Tuesday, 12 April 2011

(49) Bharpa Langais

Our Temple Eiheiji is Bharpa Langais, North Uist

North Uist

49 CN 111 (Oban)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Basho’s friend Hokushi, from Kanazawa, is our Colin Will, poet, botanist and publisher, from Sunny Dunny (Dunbar). The voyage out from Oban is flat calm, but Colin regales us with storm stories from this Winter past, when the full moon coincided with high tide and the sea wreaked havoc.

a green keepsake
of ivy on the face
of Dunollie

From the CalMac ferry nosing through the inland sea we look south to our Matsushima (station 26), Kerrera, Scarba, Luing and Jura. Over Morven, a first glimpse of the Cuillin of Rhum and the Cuillin ridge on Skye, as clear as this. Up the coast of Ardnamurchan, to station 52, Lochailort, and imagining further up the strand, 27, Sandaig.

Rhum, Eigg, Canna
land takes up so much
of this Inland Sea

We will come to Uist twice, so this record is half. North Uist’s unique for its interlacing lochs – salt and fresh – which poke their fingers into peninsulas, islands and causeways. How can this ancient banded rock not know when it’s land?

49 Trans-Uist Canoeist
photograph by Chris Drury, 2010



- Andy MacKinnon

We stayed at Marnie’s place, over the causeway to Bail Sear, with a view of changeful Eabhal (‘island hill’) and its beautiful upslope.From the west beach we caught our first view of our Sado, St Kilda.

from Ceardach Ruadh or Cnoc Burgh
Hiort and Boraraigh are grey
hoops against a dun ocean

Ceardach Ruadh, beach at Bail Sear; Cnoc Burgh, hill on Berneray; Hiort, Boraraigh, St Kilda Isles.

Reading Beveridge, on the one day of rain, he gives a different picture of the interrupted landscape, describing a sea much lower in ancient times, bare land transformed to the forest we know existed here, from peat records.

Bail Sear

the red light on Solaigh
can’t reach the drowned stones
of homes off Heisker

can’t penetrate the Princess’ vast forest
stretched from Harris to St Kilda
70 fathoms deep

Heisker, flat skerry; Bale Sear, East Village; the name suggests there was formerly a West Village on the island, which would confirm the extent to which the sea has encroached, both on Bale Sear and the Monach Isles. Hebridean myth describes an ancient forest, a continent stretching from the Western Isles as far as St Kilda: See North Uist, Erskine Beveridge (reprinted by Birlinn, 1999).

Bharpa Langais

I recorded a hokku by Dogen (tr. Sam Hammil) inside the dry-paved womb of Langais. In August we hope to squeeze Rhodri Davies and his small harp through the creep-hole, for Andy to record an improvisation on the song of the willow warbler, which sings in the woods over the hill (yes, a wood, on Uist). When we come back in August we'll look for the willow warbler in the wood of Langais, for now heard in Chris Watson's recording, a memory of The Princess' Forest.

49 audio: willow warbler
Chris Watson, 2010

49 Bharpa Langais | Temple Eiheiji
Andy Mackinnon

49 audio, hokku | Bharpa Langais
Alec Finlay, 28.V.10

barp, barpha: from Anglo-Saxon, beorg, barrow; a heap of stones; also varpa, (Norse), throw, cast. Langais is distinctive in being a circular, not a long barrow. Measurements: 72ft diameter, 18ft high; passage orientated E. There are 2, maybe 3, other hidden chambers here. Langais (‘long ridge’, Norse) is the finest of the Neolithic tombs (Hebridean Passage Graves) on Uist, built c. 5,000 years ago, making it one of the earliest standing buildings in Northern Europe – as Basho says, “1,000 li from Hoki”, in every way.

To be so remote from: far from Edo, from Beijing, from Holyrood – as Iain Crichton Smith's dotty exile describes in his envoi in the idiom of a Tang master: "To Seamus MacDonald, now resident in Edinburgh - I am alone here ... There is nothing but sheep and large boulders ... What news from the frontier? Is Donald still Colonel? At night the moon is high over Claddach ... When shall we two meet again in thunder, lightning or in rain? The carrot and turnips are healthy, the Farmer's Weekly garrulous ... There is a man here who has been building a house for twenty years and a day ... I think I am going out of my mind..." (Chinese Poem).

