Tuesday, 27 July 2010

(29) Hoy, Orkney

By Alistair Peebles
with Alison Flett

Our Hiraizumi is Hoy, Orkney

29 Stromness
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Stromness–Hoy–Cantick Head

On the twentieth of June, Alison and I set out from her house in Stromness to walk through the old harbour town to Ness Point.

29 Harizumi craft
Alistair Peebles, 2010

It was overcast and muggy, and before we reached the car park and began our return, raining heavily. Between the low cliff and Hoy’s near-symmetrical Ward Hill and Coolags – Mount Kinka, as it were – runs Hoy Sound, one entranceway for Scapa Flow.

29 Isle of Hoy
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Beyond, a grassy track leads on to the Atlantic shore at Warebeth. In the rain and with the bricked-up wartime ‘Bunkerman’ hut, it did seem rather a wilderness, though the steady, civilised, liquid thwack of balls from the golf course let us know that culture was also present here.

The Pine of Aneha we had imagined earlier in a telegraph pole at the Pier Head, and I would see it again a different form a few days later, passing Flotta. The town was Sunday-quiet, though a great rush of St Magnus Festival-goers suddenly engulfed us, on their way out of a reading. Then we found a helpful bookseller, his shop still open and pleased with trade, who pointed us to a friend’s house upstairs, where we were soon supplied with tea

29 tea
Alistair Peebles, 2010

I crossed the Flow later that week, on a bright and breezy Thursday, meeting a teacher friend on the boat, on her way to take her last class in the school. Cycling south to Cantick Head, I passed verges filled with orchids, vetches, bog cotton, flags and clover. Old wartime relics were everywhere too: buildings, guns and a tidy graveyard. The occasional gardens, neatly cared for; the crescent-shaped ayre; the lemony yoles at Longhope; the two Martello towers; another graveyard further south where an entire lifeboat crew of eight was laid to rest in ’69. The sea, the playful Collie at the harbour, the old wireless station set to a crazy birdsong channel. The Pine of Aneha rising again, as a wind turbine, 2MW Enercon E70.

29 Enercon 'pine'
Alistair Peebles, 2010

29 Archaeologists

Alistair Peebles, 2010

On a headland above the Pentland Firth, archaeologists were busy excavating an ancient mound, Neolithic in origin, buried into later by people of the Bronze Age. A slow, careful exploration, lasting several years, the work made light with enthusiasm and always-imminent discovery. Like a renga-journey through correspondences between things near and far, they were looking again at the obvious and probing the places that were hidden. Out of the wind, with a lunchtime view over the sea and Scotland, we toasted it all, swigging from a flask of Highland Park.

29 audio: Dan Lee, ORCA, Cantick Head

Speaking on site at South Walls, 24 June, is excavation supervisor Dan Lee, Project Officer from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA). Archaeologists from Aberdeen and Durham Universities were working alongside Dan and two other ORCA personnel, Gavin Lindsay and Antonia Thomas.

29 fauna (I)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

29 fauna (II)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

A hospitable welcome at Melsetter House as I made my way back, though I had to rush to make sure of the ferry.

tea with Elsie
quickly and away –
a kiss in my hand

29 hokku-label (dyke)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

(AP & AFl)


Melsetter House, Longhope, and Cantick Head are located at the southern end of Hoy (58°46'58.07"N) (3°14'16.59"W). For ferry timetables between mainland Orkney and Hoy, visit Orkney Ferries website.

Melsetter House is privately owned, but is open to the public on most Thursdays by prior appointment. For details phone: 01856 791352

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 info@theroadnorth.co.uk


Alistair Peebles is a writer, artist, and publisher who lives and works in Orkney. He owns and directs Brae Projects.

Alison Flett is an Edinburgh-born writer, now based in Orkney. Her first collection of poems, Whit Lassyz Ur Inty, was shortlisted for the Saltire Awards. Available through Argyll Publishing.


