Tuesday 7 September 2010

(20) Glenelg

‘you glitter too much
like a drawn sword’

Sanjuro, Akira Kurosowa

Our Abumizuri is Glenelg

Our Shiroishi Castle is the 3 brochs – Dun Torve, Dun Troddan, Dun Grugaig

Our Sanekata’s grave is Diarmid’s Grave, Loch Duich

Our villages of Minowa and Kasashima, ‘seen from afar, among slopes’, is Eilean Bàn, gazed toward from Broadford

Our ‘susuki grass of memory’ is the seedy headed rush that flourishes around the Duns

Our ‘apt for the season’, is Tam and Stuart, chuntering away on Off the Ball

Ferry Crossing

20 Basho, Kylerhea Glen
Alec Finlay, 2010

20 Sora, Kylerhea Glen
Ken Cockburn, 2010

So ferry cross Kylerhea, putting Skye behind us. We followed a speed-cyclist down Kylerhea Glen, between Sgurr na Coinnich and Ben Asiak. He was nowhere to seen at the dead end pier. This narrow strait was named after Rea: of the band of Fianna who bounded off Skye only he fell into the kyle and drowned.

look –
there’s there ferry
turning sideyways on

20 ferry arriving on Skye
Ken Cockburn, 2010

As the ferry burled over ‘this great tidal river’ (SG), we looked out for otters, saw seals teasing the boat, raising the ire of Nak – named by the Celtic-mad ferryman, in honour of Nakamura, who is not a waka poet – who chased them from the gunwhale.

20 Nak
Alec Finlay, 2010

20 Nak's herd
Alec Finlay, 2010

Where Ben of The Quraing was a gentle furred spirit, Nak was proper collie, herding us off: first sturm-bikers, then the van, last of all Ken.

20 Beinn a Chapuill
Alec Finlay, 2010

Our brochs are cupped between the mountains of Chapel & Castle.

20 wordrawing: Beinn a Chapuill, Meal a’ Chaisteil
Alec Finlay, 2010

Looking back at Skye from the strand, the woods were more vulvar than volcanic – or maybe Basho has just been away from home too long.

the crotch of Kylerhea Wood
ebbs across from the flood

mouth of the river’s cunt
at Eileanreach


glenelg glenelg
a name flowing
both ways

Glenelg, the glen of hunting, encompasses a number of glens; the 3 ‘Glenelg’ brochs are a wee ways up Glen Beag. After An Clachan we watched around each corner for their kiln-bulge – recalled from Sharon’s slides in the talk at Kilmartin – and found a puffed toad. Sora dismounted and patiently shepherded him off the tarmac with a twig.

20 toad puffed
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I may think toad's
better off off the road
he puffs his dissent

20 wordrawings: Dun Troddan, Dun Grugaig
Alec Finlay, 2010

20 hokku-label, Abhainn a Ghlinnie Bhig
(‘the Abhainn a Ghlinnie Bhig / flourishes between // Meall a Chasteill / and Beinn a Chapuill,' AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2o10


Broch I: Dun Telve

‘… to make the Stones give evidence of themselves’
– John Aubrey,
Monumenta Britannica

20 Glenelg, Dun Telve broch
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Telve is time
in the round

alders and
the rivers sound

20 Telve entrance
Ken Cockburn, 2010

the broch bends
with each round

filling your mind
with gaps

20 T-E-L-V-E
Alec Finlay, 2010

2 buzzards
over Dun Telve

Susuki Sora almost tied to the broon coo’s tail.

20 hokku-label, Dun Telve
susuki grass of memory / brown cow spends its days / forgetting’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 Dun Telve, An Cnoc
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Dun Telve we drank An Cnoc in honour of Saigyo, whose poem on the exiled Fujiwara Sanekata of Kyoto, Basho refers to.

A name unperishable
he left behind
but only plume grass
stands by, all withered

Another instance of bygone lairdies and belted knights remaining only in name, their tinsel castles o’ergrown with staggly grasses of memory. Here our 3 versions – the first,

20 tanka-label (after Saigyo)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


they have left nothing
but a steadfast circle
in this world
beyond this ruin in a distant glen
bracken and spruce are all I see


for Iain Pate

what with August coming round
I’m too tired of listening
for names from afar
“East Fife, Forfar”
apt for the new season


what’s left to us are teams
with famous names
whose fate each season
is to be cast
like dry stalks of yarrow

20 tanka, after Saigyo
poem, AF; photograph, KC, 2010

20 hokku-label, Dun Telve
(‘not that we’ve been here long / but the other visitors / have come, have gone’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, verses KC)

Broch II: Dun Troddan

20 Dun Troddan
Ken Cockburn, 2010





20 Shiroishi
poem, AF; photograph, KC, 2010


Dun Troddan grows over Corrary Farm, whose walls absorbed its missing stones. This is the collective domain of Amy, Neil the architect – who turfed the roofs, juxtaposing two eras of architecture – and Felix, absentee baronial Teutonic rockstar.

Invidious to say, but each broch’s more poetic than the last. Tallying Troddan: bending thistles and foxgloves for colour; gentle hazel and alder shading the wee burn; mewling buzzard over Meall Breac; swoops of swallows; ferny walls and tufts of grass growing on the broch top; and the way its cross-section reveals the bone and hollow structure. Even the nettles have an air of distinction. It adds up.

