Wednesday, 11 August 2010

(30) Dunstaffnage

Our Izumi Castle is Dunstaffnage

Our ancient ruins of Yasuhira is Dun Mhic Uisneachan (‘Beregonium’)

Our unohana is grey lichen


30 Dunstaffnage Castle
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Dunstaffnage Castle, a stubborn molar that won’t be pulled. Dark and squat – showing no preference for Norse, Scot or English. Most likely this was not an early home of the Stone of Destiny, but the castle has just the right balance of solid stone and ruinous gaps to let myth take hold and feel at home.

the crazed paths
of our ancestry

scored on castle walls

These in 1667 were the king's requirements of the castle's Campbell keeper –

ever keeping & holding
six able & decent men
with armour & arms
& one sufficient portar & watch

if warr shall happin to fall out in these parts
we and our aires shall be holden
for the keeping and sure detaining of
the said castell

moreover they sall be obleist
to make our said Castell
patent and open to us at all tymes
whensoever they are requyred thereto

as also to furnish us
yeerlie peets or aldin
for chambers, kichine,
bakehouse and brewhouse

and for the hall
als oft and sua oft
as we or our aires
shall happin to be ther.

From the ramparts I breathe sea and take in a 360 view, imagining the constellation of castles – Duart, Gylen, Dunollie, Achadun – as my eye’s sweep.

A jaunt around the grounds discovers a lightning-struck sycamore, split in the middle to form one long, continuous flume.


Out at bay I can’t resist rock pools, peering into the Looking Glass, where things are upside-down and back-to-front. A wee ghost of a crab holds on to my rippling shadow. The 8-year old in my ear says poke but I let be.

30 seaweed blood-clot, Dunstaffnage
Rebecca Hall, 2010

wash in
blood knots

clots & ties
wash out


Before looking around the castle I make my way to the point, rung around by bubbles of brown wrack, looking across to Ledaig, pairing up our two castles.

the Firth’s cleft
pale blue Lismore
Etive in cloud

over at Ledaig
the windsock changes
its mind

30 hokku-label
Alec Finlay, 2010

Then we compassed from the battlements.

30 compassing Dunstaffnage, AF
Ken Cockburn, 2010

30 fern-well circle poem, Dunstaffnage
Alec Finlay, 2010

And looked down the well – look away now those who haven't read Andrew Greig's latest John MacNab adventure story for grown-ups, for within these walls the yomp has its thrilling denoument.





Summer Grasses

Bums on the wall, we picnic and take our tea (Black Mao Hou Monkey Fur), rereading Basho, making our own versions of his famous memorial.

the summer grasses
the mightiest warriors’
dreams' consequences

Historic Scotland –
all that remains
of the Castle’s dreams

boggygrass –
stanes a’ that is
o’ sodjer’s dreams

And then the same for Sora.

in unohana
Kanefusa appearing
white-headed alas

old walls
bloom lichen

our stubbles
flecked with grey

30 hokku-label, Dunstaffnage, KC
Alec Finlay 2010

audio, Basho & Sora at Dunstaffnage
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF & KC)

The Chapel

The nearby chapel’s cool in the woods, unlike Basho's temple’s 'reinforced walls … and a cover over the tiled roof'’, it’s open to the sky. At the west end the Victorian Campbell graveyard’s centered on a broken column. Elegant window-arches and a skull-and-crossbones set in the east wall recall times past.

30 Dunstaffnage Chapel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The bay is sheltered, waveless – motionless wrack, ash and sycamore grow right at the high-water line.

30 hokku-label
('ash-shaded seaweeds')
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Beregonium, Dun Mhic Uisneachan, Ridge of the Armourers

girders and what light
there is flash saltires
on car windows

Lorna Irvine

Over the diamond bridge with its tidal race, Connel–Benderloch. Hidehira had the hill of Kinkeizan constructed in the shape of Mt. Fuji, burying a gold rooster and hen as talismans – thus the name, ‘golden chickens'. Our second fort of the day is chosen for the ancientness of Basho’s ruin: Dun Mhic Uisneachan (‘Fort of the Sons of Uisneach’). Alexander Carmichael believed this was George Buchanan's Beregonium, an ancient Scottish capital whose name is a Latinisation of the Gaelic Barr na Ghobhann, ‘Ridge of the Armourers’, where highly-skilled smiths worked.

30 rasps, Beregonium
Alec Finlay, 2010

The guy at Ben Lora Café says ‘there’s no path but you can follow the way people have gone through the grasses’. On the way we find roses and delicious rasps. But no paths.

