Wednesday, 4 August 2010

(17) Kilmartin

'In 1581 the Scottish Parliament banned the cult of saints, forbidding the dregges of Idolatrie that remanis in divers pairtes of the realme, be using of pilgrimage to sum chappellis, wellis, croces and sic uther monumentis of Idolatrie.' (Gilbert Márkus)

Our Shinobu-mojizuri is Kirkmichael Glassery Cross, Kilmartin

Our bowled it over into valley is the Scottish Reformation

17 Kilmichael Glassary Cross
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Stone & Bone Music

It's rained all morning and it's still raining when we leave in the afternoon. In the car we play The Kilmartin Sessions CD, with bone and stone flutes invocating curlews, and rock drums, like the ringing stone on Tiree. John Purser, whose inspiration this was, has done more than anyone to archaeologise Scotland’s music. As we listen, we pass Carnasserie Castle, home to John Carswell, first Protestant Bishop of the Isles, who in 1567 published the first book in Gaelic – a translation of Knox's liturgy.

17 Kilmartin Kirk
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Kilmartin apples and plums are forming on the trees between museum and church.

fallen names

on the map

17 wish, apple (Kilmartin Museum)
Alec Finlay, 2010

17 hokku-label, Kilmartin (after
Adiutor Laboratorium, attrib St Columba)
('a wee man / trembling and wretched // rowing through / the storm of the infinite' AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

17 Kilmartin Kirkyard
Alec Finlay, 2010

praise for the monk-scribe
who mistook

giving us joy
rather than Christ’s

Through Kilmartin Glen

17 Compassing Kilmartin Glen
Alec Finlay, 2010

Eck and Rebecca drive ahead to Kilmartin Wood; I walk with Lorna, Isobel, Holly, Barney, to the Glebe Cairn, and on down the linear cemetery, which runs SSW, like Kintyre, towards Ireland The rain eases – the girls enjoy clambering over the lichened stones, and descending into the vault at Nether Largie North cairn. Isobel says

the black sheep
look like silhouettes
of white sheep

17 hokku-label
Ken Cockburn, 2010

A heron sits at a distance on a gate over the burn, whose windings have been restrained in recent times.

the old meander
of the burn

wandered around
the cairns

A black caterpillar refuses to clamber onto Holly's offered finger – the cherries on the tree outside the school are ripe, too high to reach but I find five windfalls of varying ripeness in the grass at my feet.

17 cherries
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(KC, verse AF)

Nether Largie & beyond

17 hokku-label, oak, Nether Largie
Alec Finlay, 2010


(Nether Largie, after IHF)

Eck and Rebecca sink a further loop beyond Nether Largie, through the moor, to what they take to be the fort above Slockavulin.

17 hokku-label, fort (Slockavullin)

Alec Finlay, 2010

scent of purple
thistles in the rain

sign of sorrel again
and stonecrop

translating the bumpy hill-
top into a fort


Temple Wood and Lady Glassary's Wood

We meet Eck and Rebecca at Temple Wood, and drink our Islay Malt around the cist at the centre of the filled-in stone circle. Our tea to, Yun Ti Kuan Yin.

17 whisky
Ken Cockburn, 2010

17 hokku-label
(‘Holly / climbs in / every cairn’ AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

It’s thought that rocks such as these were painted – another link to the Shinobu-mojizuri, for that stone was used in the ancient technique of 'mottling', rubbing the fronds of hare’s-foot fern (‘longing grass’) onto cloth, to create a random natural pattern. The stone became a symbol of longing, which Basho traces in the hardworking hands of the women harvesters.

Rowan, ash, oak around us, mostly the latter, including one oddly small example and one odd straight example, branchless but its trunk covered in leaves, like ivy. The others drive back to the village as I walk to the stones at Lady Glassary Wood, a pair at either end like goalposts but those between would foil the passing and dribbling skills of today's players.

17 menhirs for goalposts
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(KC & AF)

Evening Tolling

Lorna returns to collect me; as she turns at Temple Wood I pick a handful of rasps for us. At the hotel we dry out, eat, play pool (Lorna sinks the last red and straight away the black), I decline the familiar Deuchars to try the Red Squirrel.

note on archaeologists

many archaeologists
keep a flint
in their top pocket

That evening there’s a lecture in the Museum by the director, Sharon Webb. She describes the new sites discovered since 1997 with the help of a cohort of volunteers, more than doubling the register of ancient monuments in the glen. One findling, a neolithic saddle quern – found and left on the hill – gives Eck this local version of Basho’s hokku.

the rice seedlings plucked
rooted from hand from of old

Basho, tr Cid Corman

hands wynd
the rauchle saiddle quern
pairting ripe bere

AF, after Basho

The evening ends with a homecoming ceremony for the Kilmichael Cross led by the Piskie Rev. Roy Flatt. Dating from the 14th or 15th century it was later used as a lintel stone; rediscovered broken in two in Victorian times, it was bound together with iron which rusted; this has now been removed and the stone cleaned and seamlessly joined. The plan is to re-erect it at Kilmichael Church but until the elders can agree where to site it, the museum's home.

for leavetaking

for homecoming

The reverend rings a bell, flicks water on the stone with a yew sprig, places pennies and rose-petals on and around it, and we are all invited to do like wise. Afterwards, someone asks him, 'but what does it all signify?', and a man says that we shouldn't be venerating objects, not that he advocates destroying them, they're of most importance to the person that made them, so maybe that's who we should be celebrating. Alpine strawberries glow red in the dwindling light.

the road north leads
to chapels, wells, crosses
and other monuments

audio: bell (replica of an early medieval iron bell, associated with St Adomnán)
Alec Finlay, 2010

17 bell
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(KC, verse AF)



Kilmartin House Museum is located in the village of Kilmartin, off of the A816 (56° 8'13.52"N) (5°29'26.77"W). There are over 150 historic sites within a 6 mile radius of the area, for which the museum has comprehensive guides. Check the Kilmartin House Museum website for admission prices and opening times.

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


Marianna Lines runs Stoneline Designs, a textile design workshop based in Fife. Her artworks are inspired by the Pictish sculptured stones found in the ancient Scottish landscape.

John Purser is a renowned composer, writer and broadcaster; poet and playwright; musicologist. He is author of the acclaimed Scottish Music: A History of the Traditional and Classical Music of Scotland from the Earlies Times to the Present Day (Mainstream Publishing, 1992).

The Kilmartin Sessions CD is available for purchase from the Kilmarin House Museum Shop.

Dr Sharon Webb is Director and Curator of Kilmartin House Museum. She is currently leading exploration and research into the archaeological landscape on behalf of the Dalriada Project.

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