Tuesday, 12 October 2010

(18) Dun Carloway

‘Names are a legacy.’

- Ian Stephen, ‘Versed in Vessels: An appreciation of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s fleet’, in Chapman, no.78-9 (1994)

‘A lot of my work is to do with straightforward affection (liking, appreciation), and it always amazes me how little affection for ANYTHING there is in art today.’

- Ian Hamilton Finlay, from a letter to Ian Stephen (1994)

Our ferry at Tsukinowa is sailing with Ian in El Vigo, and travelling the Pentland Road in Jon’s blue Berlingo

Our remains of Sato Shoji’s castle is Dun Carloway, on the Isle of Lewis

Our family graves is Dalmore cemetery

Our the first of Satsuki is the last day of September

An Lanntair

18 Ken introduces P6 to ‘Topiary Aircraft Carrier’
Jon Macleod, 2010

I’m in Stornoway to run school workshops around the exhibition at An Lanntair, Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy. I’m working with artist Jon Macleod, and together we work with pupils in the gallery, in schools, and on beaches. Finlay had a fondness for the poetry of fishing-boat names, and the unnamed sailing dinghy which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition gives scope to the kids to come up with their own names for it – here’s a selection.

the Achilles
the Big Red
the Caranoch
the Dragonfly
the Mermaid
the Pearl
the Pride of Gress
the Sea Skimmer
the Star of Coll
the Vatisker
the Zoom

Finlay ‘rhymed’ fishing-boats with lemons in many works – a visual, rather than a sound, rhyme, and on the last day we give the kids lemons to name, and launch them with much glee at the beach.

18 Names for lemons (‘Brown Sails’, ‘Pearl’, ‘Spear Fish’), Stornoway Primary School, September 2010
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Stornoway Bay

18 Stornoway Harbour, boats
Ken Cockburn, 2010

18 El Vigo & Lews Castle
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Clouds have cleared and it’s a fine bright autumn afternoon. Ian Stephen has suggested a sailing trip, but the only problem is there’s next to no wind. I board El Vigo across Kaylana, moored for a repaint, with James, who lives on the top floor of Ian’s harbourside house, and we engine out from the quayside.

18 Ian Stephen on El Vigo
Ken Cockburn, 2010

18 Arnish Yards, Stornoway
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Once we’re out in the bay Ian and James raise the sails. Today’s drink of choice is cider, which I haven’t tasted for years. I’m allocated the tiller, told to steer towards the Arnish yard’s landmark green, and as we get closer what I feel as a slight breeze on my cheeks fills the sails enough to get us moving. We pass the big blue CalMac freight ferry MV Muirneag, and a few smaller vessels, even pick up a bit of speed.

18 Stornoway Bay
Ken Cockburn, 2010

18 MV Muirneag
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Turning, the boats slows, but we repass the Muirneag, and watch a group of young seagulls gathered hopefully around a seal who’s surfaced with a fish he eats showily, seeming to enjoy the attention. We’ve just about enough behind us to inch our way back to the quayside where we started. . Ian’s off to a meeting, despite the clement weather I’m chilled, and lightheaded from the cider, and James steers the boat back to her berth.

Ken Cockburn, 2010


18 Dalmore cemetery
Ken Cockburn, 2010

After the morning workshop at An Lanntair with kids from Carloway and Brager primaries, Jon Macleod and I drive west along the Pentland Road, and wait by the cemetery above Dalmore beach for the school coach. Jon’s an artist, works part-time at An Lanntair on the education programme, is just back from Finland where he hooked up with Gerry Loose and Kirsty Law. Surfers emerge from a van, wet-suited and boarded. We wonder future archaeologist-anthropologists ignorant of surfing might make of the sight – a woman in a tight-fitting black suit and matching head-piece carrying a white board slightly smaller than herself, followed by two men also with boards and wetsuits but bare-headed, one bushy-haired and the other quite bald. You’d surely read some sort of intent into that last detail, wouldn’t you?