Hoy Cod a

Alistair send us these photographs of his peregrination on the High island.

coda: Hoy renga

By Alistair Peebles

with Alison Flett

Whichever way we’d taken
beyond us lay Victoria Street
a hydro pole and Hoy

hooded, two-thumb-texting
from the pipe-spitting bench

ferry turns in
bringing home its name
its numbers

a dinghy on an anchor rope

they won’t mind
the clouds descending
– divers on the Sharon Rose

Summer of Sculpture
the tall Pier windows stream

orange sari, crimson scarf
under a filmic heaven
a mother smashes rock

Festival-goers: All he read was
from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!

a small burden
this twist of Yunnan Chitsu Pingcha
we mean to share

the bookshop raises an eyebrow
points us to a kettle above

Rebecca's horses
upside down with summer joy
– we sip an earthy brew

the street signs
are as much in the stones we cross

a pee stop
– opposite ends
of the same plumbing

concrete studies concrete
across sufficient sea

next day to Lyness
south of the mountain and sunny
– Aneha turned Enercon

Do you not know the Ore Brae?
in lungfuls of pine now

skylarks see more
but not so well these orchids
buttercups, vetches, thistles, clover

a foot rest on the parapet
for stonechat and burn-chat

ayre and tide
silencer erupting over
the slow waves breaking

old lifeboat station
nothing else it could be, waiting

four yoles
in several colours
too pretty for this mooring

a bonxie takes the air
tilting the shoreline

field after field of grazing kye
– then figures on the skyline moving
marking a mound

in a cliff-scoop with a dram
eleven toast the endless sea

glacial till beneath it all
where someone sometime scraped a start
and archaeology ends

WWII Wireless Station
still on the crazy birdsong channel

tea with Elsie
quickly and away
– a kiss in my hand

freewheeling downhill, moment
with heather air and salt air.

(Summer 2010, Orkney)

(3) Kinloch-Rannoch


So, today, Schiehallion looms, as we begin what we call our Big Augus
t Trip, headed north and west, to Kinloch-Rannoch; then over to Glen Nevis and on via Loch Eilt – with the 'Harry Potter' pines – to the singing sands of Loch Ailort. There we'll stay with Malcolm Fraser and Helen Lucas, at their new house with a view of Eilean nan Gobhar, ('Isle of the Goats'). After that it's on to the poets of Skye, Meg at Tarsksvaig, Miles at Flodigarry, beneath The Quiraing. After a day on Sorley's Raasay, our oku loops back onto the mainland, heading East to Insh and Dufftown.

As a blessing for the journey here is a litany of place names, collected by Thomas A. Clark, newly printed in a limited edition by the Ingleby Gallery

the hidden place
Thomas A. Clark, 2010

For now, here's a poem for Schiehallion, a mountain so full of rapture that it invites another pairing: this time with Lu Shan, one of China's famous Peaks. Tonight we'll drink green tea from Lu Shan looking out on Schiehallion; in the Autumn there will be an endless 4 square skyline, with poems on Hiyori-yama (Japan) by Gerry Loose, and Arapaho Peaks (America) by Andrew Schelling, together with Ken and my verses on the Scottish mountain, and more verses on Lushan, translated from the classics by Brian Holton.

This is one of those Chinese old school mountain classics, as a farewell to Byker and Edinburgh.

3 Quatrains on Bidding Farewell to the Thatched Cottage

I fell asleep in the sun as I listened to the birds on the hill,
my Letter of Appointment, on yellow paper, lying beside my pillow:

I’d better get up right now, my lord, and thank you for your kindness -
so many years slipped by unnoticed, as I lived among the Lushan peaks…

Long I slept under my rough blanket, living as a recluse,
but suddenly I must put on the red mandarin gown and go to be a Prefect;
I will leave my thatched cottage, but my heart stays here,
for I will write much else about Lushan in all the years to come

Three little thatched sheds open to the hills,
and mountain streams girdled around my home;
in sight of the hills, in the sound of the streams, I won’t be sad:
when my three-year tour is over and done, I’ll come back here again.

