Tuesday, 19 October 2010

(5) Slioch

where a fold of hillside
scoops sun and shelter
from a mountain wind

– Gael Turnbull, From the Language of the Heart: some imitations from the Gaelic of Sine Reisideach

Our Mt. Nikko is Slioch

Our Hotoke Gozaemon, hosteler is Nick, hotelier, warden, guide, chef, funeral overseer, and much else besides, Loch Maree Hotel

Our mean and muddled ground is the rain-soaked, bracken-burdened, peat-bogged wilds

5 Loch Maree Hotel
Alec Finlay, 2010

Call me Nick

Slioch hid in floccus until the second day. Our minds had been on this saddleback mountain for months: seen from Flodigarry, viewed on flickr, reviewed on walk guides, where it racks up ‘4.5 boots’. Slioch, brother peak to sister Schiehallion – one has Isle Maree in care, the other Loch Rannoch.

Punningly, Nick’s our host for Nikko, fitting Basho’s sketch: "They call me Hotoke Gozaemon. Honesty's a habit with me, which is why the name, so feel right to home," what he said. Impossible not to realize how Buddha appears upon this mean and muddled ground in just such guise to help shaman beggar pilgrims on seeing our host's simple sincere manner, frank and down-to-earth. Firm-grained and unassuming, the very image of the man of jen, worthy of all respect.

He came here from London, after being bombed out of my house by the IRA twice. We hope Nick makes a go of it, say the anglers who’ve been coming here for years. He did it all just right, did Nick, so says the woman who runs the Harbourfront café, Gairloch: for he’d boated her family out to Isle Maree, to scatter their father’s ashes – his 5th funereal voyage. When she was a waitress here, c. 1985, under the regime of Ms Moody and Ms MacLeod, she recalls the post-Sunday lunch rite.

on Sunday there was always
a cold salmon salad

with the chef burying
the heads behind the hotel

then when we buried my father
there was a piper and dram

of talisker on the boat
the rest poured in the loch.


5 Nick at the helm
Alec Finlay, 2010

Some of those scattered ashes belonging to army and navy who were stationed here for basic in the war and never forgot the place.

We hope Nick the Inn keeper – host, guide, warden, counsel, keeper, cook, funeral director, with skilled advice for the kayaker, hiker, naturalist, climber, birder, pilgrim, angler – makes a go of it.



5 Dragon tea
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The tea’s Curly Silver-winged Dragon and I feel I’ll need its strength today.

5 Slioch from A832
Ken Cockburn, 2010

This is the view from the road, looking across Loch Maree, but the starting point for Slioch’s a couple of miles further on. I’m tempted to go for Beinn Eighe instead, nearer, lower, better waymarked, but I decline car-park and visitor-centre invitations and head through Kinlochewe village.

5 Take Great Care on the Hills
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The estate was owned by Paul Fentener van Vlissingen from 1978 until his death in 2006, and in 1993 he and his partner, Caroline Tisdall (art critic, one time lover of Joseph Beuys) helped draw up the Letterewe Accord, giving extensive public access to the estate.

5 This way not that way
Ken Cockburn, 2010

5 Reflective alders
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The first geese pass overhead. I’m guided gently by these stones, and work my way through head-high bracken to reach midgy woods, paddling alders, hazel, birch and oaks, am granted a first view of the summit. Two fishermen stand with the patience of herons in the river.

5 Slioch seen through oak leaves
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The path, wet and muddy and uneven, winds down to Loch Maree, whose islands are hidden round the corner. One walker, then another, pass as I pause here. A fallen sign reading OUTFALL PIPE contains one instance of each vowel.

5 hokku-label
(‘the burn speaks / all five vowels / into the loch’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The next landmark’s the wooden bridge over Abhainn an Fhasaigh, white and loud.

5 Abhainn an Fhasaigh
Ken Cockburn, 2010

5 Sgurr Dubh
Ken Cockburn, 2010

From here the path turns away from the loch, heading north between Sgurr Dubh and Meall Each, Black Rock and Horse Mound. Underfoot it’s harder, more clamber than ramble. Then a flatter area, which comes as a relief, but it’s bog.

