Wednesday, 4 August 2010

(6) Achnabreck

‘flood the world deep in sunlight’
– Lotus Eaters, ‘The First Picture of You’

Our mountain shrine at Toshogu (Mt. Nikko), is the ‘Performance Structure’, Achnabreck

Our blessings extended to the eight directions is compassing the stone at Kintraw

Our Kukai Daishi is Saint Fillan, his well at Cnoc Smùdain, above Ardfern


As we’re staying on Loch Craignish, we begin with a compass view from the stone at Kintraw, which favours NW, Tir nan Og – as at Achnabreck.

6 hokku-label, Kintraw
('foxglove / sways in / the wind / above / tumbled / stones', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010



6 hokku-label, Kintraw
Alec Finlay, 2010


Dalriada stonecarvers are at Achnabrek before us, setting the gazebo for an afternoon workshop. ‘There’s no real technique.’

audio, Dalriada chipping
Alec Finlay, 2010

Basho arrived at Mt. Nikko on the first day of summer. We know from Sora it was cloudy and rainy, but Basho’s travelogue recalls it otherwise, rededicating the mountain’s ‘sunlit’ name in thanks for the raiment of the Toshogu Shrine (mausoleum of shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, 1543–1616).

how inspiriting
the green leaves young leaves of a
sun’s resplendency

Revised a number of times, the first version read

it is with awe that I beheld
even in the darkness beneath the trees
bright rays of the sun

(tr. unknown)

The cloud shadow’s lifting, we read the Basho over again, picking apart layered names, comparing with Gaelic, Pictish, Norse, English, on our maps. Basho says the original name, derived from the Chinese characters ‘two storms’ or ‘double-rough’ – there were said to have been eruptions each spring and the autumn – but the saint Kobo Daishi renamed it Nikko, ‘sun’s-radiance’, and ever since things’ve been fine.

'In early times the name Argyll was given to all the western coast of Scotland from the Mull of Cantyre to Loch Broom in Western Ross-shire. North of Ardnamurchan the country of Argyll was then called Oirer a Tuath (the North Coast) and to the south of that promontaory Oirer a Deas (the south coast). Argyll itself in its original form was Oirer Ghàidheal, the coastline of the Gael.' (Seton Gordon, HBWH, p.332)

Our Mt Nikko’s Slioch, on the north half of that old coastline. Here on the 'Oirer a Deas' we agree that for this station we will find a pair for the shrine Basho visited: our Toshogu is the sun-stage, a fan of tree trunks.

6 Sora (2 structures)
Alec Finlay, 2010

This performance setting was designed by James Johnson for HALF LIFE (2007), devised by Angus Farquhar’s NVA, in collaboration with National Theatre of Scotland, Barry Esson, Rhodri Davies and others.

Resplendent framework, the grey trunks ancient; echoing the form of prehistoric timber circles native to this glen.

6 hokku-label, Achnabreck
('splendid sun / shining leaves / after rain', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Drinking Buddha’s Hand Foshou Hon Cha from the flask, gazing at the open palm of the wood henge, imagining how the stage might have been used, dancers or giants?

6 wish (rowan, Achnabreck)
Alec Finlay, 2010

through the wood

Eye of Raa
Tir nan Og

Rebecca Hall, 2010

6 hokku-label, Achnabreck
('there was a name / before this name // before that / was birdsong', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010


There are foxgloves everywhere, a reminder of our Perthshire stations; and now meadowsweet, clustered green nuts hid under hazel leaves.

6 sign, Achnabreck
Alec Finlay, 2010

Up the path, a sign.

for mountain-bike trail
Ken reads sun-dial

for path wiggle
Eck reads skyline

The cup-and-ring marked rocks are fenced-in; 15 years ago I came with Anna, who layed large sheets of paper over the rock flank and rubbed the hollows into colour. To me it looks like a game of freestyle Mancala.

Why are they here?
What do they mean?
Who made them?
Where did they come from?

6 compassing Achnabreck
Alec Finlay, 2010

6 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010

6 hokku-label
('what dropped / into rock & / ripples still?', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

6 Achnabreck cup-and-ring marked rocks
Ken Cockburn, 2010

audio, Achnabrek
Alec Finlay, 2010

6 wish (rowan, Achnabreck)
Alec Finlay, 2010

On to the view of Lochgilpead. Angus Reid pairs this vista with Delphi; from hereabouts, with a wee walk, you see

6 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010

6 Achnabreck writing desk
Ken Cockburn, 2010

A little way up the path there’s no mistaking the view we’re supposed to take in – a writing desk, set SW towards the distant turbulence of Jura – another staged remanant? The Delphic double-view eludes us, but the forest path downhill’s enlivened by a dragonfly.

