Wednesday, 4 August 2010

(26) Luing

‘Waitin' at the shielin' o Mhaire bhan mo chroi
Waitin' at the shielin' o faur awa' tae sea
Hame will come the bonny boats, Mhaire bhan mo chroi
Hame will come the bonny boys, Mhaire bhan mo chroi’

– Macaphee Turn the Cattle

Our bridge to Ojima is Clachan Bridge, over the Atlantic to Seil

Our hired boat is the Belnahua ferry, from Conan to Luing

Our mulberry land is raspberry country

Our contorted pines are the slightly seabent pines of Cullipool

Our all sorts of islands gather here, steep ones pointing to sky, others creeping upon waves … some piled double on each other, or even triple, and some divided at one end and overlapping at the other, are Jura, Scarba, Lunga, Fiola Mheadhonach, Rubha Fiola, Eilean Dubh Mor, Eilean Dubh Beag, Ormsa, Fladda, Belnahua, Garbh Eiealch, Dun Chonnuill, A Chuli, Eileach an Naoimh, Fladda, Dubh-fheith, Easdale and Mull.

Our lovely creature engrossed in her glass is Joan, Catriona and Bridie in IKWIG

Our Oyamazumi, the mountain God who shaped Basho's islanded vista, is the God of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to call at Cullipool – the God who made countless planets, but only this one with just enough hot, just enough cold.

26 Luing, our Matsushima
Ken Cockburn, 2010

With some ‘stations’ the pairings with Basho require a sideways glance; not so here.

the view
at Matsushima
of Luing

the view
at Luing
of Matsushima

Gallery House

26 Edna & Audrey, Gallery House, Cullipool
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 Edna's Workroom
Alec Finlay, 2010

I visited Edna & Audrey at Gallery House, as I’ve done many times before. Edna’s seen deep into this conspectus, beyond names; from her studio which projects out into the view, she’s drawn and painted the tumult, transcribed weather, countless times over 3 decades.

in a squall

her pencil
rips through

26 snapshot of pencil drawing, Edna Whyte
Alec Finlay, 2010

It moves me every time, to sit at this western seaboard edge, to see with them. Here you can only get further by looking.

I could take away
that building

but I’ve learnt
to look through it

I see the sun
through the back of my head

by the sunset
out of the window

audio: Edna (compassing the Inland Sea)
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 compasing Luing
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 Audrey
Alec Finlay, 2010

With her Alzheimer’s, gentle Audrey now lives only in the now, sitting in her chair by the open door, bathed in sun; lovely soul, still remembers me, shares a little of Buddha Mt Dao Ren from my thermos.

26 hokku-label, Gallery House
Alec Finlay, 2010

still seeing green Erin
Columba went an isle further

retuning only
to bury his mother

(Garbh Eiealch–Iona)

We talk in the round, watching yachts and lobsterboats motor south, towards Craobh Haven and Crinan. Most of the hokku for today come from what Edna said.

a sail weaves
time in a strand

finding the way
through the islands

Talk of the old days at the village.

when they built
the new houses
at Fladda

they’d to come back
to the old houses
for good water

26 wish, Gallery House
Alec Finlay, 2010

Matsushima’s 260 small islands are famous for their odd shapes, wind blown arches and grots, twisted pine trees. These were ours.

26 contorted pines, Isle of Luing
Alec Finlay, 2010

At Matsushima Basho wrote

islands upon islands
shattering into countless fragments
the summer sea

A taxi driver on Berneray once said to me

if a life was broken
into little pieces
and it landed on the islands

it would not be
such a bad life
after all

Given how snugly Luing and Matsushima slot together, it was fitting that I received these delightful gifts to the project by my artist friend Tomohiko Ogawa while we were there. From his home in Japan he created these reversed views, merging Scottish ports with the ports of Kyusyu, via a bundle of picture postcards that I’d sent.