Basho describes the skyline at Eiheiji as yamakage, 'mountain shadow'. From Bail Sear we look out on the eastern hills of Uist, Eabhal, Burrabhal, Li a Deas, Li a Tuath and to the north, peaks that belong to other islands, Reinebhall, Bleabhall and the great horseshoe of An Cliseam. At Eiheiji, Basho pointedly asked the Abott, where is the simple hut for a poet-monk. We found it on Uist in the newer chamber, Chris Drury’s magical Hut of Shadows.

49 The Hut of Shadows, Chris Drury, North Uist
Alec Finlay, 2010

For now let Colin’s poem stand as a record of the rest of our stay on this our first ‘Sudrey’.


The wild walk

Birdsong woke me: the dawn chorus
seeped from room to room through the paper walls

of the old poet’s house. I drank tea and began
these notes on our journey.

We were four – Alec, Rebecca, Barney the dog
and myself, long in years, rich in memories.

I did not want to make of this a ceremony
but there were elements – we adapted local custom,

brought our crafts and knowledge to the tasks,
learned as much as taught.

We travelled North and West, through the glens
and sunlit mountains to the coast, then made the voyage

through the narrows between Mull and mainland,
across a blue Minch to the lands the Norse called

the Southern Isles. Crossing causeways we met our guide
and after a hundred Passing Places reached our cottage,

on an island, off an island, off an island, off the home islands,
the westmost point where our folk still live. Nothing beyond us

but white waves, green seas. Here we rested.

Then to Langais new wood, to meet our pupils,
our young poets. We found our seven trees –

pines, rowan, juniper, and in the gash blasted
by the Great Storm of twenty-ought-five, a holly,

defiant among death and destruction. Seven birds
sang in the trees, and on the ground we chose

seven plants. Their names, linked to points
on a magic map, will be woven in a cloth of poems.

At the top of the wood lies a giant dolmen,
its massive slab slumped beside its prone supports.

This is one vertex of the Langais triangle,
three stone mysteries left by the old ones.

A standing stone marks the mooring for sea-borne pilgrims.
Across the hilltop is the chambered cairn, a mound of pale stones.

We bow our heads below the lintel-stone
and enter the emptied tomb on hands and knees,

a form of reverence forced by circumstance,
but I go no further than the entrance.

I am overcome with the certainty, deeply felt,
that under the hill is no place for the living,

and I am not yet ready.

My Eiheiji temple is the Hut of Shadows by Lochmaddy,
a new thing, a stone chamber in the sound of the wind.

Here we sit, in total darkness, a form of zazen Dōgen
would have recognised. Slowly, as our eyes adjust,

a picture from the world of light outside emerges,
projected on the opposite wall.

We draw our own conclusions.


After he returned home Colin sent me this message: "I went to the North Berwick poetry group meeting on Tuesday, and I was telling them about the project. One of the group, Andy Neustein, is a retired Forestry Commission scientist, now in his 70s. I mentioned that we thought the FC had planted Langais as an experimental plot, and Andy said, "I think I planted that wood."


Dōgen: founder of the Soto Zen sect, which practises zazen – sitting meditation. He established the order at Eiheiji, whose temple Bashō visited. Dōgen founded Eihei-ji in 1246 in the woods of rural Japan, far from the distractions of urban life.

The Hut of Shadows: an artwork, featuring a camera obscura, built by Chris Drury on the shore at Lochmaddy (1997).

The poem is written in the Chinese ‘rivers and mountains’ (shan-shui) style, prominent between the 8th and 12th centuries.


49 circle poem (hills)
Alec Finlay, 2010


Bharpa Langais is located on the moorland (57°34'14.03"N) (7°17'29.55"W), just passed the turn-off to Langass Lodge Hotel on the A867 to Lochmaddy. Further along this road is Langais Forest.


Return to Langais

I had the sensation I always have on Atlantic islands, in summertime, when the clouds pass quickly and light glints on the sea – a sense that the world is bringing itself into being moment by moment. Arising and passing away in the same breath.’