Bai Juyi, tr. Brian Holton

When our Basho began his journey, wondering at the journey ahead he wrote:

‘how far it is to Ou "under Go skies." To picture hair turning white, places ears had heard of eyes never seen, likelihood of returning not so bright … thin shoulders feeling packs drag’.

Our pair for this passage is Anon, camped in the Black Wood of Kinloch-Rannoch, hiking over to Glen Lyon. This is his text.


A 2 A 4 A =A



Forward motions crossing the land – this land – Scotland - from one place of interest and attraction to the next – intersecting pathways – routes – and roads – weaving a mapwork.


Kirkcaldy to Rannoch by train via Haymarket and Glasgow Queen Street – travelling on a Club 55 ticket - £15 return to anywhere in Scotland.
Walk from Rannoch Station to Lochan Sron Smeur. Meet the laird – a pompous authoritarian little territorialist - as I put up the tent. Dinner. Angle until 21.30 – put back 3 small trout.


Country of all origins – resplendent in all her glories – her features full of beauty – radiant and resplendent – a foreignness – exotic almost - in such a spectacular display – as though put on especially for tourists to admire – not Scots. A green blush on the hills. Broom in bloom and rhodies too – shocks of outrageous colour and royal blue lochs. Sundappled woods holding secrets – mysteries – myths – legends and histories – all – she has it all – bundled and bound in one complex concentration.


05.30 rise to a chill westerlie. Angle to no avail. Red throated diver. Weak sun. Walk through to Lochan Loin nan Donnlaich. Cast my lures but small fry only. Walk up to meet the Loch Ericht track. Descend to Bridge of Gaur. Find a place in warm sun to take lunch. Cross open moor to Loch Finnart – a pleasing body of water. Fish but catch nothing. Walk on to Loch Monaghan to camp at end of dam. 17.00 brew jasmine tea. Swim – warm water. Cast and catch a fine golden hen trout fertile with orange roe – for dinner. Strong warm westerlie. Golden eagle. Mallard. Loon. Angle until 21.30 – catch a smaller trout.


But do not be mistaken – mislead by misnomers or appearances – for this complex concentration which is Alba is a collective effort. A combination and conjoining of hundreds of identities – each encircled by sea or loch. A convoluted human geography – an ageless geology.
Then imagine the reverse to be true also – each aquamarine jewel an island set in moorland – mountain – or encircled by forest.


Rise before 06.00 – calm with mist on the loch. Midges on the still air. Cuckoo. Snipe. Brew tea. Woodpecker drumming. Grouse clucking. Angle in still water – a small ruddy unidentifiable perchlike fish. Plagued by midges. Break camp and advance. 09.00. Humid. Drenched in sweat. Ascend to summit of Meall nam Maigheach - antenna or mast - 11.30 to collect and send text messages. Golden plover. Take lunch beside the track which descends steep to Glen Lyon then locate as high a campsite as possible to catch the warm breeze – looking directly to Carn Gorm and down the dark glen to Adamnan’s cross. Even up here flies gather to cause a nuisance and midges come out of the dry peaty crust. After a dinner of Loch Monaghan trout and rice more texts from S, L & A. Ascend to summit of Cam Chreag to make a poised cairn into which I build a small hearth to set a symbolic solstice fire – flames at 21.00 21.06.2010 before descending slowly and reluctantly – the sky clearing and the setting sun lighting up the mountains’ flanks.


Hunting fish by deception – artifice – or art.


