Tuesday, 8 February 2011

(41) Rhenigidale

Our Hokkoku is Harris

Our Komagaeshi is Rhenigadale

Our bedded down for the night is the Gatliff Hostel at Rhenigadale

Our sounds of voices in front room are John and Fée

Our on the strand where white waves crash is Tráigh Uige

Our hagi is the deep-pink fuschia outside the hostel


41 Seilebost school
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Early Friday morning Jon arrives at Bayhead and drives me south, across the vaguely defined Lewis – Harris border to Tarbert, and west to Seilebost where the primary school sits on the machair – a few yards away dunes hide the great expanses of Tràigh Sheileboist and Tràigh Losgaintir. We plan to work on the beach after break but the rain’s so heavy we stay indoors, make beach-poems on labels and attach them to a creel Jon’s got from Ian Stephen.

41 hokku-label
(‘crashing waves / squeaking dolphins / bottled messages’)

Jon Macleod, 2010

We brave the weather anyway to make our beachcombers’ circle, or BIG BEACH MESS as the kids name it. And by the time we leave, it’s charmed away the rain.

41 Beach circle, Tràigh Sheileboist
Jon Macleod, 2010


41 The Mission House
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We lunch at the Anchorage in Leverburgh, looking south across the Sound of Harris to Berneray and North Uist. Then we take some winding hosomichi to The Mission House at Finsbay, run by potter Nickolai Globe and photographer Beka Globe, which they describe as A Creative Space on the Edge of the Atlantic. Today being the first of October they’re now officially Closed for the winter, but that doesn’t stop the doorbell and the phone going. We squeeze past piles of timber and insulated plasterboard Nickolai will line the walls with, make our way upstairs where a stove keeps the big kitchen / sitting room cosy.

41 Tea & Scotch at the Mission House
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We brew Jasmine Chung Hao in a fine metal teapot, drinking it, and the Tobermory, from Nickolai’s ceramics – I enjoy the contrast between the heavy, dark-glazed, irregular tea-bowl I picked from the display downstairs, and the slender elegance of the dram-bowl, or shot-pot.

41 The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved by P.V. Glob

From an infantile pre-occupation with the iron age remains of the peat bogmen due to an almost premature introduction by my grandfather and archaeologist Professor P.V Glob, iron, peat and clay are formed into archaic ritual vessels. Shaped by time and the elements, like dunes, weathered in my hands, as if feeling out something beyond me. (Nickolai Globe)

Four-year old Finn is having his own almost premature introduction to the natural world by way of David Attenborough’s eye-popping Life – close-up images of stag beetles wrestling on a high tree-branch.

Nickolai talks a lot about the Japanese notion of wabi sabi, which I loosely interpret as a Zen-like preoccupation with the moment – knowing by way of act rather than thought – and a taste for the beauties imperfection can give rise to. He recently had a visitor from the Isle of Luing, a geo-poet, who I take to be Norrie Bissell but Nickolai’s enthusiasm soon has us all convinced it was the geo-poet himself, Kenneth White. I later check with Norrie, who enjoys the case of mistaken identity – and a day or two on, at An Lanntair, Jon introduces me to Sophie, who studied under White at the Sorbonne. Like radio waves, the connections are there, you just need the right frequency.

Next summer’s Mission House programme includes performances of all Beethoven’s string quartets – the first time this has been done in a single season, Nickolai assures us – and how extraordinary – how apt – that it should take place here in this extraordinary landscape.

As a parting gift Nickolai gives me puer tea, packed in the shape of a bowl, which I have been enjoying ever since.

41 The Globes at home
Ken Cockburn, 2010


41 Loch Seaforth, evening
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Jon drops me at the first house on the Rhenigadale road and I walk the rest of the way to the hostel. The weather’s on-off rain but after an initial cloudburst it switches itself off and I dry in the wind. I reach the hostel about 7 just as it’s getting dark.

41 Rhenigadale hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

No-one else there, and just as I’m getting to used to the idea of solitude, John and Fée arrive. Fée has on a Robin-Hood hat, and under her barbour coat a buckled tartan waistcoat on top of a ruched green dress, webbing over her tights and good walking boots. She’s an identical twin, has spent time running a gallery in the States, wants to set up a textile design company so has come out here to learn about Harris tweed. She met John the day before at the hostel at Garenin, near Carloway. He’s ex-Merchant Navy, works on the rigs now, travels when he’s onshore, often to Thailand, a good cook by the sound of it, recommends I roast the puer to bring out its flavour. He gets a good fire going in the stove and we settle in for the evening.