20 hokku-label, Dun Troddan's colours
poem, AF; photograph, KC, 2010

how describe
a thing’s colour
when it changes
with each shift
of the light

20 Basho on the walls of Dun Troddan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

From the way I loll on the grassy walls, a family from Fife guess I’m the guy who labeled Dun Telve. They’re led by Gran, who “just loves to show people this glen”, with her daughter, a storyteller from Pollock. The pink-clad girls think we’re really lucky, but that we should really be going by horse, as Basho did, or Johnson & Boswell. Off they pedal, leaving me with the swallows.

.. a
dipping ..cloud

20 wish, sycamore, Dun Troddan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 hokku-label, Dun Troddan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Dun Troddan hokku


where the broch bends
with each round

your mind
fills with gaps






the burns thread
soft lines

of alder & hazel
thru the spruce

20 wish, Dragonfly Burn, Dun Grugaig, alder
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Eddie’s Grainne

People often ask us, did we plan the whole trip, or is just happenstance, and we often explain that you make rules so that you can play in them. No station was over-planned, and no place has let us down. We will have known that the brochs were Shirishi, but we dinna ken whit the susuki grass of memory will be until we look around. When ‘Bashoing’ serendipity tags along with us, like tin cans rattling behind a newly-weds’ motor.

20 Delicious! Organic! Sparkling!
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Robert Duncan’s motto: ‘A correspondence is poetry enlarged’ held true at Troddan. We broke for tea at The Wagon Café, tucked in behind the yurt and poly-tunnels, growing lettuces which we’ll eat that night at the Inn, served by a young guy fresh in from Chicago, sent by his Celtic professor as part of the glen’s vita nuova,

wantea? –
just ring the bell

they’ll be in
the Polytunnel

I wanted to know the name of the wee burn we’d walked by on the way to the third broch, of which more anon, and there was a guy with a beard I thought might own the farm. This was Eddie, from Glen More, over the hill, who kindly mapped out the whole glen for us. He then told the tale of Grainne – perfect pair for Meg’s Scàthaig – from the Finn McCool cycle (our Fingal).

audio, the Grainne myth, Eddie Stiven
Alec Finlay, 2010

27 by the Waggon Cafe
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 Eddie Stiven & the Glean Beag Clan
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, verses KC)

Broch III: Dun Grugaig

20 Dun Grugaig
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 Dun Grugaig vista
Ken Cockburn, 2010

After Eddie’s yarn we wove our way up Gleann Beag, parking by the last farm, Balvraid. Tired already, we swither in the rosy late afternoon light wondering whether to go on; comparing the fort on the map with the view ahead, no broch to be seen, only a track winding around the ridge of Druim Isal into the mountains of Glenshiel Forest, the crags of Sgurr na Creige framed.

Dun Grugaig, Eddie told us, was the ‘witches Dun’, a ‘gallery Dun’ with a grave within, close to Abhainn a’ Ghluinne-Bhig, sheltered beneath Druim Iosal.

20 Sora’s libation
Alec Finlay, 2010

We libate the matriarch who, so the story goes, gifted 2 brochs to her sons, Telve & Troddan.

20 hokku-label, Dun Grugaig
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

Dun Grugaig hokku


without the map
the broch has no name

so we call it


sheepshit, bracken, midges
the 3
rd fort’s a ruin

uncleared and the most
beautiful of all


the river
is louder

higher up
the glen


ferns on


one more cup of Hunnan for the road
one more cup of Hunnan before I go
to the valley below

20, audio, Dun Grugaig
AF & KC, 2010

20 hokku-label, Dun Grugaig
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 hokku-label, Dun Troddan
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

20 hokku-label, Dun Grugaig
Ken Cockburn, 201

20 shadow drawing
drawing, AF, photo, KC, 2010

20 toad/stool
(‘toad/hop//toad/stool/crop’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

20 Dun Gugaig ferns
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)

Dragonfly Burn

20 wish, Dragonfly Burn, alder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

On the path back, exultant from the ruined beauty of Grugaig, in evening sun, Ken tied a wish on an alder where the path fords a tributary burn with no name.

We call her Dragonfly Burn, tracing her serpentine tree line and ferny crack where it leads up Coire nan Caorach, and recall the inscribed ‘wild’ pebble at Stonypath.



The alder’s female catkins are woody part-cones, the Greeks thought them the origin of boats for the way they float.

Floating their boats down-
stream how do they climb up?

Windcast by a breezeburst

(AF, verses KC)

Glenelg Inn

That night Eddie was washing dishes at the Glenelg Inn, where the two waitresses were a Grainne of many moods between them. Basho at the best Sea Bream, Sora finest mussels, clams and razorshells.

27 hokku-label
('Back on shore, put up at inn / whose windows opened upon sea, / feeling of resting on the journey / now among wind and cloud')
Ken Cockburn, 2010


We wound home to Glen Shiel, past Eddie’s Balcraggie, the old Manse in Glen More; on over the crown of Bealach Ratagain, ghosted by a roe deer, to a crowning matriarchal view, preserved in hill form and name:

THE–Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe–FIVE–Sgurr na Carnach–SISTERS–Sgurr Fhuaran

20 hokku label, Bealach Ratagain
(‘our shadows on Bealach Ratagain / cloud shadows on the Five Sisters’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

And on for the day’s last task, the hasty ascent of Diarmid’s Grave and Dun – another perfect double hump form – by Loch Duich, in a bemidged smirr of rain.

20 Diarmid's Grave
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, verses KC)


Eddie Stiven is an Ayrshire-born playwright and tutor. His website contains information about his most recent projects and commissions.

Eddie also runs cultural programmes for visiting overseas students; see Glenelg Colloquia for more details.

For a comprehensive introduction to Glenelg, Arnisdale and the surrounding area, visit the Glenelg & Arnisdale Development Trust website.

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