Tuesday, 27 July 2010

(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

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