30 circle poem
('roses in the scent of the sea in the scent of the roses')
Alec Finlay, 2010

Eck and Barno dive daftly through the bracken of Beregonium, over the fence and up the steep wet bank. On top it’s a jungle of bracken, with a few yellow flags – a spring? – and a patch of hidden sorrel, evidence of ancient occupation. No sign of the vitrification, just the one stone someone’s turned.



Where the high bracken’s mixed with blackthorn Barno has to be carried.

30 hokku-label, Beregonium
('the ridge of the smith / forged in Buchanan’s Latin / Beregonium')
Alec Finlay, 2010

Ken rewrites Basho again

shooder-high bracken
ur chieftans biggit aince
a dwam o micht

chest-high bracken
where tanists fantasized

Ken and Rebecca follow the path to the sea.

He attempts an uphill route but is defeated by rock, fir and bracken; descends to paddle in a pebbly cove, pours some Ledaig (1990) into the sea at Ledaig and into himself, returns visited by thrush and deer, past meadowsweet and roses. At the café there's an old postcard of treeless Beregonium.

30 beach at Ledaig

30 postcard, Beregonium

She heads for the beach at Ardmucknish, after what looks like a string of perfect stepping stones into the sea: this dream pathway into the Atlantic is – Holly’s ‘actually’ – a series of concrete collars, protecting an underwater pipe. Evening gloaming does its magic, clouds whipped stiff stick me still with them.

(stage left)

white clouds
over Lismore

(centre stage)

Ardmucknish Bay
enter blue sky

(stage right)

grey Mull-ness
rasp picking

(KC, AF, RH)

30 hokku-label (for Deirdre, after The Victorians)
('she was a nice girl / that Deirdre / liked hunting & fishing / being one of the boys')
Alec Finlay, 2010

Café Lora

30 Café Lora
Alec Finlay, 2010

Back at the café, among the books at the back, here’s two volumes of Rakosi.

We end this station with W. H. Murray’s telling of Deirdre, daughter to the King of the Picts, and her youth here on Loch Etiveside, where she’s said to be buried.

‘She spent her girlhood at Loch Etive in the company of three fine lads of her own age, the sons of Uisneach. Her closest friend of these three was Naoise, but their association was a boy-and-girl idyll—all three of the lads loving her deeply and she them. Brought up as they were under the strict supervision given to a daughter of the Pictish royal house, there was no question of love-making in the full sense. The boys hunted for sport and food, bringing to Deirdre the flesh of deer, fish, and badger; they would picnic by the side of Deirdre's waterfall in Glen Etive, or in her House of the Sun (Tigh Grianach), or in Naoise's wood the Coille Naoise in the bay between Achnacloich and Airds Point.

After ten happy years spent by the young folk in the land of the Gruithnigh, the day came when Conchobar’s men arrived to claim the princess. The pain of parting was more than Deirdre would endure. She refused to leave without her three friends, and Conchobar's headman had finally to pledge the word of his king to a safe conduct for the sons of Uisneach. On the seaway to Ireland, Deirdre composed and sang her lovely song of seven or eight verses, her Farewell to Alban. It has survived through the centuries for one reason—its most powerful expression of a universal experience, sorrow on leaving a homeland. Deirdre could not in the end give up her love of the three youths to marry Conchobar. The furious king had the brothers killed, and not long afterwards Deirdre died of a broken heart. The Druids of Ulster granted her dying wish: they opened the grave of the three brothers and laid her to rest beside them. Dun MhicUisneachan, the Fort of the Sons of Uisneach, is sited at Ledaig on the Benderloch shore of outer Loch Etive.’

W. H. Murray, A Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland, 1968



Dunstaffnage Castle is located in Dunbeg, off of the A85 (56°26'51.09"N) (5°26'44.84"W). It is managed by Historic Scotland: visit their website for opening times and admission prices.

The reported site of Beregonium and Dun Mhic Uisneachan is in Benderloch, just north of Ledaig (56°29'28.65"N) (5°24'12.21"W). Parking is available outside Café Lora, where there are access paths leading to Ardmucknish Bay. The reputed Dun Mhic Uisneachan is very overgrown, with no clear access to the summit; explorers diverge from the path at their own risk!

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


Andrew Greig is a poet and novelist. The Return of John MacNab (Faber & Faber, 1996) is widely available. Several of his poetry publications are available from Bloodaxe Books.

Café Lora is a restaurant/coffee shop with a well stocked second-hand bookshop.

Tel: 0163172 0296

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