Dy gæt's awa, owir da stank
quhar broun ert's sib tæ green –
yourself. Your path's away, over the ditch, where brown
earth's next to green.
Robert Alan Jamieson
'Desire path' – the thoroughfares that sheep carve in the turf over hundreds of years, graving intimate channels along the contours of the land with their delicate accurate hooves. A walk is like following an electrical circuit: if you try and fight against the current, you run up against fuses, gates, barbed wire, resistors.
Yes, the land's juxtaposed: the shaved nap of the Asta Golf Course, like a synthetic lawn in a space-station, bulging against the brown heather of the hill. I'm up on the hill, looking down on the two lochans, the green, the Murder Stone in its maelstrom of oaty grass at the edge of the Rough. The busy B9074. The sea and Foula beyond.
This is not a walking place and I'm like Robert Alan's outcast, fighting the flow. My energy's expended wading through the shallow loch, fighting the wind, dithering sheepily along the fence, on the wrong side, losing my desire path. The heather catches at my ankles whilst my wellies smear over the roots, my tendons strained.
11 Bog Asphodel | Narthecium ossifragum
11 Heath Spotted Orchid | Dactylorhiza maculata
11 Bog Myrtle | Myrica gale
I'm grimly singing 'The Wedding March' because, as you may know, the only way to get a parasitical tune out of your head is to sing it out loud. I am singing it and thinking how much I hate marches of all kinds. This reminds me now of a woman my friend and I met on Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk.
A whole lot of Coast-to-Coasters had got bunched together on the North York Moors, a sort of Roman trudge to the Lion at Blakey, along the disused railway. It was hot, really hot, a bronzy air up there, and there'd been a hatch or a mating of some species of winged ant. The ants were irresistibly attracted to our sun-block, clustering round our ears and necks and eyes. We were nearly there when we met this couple.
"A stretch like this, you just keep marching, tramp tramp tramp; you just grin and bear it and march along the road." The one woman was the spokesperson, rummaging vigorously in her companion's daysack. The other stood patiently, her head down; bore it like a mule. I wondered if she had blisters like I had. I had a blister bigger than my big toe, on my big toe. Every night when our tents were up and I dared unshoe myself, to hobble on feet as fragile as shelled eggs to wash them in a river, in wet grass, in a pub sink, balancing on the other foot, I petted the thick blister of clear sap.
She indicated the great hairpin the trail made along the valley-head. "Some people would cut across there and try and save themselves, but I say you just stick to it – march, march, march." Then in case we had missed the point: "We're walking on the road. That's what Wainwright did and that's what we're doing." Finally her friend lifted her head. "I hate walking on the road," she said.
In Tingwall, Kristi and I have decided not to walk along the road. We thresh along the very edge of a field of deep rye, wet-wellied, while cars tear round those blind bends like hurled thunderbolts. We cross one of those lovely tenuous rights of way that animals make: a loose zigzag through the wet and swishing stalks. An otter, rabbit or cat.
The air is dense with meadowsweet and midges, and I'm claustrophobic this far inland. Kristi thinks we should the two of us get a boat. I agree. I'm a sicky sailor and have no idea how a boat is driven, parked, maintained, but I'm in that phase where I say Yes unreservedly to all suggestions. A period of Yes is always followed by a tempering spell of No, and that's how I keep things balanced out. Anyway the thought of an ocean-going craft is like a draught of bitter lemon.
I do hate golf courses, even adorned with a Murder Stone and a pair of speccy lochans that will reflect the lovely chocolate light of the hill in winter, also attracting whaups and shalder and tufted duck. I've tried to find a way in, but from the sign 'Preferred Lies' at the gate to the flat calm of the green itself, wealed with bunkers, the migraine of midges, I'm hostile. No bingo bango bongo, here, no Amen Corner. The currents, unlike that of the darting rabbit or otter, are wrong: the verges clogged with meadowsweet, tufted vetch and comfrey. Maybe it's the malevolent magnetism of the Murder Stone.
.............We returned to Kurobane and from there we went to see the Slaughter Stone of Nasu. [According to legend, when Lady Tamamo, loved by Emperor Konoe (r.1139–1155), was found to be a fox in human guise and was put to death, her fox-soul turned itself into this noxious stone.]
