otter
10- Hoard River Tweed. Image: SUW Ranger service
10- Hoard River Tweed
11- Hoard King Duncan. Image: SUW Ranger service
11- Hoard King Duncan
12- Hoard Train. Image: SUW Ranger service
12- Hoard Train
13- Hoard Scottish Thistle. Image: SUW Ranger service
13- Hoard Scottish Thistle

The New Hoard commenced 2007. In common with the original waymerks projects, each of the thirteen kists contains a minted coin or token called a 13th, now produced by machine and minted by Impress Promotions Ltd., Ayr. Each coin is a thirteenth part of the whole – the whole being The Hoard. These add interest not only to those completing the whole length of the Southern Upland Way but also those venturing out for just a day or even for a few hours. It is a treasure hunt. Find a kist and take a 13th away as a memento of an expedition into the hills. There is no guarantee of success. Some are easy to find, others less so. When I walked the trail in 2022, I was only successful in locating nine of the thirteen kists, and one of those was devoid of treasure.

Kists are periodically replenished by volunteers or Southern Upland Way Rangers. Mistakes happen though and it is worth looking through what is inside. This kist held hundreds of both Hoard Otter and Hoard King Duncan tokens
Kists are periodically replenished by volunteers or Southern Upland Way Rangers. Mistakes happen though and it is worth looking through what is inside. This kist held hundreds of both Hoard Otter and Hoard King Duncan tokens
Joy Parker's kist is found on the roman road that runs out of Melrose
Joy Parker’s replacement kist is found on the roman road that runs out of Melrose
Hoard King Duncan I
Hoard King Duncan
Finding ‘treasure’ on the Southern Upland Way

Ultreia

Of most use on the trail in finding a Kist are the helpful signs introduced in 2003. A small bronze ultreia plaque is usually attached to the wooden waymarker posts each side of a kist. ‘Ultreia’ is Latin for ‘Beyond’, though we are informed that later pilgrims would say it as a greeting- ‘on with your quest’. Many of these have weathered beautifully over the years but some are beginning to suffer; coming adrift and hanging from a solitary screw, or broken in half.

ultreia
ultreia
Ultreia sign
A sneaky kist

Passing an ‘ultreia’ plate on a post indicates that you may be able to find a kist before reaching the second post with an ultreia sign. Some kists are obvious and easily found, some are most definitely not easy to locate. Ultreia signs themselves may be hidden on the back of a post and not immediately obvious.

The word ‘ULTREIA’ as found attached to wooden waymarker posts each side of a kist. They may be angled to indicate if you are entering or leaving a kist location.

Kists are usually concealed, though never completely buried, and are located at remote and lovely places along the Southern Upland Way. I can only imagine how difficult it was to find the hidden kists at the time of the original Waymerks project. It was so difficult that only one couple was successful in finding and collecting all thirteen in 2002. It has been made a good deal easier since that first year.

The current kists themselves are mostly those produced for the Waymerks project but are suffering the years and replacement has occurred in places. Sculptor Joy Parker produced the sandaled roman feet that now sit beside the Roman road on the 11th trail section beyond Melrose. Sadly, this artwork is also suffering the vagaries of outdoor life and is broken. The now cheaply produced tokens can also rust badly quite quickly and it can take a bit of searching to find one in not too bad a condition.

Ultreia!
Ultreia!
Badly corroded token
Badly corroded token

Leaflets used to be distributed in holders at points along the trail. When I walked the trail in 2022, all holders were empty and it is unlikely that they are now being produced. A digital leaflet has replaced it. This does not give any clues as to where exactly any of the 13 Kists are situated along the 215 miles of the Southern Upland Way though it does indicate the sections where they are located. Ultreia signs remain the best indicator on the trail itself. The present leaflet is similar to that designed by John Behm in 2002 for the original waymerks project.

Hoard Fox
Hoard Fox
Hoard Fox
Hoard Fox

The 2010 gold prizes

In 2010 EnergySolutions sponsored a treasure hunt associated with the New Hoard 13ths. Amongst the standard 13ths was the occasional ‘Gold winning 13th’. Gold in colour, they were very rare and those finding them could send them to the council ranger service to be rewarded with vouchers for outdoors equipment up to the value of £100. A total of £1300 of prizes was offered, this implies there were just 13 winning gold 13ths. The ranger service reported in 2017 that all the winning “Hoard Winner coins” had been discovered. I am unsure if it had taken seven years for the 13 to be found, or if the sponsored treasure hunt had been subsequently repeated.

Hoard The Train
Hoard Train

Kists may be empty if and when discovered. It could be that it is some time since a volunteer or ranger last replenished the kist and that many hikers have been this way in the interim. If a kist is empty, photograph it and later contact the appropriate Ranger service for that section who will kindly supply one of the tokens. Only a single souvenir 13th should be taken from each kist, leaving the remainder for those to follow. I took opportunity on trail to photograph both sides of those that I found. Some images are poor but these do show each side of the eight I found.

Front and back of 2. Hoard Fox, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 2. Hoard Fox, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 5. Hoard Striding Arches, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 5. Hoard Striding Arches, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 7. Hoard 1st Bicycle, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 7. Hoard 1st Bicycle, Wallace Hall Primary School
Front and back of 8. Hoard Deer, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 8. Hoard Deer, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 9. Hoard Otter, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 9. Hoard Otter, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 10. Hoard the Tweed, Tweedbank Primary School
Front and back of 11. Hoard King Duncan1, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 11. Hoard King Duncan I, Leswalt Primary School
Front and back of 12. Hoard Train, Tweedbank Primary School

Three Points of the Compass has never come across anything quite like the New Hoard on any other Long Distance trail. The original Waymerks Project is to be congratulated on bringing community and art, mixed with a touch of expectation and excitement, to the lonely places of the Southern Uplands. Those agencies that have continued and adapted the project are also to be commended as it takes no small effort for this to be sustained. I found nine of the kists and collected eight 13ths, with my missing ninth sent to me afterward by the excellent Southern Upland Way Ranger (West) service. For those intending to walk the Southern Upland Way, keep an eye open, for there is treasure to be found!

My missing 13th!
My missing 13th. This was designed by a child from Wallace Hall Primary School

Three Points of the Compass on the Southern Upland Way:

5 replies »

    • Absolutely Derek. Art on trail is nothing new. There are various other installations on the Southern Upland Way, but this particular project definitely resonates with people. There is just something about a treasure hunt and taking a piece of the trail away with you. My nine little tokens were passed on to my granddaughter. I wonder if she will ever hike the trail herself and if, in the future, this art installation will be in any way still visible. I suspect not.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I managed to find all 13 kists, but it did involve having to backtrack several times, including walking back to Galashiels from Lauder after I had finished at Cockburnspath, as I’d walked straight past the one on the Roman Road!

    Like

    • You did superbly well finding all 13 Martin. I spent longer than I really wanted to wandering back and forth for a couple, unsuccessfully.!

      Like

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