Wake as the sun climbs over a ridge – brew tea – listen to Radio Scotland 07.00 news. A leisurely breakfast and break camp. The morning hot as I descend into Glen Lyon. Leave rucksack in God’s care and talk to a Hydro engineer before walking down the glen to the singular unmarked stone which celebrates Adamnan - arriving shortly before 10.00. Two quiet tags tied to fence posts – a signal from the evasive Eck denoting his absence – an apology. Leave after10.30 to return to Adamnan’s kirk. An early lunch then heave up the Lairig Ghallabhaich. 13.40 enter Rannoch Forest and walk a network of roads – old and new – through to where I began yesterday reaching Loch Monaghan at 16.15 tired and sore to sit under a sturdy birk to brew tea. A strong warm wind – too strong to swim and too strong to pitch the tent in the same place as before. Pitch close to the birks but come to regret this position when the wind dies. Swim before dinner then angle to no avail until after 21.00.


Know your archetype and live your life according to its prescriptions. Maintain a harmony with it at all times.


Breezeless and cloudy – midges – after a brew of tea go to cast a few angles but lose the bubble float at first attempt – it simply vanished before my eyes. Breakfast. A game of midge evasion – cloud gathering from the souwest. Although the morning threatened rain it blew through giving a broken sky and short episodes of sun. Angle away the morning catching only 2 unidentifiable ruddy perchlike fish at once. Lunch. Break camp and advance to Loch Finnart. Angle and hook a few ardent but uneatable fry plus one dark coloured trout the same length as the skinning knife. The only catch the one for dinner. The moroseness of the afternoon closed in by dinnertime with soft drizzle – the type of gentle irrigation that favours midges which I expect will blacken the air by morning. The tent set on the site of a hut which lies broken and scattered among the heather.


Abbreviated to Eck – the k making an unsilent appearance here – as if from nowhere – to emphasise a point or accent. Poet archetype – born to live that life surely – soundly – assembling text – words – and seeking out others to contribute to his flow – current – continuum. He influenced this solstice sojourn by suggesting points of significance – touchstones – in the landscape – places where particular creative human activity is concentrated – focused. As though these loci have always been thus - intersections where lines meet perhaps – or places forged from geomancy. Eck’s cultural net interweaves with my own tapestry of wanderings and memories suggesting other intersections – places to revisit – re-experience anew. And this compulsion of necessity combined with the constant urge to explore unknown wrinkles of Alba’s intriguing features suggested a route linking a number of insignificant and personal pilgrimages which too are islands – tangible – of the mind.


I slept long and relatively late due to a drop in barometric pressure – not stirring until 06.30 to piss and brew tea. The mountains obscured by cloud – the loch almost black. A chill air. Typical full moon weather and equally typical of mid-summer. A pair of Canada geese live up here their neighbours being a pair of regal black throated divers who floated nonchalantly on the dark loch preening while I cast ridiculously and without hope of raising a trout in such dour conditions. After breakfast a few final casts brought forth a trout for lunch – eaten with oatcakes and a brew of tea. Break camp and cross wet open moor – fragrant with the perfume of bog myrtle – to the road. Walk by the Bridge of Gaur to the Hydro dam at Loch Eigheach from where I followed a grassy track to a small idyllic bay in which porpoised a salmon – 20lb? Lunch and establish camp then fish the small bays along the west shore and although I hooked plenty of tiddlers I caught nothing large enough to dine upon. Changeable weather but the place excites the senses so much that the weather is irrelevant. Kindle a small fire to cook noodles for dinner – meths being low. The wind has swung to the norwest and cloud is just capping Ben Alder. An autumnal atmosphere this evening in every mood so I do not expect to catch anything to take home to Betty. Angle until 21.30. Hook many but keep none. Hypnotised by purple and red lights firing against slate and dark green.


