Is there a Multiverse in Scotland? I had no idea. In fact, to be honest, I didn't even know what a multiverse was other than it sounded a bit like 'universe', so maybe it was something similar? I chose a sunny day in late September and headed to the market town of Sanquhar, nestled in the Nith Valley, roughly equidistant between Cumnock to the north and Dumfries to the south.
Looking like two giant walnut whips, the galaxies of Andromeda and The Milky Way cast their shadows across the surreal landscape of the Multiverse. Topped with slabs of ancient, up-turned sedimentary rock, their spiralled contours give the impression that they have been turned out on a giant lathe and lovingly dipped in a smooth coating of Galloway grass. From high up atop the stone fingers of the Belvedere they look good enough to eat.
You have entered the Multiverse, once an abandoned, opencast coal mine, now an awe-inspiring cosmic wonderland. The brutal industrial landscape which disfigured the slopes of Nithsdale, close by the ancient market town of Sanquhar, has been transformed into heaven on earth, replete with its own solar system. It is the inspiration of American born architect Charles Jencks and opened to the public in 2015 after three years of construction. Jencks described himself as a land artist and this seems to sum up what he has achieved at Crawick.
Giant boulders, dragged out of the mud and shale which encased them, etch a North-South rhumb line dissecting the Sun Amphitheatre in the heart of the park. The twin rows of standing stones lead to a gated cave representing Omphalos, the centre of the world according to ancient Greek belief. The megaliths also align with the Pole Star lying 447 light years to the north. The index finger of a crude, rocky hand on top of the Belvedere outpost helpfully points it out. Clusters of rocky seats cling to the edges of the site. They emulate comets whose seemingly haphazard and chaotic trajectories are drawn in by the Sun. Their explosive energy is represented by Cosmic Collisions, an installation added in 2017. This stellar connection to the real solar system links the Multiverse to its heavenly surroundings, a key design consideration for Jencks.
There are also seamless boundaries with its terrestrial neighbours mimicking the illusory principles of a ha-ha set on the boundary of a country estate. The sheep farms and woodlands of the Lowther Hills blur imperceptibly with the reclaimed rocks and moulded mounds within Jencks’s facsimile. A copse of broadleaved trees arcs around the corkscrew path of a stone clad feature called The Multiverse softening the delineation between art and nature. Jencks referred to this as the rainforest, a natural feature of Planet Earth opposed by a vast, rocky desert cloaking the base of the nearby twin spiral galaxies of Andromeda and The Milky Way.
The minerals embedded within the sentinel megaliths which populate the park emanate a kaleidoscope of natural colours as the light from the sun reaches their complex surfaces. The red and ochre hues of the rock sit comfortably alongside a green and yellow upholstery of parasitic lichen. The slabs have wonderful tactile qualities inviting visitors to close their eyes, caress the chiselled contours, read half imagined runes with their fingers and absorb the natural warmth they exude.
Much of the topography within the park has been sculptured into geometric patterns inspired by those found in the universe. The Sun Amphitheatre, a majestic 360-degree centrepiece, has been designed to replicate a total eclipse. Twin lagoons and a mosaic entitled Sun Flare / Earth Shield draw visitors towards its centre. The amphitheatre is a superb outdoor venue for live music concerts, theatre and weddings. Like much of the nearby Galloway Forest Park, Crawick is also a great dark sky location for those with an interest in astronomy.
Perhaps most importantly the Crawick Multiverse teaches us that the remains of our discarded industrial environment can be reused in an ecologically sustainable way. Most of the materials used in its construction were reclaimed from the site of the coal mine which once scarred the valley’s side. The theme of destruction and renewal is further borne out by the colliding galaxies portrayed here whose explosive energy gives rise to the birth of new stars. The Multiverse stimulates our senses, educates us and allows us to contemplate our place in the world. It does not prescribe a route through or instruct us in how to interpret its features. Like the universe, it simply is.
Ⓒ Robin Redfern 2022