Friday, 8 October 2010

(40) Berneray


‘everytime I visit
I’m gifted something new'

– after Ryokan

Our Sakata is Lochmaddy

Our Hokuroku district is South Harris

Our Nezu Barrier and Ichiburi Barrier are the causeways linking Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, and Berneray

Our Sado, dimly seen, is St Kilda, dimly seen

Our Heaven’s Stream is stars & beacons seen on a stormy night

Sado–St Kilda

Symbolically the farthest station on Basho’s ginko road is defined by the view towards the isle of Sado dim on the horizon – isle of gold, of exile, of lovers – where he sees deep into the stellar distances.

Basho’s hokku

rough as the sea is
reaching over to Sado
the Heaven’s star stream

Basho, tr. Cid Corman

wild as the seas fetch
from Berneray to St Kilda’s
all Milky Way

ver. AF

no one sees us
alone out here
among the stars

var. after Brian Eno

40 Sado (map)
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF)

Berneray

‘that muddied turquoise
across from stolen mountains
mist, gale together’

Ian Stephen, ‘On Berneray’

40 Eck, Gatliff Trust Hostel, Berneray
mid 1990s

A hostel’s as close as we’ll get or ever want to be to Big Brother, even if it is a gleaming white Gatliff Trust thatched croft. This is a reunion with the island I know best. Every summer I used to come to Berneray, but it’s been 8 years, so I have that odd feeling of not knowing what’s changed, wondering if Annie and Jessie, the elderly sisters who saw to the hostel, are still alive. They were the spirit of the place; kind, gently teasing, knitting woollens – socks £2 a pair, though I’d try to bargain them up to a higher price – spreads of pancakes, scones and strawberry jam. You’d see them, 2 windbent figures in faded blue Macs, herding the sheep with their handbags. Their farm had a flock of 100 or so, and even in their 70s they saw to the shearing themselves, with hand clippers.

40 Annie & Jessie's house
Ken Cockburn, 2010

As girls Annie & Jessie can recall Seton Gordon, and my gran, Catriona, camping down on the beach. That would be in the mid 1930s. Because the hostel’s magic attracts so many, there are folk all over the world who fondly recall their lilting refrain, very good, very good. I take Ken down their track, and we knock at the door and window, do a circuit of the house. No answer. Are they both gone then? There’s Annie at the window, asking who it is? She opens the door but won’t let us in as the place isn’t put right and she’s nothing to give us. So she sits in her chair by the door, and we stand and chat. Jessie died a year past April; she misses her very much. And Angus too has gone away now. No, she can’t knit any more because my hands shake. She asks am I not married yet? When we leave we get a sweetie each from the tin.

40 hokku-label
(‘Jessie's gone / Angus has left us / Annie sits with us / at her door’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The bog-cotton, ‘cannach’, hangs in tufts. One high midsummer all of us in the hostel took a vow and dispensed with timepieces, living off the light which stretched its shining hands around the clock. Hostel life has a rhythm, as each wee party sorties out on their anti-clockwise journey around the island, returning sunglown with tales of Sado and seals.

the sea’s the colour
of seal

diluted with cloud
and light

Grey though it is, there’s a pearl gleam to the west. I’ve another elegy to record: pausing at the spot where we made love, sheltered in the dunes, the West Beach recalls Kirsty, gone now, laughing then – throwing her trousers at me when I snapped her after a swim, wearing nothing but one of Annie & Jessie’s aquamarine seaweed knit jumpers.

40 Kirsty
Alec Finlay, mid 1990s

It was here, on this beach, I composed my second ever poem, and then had to say it to myself, over and over, on the walk back to my pen at the hostel.

West Beach (Berneray, Harris)

The machair flowers
like so many stars

I'm walking home
through the Universe.


40 circle poem (braiding Harris Tweed)
for Chris and Roger
Alec Finlay, 2010

That afternoon I was followed on the road by a collie from one of the farms. I kept ordering it home; it kept following me away from the farm. Then I met the ferryman, who explained this dog only understood Gaelic, and sent her fleeing off with a single command.