– Kathleen Jamie, ‘On Rona’

Our return to Langais is at the ripe rowan end of summer

Our venerable Hokushi from Kanazawa is Rhodri Davies, our Rhodo, from the northern Welsh oku, no sword-sharpener, but master of the sharp blades of all forms of harp

Our Eiheiji, far-flung temple, is still Bharpa Langais, by the new wood of North Uist

Our shared ritual is Rhodri’s harp in the barp, seven of us squashed around the telyn, and then the wind-harp recorded on the hillside

Departure & Arrival

We meet Rhodri and Angharad, Rebecca and Paul, at Oban ferry-port, and there's time to stock up at the well-stocked Kitchen Garden. The sailing to Lochboisdale takes about 5 hours, so there's time for talk and rest.

49 Sora, Reba, Rhodo pondering, Calmac
Alec Finlay, 2010

49 Sora dozing, Calmac
Alec Finlay, 2010

49 CalMac horizon
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 circle poem (Vista of Rhum)
('the Cuillin appear on Skye the Cuillin disappear on Rhum', AF, 2010)
Ken Cockburn, 2010 (from the ferry)

49 hokku-label
('flat light / deep calm / silver mirror', AF)
photograph by Ken Cockburn, 2010


One works alongside people, collaborates, out of love and curiosity; sometimes from the desire to be associated with their art, or – and the distinction is subtle – simply to be near their being. Hamish Fulton, Marcus Coates, Chris Watson, Gerry Loose, Linda France, these are folk I think of. I'd work with them anytime, anywhere; knowing the richness of sharing, their calm, the pauses that allow ideas to clarify; the laughter that quickens around them. Kindness to.

And Rhodo, I invited him to Uist to share his company and watch his magic rub off on others, like the school-kids who he spent a day with, improvising on electric bagpipes, guitar and piano, Cornelius Cardew meets Jimmy Shand.

This is the result, under and overtones of 4 birds in the wild wood, improvising on the score Rhodo prepared. Ceol, music, derives from piping, breath; the drone of the electric bagpipes to the fore.

49 audio, 4 birds
Rhodri Davies with pupils of Carinish primary school

49 audio, siskin
Rhodri Davies with pupils of
Carinish primary school

Rhodo had never been to the Hebrides, always wanted to. I could put that right, match-making ideas and gifts. He and Angharad will join us on Uist before they head up the long island to Lewis, where he hopes to hear some heterophony in the old style Gaelic psalms – salm – cousin to the lining out you can still hear in Alabama churches. Dizzy Gillespie was a fan.

telyn deires (for Rhodri Davies)


............ bends
.......................................... the neck

....................... .a bow of

And then together they’ll go on to Calanish.

49 Calanais
Rhodri Davies, 2010

Between the surge of the salm and Rhodo’s harp, we’ve to let our ears lead us to the wood at Langais, where we’ll seek seven birds, and pair them with seven trees and seven flora, mapping an ecology of recovery, as the old pine plantation is revived with natives.

Our starting point for Rhodo’s improvisatory sessions with the school-kids, was Gaelic bird imitations, inspired by John Purser writings in his history of Scotland’s Music, and the examples he has gathered together for the museum at Kilmartin.

the grouse
(nervous, frugal)

lie down, lie down – sleep you won’t get any more til the morning

the thrush
(repeats every phrase)

John, son of little Mary come home where to? your dinner

And the pre-Christian augural lament of the redshank.

pill-eeuu, pill-eeuu …

Rather than work directly from birdsong Rhodo composes a rubric for each bird by translating their names into notes, piped in the style of their call.

The score:
7 birds
Rhodri Davies, 2010

And the recordings

1 chaffinch
2 crossbill

3 goldcrest
4 robin
5 siskin
6 stonechat
7 willow warbler

(Performances Rhodri Davies, 2010
Andy MacKinnon, 2010)


Basho and Sora, &tc.

49 Bunkhouse view
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We divide into two parties, the northeners – Sora & Barno, Rhodri & Angharad – lodged in the Old Courthouse in Lochmaddy. The southerners – Basho, Rebecca and Paul – lodged in a bunkhouse, plainspoken name Moorcroft.

We northeners caught a moon in the fingered lochans, another in the yellow-flag pond, and a big one fallen in the harbour, fit for 'the loch of wolves'.

