Tuesday, 1 March 2011

(37) Loch Etive

‘… or the time I've been
stretched in the sunshine, when I've heard

Ainnle and Ardan stepping lightly, and they
saying: Was there ever the like of Deirdre for
a happy and sleepy queen?’

– J. M. Synge, Dierdre of the Sorrows

Our Gassan’s Ben Cruachan

Our Swordsmiths' Hut’s where the smiths temper blades in which they eventually carve: Gassan: a mark of wide repute is the bloomery of Bonawe Ironworks

Our half-opened buds of three-foot cherry trees buried under piled-up reluctant snow are Annie’s espaliered nectarines that catch the warmth of the wall

Our recollected Gyoson Sojo's poem, which made buds seem to bud the more is Annie’s ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’ and ‘Rosemary Lane’

Our by and large against code to disclose what goes on here is Annie's stories not to be repeated

Our tanzaku are hokku-labels left flapping at the Ironworks, by the dun, down the glen, in the garden

37 poemcard (view of Loch Etive over Bonawe)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Loch Etive: That Time

We’d swithered about Gassan all Spring. If we’d known earlier about Beregonium – Barr nan Gobhar, Ridge of the Armourers – that would have been pair for the ancient Smith-cult founded by Tamaomaru, Kenkyu and his son Gassan. Then there was a provisional plan to send a climbing-poet or poet-goat up Beinn Mheadhoin, to bivvy under the Shelter Stone and cross the stepping stones. But that mountains beyond another mountain, Ben Macdui, and although Basho climbed to the snow patches almost as far as the gate to the clouds, we opted in the end for craft. We couldn’t resist the invitation to stay with Annie Briggs, at Kilmiddlefern, and that brought us close to dreich Bonawe.

Annie's garden through trees
Alec Finlay, 2010

But Etive caught our imagination and we looked at her both ways along the loch. Station 37 collages Loch Etiveside (August) and Glen Etive (September), this time and that, tracking the Deirdre myth inland from Benderloch / Beregonium, deep into the mountains, compassing the crown of Ben Cruachan W–E, looking for the places she and the three sons of Uisneach, Naoise chief among them, enjoyed their chaste picnics, by the side of Deirdre's waterfall in Glen Etive, or in her House of the Sun (Tigh Grianach), or in Naoise's wood (the Coille Naoise) in the bay between Achnacloich and Airds Point. (W. H. Murray)

Sora’s hokku (I)

the summit of clouds
but how many giving way
to the moon's mountain

Sora, tr Cid Corman

the summit of clouds
how many bow down
to Cruchan’s crown

ver. AF

37 Ben Cruachan
Alec Finlay, 2010

Bonawe Ironworks

37 Bonawe
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Retracing our road through rain, past Dunstaffnage through Connel and Taynuilt to Bonawe Ironworks or (the 1753 spelling) Bunaw. Through rain we tread listless over Historic Scotland mown lawns by empty stone buildings, watertight with earth floors and dour HS capital-lettered signs. Brambles and elderberries rain swells but won't ripen kept behind lock and key. Rain runs down well-maintained slate roofs, curtaining the doorways. Rain runs down chimneys. Sleeves. Eyelashes. It matches my feelings, for I confess this is the first hour of the entire trip I've felt was tinged, or even soaked through, with boredom.

37 Bonawe
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Once charcoal heated these walls, birch and oak coppiced in 16-year cycles to sustain supplies, after woods down south ran out (for ‘Amazon’ read ‘Severn’). 10,000 acres of woodland produced annually 700 tons of pig-iron. The big sheds are for charcoal produced in the woods during the summer, the smallest for iron ore, brought here (easier that than move the trees).

For Anno 1753 the Iron Age calendar reads c.2453. Here cannonballs that subdued natives reluctant to embrace Empire were made.

There's a beached boat at the top of the rise.

(AF, KC)

Twa Blasts


man’s endless
desire for iron
feeds the ovens
a diet of charcoal
flame and lime

Evolutionary Furnaces

Early Bloomery
Advanced Bloomery



37 rubbed found poems
(Historic Scotland metalwork signs, pencil and rain, Bonawe)
Alec Finlay, 2010


Two Duns: Loch Etive Precessional

I’m glad to exchange Bonawe for an adventure into the prehistoric unknown. Things perk up where there are duns. We’ve developed our Bluffers Guide over the summer and, after practising on Category D examples – Dun Telve, Dun Troddan, Dunsinane, Dunadd – we’re ready for the challenge of locating some less well known category C redoubts.

