Thursday, 22 July 2010

(16) Ossian's Cave

‘paraphrasing Voltaire … we may add that, since Ossian was not extant it was necessary to invent him’

– Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘MacPherson’, Scottish Eccentrics

Our Kurozuka Cavern is Ossian’s Cave

Our Onibaba is The Hermit

16 Ossian's Cave
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Ra Big Fir

We drove to
Dunkeld by a road that was new to us both, back through Sma’ Glen and Amulree, another confluence in the river, where Braan and Girron Burn join, forded by Columba’s monk, Maolrubha (650AD). This way in took us straight to the footpath, from Rumbling Bridge through Hermitage Wood to Ossian’s Cave. But I had Ken drop me off directly opposite, so I could scramble the shorter way by the far other bank of the angry Braan.

my path
follows the sound
to the river

Crossing at the bridge, some lads were stood on the parapet

grazed by the sun
about to dive in –

& still about
to dive

Even their hesitation was tinged with Ossianic heroism.

I marked my route well.

16 cone-trail
Alec Finlay, 2010

16 cone-cairn
Alec Finlay, 2010

16 hokku-label, River Braan
Alec Finlay, 2010

We shared our kind of joke, about Basho ‘poking about the marshes, asking everyone met, roaming around in search of katsumi katsumi’, suggesting we swop his blue flag iris for Dunkeld’s Big Fir.

"seen ra big fir mister, eh –
howfars ra fir, ra big fir
59 metres an’ stull growin”

Fraser Darling describes the burning of the original great Caledonian Forests of Perthshire and Athol:

General Monk, 1654

the woods
were destroyed
their being shelters

to rebels and mossers
and wolves
Bardic Gloom

16 wish, rowan, Rumbling Bridge
Ken Cockburn, 2010

‘When the hunter shall sit by the mound, and produce his food at noon, "some warrior rests here," he will say; and my fame shall live in his praise.’

MacPherson, Fragments of Ancient Poetry, I

I parked at the Rumbling Bridge car-park and walked westwards and downstream – in the past I've always come the other way, from the car-park off the A9. I linger at the falls at Rumbling Bridge, enjoying the sound of the water, and the shapes it's worn the rocks into. There's no poem, so I leave a wish.

Off the path is a huge boulder a couple are sunning themselves on. I turn into the woods, climb a bank for a pee and find myself looking down on a clearing and the remains of a burned-out caravan. Approaching Ossian's Hall I see the hesitant canyoners, then Eck and Barney. We step inside.

Ossians Hall, Hermitage Wood
Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn, 2010

As we stand on the viewing-platform the resolute lad jumps – the hesistant lad ponders his options and then jumps – the risk-averse lad walks down to meet them at the bottom.

Walking upriver we encounter more beech-books, here authored by lovers, and tourists; moss pulled away to reveal forgotten nadikoro.

16 tree-inscriptions
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The Sunday walkers are out in numbers – dogs, children, parents trying to keep an eye on both.

that year, 1758
for my birthday

gave me a cave

We step into darkness, which I expect to be damp, but isn't. I've never been here before – on recent winter walks the iced path made for slow slippery going, and turnings back. Now summer greens are bright through always open 'door' and 'windows'. Kids investigate and report – "there's people in there" – and after ten minutes in bardic gloom we've worked Barney into a wee welcome routine: — Two pounds please — and you get to clap the wolf — but don't worry, he's already had three wee girls for breakfast. Even so, more hesitant ones:

the girls are too shy
to come in the cave
until we leave

Homerically, and now Ossianically, we've started making libations with our tea and whisky. Today's tea, liquorice-ish, has lost its name, the whisky is Aberfeldy.

audio: Ossian’s Libation
Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn, 2010

Basho's Kurozuka Cavern


isn't so different to the hermit’s then. Who’s that at our window? Cool air. The sound of a plane in a cavern.

Onibaba, the demon hag, a shriveled old woman, any relation to the Cailleach of Glen Lyon? She has a museum in Adachigahara where you can see the cooking pot and knife she used on her victims.

Well-supplied picnickers outside Ossian's Cave don't concern themselves with such tales, in summer the forest's a pleasant place, its threats muted.

‘An impressive stand of Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) provides a dramatic setting for the walk route and the concentration of so many ‘big trees’ creates a cathedral-like atmosphere.’


this is a guide to 16 Ossian's Cave. From the car-park off the A822 west of Dunkeld & Birnam, cross Rumbling Bridge and walk a short distance uphill before turning right onto the path towards the Hermitage. Just past a gate turn right again, and you come first to Ossian's Cave, then Ossian's Hall.

the completed journey will be realised as an audio-visual word-map, published online and in print, May 16, 2011. If you would like more information about the project email

1 comment:

  1. Please come and drink tea with us at Nannys' in Shieldaig
    we've a few different types and it would be lovely to hear about your journey
    Lisa O'Brien.