5 Bog and sugarloaf
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I wander across it as best I can, meet a frog who hops from rock into water and then stays very still, hoping I can’t see him. For some reason I’m pleased and encouraged by our encounter.

5 Frog hiding
Ken Cockburn, 2010

A diagonal path leads up to a ridge, with two lochans just beyond of it. It’s here the day’s only rain falls, very briefly; thus far too there’s been next to no wind.

5 Towards the trig point
Ken Cockburn, 2010

A steep though dry scamble up over rocks brings me to a first, false summit, but it’s an easy walk over to the trig point; then another short hop to the summit proper, a metre higher. One of the other walkers who I’ve occasionally spotted up ahead of me is there, taking photos of bens to the north the sun’s catching. He carries a big SLR, says he regrets having brought only a wide-angle lens, but it’s too heavy to carry the zoom as well. He heads E along the narrow ridge to Sgurr an Tuill Bhàin, Rock of the White Flood.

5 Loch Maree seen from Slioch
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Isle Maree’s there on the loch, set a little apart from its siblings. I return to the trig’s low sheltering wall, hunker out the chill wind with the Dragon and a phial of Red.

5 hokku-label
(‘Nikka's part / of our
michi no nikki / on Mt. Nikka’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

5 hokku-label
(‘silver-winged dragon / lands on the heights / of Slioch’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

And William Carlos Williams’ line from ‘The Descent’ comes to mind.

5 hokku-label
(‘the / descent / beckons / as / the / ascent / beckoned’, KC, after WCW)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

5 Loch Maree nr Kinlochewe
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Descending, to avoid the bog I return via Sgurr Dubh. The ridge walk is fine, and takes me past huge erratics, but beyond the summit there’s a steep heathery slope I lose my footing on several times.

5 Bracken
Ken Cockburn, 2010

5 Boulder & Sgurr Dubh
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Rejoining the path offers little relief. I relish the stops, because the walk’s become a slog, frankly. My eye’s caught by a small patch of bracken amid the heather, and I realise it’s growing in and around a small enclosure; and I poem an erratic that might be a scale model of the mount behind it. The bridge and the river’s roar take a long time to come, and then I’m back on the flat but it’s a slow, squelchy walk.

5 The best path
Ken Cockburn, 2010

And then I come to a short stretch, maybe 30m, that I remember from this morning, even and firm and dry and wide. I enjoy it voluptuously.

5 hokku-label
(‘if Isle Maree’s / ecumenical / here we’re secular’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Among the alders I miss the isle’s polyphony.

5 Wild geese
Ken Cockburn, 2010

It’s dusk when I reach the car-park, eight and a quarter hours after I left. The weather’s been kind – dry, and clear, and other than at the top, windless. The geese of course fly above the summits, and are still out there, journeying.


Coda: The Armchair Mountaineer

5 misty Slioch
Alec Finlay, 2010

Today I take out my membership card for the AMC, (Armchair Mountaineering Club), formed by Maris back in the 1980s. Starting with a bath in Laphroaig. And then taking to the sofa, to do as all AMC members should and work over some notes of climbs past or future, climbing deferred.

id=5 Bath
Alec Finlay, 2010

5 Sora’s Sofa

Alec Finlay, 2010

Later on Nick tells me there’s an old oakwood nearby. There I find a woodland hut which Nick rents out, right by River Talladale, perfect for a midgeproof hermit. I leave a wish, and label.

5 wish, oak
Alec Finlay, 2010

5 woodland hut
Alec Finlay, 2010

5 hokku-label, River Talladale
('clear water channels / through storm debris // a dissertation on the flux / of identity’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Watching the clock I wait for Ken, as Nick’s 4.5 hour estimate gradually winds on into a 9 hour trek.

5 skyline, Slioch
Alec Finlay, 2010

5 wordrawing (Slioch)
Alec Finlay 2010


Caroline Tisdall has achieved recognition for her organic gardens, her conservation work in Africa and her many books and films, which include the direction of Joseph Beuys and The Last Post Run for BBC2 and Channel 4 respectively. She has published 7 books on Joseph Beuys and worked with him to organise many of his major exhibitions. Witches' Point: Time in a Landscape is a collection of shared poems from Loch Ewe.