It dawns on me, in the drizzle, Dun Chatbach & Dun Creagach align, due W; beacons, either side of the peninsula, elevating the loch into a processional sea-aisle, marked by ceremonial fortifications, Ardchattan Priory, the heights of Na Maoilean and Beinn Mheadhonach, and Cruachan; making the real waterway a symbolic channel peeked with the anticipation of a sail, Naoise’s birlinn.

The loch bends deep, leading into the mountain fastness of Glen Etive, the secret sunbower we’ll seek out next trip.


(I) Dun Chatbach

Dun Chatbach’s route runs with rain, sploshes beneath the railway bridge through the fractured rusting gate, west along a muddy path. If you hear the gush of a waterfall through the rain you’re on the right road. Trampling through soaked bracken we compared maps and split, Eck for the lower countours, where it was raining, Ken the high, where there was also rain.

37 Argyll nectarine
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Surprisingly, at such heights, Ken spots a nectarine, Bashoesque, or from a ballad or fable, a fruit perhaps from the enchanted forest through which the invisible soldier follows the twelve dancing princesses as secretly they make their way to the ball on the island.

proof? yes –
the golden leaf
he thought to pocket

37 hokku-label
(‘when will I understand / the water’s song? /When nectarines ripen / along its banks’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Eck’s got a good feeling about the bumpiness of his wild bracken field: excitement peaks when he spots a clump of wood-sorrel dry under the damp fronds. Pull back the rind of moss, like mandarin, or gouda, and here’s my rickle of Dun. Big wave to Ken up there in the nectarine grove, in the rain.

37 Rind
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 Basho with cult objects (fruit & Springbank single malt)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Following the bumpy wall mound further round I found a wee cutaway, no bigger than a sheep hole, with a scrape of cobwebby rubble: vitrification, my ceremonial beacon theories take flame.

37 hokku-label
(‘vitrification / on the cusp // of wall and sorrel / make this my Dun’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The rain hasn’t stopped, but we’re brighter out here in the wild.

37 hokku-label
(no boat / today // Deirdre’s / sorrow // is the / rain’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


(II) Dun Creagach

Our OS shows Dun Creagach by Achnacloich Garden, seawards, due west of Dun Chatbach. The house, stone-dated 1885, has a sign that reads WAY OUT / PARK HERE, so we park here, but when we leave we find it reall means DON'T PARK HERE, GO ROUND THE CORNER AND PARK THERE. Harder to parse than a hokku. The honesty box’s split wet wood is held together by a rusty padlock, and the leaflet’s proud of its 30-odd types of rhododendrons, though it’s a qualified pride; planting the woodland garden began with the inevitable task of first clearing dense masses of Rh. ponticum.

37 Achnacloish bench with rain
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Heavy rain discourages much exploration.

The rhodies the leaflet lists might make a contemporary Scottish XI – mostly familiar names, but with the odd foreign import – which today are set up 4–3–3:


Bailey Davidson Falconer Grierson

Hodgson Hunnewell Johnstone

Schlippenbach Thomson Ward

(Williams, unenviably, has to make do with a place on the bench.)

We reach the sort-of shelter of one of the look-outs above Loch Etive, an unofficial renga platform with a sea view of the Abott's Isle. Not sure what this tree is with jaggy leaves and long brown catkins. The lichened bench contemplates still microtonal sealoch-grey.

37 Achnacloish Dun Creagach & Abbot's Island
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There’s the dun, a wee treed cnoc with sea on one side and from here too steep to get down without slipping and that, of course, is the point. Sizeable sated mushrooms are oozing back into the earth. We look across to Beregonium as a heron glides across the water.

We drive back through intermittent light and heavy rain.

37 hokku-label
(‘the abbot’s flock / huddle on the shore / as still as stones // Loch Etive’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Annie’s Secret Garden

Basho’s love of tradition shines at Gassan, praising the smiths’ dedication to their ancient art; as Annie’s knowledge of traditional song shines.