26 Reversed journey (for Oku via Scotland) I

26 Reversed journey (for Oku via Scotland) II

26 Reversed journey (for Oku via Scotland) III

26 Reversed journey (for Oku via Scotland) IV
Tomohiko Ogawa, 2010


No. 51

Norrie Bissell, a Glasgow man, fell in love with this Cullipool view 12 years ago and knew he would never leave. He lives in one of the quarrymen's cottages, built when the island had a thriving slate-mining industry; the last mine closed in the 1960s.

Cullipool Hokku

an empty quarry
filled with the squeal
of a buzzard

this toad didn’t make it
flattened leather
by the roadside

a pair of collared doves
on the old fence post
seriously at it

the red post bus
by the slate shed

Norman Bissell

We take the long way round, the numbering system's order unclear to us newbies. Norrie sets out tea and biscuits, shows us round, up the steep ladder to the loft full of books and papers and with fine views over the 'inland sea', then out to the garden, bordered with flowers but mainly given over to veg and herbs. Green plastic bottles hang from twine to keep the birds away on windier days than this; beer for the slugs.

26 wish, apple, Norrie's garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Rebecca leaves to find the fort near Ardinamir, Lorna and the girls stay at the black beach. Norrie and I do a circuit of the village, past the giant model railway in Nigel's garden, and the remnants of last summer's festival's slate sculpture competition. The beach slate's rusty – deposits of iron and iron pyrites – so mined Luing slate was never prized for roofs.

26 slate rust
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We name the islands we can see past the skerries and lighthouses in the foreground – high Scarpa above Lunga, two Black Islands, the Columban Garvellachs, Belnahua the ferry's named after, and Mull's long expanse to the north. (Glimpsed between their shoulders, Jura and Colonsay.)

Over on Easdale, a mirror of white houses, another slate village. We stop at a roofless old quarry building overlooking water as still as at Dalchonzie.

today an elder's
all that drives the engine-room
no eaves for swallows

this pool's mined stillness
holds Dalchonzie clouds

The birds skim for insects, touching the surface at each catch to leave brief circles like
the cup-and-ring marked rocks at Achnabreck.

This is the site of the proposed Atlantic Islands Centre, with café, gallery and office facilities, on an island with no pub or other daily gathering place.

elderflowers picked
here slowly become

We toast the present view and future Centre with Yamakazi whisky – 'rich, like Cognac', says Norrie – and I tie a hokku-label to the elder.

26 Yamazaki whisky and the quarry pool
Ken Cockburn, 2010

26 hokku-label
(‘Matsushima ya / above the quarry pool / for the Atlantic islands’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We find the girls ploutering happily at the beach – slate's easy on bare feet, smooth and unslippery. While I'm paddling Eck returns, catches up with Norrie, then it's back to the cars so as not to miss the last ferry at 6pm.


A Tale of Two Forts

The Seil–Luing ferry’s spun like a teacup & saucer safe to the other side. At Cullipool our Matsushima’s bathed in milky light. Of Helen Graham, who’s embarcation nearly took out the ferry, Norrie says ‘she cannae be tamed’.

The population’s 200 and decreasing. Folk have to be self-sufficient, making the journey ‘across the Atlantic’ to Oban – an hour at least (?), but no, Norrie insists it’s 30 minutes – ‘I never count the ferry, only the time taken from the mainland’. An island measure.

A quick tour of Norrie’s house, attic view of the light glittering on Fladda, and, for our onward journey, souvenir boxes from Open an Island a geopoetic survey and ‘starter-kit’ to be added to from our own tour around the island. So I head off to the dorsal fin wall of Fort Leccamore – also known as the South Fort of Luing – with it’s view south-east to Toberonochy, and lined ahead the island’s 2 windmill turbines. Bluebells nestle in the tussocks of the Dun’s broken vertebrae; light pours over Shuna into the Sound below.



On the way back, a steep clamber up to the North Fort of Luing, Ballycastle, prominent to the north-west of Ardinamir. Sheep caution sternly from below, but the ground’s firm and a burst over crumbling rock breaches the fort. Wading through fern to Norrie’s lone rowan, I tie a wish and make the promise to come back.

for goating

the right-size



We head back home from Ojima, over the hump of Clachan Bridge.

an oyster catcher
calls over
the Atlantic

26 hokku-label, Clachan Bridge, Isle of Seil
('an oyster catcher / calls across / the Atlantic')
Alec Finlay, 2010

Recalling Matsushima, Basho says that it compares with the most beautiful views in China, such as Lake Dotei (West Lake).