18 Sand surfer
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We spend an hour with the kids happily making circles and sand-poems and sand-drawings – though Adam writes too close to the water’s edge and, despite the fact the tide’s going out, loses his poem to a wave. What did it say, I ask, and he replies, I can’t remember. Nothing beside remains

18 Adam’s lost poem
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The kids depart and Jon drives me to Dun Carloway, then heads off to see his ex nearby, whose father died last week. Jon sat at the wakes, and attended Monday’s funeral.

Dun Carloway

18 Carloway broch
Ken Cockburn, 2010

18 hokku-label (windblown west coast cousin)
(‘windblown west coast cousin / to Telve and Troddan / the Valley boys’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The broch’s similar in size and shape to those at Glenelg, but alone, and higher, and with a view, and covered in a film of pale-green lichen, with the odd patch of vibrant yellow.

18 Broch lichen
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There are visitors – a serious photographer, couples in outdoor gear, a German-speaking family whose dialect’s mostly lost on me. I sit inside the wall out of the wind drinking a Japanese black tea, himifuuki.

18 Broch interior
Ken Cockburn, 2010

It’s climbable too – famously so, as when in the 16th century Donald Cam Macauley climbed the broch to smoke out a party of Morrison cattle raiders who had taken refuge in the ruin. Less calamitously the German boy scrambles up the side, excitedly helloes his mother, Gruss Gott! When they leave, there’s silence, or something like it, for the gate-spring’s broken, but the sound only emphasises solitude and absence.

[18 hokku-label (inside the wind drops)]
(‘inside the wind drops / but the gate still / keeps banging on about it’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

18 hokku-label
(‘the German visitors have gone / the boy who climbed / to the very top / is just a memory’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

In the centre of the drystone circle I libate and drink Aberlour, for the builders, look to place another hokku-label, and a second poem of the day is lost, this time to a gust of wind, but I’ve managed to record it first.

18 hokku-label
(‘empty horizon / heroics long forgotten / rock and brown bracken’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I walk up to a cairn on a knoll and look west to sea and the blank horizon.

18 Cairn & Atlantic horizon
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Down in the carpark I see the blue Berlingo. As Jon enjoys the himifuuki he points out the ramshead gatepost on the new house below the broch. The visitor centre blends into the landscape, the house is plonked down on top of it.

18 Ramshead gatepost, Carloway
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The Big Field

Returning we stop at Achmore, one of the few inland villages on Lewis. An Ach More just means The Big Field, a wry take on the expanse of moorland stretching more miles in each direction. Thirty years ago peat-cutting revealed a stone circle, though all but two of the stones have (been) toppled over, and some are missing.

18 Toppled stone in peat, Achmore
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The view south reminds me of North Uist, and Langais in particular, a patchwork of lochs, a small forest, the moor rising gradually to higher hills, though here you see further. In the car Jon pointed out Sleeping Beauty, a range of hills like a recumbent figure – an outcrop just the right shape and scale forms a nose that gives the notion legs, as it were, and the information board points out that only from the Achmore stone circle does the hill range look like a pregnant woman. It’s where we’ll head tomorrow – to Harris, Seilebost on the west coast, and Rhenigadale on the east.

18 View S from Achmore
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Coda – The Little Seamstress

The exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy at An Lanntair includes the print The Little Seamstress – a drawing of a sailing boat whose wake looks like a seam. Here’s a photo of a motorised seamstress, working the Kyles Scalpay a few years ago.

Homage to IHF
Ken Cockburn, 2004



Ian Stephen is a writer and artist from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. His latest work is a collaborative exhibition, 'Is a thing lost if we know where it is?', exploring the relationship between the tradtional boats of Lewis and Orkney.

An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, Western Isles - a beacon for the Arts in the Highlands and Islands

Explore The Isle of Lewis - an online guide

National Galleries of Scotland - Ian Hamilton Finlay

Historic Scotland - guide to Dun Carloway

No comments:

Post a Comment