One morning – some years ago – I was hitch-hiking from Cushieville to Aberfeldy and had not tramped too far before a small two-door car drew alongside. It was driven by a large matrix in the uniform of a district nurse in beside whom I squeezed. The gearstick all but keeping us apart. She knew everyone from the head of the longest glen in Scotland to its terminus and proceeded to divulge their names, lineages and private histories.
‘But do you know why the glen is famous?’ she demanded in the strict tone of a dominee.
I avoided the obvious answer and said it might be considered famous for a number of reasons – the oldest yew tree in Scotland which grows in the graveyard at Fortingall and the Weem Hotel which hosted the great military engineer, General George Wade, whose network of roads and bridges through the Highlands assisted in the English conquest of this land - many of which continue to be used to this day.
‘But’, she interjected forcibly, as though losing her patience, ‘Do you know what makes the glen really famous?’
‘Well’, I replied slowly with some caution, ‘You might be alluding to the fact that Pontius Pilate was born in the Roman camp at Fortingall.
‘Yes!’, she crowed in triumph. ‘But do you know who his mother was? A command rather than a question, said not only in a tone of one-upmanship but also carrying one of disgust.
‘Well – you have me on that one.’ I replied with humour tainted with curiosity.
‘She was a hoor from the Braes o’ Balquidder!’ the burly midwife blasted. A confirmation of fact, as though she had personally attended the birth, as well as a condemnation which damned the hussy for all eternity. And in that instant time was telescoped as though the 1900-odd years between that momentous event to the present did not exist.
I owe this anonymous, living, breathing encyclopedia of human histories an enormous debt for she taught me within the space of 7 miles or so the true importance of history, especially when it is carried orally.


Wake to piss at 05.30. Outside thick with midges – paradise transformed into hell. No breeze and cloud. Brew tea. The tent full of smoke from 2 smouldering insect coils. I wonder – do midges have a collective consciousness like ants or any other insect colony? An intelligence that enables them to conspire to lure the unwary into an evil trap. The really smart midges colonising places so attractive to the human psyche that they are assured victims. 07.15 – a strategy – take breakfast then break camp trusting that a breeze will have risen by then. This will give time to walk to the station – one-and-a-half hours away – and have a cast on the north shore as I advance.


AKA Adomnán and/or Eunan was probably born in Co Donegal c 624 where he grew up. He was educated by Columban monks in Ireland and became a novice at Iona in 650. In 679 he was appointed the ninth abbot to Iona holding the position until his death in 704 on September 23, his feastday.
What type of man was he? Resolute and single-minded. Doubtless strong and focused upon his task in life – to spread the word. Preach a new gospel – a new way of thinking – a new morality. He is credited with convincing the Council of Birr that women should be exempt from wars and that they and children should not be taken prisoners or slaughtered. This humane and compassionate belief brought about Adamnan's law. A pious scholar, he wrote a life of St. Columba, one of the most important biographies of the early Middle Ages. A brother of Serf, Drostan, Finnan, men who left their names – and buildings - in the Scottish landscape but how much of their truths are buried now beneath layers of myth? Do their archetypes continue to walk solitary and determined routes through Alba in other guises?
Did Adamnan pass through Glen Lyon en route to Iona and stay long enough to carve the block of stone with its faint rude lichened cross that bears his name and set it on a knoll in Glen Lyon as a territorial marker to assert his presence and intent? A declaration that God from that moment on dwelt in – and continues to protect – the glen.


Reach Rannoch Station at 11.46 as the Mallaig train pulls in. An hour to wait. In the platform tearoom I purchase 2 little cartons of apple juice + 1 of orange – 80p each. Back to the commercial world of rip-off and excessive profiteering. The morning has conspired to send me home – troutless and a little frustrated. The midges have certainly been the crucial factor in my decision to quit and a split bubble float put the cap on it. I do not relish nor look forward to rejoining the human race – the crowds – bustle – urbanite mentality – pace and dog-eat-dog commerce of it all. Reading My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir during this excursion has provided like-minded company enforcing the notion of archetypes – how could I not empathise with Muir? And how could he not empathise with those of a similar mind before him? This lineage surely runs back to the first tribes who wandered the earth – a fine continuum.


Abreviation of anonymous – a person whose name is unknown. There is a venerable tradition of contributions to the arts and sciences – Man’s achievements – made by unknown – but not unsung – contributors and it is celebrated here as A 2 A – Anon 2 Anon.



