Wednesday, 11 August 2010

(44) Dunadd

‘born at the right time’

– Paul Simon

Our Sanemori's helmet is the rock-cut boar at Dunadd



Sunshine. Many visitors – mums and dads, kids and dogs – at Dunadd. At the start of the short climb we meet a big caterpillar – hawk moth maybe? before we reach footprint, boar and basin below the summit. Eck innovates a suitably archaic matriarchial ceremony and, through the boots of our womanly companions, the common agreement is that the footprint is best filled by a size 8. We offer the Scotti a dram from Islay, halfway between West and East Dalriada.

44 footprint and whisky
Ken Cockburn, 2010

On a second top, to the east, a rowan grows from the edge, upon which Eck ties several hokku-labels.

hokku flutter
on precipitous rowan

44 Dunadd rowan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

44 hokku-label (Dunadd)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Dunadd Hokku


a split hill
or shapely paps

let the right
foot in


how many bends
of the river

added to the
surging sea


Moine Mhoir bricollage
mosses and rush

patched heather
pools & cloud shadow





44 hokku-label (Dunadd)
Alec Finlay, 2010

The river snakes its way around the nub of rock and through the Mòine Mhòr to meet the sea at Bellanoch.


From the great Moss you can see how close the sea came, lapped around – once made the fort an island – as at Dun Mhic Uisneachan (Beregonium), this is a seaside powerbase, perfect for passage over the inland sea to Erin. Eye’s drawn from all points to the paps of Jura. The 263 brooch moulds found at Dunadd, show it was another smelting centre.

(KC & AF)

footprint : tnirptoof

In his analysis of Kilmartin Glen, Angus Farquhar developed an interesting theory based on early Scandinavian symbolism: you step into the Dunadd footprint, and the foot of a person in the spirit world – or in a death limbo – is mirrored beneath you. Coronation stone as portal: point of symmetry: communicant with underworld:

as above
so below


Tor a’ Bhlarain

I’d spotted the typical hill fort hill form of Tor a’ Bhlarain, down Kilmichael (Kil-Mikkel) Glen, on the drive back from Achnabrek. The point of it made a triangle with Dunadd and Dounie. We didn’t climb up, viewing it from the smooth cup-and-ring marked stone by the road, listening to 3 mewling buzzards, reading the rise and the reeds in the light of Basho’s famous cricket-helmet hokku.

audio, 44 Tor a' Bhalain 1
audio, 44 Tor a' Bhalain 2
Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn, 2010

44 hokku-label Buteo Buteo
('3 of us listening / by the stone // to 3 buzzards / mewling & circling / over
Tor a’ Bhlarain' AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Stopping off at Kilmichael Glassary’s cup-and-ring marked rocks – past the school potato-patch, the workmen in the churchyard, rusted bells on a cottage gate. Seton Gordon says that among the cup marks there are two footprints where, he speculates, the Queens of Dalriada were crowned.

sun's not shifted
rainwater runnelled

44 hokku-label
('pockled / rock / cup // puckered / stone / ring' AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(KC & AF)

To Make Your Very Own Dun

You will need –

a split rock form, like camel humps, one bigger than the other, with the fort on the lower peak

a conspectus view over a plain toward a surrounding curtain of mountains; alternatively, for those who wish to stay alert, a distant hill with a rival dun

a geomantic alignment with other duns, standing stones, and cup-and-ring marked rocks

a small winding path, oku or hosomichi, often obscured by fern or heather

vitrification (optional extra)

a spring or well

a mythic figure (Saint, King, Warrior, Cailleach, Witch, Seer)

a tale, always tragic: ‘no Dun has a happy ending’ – Sora)

a disupted association with one or more of the Stone(s) of Destiny

a scattering of sorrel and wild thyme

some ferns, nettles and birch, sheep are also optional

a rowan at the margin

foxglove and stonecrop

buzzards mewling gothic lettering (on the OS)


Kilmichael Glassary

Kilmichael Glassary is a quiet guardian for the cup-and-ring marked stones. As at Dunchraigaig, we spend a few moments hypothesising what they might mean. Has anyone made a comparative survey between the marks found on the standing stones and those found on the rock slabs? Perhaps these enigmatic cups and curves speak to us, and will continue to do so for years to come, in the shape of our future glimpsed as we attempt to interpret our past.

ringer and rolley

the constellations

Ahead, Kilmichael Church seems to dissolve at the edges, leaching into the surrounding scrub and hillside. On the way down to the car I notice the fluorescent jackets of the council groundsmen, primed with grass-strimmers. I wonder if they’ll remember to blow the cuttings off the grave slabs afterwards, or will Sharon be along in the evening to brush them away?


Castle Dounie

At Crinan Rebecca and I lunch by the canal. Puffer Vic 32's smoke shifts us from our initial picnic spot to a table by the lock.

We watch an enormous Golden Opal make its way through and out into Loch Crinan. Walking to the harbour we can't find the path and ask the way of a lady gardening – she points us in the right directions, and advises us just to ignore the PRIVATE – RESIDENTS ONLY sign, taking the liberal view that as the path is marked on the map it's OK for non-residents too.