49 moon, Loch nam Madadh
photographs by Rhodri Davies, 2010

just for once
the big wings

of the wind
are resting

as we walk
in the dark

collecting moons
in the bay

each finger
of lochan

its broad beam

between us

as it tickles
the waves

In exchange for all they moons, Norman, of Taigh Chearsabagh, has a catch of sea-soaked flowers from the bay.

49 print
Norman Macleod, 2010


Return to the Barp

49 Bharpa Langais, July 2004
Ken Cockburn, 2004

Later I drive back north, park by the Langass Lodge and walk on muddy paths via the stone circle – actually an elipsis – known as Pobull Fhinn (Finn's People) past the wood to Bharpa Langais, where we'll record later in the week. It's a walk I did six years ago on a family holiday: after lunch at the Lodge.

"we walked up to the standing stones, small, irregular, overgrown; and on to the chambered cairn, which appears as a heap of stones, but we crawled inside to find an uneven chamber constructed of very large placed stones, forming walls and roof. Sat inside a while with the girls, in the light from the entrance tunnel. On the hillside we came across a blue butterfly, a bright green caterpillar with green dots, a red-winged beetle, and a damsel-fly."

49 Inside Bharpa Langais
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Today I sit inside for a few minutes and enjoy the silence.


‘1000 li from Hoki’

49 Bharpa Langais
Rhodri Davies, 2010

49 hokku-label
(‘even without hearts and minds / plants wither / with the passing days’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 circle poem (Langais-Eiheiji)
('stone womb', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Another day we slip away from the wood, return to the cool chamber, Bharpa, our Temple Eiheiji. In Herzog's new film of the cave paintings at Chauvet a young archaeologist describes the intensity of the cavern, how after a few days he needed the respite of a day above ground, to absorb space and time, to come back to the light.

for those five days
lions roam
through his dreams

Chauvet, for Herzog, is the origins of the world human spirit, where 'art' – lines of a horse overlaying the lines of a rhinoceros, overlayed by the scratch marks of a bear – declares our species particular gift, adaptation to surroundings. A gift can be lost.

This chamber is closer in linear time to Chauvet than it is to today. A memory comes back to me: Colin hunched down in the entrance, spooked, knowing it wasn't a place for him to enter, not then. And I wonder what animals sniffed around this chamber, when the rocks were newly placed? Skylarks overhead.

This is a slightly revised version of the poem we recorded, by the light of our head-torches.

49 audio, performed by KC & AF, harp improvisation by Rhodri Davies

recording by Andy McKinnon
, 2010

Bharpa Langais
Eiheiji temple,
1000 li from Hoki

even without hearts and minds
plants wither
with the passing days

on the crown
in a scrim of soil
a few green reeds
points fading

pale gneiss
flecked with lichen

each chosen stone
carried here
with deliberation
to the rite place

shaping the chamber
floating its outline
on the long ridge

weft with pleated folds
deer-grass, mosses and lichen
purpling heathers

pap, rickled heap
after all this

mound of time

still sound
still sheltering

creep in through
the crawl space

into the paved womb
hidden within time

water drips
drops fall in and out
of silence

into which the urn was placed
ashes, a flamed arrowhead

burnt bone to be seen
when the slab was lifted
gaping at the dawn

soft edged
in mist

Eabhal shows how grey
can be warm

in a landscape that’s mostly margin
more water than land

turn Langais
following the sun’s right way

look skew north
to Marrogh’s cairn

know the sea-wind
as it’s blown
carrying handsful

or arms of rain

shifting the tone

plucked harpstrings
thrown from the bharp

ten thousand images open
into the world of light

Alec Finlay, with Ken Cockburn
Langais, North Uist, 27 August 2010

for Rhodri & Angharad, Rebecca & Colin

49 chamber recording
Paul Edgerley, 2010

49 Basho at the Barp
Paul Edgerley, 2010

49 Barno at the Barp
Paul Edgerley, 2010

(AF, KC)

Aeolian Langais

While we’re on the hill Rhodri offers his own Aeolian ritual, a wind-harp performance, which Andy records. Later this year he plans to make a much larger wind-harp for a music festival in Flemish Ardennes.