Monday, 18 October 2010

(19) Munlochy

‘A tiny doll hangs by the throat at the black well-mouth.
The weak thin young man descends, takes water from the trough,
and puts it on his chest. His wife seals that with a kiss.
He wears his hospital wristband.
People are getting over everything,
using these rip-rag gallows trees.’

– Valerie Gillies, from ‘Munlochy’

19 audio, Valerie Gillies, 'Munlochy'
Alec Finlay, 2010

Our Iizuka hot springs is the Cloutie Well, Munlochy

Our post town of Ko-ori is Strathpeffer, and Angus’ steading at Millnain

Our Okido Barrier is the turning from the A835 on to the A832 at Contin, low mist over a fast wet road

Our all night, thunder, pouring buckets, roof leaking, fleas mosquitoes in droves has to be the rain, general and specific, the midges and ticks, prolific

The Well

The ramshackleness of Basho’s lodging merges into the raggle-taggle rotting cloots of Munlochy, where it drizzled and cleared, drizzled and cleared.

19 The Well
Ken Cockburn, 2010

19 three times sunwise
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The Rite

Walk round the well 3 times


Ablute face and hands

wash your clout.

Drink some well water

or splash some on the ground.

Make a silent wish or prayer.

Apply your clout, or mind,
to the wound.

Tie your clout on

and leave it to rot.

19 audio, Angus Dunn, Munlochy
Alec Finlay, 2010

19 Ango
Alec Finlay, 2010

Eck poured a dash of Osmanthus Black from the flask, and Ken tinkled the well with a few drops of the local Glenmorangie, at 10 years old with youth on its side.

19 Basho & Ango libate The Cloutie Well
Alec Finlay, 2010

19 Sora’s wash
Angus Dunn, 2010



I first came here on a bright spring Sunday in 2001, returning from the Cromarty Book Festival, when the basin was right by the road and there was no car park; the photo in my photo album shows a knoll of trees made gaudy with pieces of clothing. I recommended it to Angus Reid, who was travelling by earlier this summer, but he found it a dismal, desolate place.

19 hokku-label
(‘a slow air / entitled / Mr Reid’s dismay’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Today’s Angus directs us to a car park, made once the site got on the tourist trail and coaches started blocking the road; the coin-peppered basin’s now a few metres uphill, beneath a canopy of beech, rowan and larch.

It’s a strange site, much used; clothes left to fade and rot with time. As Angus explains in the audio, when you’re ill you leave something here, and the illness stays too.

19 Basho at the well
Alec Finlay, 2010

I’ve brought a top of my sister’s, douse it in the basin and attach it to a berryless young rowan, bent over with the weight of its attachments but still sprouting vital green shoots.
We perform the suggested rite – three times sunwise round – then drink, immerse our hands, Angus splashes his face too; and perform our own rite, libation and communal drink of Glenmorangie.

Eck points out the basin to a young English couple, and the decisive sceptical reply comes, I'm not going to be drinking any of that. They don't hang about.

The rain’s eased.

Cloots left behind, backs turned on them, even taking a photograph away seems counter-productive; I look generally and not the particulars. But the water’s good and the green’s good and in the battle between the trees’ rate of growth and the cloots’ rate of disintegration the genius loci will overcome detritus.

19 hokku-label
('The message of the cloths / Is not the message of the leaves', AD)
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 hokku-label
('On the hillside / Cloth of cold, cloth of fever' / Mouldering by the spring', AD)
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 hokku-label
('Pine and beech, ash and birch / Flag and sock, glove and sash / Long and hope, wish and want', AD)
Angus Dunn, 2010

The information board mentions the 1581 Act banning pilgrimages to such sites but the practice was never entirely stifled. I recall Tobar Loch Shianta on Skye, which by comparison is hidden, unsignposted, unburdened with remnants (to the extent our wishes and poem-labels were removed overnight); in some ways Munlochy’s clutter’s the opposite of that loch’s clear waters, but it has its own clarity, in its continually restated willingness to let the world go.