..............The Slaughter Stone was in a mountain niche where there was a hot spring. The stone's poisonous vapors were as yet unspent, and bees and moths lay dead all around in such heaps that one could not see the color of the sand beneath. (Dorothy Britton's translation)
Tingwall's Murder Stone is meant to be the site of a battle between Malise Sperra, Lord of Skaldale and his cousin Henry Sinclair, the 1st Earl of Orkney, in the 14th century. Malise and seven of his supporters were killed and the stone raised to commemorate his death. It's also said that a murderer could earn himself a pardon if he could run from the Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone without being caught and killed by his victim's family.
There is no fox woman, and poisonous vapours or no, the midges are thriving. It's a thick squarish menhir with a chalky scar across its waist and a shaggy pelt of rough green lichen.
We wade through the rough; it's like wading through rapids. We eddy up in a little green tucked below a bluff of gorse and meadowsweet. Soothing soughing of the windmills. The midges find me, the poem doesn't. Just a wee little midge of a poem. Come on poem.
We've augmented the ritualistic victuals: Kristi's brought the thermos of tea, little Yell strawberries, sugar, and those big plain crisps made of thick slices of blistered, but recognisable potato, like insoles. I've got the whisky, oatcakes and serviceable sheepy Manchego.
I enjoy the feeling of trespass about as much as I did when I was a child: not at all. The picnic's good though and I think of a little bleat for the tee in the hole and tie it on, a midgy little bleat, and I squash it onto the tag.
bunker picnic – straw-
berry tea and the wind tur-
bines softly soughing
We lie back on the soft pallet of the green. The eddy of midges passes over us. It's like sinking into the mesopelagic zone. Darkening and the sponge of the air sopping up the loch. Cooling, thank god. And we make a shared wish, and for want of a bough to tie it on, I tie it on to the surface of the Loch, and it gently floats away. Then we tee up a strawberry at the whatevernth hole.
Tingwall's Murder Stone touches on the Japanese mythological sesshoseki, a stone inhabited by a disembodied spirit and said to kill those who touch it. Paola Arosio and Diego Meozzi have indexed Scotland's own ancient standing stones.coda
'This is the first poem I've made in a long time. I've missed the feeling. I re-read Harryette Mullen's Sleeping With the Dictionary recently. A kind of permission in there to do what you must to make language new. You know how hard it is with landscapes sometimes to get beyond the O.S. All this time I've been interested in babble and in the senseless chatter that invades into your dwindling consciousness as you're falling asleep, wanting to lighten my controlling hand, letting the toxic fallout of the Murder Stone warp the language, but hanging on to a sense of the place and mood, and a procession through these'
after Harryette Mullen
The bog's blithe nymph pishing through mishapens: big Aspergers,
Parson-grass, Fitting Orchis breach
a wonderwall of rusted iron.
Think of the desire path, mangoes of Sunday and tortoise-shell,
hopes too big and hot until they reap the high pith which sweeps the meek along. Hatethat wedding march, cuckold spit and span,
Parrotism of nudges, and that meddling song works my what like a wig-worm.
The ordure stone broadcasts its dilute curse, a tocsin.
The opalescent parturition and the piss-take: gophers trundling a wilderness,
spraying their pocked roe, unpursing it from tender caddies,
as if to split it with the stick and spray it with the milt;
we've weirder ways to fertilise.
Berks, darlings and debbie-calls-them horse-cures, and bops,
imploding from the hearkening. Thoughtfully, the sea's lift-offish vacancies,
blurred with fetch and carry.
Fatty orchids, the bog's
blue lymph slumping through marsh avens
bog asphodel, grass of parnassus
the bridge a wobbleboard
of rusted iron
Adrift of the desire path
of sundew and tormentil.
Hooves too hot and big
until they hit the desire path
which sweeps me along
like a seabean or satellite
through cuckoo spit
and knee deep heather
paroxysm of midges
that Mendelsohn march in my head
like a hookworm
a dog barking furiously across
the opulent park and
the mussed rough
on the course trundling
spraying their pocked roe
and pursuing it with
as if to spray them
with the milt
the murder stone broadcasts
its dilute curse
thankfully the sea's
lavish verges blued
with vetch and comfrey
bees, starlings, and davey
calls them horse-gocks
and whaups exploding
from the heather