Basho turns his gaze to the late gean; the same gean seen flowering in Edo so many months ago at journey’s beginning; here scattering petals over glistening snow. Stubborn, flower out of season, in a beautiful region. Annie guides us through her garden, tells of winter’s cold edge which caught the plums but spared the nectarines. All along we’ve been looking for the right Station 50, where Basho visits the old recluse, Tosai, who he hasn’t seen for 10 years. Has he turned senile now or is he dead? Told upon enquiring: “Still alive,” living at such and such a place. Quiet spot off the road a piece, modest weather-beaten house, all entangled in yugao and hechima and the door lost behind keito and hahakigi. Well, this must be it, and knocked at the door, bringing a humble woman out. It feels right that Annie Briggs should be our Tosai, and so we decided to make a portrait of our stay with her, but in a secret way, by recording her lovely garden hid in Kilmiddlefern.


Glen Etive: This Time

We can’t help but criss-cross ourselves, each trip drawing together threads of different stations, into our Seamful Garment. Over a wonderful breakfast at Bunrannoch House (Kinloch-Rannoch), under our lodestone, Schiehallion, we talk the project over; the extent to which Ken values Basho as a guide for writing – the road north as extended flyleaf poem – and how, for Eck, there is an immediacy of reflective response, and sense of integration in the practice of hokku-labels, wishes and our oku-rites, which have their forbears and which are new to share.

We’ve a long road round to Loch Ruthven, taking in stations past and still to come – Schiehallion, Glen Lyon (Fortingall), Falls of Dochart, Colin’s Ben Dorain, Outlandia, Loch Ruthven and H-I-C-A – but it's station 37, Glen Etive, that we’ll do today. When we were at Annie’s our boat trip up Loch Etive, to see the seals and mountains, was cancelled due to rain, so all we could gain was the damp grey curtain of Ben Cruachan, seen from Dun Chatbach. We wished to go round the bend.

Now, a month on, we’ll wend our way in from the head of Deirdre’s glen, south until we can see the E of Ben Cruachan, joining the skylines. (Up at H-I-C-A that evening, discussing the project with Gair, I realise that we're not so much describing our journey as the places we go – there's no particular sequence to the blog.)

(AF, KC)

Back to the Future

Our road goes S-W-N.

Starting slowly, at Braes of Foss, here’s Schiehallion from the E, tracing the path Ken took in June. Ken’s recalls the Maskelyne Memorial (and spots a fine fly agaric straight out of Performance). Schiehallion was the first landscape represented using contour lines, and later on the west coast, a pebble that’s a mini-mountain complete with its own contour lines.

37 Maskelyne Memorial
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 Fly agaric, Braes of Foss
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Fortingall the meadow of the standing stones is new mown. (Allan Pollok-Morris catches us a winter view).

Allan-Pollok Morris, 2011

Past Kenmore Eck spots Anchorage, a new lochside cabin, diamond square, with a flighted double-triangular roof, windows only on the lochfacing side.

37 Anchorage, Loch Tay
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 hokku-label
(‘prow / ploughs / waves’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Killin we leave a wish on a willow by the Falls of Dochart for Judith, as she again makes her way to Edinburgh for radiotherapy (4 weeks of 6 done now).

37 wish, Falls of Dochart
Alec Finlay, 2010

37 Sora, Killin
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Killin-Buchaillie Etive Mor
Pointed the right way now, we park by a Marisian lochan on the north side of Rannoch Moor, 20 miles as the crow flies from where we sat yesterday afternoon, eating Ruskinian trout and taking heather tea.

37 hokku-label
(‘islanded/cloud/shadows // cloud/shadowed/island’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 Rannoch Moor frog
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Ken recalls a story about W.S. Graham taking a notion to walk over the moor, unprepared for conditions, and when a storm blew up had to take shelter in a sheep fank. (The story was related by Robert Frame in Edinburgh Review, no. 75, and is also referred to in this essay on Graham by David Cameron – no, no, another one). Our pal Peter Manson tells our pal Gerry Loose that every time he walks past West Graham Street in Glasgow he wishes he was tall enough to white-out the 'e' and 't'.

Buchaille–Loch Etive
Buchaille Etive Mor marks the turn off down Glen Etive. Later that day we would meet her lover.


winter’s near
in your
snowy cone

37 hokku-label
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)


Not far down the glen, below Stobh a Ghlais Choire, there’s are a flock of multicoloured kayakers bobbing like ducks – young guys, adepts and flakeys, with girlfriends on folding chairs by the vans. The cropped kayaks fly the falls in rapid flight to a freezing pool – plop – icy douk – & they’re caught in the pull, back paddle or sheer into the rock face either side. Now we see why they’ve got snub noses.

37 Kayak-falls (I-IV)
Alec Finlay, 2010

37 white water
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)

Snow-Diamonds on Windshields

Further into the glen, at the corrie, Stobh na Broige, the marker bears a wintery patina.