49 wind-harp
Paul Edgerley, 2010

Rhodri Davies, wind harp, Bharpa Langais, 2010
filmed by Andy MacKinnon, 2010

49 hokku-label
(‘Rhodri offers the harp / passing Aeolus / breezes its strings’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 hokku-label
(‘pale gneiss / flecked with lichen // the wind carrying hand-/ fuls or armfuls of rain’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)

Word-mapping Langais Forest

"The artificial close coniferous plantation is an anomalous thing which has a chequered natural history... The human being attempting ingress may find such a monstrous wood impenetrable, or, if it has been properly trimmed and thinned, he will find the floor a dead, quiet, dark place in which there is little joy but that of shelter and stillness."

F. Fraser Darling

Langais is the only generous area of woodland on the island, planted by the Forestry Commission in the early 70s, and now a community woodland.
The work we're at is a small part of the greater plan. If joy is the light being let in then the task's begun, for there are foxgloves, rowan, and there is birdsong. Paths lead to each edge and it's our task now to map them.

The working day begins with wet outside Ken's window, but it clears by the time he's up. Only with the window open the room fills with midges. Premonition.
We meet Sarah from Taigh Chearsabhagh who's organised our schools project surveying Langais. The S2 pupils arrive by bus from Lionacleit School. The wood's set in a comparatively sheltered spot, on the north-facing slope of Ben Langais, but the big storm of January 2005 caused still visible damage to one part of the wood – the right kind of damage, clearing a way for spikes of young holly. A species revolution mounted by weather.

Waiting, the midges are terrible. Walking there as bad. Hoaching-like, we pass the skin-so-soft between us like a care-parcel. My pal Maris suggests we develop a pipe for puffing Avon bubbles, the liquid surface dotted with dead midges like the old flypaper that hung from the kitchen pulley.

The kids come armed with clipboards and worksheets listing the species of trees, birds and flora last year's S2s identified with Colin, back in May. One boy has a midge-net which shows foresight. Could it be confiscated? Patrick from SNH talks informatively about the trees, and some of the many mushrooms we come across.

49 Langais mushrooms

Ken Cockburn, 2010

In the afternoon we drive south over causeways at low tide (where's the sea gone?) and picnic-lunch on a fine and empty beach just beyond the school. We work all afternoon with the students, composing hokku in the hall.

The S2s, who take a while to warm up, to get the simplicity of what their being asked to do, but then produce some nice observations.

pollen bursts out
in every direction
like grains of rice

short and thin
with succulent berries

but is juniper a tree?

the sour taste
of wood-sorrel
hides under my tongue

pine trees
hay in a box of pins
glass to my arms

at lower town
Eabhal curves
like a tsunami

lady fern fingers
reach out
in all directions

49 Carinish PS sea
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 Carinish PS word-list
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The next day we all – Eck, Rhodri, Rebecca, Ken – visited the primary school at Carinish, our favourite island poets. The whole school of 20 pupils sits in a circle, our big bums perched on the wee plastic seats. We listen to birdsong recordings which Rhodri imitates on the harp. And we compose some group mesostics.

The older pupils show Ken & Rebecca their 'wild garden', trees blasted by the weekend's storms, leaves crinkled and crumpled, browned and blackened. There's a stretch of water not far off that Ken ask the name of but it's just 'The Sea'. Eck and Rhodri work with the very youngest, seeing if they can pair off birds and their harp calls.

At break there's tea and cakes in the staff room, then we haiku upstairs and the kids write well, and the teacher records them reading. Paul texts Rebecca he's at the top of Eabhal, full report to follow. The weather is holding.

Then it's on together to Loch Maddy and Taigh Chearsabhagh, to meet Andy and Norman, who run the show. In the café we run into Pauline Pitt-Prior who gives us a copy of her pamphlet North Uist Sea Poems, a romantic log of Solas Beach in which the sea flounces white petticoats. Our seas tend to have colours that fade and run.

Pauline asks how to run an island renga and Eck advises her to ignore all the rules in his guide, Shared Writing, and concentrate on having good tea.

(AF, KC)

walking within

49 sign, walking within Langais Woods
Colin Will, 2011

The completed installation within Langais wood: each letterbox is anchored close to one of the seven tree species.