40 circle poem (curlew)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 hokku-label, Berneray
(‘Ken says the shag / isn’t fishing / just diving’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 hokku-label, Berneray
(‘grey front / passes between us // and Fiskavaig redces / Harris to a dark rumour’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF)

Berneray, Saturday

Those times are exchanged for this time.

40 ('SING PLACE', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 circle poem
(‘hands hold the winds open’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Ken says goodbye to Rebecca and Paul who leave for India and New Zealand in a few weeks, collects Eck from Lochmaddy’s Old Courthouse – where he’s been sleeping, but not in the cells – and we head north for the Berneray causeway, but find another on the way.

40 Sora strikes a rocking stone
Alec Finlay, 2010

40 Dun an Sticir, North Uist
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Dun an Sticir’s our first water-protected dun, recycled as medieval fortified residence, approached across a causeway partly underwater – the causeways were narrower than they are today, and sometimes included a ‘rocking stone’, which could alert the occupants of the broch to unwelcome visitors. We arrive as a party of cyclists depart, their silhouettes doing a crazy walk over the causeway like an early Madness video. Soon we discover why: there are many ‘rocking stones’. Barney and Eck get soakings. Seven swans glide warily on the loch.

40 Berneray hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 Berneray hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 by Berneray hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 by Berneray hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Arriving at The Hostel, Berneray, we choose ‘Honeymoon Suite’, with a view to Leverburgh and Roineabhal: rather that than ‘Shady Corner’ (by the loo) or ‘Penthouse Suite’ (by the kitchen). An open-air range quietly rusts in the nearby ruin, while some campers have brought their own central heating. (Overnight the gale blew smoke back into the tent, so like any system it’s not foolproof.)

40 East Beach
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 shell-line
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 fourteens (cockles)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 Avantgarde campers
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Walking down the beach, we revive the shell-cult, do some fourteens for Isobel, and pass a visiting avantgarde (and we so thought we were it). Then four gunshots.


40 hokku-label, Berneray
(‘4 shots ring out / we pass him with a brace / of geese in each hand’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 Loch Bhrusda
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 silage bales & geese, Loch Brusda
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 circle poem (swans & geese)
Alec Finlay, 2010

A drive past Cnoc na Greine brings us to the N. end of Loch Bhrusda, and we cross the machair, Maol Bhàn, to the west beach, where we write in the sand – not quite a new form, but one we begin to refine. We trace memorials for Sado, and The Princess Forest that once grew between here, Harris and St Kilda, and Eck adds another for Poppy, David Connearn’s dog, who once heroically tried to herd these waves.

40 Basho, composing sand-verses, West Beach
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach, i.m. Poppy
(‘Poppy tends the turning tide’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘80 years back / the last boats / sailed east’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘arrow tip gannet tip’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘ash / oak / wash / soak’ (1), AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘ash / oak / wash / soak’ (2), AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, The Princess Forest, West Beach
(‘midwave / a deep forest’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 sand-poem, West Beach, after Basho
(‘seeing clouds above Hokuriku’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

40 sand-poem, West Beach, after Basho
(‘star stream’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 sand-poem, The Princess Forest, West Beach
(‘when will / the princess / return from / the hunt?’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

On the road back we stop at the Lobster-Pot tearoom with its own Met. Office.

40 FORECASTING STONE
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Back at Baile the hostel kitchen’s humming with activity. A group of twentysomethings, mainly Scottish voices but all up from London, are gearing up for Lochmaddy’s nightlife but first have a whole cooked lobster to butcher and eat. Ken improvises with modest ingredients – leeks, cabbage, red lentils and sun-dried tomatoes, and produce a good stew he’ll happily make again, ceremonially washed down with Mac Na Mara anda pot of the Tea of Life. The lasses go for a swim.

the swimming’s OK
once you go through
the cold

swimsuits & giggles
doesn’t make them
courtesans

(AF, KC)


Berneray, Sunday


40 Berneray Circular Walk
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Breakfast is cold stew, chocolate gingers, Roibois. I’m happy enough, though slightly envious of the London-Scottish’s scallops and scrambled eggs.