37 hokku-label
(‘tree roots hold / through the flood / of scoured scree’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Basho strikes a Ruskinian pose.

Ruskinian Poses (KC)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Further down the rivers’s Loch Urr, with small densely wooded islands; a lochan oddly bypassed by its own river. Here cheeky Sora tweaked the paps of The Buchaille.

37 Sora’s Tweak
Alec Finlay, 2010

The maps dotted through the glen say you are here; the road atlas has nonsense villages where there are less than a few scattered houses, Loch Etive, Druimachoish, Glenceitlin.


Warning: Goose

We giggle at a handmade roadsign with a goose drawn on. Around the corner we watch on as the car ahead is stopped by The Gualachulain Goose stood right in the road, hissing big hisses, then attacking from the side, where the car’s armour is weakest.

Alec Finlay, 2010


Deirdre’s Loch Etive

We lunch by the loch, backs sunwarm to a large erratic, looking over to the portable pier below Meal nan Gobhar, where the goats were, where now the harvested timber’s being taken to ferry out. Traipsing the tideline – holly and alder and a tangled debris of branches and clogged grasses – we each make 14s, Eck ties a wish and a hokku-label, and sets a buckshee trainer to swing.

14s (rhodie leaves)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

14s (sticks)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 wish, alder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

37 hokku-label
(‘another day gone / watching for the sun // to catch the sail / of Naoise’s birlinn returning’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There are apples from Tamsin's allotment; Ken picks out three pips, one for each of the sons of Uisneach. These we will need shortly.

37 hokku-label
(‘i.m. the apple-trees / of the three sons / of Uisneach’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Sora gathers sticks for Naoise’s beacon. Mrs Climber from the fire next door kindly offers us a burning branch, but Sora explains that his beacon's poetic – as in, entirely useless – rather than of practical purpose. Mrs Climber flicks her smouldering taper into the loch and tells us how the Buchaille is her lover, has been for years. Just last night she came up late from Glasgow, but 'The Great Herdsman' bumped her off; now the city beckons again so there'll be no reconciliation today. Fresh-faced bundles of bright hues, a terrible dresser, just like my climbing pals at Uni.

37 Beacon (for Naoise)
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)


Deirdre and the sons of Uisneach escaped here from Conchobor's Ulster – a idyll in the waste-places, Malick style, where they lived peacefully among the local tribes until the game failed them. The return to Ulster was always going to end badly.

37 hokku-label
(‘Deirdre and Naoise / exiles happy a while / in the badlands’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We want to find – or at least have looked for – Deirdre's Stob Grianan, ‘sun bower’, or, ‘sun house’ (‘Tigh Grianan’ says the sign by the loch). Seton Gordon located this at Dalness, the big house, fenced off from the road. Peering up the Allt Lairig Eilde, which Deirdre used to follow over to Glencoe, there’s a line of thin deer fences protecting the millennium forest, and a path leading onto Stobh Dubh, the back way to Buchaille, far beyond our legs today.

(‘for Deirdre / 3 apples’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Eck sinks three finger-holes and Ken plants the three apple seeds in the lee of a rock. Then Ken clambers down to the burn with a label for a rowan, dooking his right foot for his troubles. At the mouth of the glen, back at Buchaille, we stop by birches with labels and wishes, and Eck dooks his right foot in a bog for his troubles.

37 Basho labelling
Alec Finlay, 2010

37 hokku-label
(‘berry-laden rowans / sheltered in the gorges / clinging with sturdy roots’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

In our new game, paper–mountain–cloud (see Outlandia) the symbol for mountain (the hand held straight, and at an angle, thus \ ) originated here.

37 ‘Rock’
Alec Finlay, 2010

37 wish (birch), in the lee of The Buchaille
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)

Coda: Buchaille skyline

37 Buchaille skylines
Alec Finlay 2011


Bonawe iron furnace, founded in 1753, is the most complete charcoal-fuelled ironworks in Britain.

Achnacloich Garden overlooks Loch Etive, with Ben Cruachan eastwards and the Island of Mull westwards.

Allan Pollok-Morris' exhibition 'Close: A journey in Scotland' (22nd January - 5th of June 2011 at the United States Botanic Garden Exhibition, Washington DC) features an 40 of Allan's large format prints and film. He was recently interviewed by Sandy Felton, here.

Annie Briggs' recordings include The Hazards of Love (1964) and The Time Has Come (1971).

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