Lochan Sron Smeur is a loch based on the edge of Rannoch Moor (56°41'58.58"N) (4°31'60.00"W). From Rannoch Station follow the road east, past the Moor of Rannoch hotel. About 1.5 miles from the station turn left along 'The Road to the Isles'. After just over a mile down this path, turn right on some vehicle tracks just before the ford.


View Thomas A. Clark's the hidden place blog.


after anon

(31) Beinn Dorain

By Colin Will

31 Beinn Dorain (I)
Colin Will, 2010

Our Shitomae is Beinn Dorain

Gaelic: Hill of the otter
Pronunciation: byn doa-ran

I rise at six, breakfast, and arrive at the Bridge of Orchy car park before eight, in a heavy shower of rain, the only rain I felt the whole day. I walk up the road to the station, entered by an underpass, which crosses the rail line and leads to the West Highland Way, and the path to Beinn Dorain.

31 Bridge of Orchy Railway Station
Colin Will, 2010

Eck & Ken have identified this entrance as the cognate of Basho’s Shitomae Barrier. By coincidence, a train arrives and stops at the station, above my head. So now I have my opening verse:

starting gate with
iron horse overhead
and new midge bites

31 hokku-label, Beinn Dorain
Colin Will, 2010

I do not expect to encounter bandits on this journey, but I see no need to employ “a strong young man” to lead the way and to act as bodyguard. Besides, I have my walking poles, and these will serve to ward off any unruly elements.

31 Beinn Dorain, bog asphodel
Colin Will, 2010

The meadow is a mass of yellow spikes, each tipped with bright yellow starry flowers. This is bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), one of my favourite Highland plants. There is also a lot of bell heather (Erica carnea) in flower. The path rises steadily toward the mountain.

Seen from the main road Beinn Dorain appears as a perfect cone – a green Fuji-san. However, from the climber’s side it’s a broad ridge, a double mountain mass, with Beinn an Dothaidh (byn an daw-ee) on the left, and Dorain on the right, linked by a col, or bealach, which is flanked by vertical cliffs on both sides. The walk will take me up to the bealach, before following the right-hand path to the summit. The route rises steadily, and I notice how badly eroded the path has become. In places it’s more like a wet scree slope, with loose and unstable gravel. This would trouble me on the descent, and going up it was, in places, like walking up a stream bed.

waterfalls left and right
the way up shows no sign
of getting shorter

The village behind me appears to shrink as I walk higher, and the views of the surrounding hills become better and better. A gully on a mountain opposite shows as a white streak of tumbling water, which at first I mistake for a quartz vein. An hour into the walk I stop briefly for a cup of tea, and the midges immediately start biting. They obviously haven’t read the instruction label on my anti-midge spray. The tea – a wonderful ‘Iron Buddha’ oolong – refreshes immediately.

monkey picked tea
lifts the climber
up Beinn Dorain

The Beinn Dorain frogs described by Norman MacCaig in ‘One of the Many Days’ are numerous and very colourful – green, yellow, russet, brown. They’re active too, hopping and leaping through the wet grass by the path. I don’t know if they’re ‘tinily considering/ the huge concept of Ben Dorain’, but I am.

coloured frogs
leap in the wet grass
as high as Beinn Dorain

31 Beinn Dorain, frogs
Colin Will, 2010

The last stretch up to the bealach is quite steep, and then I emerge onto the broad saddle, marked by a cairn. From here the views of distant Glen Lyon and its loch are spectacular, and the hills on both sides are glorious. I see the path leading to Beinn an Dothaidh, but I take the right-hand fork. I’m soon walking up boiler-plate slabs of very good rock, up the next steep stretch. A family of ravens flies overhead, checking out this intruder. I’m the only human in the landscape – no climbers above or below me.