From the hostel we head north as yesterday, along the beach road past Annie’s place, then following the path uphill at the old MacInnes croft, towards the island burial ground. We’re luffing into a strong north-westerly.

billows

this wind just blows me away
light breaks in at the curtains
its noise is all its own
taking it all round
from top to toe
you’ll wear me out, you
says the beach to the sea

(AF, with a nod to Boswell)

The boundary wall’s yellow-lichened, inside windblown grass, but other than a few nettles the moor’s kept out. Many small unshaped unmarked stones, of those shaped and carved some lost in lichen, others (slate or granite) unmarked by it. Often English text and Gaelic scripture. Nothing recent.


40 Burial Ground
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 Burial Ground wall
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 Burial Ground, shoemaker's gravestone
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 grave rubbing
Alec Finlay, 2010

Climbing Beinn Shleibhe, a modest 93m + constant breeze. A young German man who’d sat quietly by himself last night reading Tolkein's Two Towers joins us at the trig point. We share tea. From the trig the West Beach looks like a pie crust with the rollers spume for cream. The Shiants are NE, but NW there’s no Sado, only Haskeir, which isn’t the gabbro stack of Hirta, St Kilda.


40 Sora & Barno, Berneray
Alec Finlay, 2010


40 hokku-label, Berneray
(‘marram gives to the wind / thistles resists till ready / to offer up down’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘Sado is on every horizon’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010


40 sand-poem, West Beach
(‘ST KILDA / SADO’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010


40 (‘SADO’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)


Berneray, West Beach

Matsushima ya
ay Matsushima ya
Matsushima ya

Basho

Berneray –
aye Berneray
Berneray!

ver. AF


40 Walking oku file
Alec Finlay, 2010

We descend oku-style, single file, poet-dog-poet, into a seastrong wind, down to the beach, Pabbay in sun across the sound, Caolas Phabaigh (not Boreray as Eck’s sand circle poem has it). Ken finds a sheltered spot in the dunes to catch his breath and write a hokku-label. Eck sits on rocks and decides to stay thereabouts.

40 circle poem (counting waves)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Ken’s circuit

I walk on letting flotsam & jetsam catch my eye, thinking they'd be good bases for hokku-labels but sometimes, like Basho, no way to keep up writing.


40 jetsam, West Beech
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 jetsam, West Beach
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 jetsam, West Beach
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 jetsam, West Beach
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I lunch in the dunes, sheltered but grains of sand carry on to me. Lie back and doze a while, find I’ve composed a hokku-label for the lobster-creel, as Eck does likewise elsewhere.


40 hokku-label, West Beach
(‘wind-lull / sun full / sand-hull / sleep pull’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 hokku-label, West Beach
(‘beached creel / still dreams of lobsters / blue beneath the waves’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 hokku-label, Berneray
(‘wanted / wan lapster-felly / fir da pot’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Wanting respite from the wind and to get my bearings I cross dunes to machair. Fail latterly but succeed formerly and enjoy the quiet that distance from breakers brings.


40 hokku-label, Berneary
(‘rough as the ocean is / reaching over to St Kilda / machair flowers / flowering stars’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 Macaskill monument
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I reach almost the SW corner of the island, pasture for sheep and cattle, and the monument to Angus Macaskill the orange map declines to note – known as the Nova Scotia giant (1825–1861) he was born here, stood 7 feet nine inches in height without pathological defect, and is remembered as a kindly and just man and a humble Christian.


40 chair stone
Ken Cockburn, 2010


40 bog cotton, Cnoc Bhuirgh
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Back along road and by fence to the chair stone, lopsided and black. Look for the marked cairn and souterrain among the many scattered rocks and boulders but discern nothing made. I cross pasture between grazing cattle raising a snipe at a clear watercressed stream, then climb over rock and heather to the windy top of Cnoc Bhuirgh. Rocks and a pool where bog-cotton thrives.