Dun na Maraig

To reach the fort at Dun na Maraig Rebecca ventured ‘off piste’. It’s accessible from the south, by the helter-skelter ramps of the mountain bike Fire Trail. Overtaken by time and trees, mossy stumps and tangled ferns, the fort's a scramble with no summit to speak of.

keep cool
through green

6 wish (ash, Dunchraigraig)
Alec Finlay, 2010


Not to forget south-east – for our whisky’s The Arran Malt (10 yr) – we stop at Dunchraigaig chambered cairn, where the main cave's to one side. Ken makes a libation on the cockpit; we drink, and it's fiery (46% after all), a return to the pleasures of outdoor spirits (it's been beer and wine only and indoors back in Edo).

Eck ties a wish to the ash and looks up at the Monkey Puzzle.

6 Monkey Puzzle
Alec Finlay, 2010

6 Dunchraigaig standing stones
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Ken, Rebecca and Barno go on to the standing stones – quartet and duo – find cairn and henge too, the latter a circular enclosure – again, imagining how the stage might have been, used by dancers, or giants? Art as enigma. Brown cows don’t see what the fuss is; they’ve been chewing the cud round these stones for 1,000 years.

cup and ring
beside the stones

Rebecca Hall, 2010

Hand drawn to cups and rings, as if feeling would make the grooves' meaning clear. There’s no more or less sense than our wishes or hokku-labels. Tortoiseshell butterflies pause on mossed drystane walls, adding a new ideogram to the scene. Modern antiquarians among standing stones among grazing cows among tortoisehells.

6 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010





















AF, 2010


The day that we got home from the Argyll oku I had an email from Meg Bateman – who we’ll see in a couple of weeks for our Tarskavaig station, on Skye – saying that she’d visited Achnabrek and, by chance, she’d seen our hokku-labels fluttering in the breeze. How much longer will they last?

We end this station with an extract from Angus Farquhar’s reflections on Kilmartin valley and its seascape. His interpretation revolves around the circular quern (grinding mill), a static base stone with the upper stone wheeling about a central axis, pegged with a pole, from which was ground the staple for Neolithic survival: flour to make bread.

‘The mill held a position of tremendous power across all societies and became an item with both secular and religious significance. In pre-mediaeval times the earth was perceived as the static centre of the known universe, with the panoply of stars and constellations seen as studding an ever turning vault, pegged around the seemingly still North or Pole star. The cosmological image of the mill represented this phenomena through three layers the base stone – the lower core of the earth (the underworld), the area between the two stones, its surface (living reality) and the upper millstone – the skies above (the heavens).

‘This complex image provides an early cosmological understanding of the theoretical world axis round which the heavens (particularily in the northern hemisphere) rotated. Such possible interpretations of planetary and stellar movement, led many generations living through both the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods to leave traces of clear patterns of worship and belief through the raising up and subtle alignment of great stone monuments and the elaborate carving of art into living rock in chosen landscapes. A reading of the landforms of Knapdale and Kilmartin therefore reveals a great palimpsest, a priceless storehouse of thousands of years of ritual activity. From the hundreds of cup and ring marked rocks, the preponderance of hill forts, the mills and millstones dotting the sides of burns through to the brooding presence of Coire Bhreacain, the third largest whirlpool in the world, guarding the entrance to the calm waters of Crinan. Then finally the short step to Dunadd, the centrally situated inauguration hill of the first truly Scottish kings, whose influence rose from the kingdom of Dalriada, to spread hand in hand with St Columba’s Christian philosophy to the whole of the country.’

from Hamlet’s Mill: the background (previously unpublished)



Tosho Shrine


The performance structure is near the car park at Achnabrek. The carved stones are signposted.

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. I've just googled "Achnabreck" and come across your blog. What a lovely experience you are having. I love your beautiful poetry and images.
    I was particularly delighted to read your description of Dun na Maraig - the place where my great grandfather was born. He migrated from Scotland in 1856 and to think that all these years later, way down here in Melbourne Australia I can read your beautiful description of the place. Not that it was covered in forest back then. I believe it lies between Achnabreck and Cairnbaan. Would you be able to estimate the distance for me and direction? I've found both those places on maps.
    Best wishes for the rest of your wonderfully creative journey.


    To reach the fort at Dun na Maraig Rebecca ventured ‘off piste’. It’s accessible from the south, by the helter-skelter ramps of the mountain bike Fire Trail. Overtaken by time and trees, mossy stumps and tangled ferns, the fort's a scramble with no summit to speak of.

    keep cool
    through green