31 Beinn Dorain (II)
Colin Will, 2010

a brown thread
stitches the walk
to Glen Lyon

coal black birds
fly from crag to crag

I like walking alone in the hills. It gives me the freedom to make my own pace – much slower than when I was young – and gives me the opportunity to notice little things as I walk. At this height – over 3000 ft. by now - I see the first signs of Scotland’s Arctic-Alpine flora. Alpine Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla alpina) is common here, with leaves like small green hands, and topped by clusters of greenish flowers. I also see Starry saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris), and, more rarely, a true mountain flower, Sibbaldia procumbens (which has no common name). Small and delicate, this flower is the botanical emblem of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the place I worked for fourteen years. It is named for Sir Robert Sibbald, a co-founder of the Garden in 1670, whose book Scotia Illustrata first described some of Scotland’s distinctive plants, animals, birds and fishes in 1684, illustrated with some remarkable engravings. It’s not just for the pace that I like climbing alone, however; it’s for the peace. Just I am here, with my senses and my thoughts, no distractions.

bell heather

There are sheep on the summit ridge, which is broad and grassy. They graze in pairs, ewe and lamb, and if the lamb should stray too far, the mother bleats until adventurous daughter comes back. It’s hard not to feel sorry for sheep, out in all weathers, driven high in summer, driven low in winter to have the fat lambs taken for the table. It’s hard to feel sorry for sheep, seeing the amount of habitat change they have caused, eating all tree shoots that emerge from hidden seeds, so that only grasses, sedges, woodrush and small herbs cover the ground. And the Clearances too were caused by human greed for the income the sheep could provide.

high in the hills
with old poets
in my head

The steep sections of climb are beginning to catch up with my aging body. I get severe cramps in my upper thigh muscles, which force me to sit on boulders and massage my legs until the pain eases. I’ve never had this before, and I reflect that I really should climb more often, so that my muscles and tendons will strengthen.

Just below the final ridge I look up and see, silhouetted against the skyline, a mountain hare, the two long ears raised. He turns to look at me, unafraid. His only enemy at this great height would be golden eagle, but I have not seen one today. Nor have I seen any deer, so I cannot reflect on Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s epic Gaelic poem ‘Beinn Dorain’, which I have read in a fine translation by Iain Crichton Smith, another of Scotland’s fine bards. What I do see now, and it’s a lovely sight too, are small clumps of Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia). It’s a gorgeous wee flower.

hare on the hill
long ears swivel –
wind sounds

31 Beinn Dorain (III)
Colin Will, 2010

I climb out onto the summit plateau, pass the cairn and walk on to reach the true summit. The view from here is breathtaking. A large part of Scotland’s mountain landscape is laid out before me – Ben Nevis to the north-west, Cruachan to the west, the Lawers group and the rest of the Breadalbane Hills to the east and south, the Crianlarich group, most of which I climbed in years past. I can see dark grey mists in some distant glens, signs of rainstorms. I stop here, back to the wind, for my lunch, and more tea from my flask, before beginning the long walk back.

grey smirr of rain
in distant glen –
someone’s getting wet

The descent is fine as far as the bealach, but after that it becomes tricky because of the loose gravel in the path. It’s at the bealach that I have my first human encounter of the day, with a family of foreign tourists, who ignore my greeting. I slip and slide, overbalance when stones tip and wobble, and jar my knees when I take a step too long. Feet and ankles are painful too, with the constant twisting and flexing. At times I curse myself, feeling that I’ve taken on too much at my age. Slowly and inexorably the Bridge of Orchy houses get nearer.

a foot placed
on stones
twists round

At the end of the walk I drive back to Comrie through a torrential downpour. I reach my mother’s house. Time for a glass of Nikka All Malt whisky, a hot bath, a meal, and bed.

31 Beinn Dorain, wish
Colin Will, 2010




Park at the Bridge of Orchy (56°31'2.98"N) (4°45'55.02"W). Then head east, crossing the railway line to join the West Highland Way which leads to the summit of Beinn Dorain.

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 info@theroadnorth.co.uk


Colin Will is a poet, botanist and geologist based in Dunbar. He runs the ever-growing small publishers Calder Wood Press.

Colin's most recent collection of poetry, The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Cafe, is available now from Red Squirrel Press.