Sunday, 5 September 2010

(48) Loch Eilt

Our pines of Shiogoshi are the tall island pines of Loch Eilt

Our boat is the blue Erailort.

Our poem attributed to Saigyo is Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's ‘I'm Troubled’

Pre-ramble: Kinloch-Rannoch–Loch Eilt

Today we decide our new group’s called


Our first album will soon be avalable in all good record shops


We take a back road north from Trinafour, relocating Schiehallion south, in the rear-view mirror. At the turning we pass an undecided people-carrier. The road winds sharply and steeply at first until a moorland plateau extends bleakly either side of this hosomichi.

pines & pylons
mist monochromes

The people-carrier appears in my rear-view mirror – we're the pioneers! (They're our insurance policy.) We slip past Loch Maud and glide downhill over cattle-grid and through snow gates to join the A9.

General Wade moves gingerly
onto the dual carriageway

Our first pitstop on the kousukoduro is rainspat, for a hokku-label at Dalnaspidal (‘the field of the hospital’), looking down Loch Garry.

48 hokku-label, Dalnaspidal
(‘to Loch Garry / it’s the railways and A9 // that are / around the corner’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

a glance
at the petrol dial

on the rise
to Drumochter

Next stop: Seton Gordon proposes Corpach, (‘the place of bodies’), where it’s said that funerary processions embarked for Iona. Also where the Caledonian Canal begins, so the furthest navigable point from the west in the old days, and where as soon as we'd crossed the level crossing and parked the West Highland Railway passed.

for Jacobite
read Hogwort

48 wish, Corbach, Loch Eilt
Alec Finlay, 2010

As so often, Nevis is a cloud-shroud.

(AF, KC)

Creag Meagaidh

At Creag Meagaidh, an SNH Reserve by Loch Laggan, the midges are out in force, and the match has been abandoned.

48 Creag Meagaidh goalposts
Ken Cockburn 2010

48 Creag Meagaidh rusting
Ken Cockburn, 2010

48 hokku-label, Creag Meagaidh
(‘a mountain’s / a machine / for making clouds’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We compass the view of Carn Liath, due N, and leave a wish on a birch

48 Creag Meagaidh compass
Ken Cockburn, 2010

48 wish (Creag Meagaidh)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Passing Moy sands, a thought for Paul Muldoon; his are over the water, in Tyrone.

Between Eil and Shiel

A little further on, headed north-and-west, we stop facing an unrolling range of peaks on the east bank of Loch Shiel – Meall na h-Airigh, Meall a Bhainne, Sgorr nan Cearc,Meall Doire na Mnatha, Meall a Choire Chruinn and Sgurr Ghiubhsachain.

48 audio, Loch Shiel
AF & KC, 2010

48 wish, birch, Loch Shiel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

48 hokku-label, Sgorr nan Cearc
(‘silver glinting vein / of Allt na Fhaing // and peak rocks of Sgorr nan Cearc,’ AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's Been All Around the World CD plays as we pull in. A recent record library borrowing, it recalls their earlier Shady Grove which was often the soundtrack a decade ago to field trips in the Scottish Poetry Library van. The one track both have in common is The Handsome Cabin Boy, on this CD an instrumental waltz. The recordings were made at the end of Garcia's life – I'd never been a Dead Head, but I love the plaintive simplicity of these songs, tales of tragedy and suffering mitigated by beauty. (KC)

48 hokku-label, Loch Shiel
(‘eating roadside rasps / to Jerry Garcia’s / Handsome Cabin Boy’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)


48 for Morag, Glenfinnan
Alec Finlay, 2010

48 wish, birch, Glenfinnan Viaduct
Alec Finlay, 2010

At Glenfinnan we climb muddy paths to the viewpoint, monument one way, viaduct the other. Lots of people, mostly foreign. The view west up Loch Shiel is spectacular as the hills come down to the shore – what a backdrop for an entrance and the raising of the standard! But according to Seton Gordon, there was some confusion between player and public as to the curtain-up:

’When Prince Charles Edward, sailing up Loch Shiel from the west that August day of 1745, landed below Glen Finnan and found no welcoming clans to met him his spirits fell.’ (Highways and Byways in the West Highlands, p.152)

48 white-skyline (Glenfinnan)
Alec Finlay, 2010

48 Glenfinnan postage, stamped
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)

Into the Muidhe

We know where we're going, via the windy road that climbs through the glen known as the Muidhe, over Ant t-Sleubhaich; alongside the rivers Allt a Ghiubhais and then Allt Lon a Mhuide; anticipation mounting around each bend, until we see those pines.