The box lid contains a wood sample – xylotheque – from one of the seven tree species, giving the immediacy of colour, density and grain, distinct against the oak of the box itself. The boxes were made by Tim Kendall.

49 walking within rubber-stamp nest-box
photographs by Sarah Macintyre, 2010

49 Letterbox
Colin Will, 2011

The circle poems on the rubber stamps name the species, tree, with bird, with flora, a natural ecology and an ecology of language.

49 circle poem (for a rubber stamp)
Alec Finlay, 2010

The pairings of birds and trees were made with the guidance of Conor Jameson (RSPB). Colin Will oversaw the species mapping. Maoilios Caimbeul advised on the Gaelic names. The birds composed their own songs, which are interspersed within the poem.

walking within Langais Woods includes 3 name-mesostics, a sheet for stamping the poems, and a word-map composed of hokku written by the students at Lionacleit Secondary School and Carinish Primary School. As ever the design is by Lucy Richards and Studio LR. It is free to download here.

You can view the 7 rubber-stamp patterns, found in the woodland nest-boxes, here.

The official website is here.

49 wish, Juniper, along the letterbox trail
Colin Will, 2011

(AF, KC)

Poeming Langais

Workshops over, we return to the wood another day.

49 fourteen pine cones
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The midge-clouds are less intense. Ken makes Isobel another fourteen with pine-cones, and composes some hokku-labels.

49 hokku-label
('the pines of Uibhist a Tuath / lead to / the pines of Corsica / lead to / the pines of Shiogoshi / lead to…', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 hokku-label
('oh rowan, gay / amid dour conifers / only you and the mushrooms / know how to dress', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


The first thing Eck does in the wood is come across a label he'd tied to a pine back in Spring, with Basho's famous credo "learn of the pine / from the pine', now faded entirely. It's a bleaching air here, fading these poems to by now.



to the will
of wind


do you want to know
the pine's secret?

reach for
the light


juniper, northern variety
prefers cold, rain and peat

(good thing that)

it another
good day

for milling


the best peats
1,000 years old

burning to
a fine

white ash



Paul’s conspectus, plucked out of the billow; marginal interplay of sea and land.

49 Eabhal conspectus
Paul Edgerley, 2010

Just the way it changes

49 posting hokku for friends back in Edo
Alec Finlay, 2010

One golden evening far on in the week Ken and Eck took a turn round the corner of Uist, stopping off so Ken can post some cards, then on past the twins, Crogearraidh Mor and Beag and the Dun on Loch Aonghais, a herd of grazing deer at Solas, and on beyond the beach at Vallay, hidden now beneath the tide, to stop at Scolpaig. Parking up and striding over the remains of a machair golf course, the sorry flags like a tidal warning just in hearing of the hidden breakers.

Past barley plantings and two fields away the combines, out making their best use of the last of the light. We stretch ourselves over the tops of the crop, embracing it all.

49 open arms, Uist
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 Traigh lar
Ken Cockburn, 2010

As the sea sounds closer the earth turns to sand knotted together with a thick weave of bulbous samphire, all elbows and knees.

The marram whips edges in a lifting wind, spitting foam on sandy hands.

without the sharp marram
there'd be no rich machair
behind it

for the wind would
make a throat of the sand
and fan out the strand

(after F Fraser Darling)

Broaching the horizon at Traigh lar we hop down the cusp of dunes freshly bitten into by the sea, helping the old dog down onto our long sunset strip of rosy sand and foam. The sun's setting itself for a rest on the horizon over the point at Gearraidh, as Chris Powici's haiku says, like an old man into a cold bath.

49 Barno's sand poem
Ken Cockburn, 2010

St Kilda, our Sado, not to be seen.

49 hokku-label
(‘Sado just / breathing in to / the bottom / of your lungs’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

The stitching of an urchin echoes washed up trainers, gifting Eck a pun on Nike.

49 poem-label
('seamed sea heart / nike', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

After his ankle paddle Ken leaves a poem in the sand as close to the sa as possible, a line from 'Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye' (it continues, 'like the shoreline and the sea').

49 just the way it changes
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Farther along, something changed for good. A seal, or broken siren.

49 broken siren
Alec Finlay, 2010

And so we return to a rising moon reluctantly shaking off clouds.