I cut down to the road and meet up with the German again. On Loch a Bhaigh he’s spotted three seals where they love to sunbathe on the rocks. With his company the last leg seems to speed up.

At the hostel the tide’s out exposing sandbanks and rocks, beginning with the outline of an S shaped wall that comes and goes with the tide, Eck says is the remains of a Viking harbour. Beyond are what Ian Stephen calls 2 ‘fixed greens’: navigation beacons marking the narrow channel for fishing-boats. And beyond, at low tide, a wide spit of sand that extends all the way to the skerry of Bhaiteam.


40 hokku-label, Viking Harbour, Baile, Berneray
(‘sand / strand // green) / (green // rock / crook’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(KC)


Eck’s return


40 Sado buoy
Alec Finlay, 2010


40 Basho, Sado
Angharad Closs Stephens, 2010

My shorter slower route, round the skirts of Beinn Ghainche, puts the wind behind me. The whole way I marveled at the gannets rise and fall as they span around the island on a turquoise carousel, just for badness it seemed, as little fishing went on. One visit I watched Simon, an artist from London, pencil sketch every bird species on the island into the hostel log.


40 hokku-label, West Beach, Berneray
(‘the / gannets // cut / waves // both / ways’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

birds in the north
black & white, shades

of grey and a flare
or pipe of orange


40 ME74
Alec Finlay, 2010

From land every sea horizon has a Sado of it’s own. Looking out on the little islands of the Sound of Harris – Grodhaigh, Lingeigh, Sgarabhaigh, Sgeir Chruaidh, Eilean Bhacam, Ceileagraigh, Ensay – and over to Macleaod’s Table on Skye, I tried to pick out a location for each of the flashing beacons I’d seen flashing at 4am the night before, in a gale that cowped a tent or two heilster-gowdie, when Barno had an accident that’s best passed over in silence.


40 Barno casts a shadow
Alec Finlay 2010


40 Basho casts a shadow
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF)


If wishes were thistles

When we left Jon & Ali at Kingussie they were just about to pack the tent and head back to Berneray where, the island being treeless, they left us this wish.


40 wish, thistle, Berneray
Thomson & Craighead, 2010

The wish being such a potent form – as Ali said, being there always, even after it’s gone – I’ve sent out a few for other people’s trees. This is the first record to arrive back, having found a Bashoesque home.


40 wish, Japanese cherry blossom tree
Ali Bowden, 2010

And then this wish which a close reader tied to a holly among apples, in the Dean allotments, Edinburgh.

(AF)


Caroline’s Coda

And these 2 photos from Caroline Dear’s visit to Berneray show what happens to our labels after flapping about for a few weeks in Hebridean climes.




40 Berneray
Caroline Dear, 2010

Tomohiko’s Coda

The e-post also brings in new artworks by Tomohiko Ogawa, collaging together Japan and Scotland.




40 flat ridge (Five Sister, Kintail, Loch Duich)
Tomohiko Ogawa, 2010


40 flatridge (Mt. Nantai, Nikko)
Tomohiko Ogawa, 2010

intimations

Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust works with islanders to establish and maintain a chain of Crofters' Hostels to sound basic standards throughout the Hebrides. It aims to provide hostellers with the opportunity to get to know the communities, their language and culture, the scenery and natural environment of the islands.

the Isle of Bernaray - an online guide.

visual artists Jon thomson and Alison Craighead (Thomson & Craighead) have rpoduced works such as Flat Earth (2007) and The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order (2010), a complete rendition of the 1960's film version of HG Wells Novella re-edited by us into alphabetical order from beginning to end.


Coda

barefoot steps
on acorns
dog walking

Tomohiko Ogawa, 2010



1 comment:

  1. Hi there, My great gran also camped on the east beach on Berneray in the 1910s. That was a good few years before your gran. They owend the house which is now the hostel as a holiday home. Regards.

    ReplyDelete