Seton Gordon has another purple patch here scattering April violets and primroses among the gentle birch woods.

no northerly reaches
the sheltered slopes
of the Mhuidhe

AF (after Seton Gordon)


Loch Eilt

48 Loch Eilt | Shiogoshi
48 postcard, Loch Eilt

Loch Eilt (‘loch of the hind’; pronounced Eel-t). Our first stop’s a clamber downhill through blaeberry, bracken and heather to the north shore looking across to Allt Easain (‘burn of the waterfall’).

48 meso- Allt Easain, Loch Eilt
Alec Finlay, 2010













....Allt Easain, Loch Eilt

A train passes, not the Hogwarts Express but a purple First Scotrail two-carriager bound for Mallaig, that’ll pass magically close to the pines.

The beaches here are miniature: we bag one each, and pass the Cù Dhub and Organic Gyokuro between them.

48, The Wee beaches, Loch Eilt
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)

The Blue Boat

And there they are, the beautiful islands where the tall pines grow, remanant, Eilean Mor,Eilean an Tighe, over from us and to the west end of the loch, and, just out of view, the wee peninsula that end-stops the loch.

Basho hires a boat to view the pines of Shiogoshi: tethered near a boat-house with a NO FISHING sign on it here, cast by a spell, is ours, blue of course, the Erailort.

Some places are a walk-event, others charm an act – which is really only a rite done right. To sipped tea and whisky, wishes, poem-labels, we’ve added the sporadic plunge. It’s not that we’re brave or foolish wild-swimmers, but place before us a lochan, a jetty, and the allure of an anchored boat, and we’re no’ daft.

A dozen strokes to Erailort – clench chittering teeth tight for a snap – and back. Ken rates this sea-cold rather than lochan- or river-cold, but it’s the tops, it’s the Pass o’ Brander, it’s the tops, it’s a diving goosander.

Saying Nothing Again

This is another station Basho honours by not writing; instead he quotes a verse often attributed to Saigyo (whose willow earlier led us to Burns' Aberfeldy birks), which Eck adapts.

all day
the breeze burls along
bands of rain, clouds, broken
shafts of sun
on the pines of Loch Eilt

audio, Loch Eilt
AF & KC, 2010

The sung mountain cabin is Jerry Garcia’s, but it could as easily belong to Basho, or Bai Juyi.

48 hokku-label, Loch Eilt
("gonna build me a cabin / in the mountains so high")
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Our notes tell us that a book of 1685 names Shiogoshi's pines. Ken recalls 5 names for Eilt’s:


The isle pines being beyond swim range, we give the wish to a birch.

48 wish, birch, Loch Eilt
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The loch’s fed by many little burns – ‘milky torrents’ (SG) – which Pod Carmichael later translates for us:

S Burns

Allt a Choire Bhuidhe: ‘burn of the yellow corrie’
Allt Easain: ‘burn of the waterfall'

N Burns

Allt Dearg: ‘the red burn’
Allt Raineachan: ‘bracken burn’
Allt na Criche: ‘burn of the heart’

Chill from the swim, we’ve a salmon waiting in the oven a few miles away, so this ‘station’ ends with the promise of return.

(AF, KC)

Questions & Answers

As questions and riddles have a Potteresque flavour, Eck composed some poems for Loch Eilt, in the manner of Paul Celan.

After Celan’s Questions & Answers

What is forgetting?
An unripe apple stabbed by a spear

– Paul Celan, tr. Julian Semilian & Sanda Agalidi (Romanian Poems, Green Integer)

What is a thought?

A thought is a cloud
waiting for rain

What is water?

Water is what
the earth wears

What is tea?

Tea is something old and brown
to fish in

What is a poem?

A poem is a puddle
left behind after rain

What is matter?

Matter is a thing
which can only get better

What is the moon?

The moon is a coin
which slots into the hill


48 questions & answers, Loch Eilt
poems, AF; photographs, KC & AF, 2010

48 touchwood song
Alec Finlay, 2010


Paul Antschel, who wrote under the pseudonym Paul Celan, was a Romanian born poet and translator. His poetry is considered among the most important to have emerged from post World War II Europe.

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