49 hokku-label (circle poem, 'moon', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

49 Traigh Lar sunset
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)


49 Hut of Shadows
Ken Cockburn, 2004

Eck and Ken chum Rhodri to the Hut of Shadows. Ken came here too in 2004 (when Isobel was seven): "
visited Chris Drury's 'Hut of Shadows' at Lochmaddy. Reminiscent of the chambered cairn. Camera obscura – the image at first seemed very crude, then one's eye became sensitised and saw the detail, especially in the foreground rocks, and the changing pattern of light on the surface of the sea. Reached via an old suspension bridge, Isobel unused to its bounciness."

49 Sora and Rhodo before the suspension bridge
Alec Finlay, 2010

From the car we cross the bridge and pass a large house, which reminds Rhodri of one used in Mike Pearson's production of
The Persians at a military site in the Brecon Beacons. We follow three walkers, who've spotted otters swimming out to one of the bay's many islands.

Inside the hut our eyes adjust to the dark, and an image of land and sea appears on the wall. But outside the light's dim and little detail makes its way on to the wall.

49 hokku-label
('the sea has hung / its dirty washing / out to dry', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Eck leaves a poem tied to the gate which it turns out Chris stole the next day. Within his rights.

49 hokku-label
('the sea is flat / light // on the wall / of the cave’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)


Back at Moorcroft I sleep, shower, dress in city boots and jacket. Rebecca drives us to Langass Lodge and we have a fine last-night meal – I go for the wild mushroom risotto and cod with smoked lobster claw. Eck and Andy enjoy their dishes but agree the best bit is the potatoes. There are 10 of us around the table – Rebecca & Paul, Rhodri & Angharad,Eck, Andy, Sarah, Cheryl – Taigh Chearsabhagh's current artist-in-residence – and Chris Drury.

49 Canoe
Chris Drury, 2010

Chris has just arrived on the plane to begin work installing his show documenting the cross-Uist canoe paddle-n-drag he and Andy made together. As a memorial he’s constructed this ritual canoe from willow, heather and salmon skin. Tonight the two of them canoed to the restaurant (across Lochs Euphort and Langais), though we give them and their paddles a lift home, and take the chance to collect 2 sleeping bags for our next night at Berneray Hostel.

The moon is on the wane, a bright star shines at about 3.20, the puffy horizon clouds are backlit silver, and the waters shine as we pass them.


coda: the train south

As a counterpart to our own journey to the west of the west, these three hokku were composed by
Kevin MacNeil on his winter exodus to the Edo of the south island, London, far from Eiheiji.

The whiteness in front
seems whiter than the whiteness
behind. Winter train.

She fumes. He offered
his seat to the good looking
woman. Glasgow slush.

Wild snow calms London.
A fox sleeps in the garden.
Sweet tea warms me through.

Kevin MacNeil


Taigh Chearsabhagh is the culture and heritage focal point for the Uists, with an emphasis on community involvement and excellence in the arts. It houses two galleries, art studios, shop and cafe

walking within Langais Woods
, the website documenting the project, with details about the wood's ecology, heritage and location.

The Modern Antiquarian
, Julian Cope's online resource for news, information, images, folklore & weblinks on the ancient sites across the UK, Ireland and Europe, including the Bharpa Langais Cairn

Uist Sculpture Trail provides a pathway for exploration via a series of seven commissioned works by artists. All sculptures were commissioned by Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre. Each sculpture involved the local community in its construction and all provide a place to sit surrounded by sea, islands and sky

Chris Drury's blog

Kevin MacNeil was raised in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. He is a novelist, poet, playwright and editor. You can read his blog here

Explore Scotland's online guide to North Uist, and its Sculpture Trail

Tigh Dearg Hotel
is situated in the heart of the Hebrides with the Islands of Harris, Lewis, Scalpay and Great Bernera to the north, and Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay to the south

The Uist eco film festival takes runs from 9 April - 1 May 2011. You can view the flyer here

Rhodri Davies is an experimental sound artist whose instruments include the clarsach and the harp; his work is frequently improvised, formed through interaction with natural forces such as winds and weights. For AV Festival 2010, Alec and Rhodri, along with four other artists, presented works on the theme of energy and sound

all art is, is rhythm, AV Festival 2010