We follow a steep path through dappled birch-woods and join a forestry track. Painted ladies display; sun throbs zriit-zriit of grasshoppers. We pass several lively-looking rocky outcrops before the arrows, which the car-park board assured us would lead to the castle, point perplexingly downhill. We retrace our steps and soon come across the dùn, a semi-circular wall still intact. Aligning the planets in our constellation of duns – Dunadd, Tor a’ Bhlarain, Dounie. The views are fantastic, across the Sound of Jura through the Dorus Mor, over Craignish, our peninsula, to the south-end finger-tip of Luing, Scarba's rounded back and the mass of Mull.

Japanese Cherry Tea replaces the minerals we've sweated out. Rebecca ties a wish to a young pine. The fort's on the lower of two tops. Ken scrambles up the higher and leaves a wish for his sister on a birch. A last look-back sees the height won, ground gained.

black lichen
hilltop tea
tastes of cherries

not so far

44 wish, Castle Dounie
Ken Cockburn, 2010

pinning myself
to every

path, peak & point

(KC & RH)


a certain quiet lochan,
where water lilies rise

like small fat moons,
and tied among the reeds,

underneath a rowan,
a white boat waits.

from 'Lochan' by Kathleen Jamie (Jizzen)

The following day we took the road up to Kilbride, one of my dream destinations. We struck out for Lochan an Tormalaich, hidden beyond Barr of Baroile, cupped within four hills. The sheep trod winds up hill through Cnoc Gaothach’s oaks, then we headed east over tussocky bog.

44 wish, oak, Kilbride
Alec Finlay, 2010

Just as last time, a mythopoetic deer showed herself on the slope, divining the final hill to climb; but she led us away from Tormalaich, to a smaller unnamed lochan that’s fed from her waters. I wondered at the changes in my perfect loch, for the water lilies used to make a perfect circle. It was Ken who found out what, as Holly would say, was 'actually' real, by spotting the smaller nameless lochan on the map next morning.

44 Duilleag-bhàite
Alec Finlay, 2010

As at St Fillan’s hill, this is a walk too far for my muscular illness, but I pay the fee without grumbling – for the joy of the swim, a chance to rekindle the memory, and to share the place. It’s wonderful, wading in over rubbery compacted roots, eye-to-eye with green leaf-boats, uilleag-bhàite – lily, with an echo, in Gaelic, of ‘page’ –, to the peat dark swimming hole in the middle.

44 hokku-label, waterlily lochan, Kilbride
('eye-to eye / with lily / and blue / dragonfly' AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010


Other words

Maclennan's Gaelic dictionary gives three options for the English water-lily; checking them the other way, cuirinnean, pronounced 'coorinen', is given as 'the white water-lily', which seems to fitting for where we swim – 'Loch Cuirinnean' – though of course I could again be mistaken –

facalair offers variant
paths to follow to
stray from


44 Lochan Na Torrnalaich
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Binnein Mor

Above the lochs, on Binnein Mor, there’s another fort: the pair to Tor a’ Bhlarain, which is SE over the ridge and across the Add. I climbed this fort 20 years ago. Below is reed fringed, Lochan t Curaich. I can still recall how, as you climb the heart-shaped lochan slowly diminishes to the size of a quaich.

There are views from here over Moine Mhor to Crinan and Jura, and we had a sense of the 4 forts – Dunadd, Dounie, Binnein Mor, Tor a’ Bhlarain – connected in a matrix of outlooking, coronation and protection.




Dunadd is located 2 miles south of Kilmartin, a few hundred yards west of the A816 (56° 5'9.52"N) (5°28'39.60"W). The site is well sign-posted with ample parking at the foot of the fort.

Further south again, and to the east of the A816, is the turn-off for Kilmichael Glassary. Tor a’ Bhlarain is north of Kilmichael, visible to the right-hand side of the road as you cross the stone bridge over the River Add (56° 5'46.27"N) (5°27'3.73"W). Parking is available opposite Kilmichael Glassary Church.

Castle Dounie (56° 3'24.58"N) (5°36'34.68"W) can be reached from the carpark at the Crinan Hotel, or slightly nearer from Crinan Harbour. OS Explorer 358 is helpful for those wanting to extend the circuit, although the paths are clearly marked (just be sure not to miss the summit by following the green arrow 'right' into an early descent!). See also the walkhighlands website for a snapshot map.

Lochan an Tormalaich (and its smaller sister!) are best accessed with the aid of OS Explorer 358. Respective grid references are NR856955 and NR854953. To reach the beginning of the walk take the road sign-posted to Rhudle on the east side of the A816 (Rhudle is north of Dunadd). If you are in a car, park in the lay-by before the NO PUBLIC ACCESS sign. Directly opposite the lay-by is a wooden bridge across Rhudil Burn. From here you will have to climb over a fence and ascend up through the tress. Strike out due east across open country, ascending up between Barr of Baroile and Cnoc Gaothach, before plateauing eastwards across moorland. Please be advised that there is no clear path, and there are barbed wire fences in place.

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



The best companion for uncovering Argyll's historic landscape is the NVA publication and route master HALF LIFE. Visit the HALF LIFE website to download the walking routes and find out more about the legacy of this extraordinary art event.

The publication, featuring contributions from Tracey Warr, Mike Pearson, and Sharon Webb, is available to order from the HALF LIFE website and can also be picked up from the Kilmartin House Museum shop.

NVA is a public arts organisation based in Glasgow and directed by Angus Farquhar.

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