19 circle poem (the day goes by)
Alec Finlay, 2010

19 prayer flags, Munlochy
Alec Finlay, 2010

19 hokku-label
('Occasional birdsong / And many cloths – / Chaffinch, scarf, / Bunting')
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 Sora
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 Sora’s clout
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 Ango, with Munlochy Midge
Alec Finlay, 2010

19 Cloutees (Ango, Basho, Sora)
Unknown Anglophone photographer, 2010

19 clouts

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Our Rags & Wishes

19 hokku-labels
Angus Dunn, 2010

Munlochy hokku






rags &


how many wishes
hung out
in the rain


our colours fade
with what wishes

as we rot
with what wishes


(after Basho)


off than



the message of the clothes
is different
from the message of the leaves


on the hillside –
cloths of cold

cloth of fever
mouldering away



hanging out
the washing
for good


Munlochy rain –
a memory of sunshine
a memory of health


19 hokku-labels, Munlochy
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Fabrications (1): Nub

Over lunch at the Munlochy Hotel Angus entertains us with news of recent local happenings – a grand party hosted by the gay vegan biker couple, and the Ambassador of Nub’s stagemanaged visit, when Angus circulated as ‘August June, warrior-poet of Nub’, asking guests can I have a word? and at the end of the affair constructing from said words a Nubbite ode.

Fabrications (2): The Steading, Whelk and Fire Temple

15:15 19.09.2010
Ken Cockburn, 2010

19 Nasturtiums
Ken Cockburn, 2010

On the outskirts of Strathpeffer rowanberries drape the windscreen and nasturtiums are still in flower.

Added to our contemporary survey of things perched between art and architecture is the
whorled form of the whelk – to be formally addressed as ‘The Conch Sound Studio’ – imagined by artists
Neil Bromwich & Zoe Walker (of Berwick), and fabricated by Angus himself. Last seen at the Inverness Expo.

19 hokku-label, The Whelk
(‘of growth / & form // talk spirals /thoughts dome’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

19 Wrapped Whelk
Ken Cockburn, 2010

19 The Whelk
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 The Whelk
Angus Dunn, 2010

19 audio, Angus Dunn, The Whelk
Alec Finlay, 2010

Sans seasmell, the shell’s scented with larch, a cosy shelter for chats. Neil and Zoe have a
fine line in idylic faery-tale share-spaces. Angus’ improvisatory touch and the Outlandia-like intimacy gives this integument a specal air; it’s a beachwork to equal their celebrated silver sailboat,
Celestial Radio. This L’arch for that M’irror.

19 Celestial Radio (daytime)
Neil Bromwich & Zoe Walker
Pippy Houldsworth, 2004

19 Indian fire-temple
Ken Cockburn, 2010

19 Angus points the route in to Slioch for Basho
Alec Finlay, 2010

Eagle Stone, Strathpeffer

The Brahan Seer predicted that the third time stone falls, the sea will rise so far that a ship will be able to sail into Strathpeffer. It has already fallen twice, and is now concreted to ensure stability. (www.clan-mackenzie.org.uk) Sealevel again, something more than the equinoctial moon –keels in the woods, recalling the image of boats anchored around Dunadd, the hunt coursing through The Princess Forest. Memory as prediction.

19 hokku-label, Eagle Stone
(‘a stone anchor / waits in the forest / for sail and sea’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


The Forestry Commissi
Cloutie Well

Angus Dunn is a poet, short-story writer and novelist. His latest book, Writing in the Sand (2006), is set in the Highlands. You can also hear Angus talk about his work here.

Arts in Motion provide technical support for art productions.

Neil Bromwich & Zoe Walker make art and space that challenges its audience socially and psychologically.

Valerie Gillies
was the Edinburgh Maker, poet laureate to the city, 2005 - 2008. In
The Spring Teller (2008), a journey our own echoes, Valerie travels the wells and springs of Scotland and Island in a series of poems.