26 West Lake (biscuit isles and lochs)
Alec Finlay, 2005, rebaked by Caroline Smith, 2009
photograph by HICA

The Inland Sea

The Ardfern week was a tour of the vast basin of our western seaboard, patterned with islands, pinched with peninsulas, rimmed by the Western Isles, Skye, ‘Cantyre’ and the coast of Antrim. Kingdoms interconnected by a sea highway.

We ventured down points and ards, reaching into the great water, beginning with our home peninsula. Driving along Loch Craignish to the road end, Aird, where we climbed the little Cnoc for a view of Coire Bhreacain – of which more soon – and Orwell’s white house, at the road end on Jura.

26 hokku-label, Aird
(‘another sunny day / Orwell is rowing / slowly towards Corryvrechan’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 hokku-label, Kilmarie Chapel
(‘ivy holds’ / the wall / holds the ivy’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 hokku-label, Kilmarie
(‘the tide runs / from the church ruin // toward the crown / of Ben Cruachan’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

On the south side of Ardfern, we explored the ruined chapel at Kilmarie, with its grave for a McLachlan who died in Nagasaki, April 1881. Picnicked and skimmed oyster shells at Bàgh Dùn Mhuilig. One of them, unskimmed, had a worn hole that made an equilateral triangular viewfinder.

26 Negesaki 1881
Ken Cockburn, 2010

26 oyster viewfinder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

26 Crinan Classic Boat
Alec Finlay, 2010

At Crinan, after quenching our thirst and comparing expeditions, we looked over the bay to Duntrune Castle in the evening light.

26 Crinan-Duntrune
Alec Finlay, 2010


Ken had underlined Tayvallich as a possible ‘station’, for Nikko, ‘Mt Sunlight’ – the point across the bay is called Rubha Grianain, which in English means 'headland of the sunny hillock'. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, few Scottish places are named after the sun, Greenock being the main exception, but roads leading to it are wide.) While he and Rebecca were hiking to Castle Dounie, Lorna & I took the girls south, taking the wee road from Crinan along the pinkie of Caol Scotnish, through sunny Tayvallich, to Carsaig.

26 Tayvallich hokku
('Tayvallich's / pool of / sun', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

The map’s sandy beach-markings turned out to be stone – the sea being too gentle here to grind anything smaller.

26 hokku-label, Carsaig
('even the sea's / warm in the weed // in Tayvallich's / pool of sun', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

26 ‘Basho’ written in Inland Sea
Alec Finlay, 2010

The Kirsty

26 The Kirsty
Pat Law, 2010

26 wish, The Kirsty
Pat Law, 2010

26 woven poem, Alec Finlay; sail and sewing, Pat Law
('this won't happen without you')
Pat Law, 2010

The next day, back on Ardfern, the ‘Kirsty’ anchored at Craobh Haven and we collected her crew, Pat and Andy Law, and their singing daughter, Kirsty. We ate well, at the Crafty Kitchen, where their tales – of bothys on far-flung islands, singing in sea caves, camping by the the bee hives on Garbh Ellach, visiting St Kilda – made our poet-lubbers way seem prosaic; but then that’s the nature of the view from the sea and, in time we will get to some of their ‘stations’, such as the snuggest anchorage in Scotland – snug because, being surrounded by big sea and bad weather, you're not in it – in the lee of Eilean nan Gobhar. This week Pat, Andy & Kirsty are our sea-cousins. Pat’s been busy on a new art project, flinging bottles with messages into the sea.

26 Mailboat
Pat Law, 2010

26 horizon
Pat Law, 2010

Just before we took the crew back to their ‘Kirsty’ at Crobh Haven, Andy offered this advice, to be handed on, as needed.

if you ever fall in the sea
don’t struggle

just let yourself
gently sink down

til you touch the bottom
then RUN!

