Tuesday, 13 July 2010

(35) Falls of Bruar

‘Here, foaming down the skelvy rocks,
In twisting strength I rin’

Robert Burns, 'The Humble Petition of Bruar Water’ (1787)

Our Shiraito Falls is the Falls of Bruar.

35 Upper Bridge, looking south
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Glen Fender

Driving on the A9, a raptor flew in front of us, prey in its claws. At Bruar we met my parents and sister, who live not so far away. It’s warm enough to sit outside, sharing the Edradour miniature (11 yr old) and toasting my 50th birthday with a pot of black ruby tea.

Being here brought back past times and unforgotten flowers, my father recalling Mualichbeg, a farm-cottage in Glen Fender rented for three years, 1961-63, at £10 p.a., when my sister and I were both very young. He tells Eck he’d have been happy never to leave. When I was a teenager we returned for a day’s brown trout fishing – my mother caught most, showed me how to kill them once they were landed, at home how to gut and fry them in oatmeal. By then the cottage was more or less ruined, used as a byre.

35 Molluch Beg, Glen Fender, c. 1963

A few weeks later we return en famille and look across the glen, try to recognise which cottage it was across the glen (no view from the other side), and present our current selves to the lens.

35 Mulachbeag, Glen Fender, August 201o


35 Upper Bridge, winter
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I was last at Bruar in February; the falls were frozen, the midges hibernating. From falls to falls we’re following Burns. When he visited the glen in 1787 he found the banks exceedingly picturesque and beautiful, but the effect is much impaired by the want of trees and shrubs, and wrote The Humble Petition of Bruar Water. The Duke of Atholl later created a wild garden as a memorial to the poet.

35 Let lofty firs
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I leave Eck by the lower bridge, and walk with ‘Barno’ to the upper falls. Tired, few ideas for poems, so drew on Burns and Basho for a tag poem, and felt refreshed. The first line uses two word-pairs from the Humble Petition; the chess image comes from Basho’s place-name Goten, glossed as scattered go (chess) stones.

35 hokku-label, Falls of Bruar
(skelvy rocks & crystal tide / play
chess - checkmate's a long way off)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Burns, too, wrote in situ: "I have just time… to tell you that [the poem] was, at least most part of it, the effusion of the half hour I spent at Bruar. – I don't mean that it was extempore, for I have endeavoured to brush it up as well as Mr Nicol's chat and the jogging of the chaise would allow."

When we return Eck’s retreated to the midge-free car-park, where we watch a buzzard hovering over the wood.


carrying stream

how can the buzzard
turning high circles

pierce Balvain Wood
with her eyes?

It’s another of our blue-sky oku days, so we make our way in shorts and compare bites in the evening.

35 tanka-label ( Falls of Bruar)
Alec Finlay, 2010

35 audio, tanka, Falls of Bruar
Alec Finlay, 2010

Our Mogamigawa is Bruar Water.

Basho’s river flows through Yonezawa, Yamagata, Shono, Shono Hirano, into the sea at Sakata. He took a boat part of the way.

Our Bruar rises on Leathad an Tobhain. There, in the peaks to the north of the Forest of Atholl, rise rivers which flow three ways, from hills that are tucked close together:

Rivers Feshie and Tromie run north to join the Spey.

The Geldie Burn flows east through the Forest of Mar to join the Dee.

And Bruar proceeds south, skirting Beinn Dearg, via Garry, by Faskally
and on by Tummel to Tay.

The view from Glen Garry stretched far into the Grampians, the furthest north we’d seen so far on this trip.

the 5 peaks
of Beinn A’ Ghlo
would be clear to see

if it weren’t for
the bald cone
of Carn Liath

(Beinn A’ Ghlo, ‘Hill of Mist’)

Fraser Darling says there’s grazing up to 1,800 ft in that wild vastness.

where a pony could gallop
on smooth rich earth

Basho shows respect for the farming community he met around Oishida – folk of the ‘reed flute’ – sharing ideas about the new haikai style, punning on michishirube, to guide one's way. The haikai they wrote together were a highlight of the trip, balancing city innovation and country heart.

35 wordrawing (BRUAR, BURNS, BASHO)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Not so different from Burns then, who came here on one of his folk-song collecting tours; or Hamish Henderson, who encapsualted the oral song tradition as:

the singer sings and the carrying stream flows on

The Mogamigawa’s one of Japan's three great white water rivers. The Bruar is inky with peat, but quieter for the dry Summer, and the hydroelectrics downstream.

Bruar’s another

I should’ve dived

We pass some kids stood over the fence in wet suits, peering down into their plunge pool below, canyoning they call it, primeval plungers.

(looks down)
‘r you jumpin?
(looks down)

you don’t need
that wetsuit

what you need’s
a parachute

Joking with Ken afterwards, I say theirs is the good deed that his Mum said the day deserved.
Without Avon Skin-So-Soft (recommended by the SAS) the woods’ midgie forces chased me away from my bridge-view bench in the pines and larch.

PIns &

(after Ponge)

The riverside used to feature the Duke of Athol’s pathways and view-houses; only the arch remains, hiding the falls for maximum effect. I recall Ruskin’s advice:

to depict a waterfall
practice first

with a heap
of broken glass

crystalline forms
in the water

flexiond splintering
in the rock

(Modern Painters)

Downstream from Burns ‘skelvy’ rocks, I recorded a blithe linnet (?) chaunting on the iphone, and paddled in the cool river where the soft stones were pale and dry. Floating some cones down a runnel, I saw my wet footprint on the rock and signed the poets' names in Bruar water:

35 Basho (written in River Bruar)
Alec Finlay, 2010

35 audio, linnet (?)
Alec Finlay, 2010

does the memory
still shine

after you draw the pebble
from the stream?

Our friend Arne Rautenberg chose stone for his Japanese homage.

The blue sky of Hokusai
Arne Rautenberg, 2010

The snowflake of Hiroshige
Arne Rautenberg, 2010




This is a guide to 35, Falls of Bruar (56°46'43.22"N) (3°55'57.76"W). Park at House of Bruar, just off the A9 north of Blair Atholl. Bruar Water runs to the north of the building housing the shop and café. A well-marked (and well-fenced) path runs up the west side of the burn; between lower and upper bridges it runs on both sides.

The completed journey will be realised as an audio-visual word-map, published online and in print, May 16, 2011. If you would like more information about the project email info@theroadnorth.co.uk

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