26 lubbers & sailors, Ardfern
Ken Cockburn, 2010

And here, for the full romantic effect, is the sound that greeted our first evening walk by the marina.

audio, Ardfern ceilidh
Alec Finlay, 2010

Ardfern ceilidh

St Bernard's water-taxi
shuttles and putts

Lorna Irvine


IKWIG & Coire Bhreacain

26 Coire Bhreacain
Alec Finlay, 2010

‘when I was 20 I could jump in the sea

and jump out dry’
– Agnes Varda, Le Pointe Courte (1954)

When I was visiting Edna at Cullipool, I asked her memories of IKWIG (I Know Where I’m Going), filmed on locations scattered around the sound in Mull, which she saw when it was released in 1945. She thinks that one of the actors, Helen Carling, maybe still lives a few miles over the sea, on the island of Belnahua.

26 Pamela Brown
IKWIG, 1945

26 Catriona MacDonald Lockhart

Michael Powell was good friends with Seton Gordon and, as a reward for outlining the traditional Gaelic love-story around which IKWIG’s shaped, SG’s fondly caricatured as the eagle-watching old buffer. The director also named his heroines Catriona and Bridie, after my grandmother and her sister. Before she died I made sure that Catriona saw the DVD. Ever the innocent, she didn’t make anything of their names appearing on-screen. Catriona had an archetypal beauty, combining the natural aristocracy of her namesake, and the Hebridean charm of Bridie’s character. Pamela Brown’s beauty is eeriely ancient, with something of the cailleach. In A Life in Movies Powell recalls her “deep voice and commanding way of speaking which would blend mysteriously with the black rocks and tortured oak trees of the Glen of Erraig”. Of their love affair, which began on location, at the 'Boy Scout' camp, Carsaig (Mull), he says, “she loved me because I treated her like a boy … expecting her to do physical feats which she knew she couldn’t do, but she did them”. Some of the whirlpool shots were filmed by Powell, running a skiff from The Pass of the Grey Dogs, lashed to the tiller – within sight of Cullipool – and eddying around Coire Bhreacain.

IKWIG’s love-story is not eros but transformation: selfish Joan must be wooed from her love of cosmopolitan riches – by the Hebrides, the sea, the community, singing – ‘Macaphee’, performed by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir – and finally, by her and Torquil’s Homeric passage through the whirlpool. Torquil himself is the least of it, for if the world were in-kilter surely he would wed Catriona. But it isn’t. The stories mythopoesis reveals tensions between culture, class and age that define the Highlands relation to Greater Britain to this day. Martin Scorsese recalls being “overwhelmed by its illustration of love laced with mysticism.”

Along with Local Hero, IKWIG is the masterpiece of contemporary Highland cinema. Looking out from Luing, I realised for the first time the extent to which Forsyth’s masterpiece is a homage, retelling the same myth – it even includes a symbolic phone-box! Forsyth’s female archetypes are the beautiful Highland wife, Stella, Goddess of the Stars, symbolised in the Northern Lights, and the selkie-woman, Marina, Goddess of the Sea. Mammon’s been updated to Big Oil; and the same transformation is wrought, but this time on a , with her webbed-feet. Mac’s crude Houston values are purified by those of another place and time.

In much the same way as Powell and Forsyth’s idealised encounters with Highland folk, Basho prefered rustic folk and hermit monk’s – a lesson to the cosmopolitan city folk he left behind. Ben, the beach hermit, is a perfect pair for Basho’s Ungozenji’s, and his hut at Ojima. We plan to seek out Ben’s hut on the beach at Lochailort, next week, and then travel up to Sandaig, to seek the spirit of Ungozenji in the demesne of Gavin Maxwell, at our second Matsushima – along with the spirit of another cailleach, Kathleen Raine, she of the curse.




Scottish Centre for Geopoetics

The IKWIG Tour

Tomohiko Ogawa

Pat Law:


This is the guide for Luing. From 10.00 onwards there are ferry crossings from Cunan, Isle of Seil every 30 minutes. The last car ferry is at 18.00; the last passenger ferry is at 22:00.

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


Sadly, Audrey passed away in December 2010.

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