41 Hostel entertainment
Ken Cockburn, 2010

After a wild night, howling wind and rain beating against the dormer window, the morning’s grey and blowy but fair. More puer for breakfast, and for the flask, then I bid my farewells and head out.

To Tarbert (via Urgha)

41 Signpost
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 hokku-label
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I follow the road’s curve back uphill out of the village, past a designated CONFINED SPACE, then peel off to the left for the path that’ll take me to the Tarbert – Scalpay road.

41 Gearraidh Lotaigear
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 Seaside alder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The path runs through the ruined houses of Gearraidh Lotaigear, mostly roofless walls though all that's left of one house is its two chimneys. A few trees cling on against the wind – alder rowan holly – all beginning their respective conversations with autumn.

41 Trolamaraig seen from N
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Trolamaraig the beach is where glen and river meet bay and sea. It’s grey and rocky (though I remember it summergreen) and sheltered, but what wind there is catches the map like a sail. It’s a beautiful spot, the straight sheer coast leading SE to Molingeanais more open and varied on the other side; I sit a while and try to read it.

41 hokku-label
(‘parse the waves’ syllables / the seaweed’s long line / and the river’s coda’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The uphill zigzag that looked fierce as I approached is fine in the walking, not too steep, a steady climb, underfoot after Slioch it’s straightforward.

41 Cairn above Trolamaraig
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 (‘Molinginus
Reinigeadal / Urgha’)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There are cairns and signposts further up, markers of presence. The path eases its way downhill and I get a sight of the road I’ll walk along to Tarbert, backed by Uamascleit and Ceann Reamhar.

41 hokku-label
(‘the path becomes the road becomes the town becomes the ben’, circle poem, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Roadwalking’s more functional than pathwalking, one allows oneself fewer distractions, the aim is to arrive there rather than explore here.

41 Akram General Stores
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Tarbert has its charms too – as I’m snapping an out-of-use van that serves as a billboard an Asian lady in a long yellowgreen scarf the wind is harrying tells me it’s her brother’s, and the other two that are still on the road get a lot of attention when they’re down in Glasgow.

First Fruits café’s closed but I picnic at its outdoor table till it’s time for the Stornoway bus.

I think I’ll doze but the landscape and the puer and the radio keep me awake, the commentary at a volume where I barely make out individual words but follow what’s going on (Rangers snatch two late goals to sink Hearts), and we’re outside the guest house in no time.

Tráigh Uige

41 Tràigh Uige
Jon Macleod, 2010

Jon comes round and we head west to Uig. Blue-overalled Biffo’s hitching and we give him a lift to the fish-farm, the smell of fish lingering after he’s gone. We call on Donald Macauley, descendant of the broch climber, [link to 18, Carloway] and help him flip over a rusting dying vat he has in his garden.

41 Tràigh Uige sign
Jon Macleod, 2010

We’ll call back later but for now head to the Mangurstadh shop for supplies, and then past an enigmatic sign to the beach at Uig.

41 hokku-label
(‘on the strand / where white waves crash / we wander / children of the sea’, KC, after Basho)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I’d thought our white-waves-crashing strand would be Trolamaraig but it’s east-coast gentle, this is west-coast wild. Jon tells me the proposed but still unfunded St Kilda Centre’s to be sited here, but there’s still no sign of the islands on the horizon.

41 hokku-label
(‘surf-roar and sun-glare / horizon hoisted / higher than Sado’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Later at Donald’s there’s a great story about Malcolm Maclean (The Great Book of Gaelic), meeting Batman in Atlanta.

41 Tràigh Uige waves
Jon Macleod, 2010

coda: Ken Cockburn, Souvenirs

A Selection of Street-Names**********************..Cone Incense
Adamsdown*************************************.12 Kinds Assorted
Cardiff*****************************************.*Shoyeido & Co.

























from Souvenirs and Homelands, Scottish Cultural Press: Edinburgh, 1998


The Mission House Studio: a creative space on the edge of the Atlantic

The Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust is a 'not for profit' voluntary organisation with charitable status working with islanders to establish and maintain a chain of Crofters' Hostels to sound basic standards throughout the Hebrides, including that at Rhenigidale

St Kilda, known to the Gaels as Hiort and to navigators in ancient times as 'the islands at the edge of the world'

Ian Stephen is a writer and artist from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In 1995, after 15 years in the coastguard, he became a full-time writer of poetry, prose and drama. Since the late 70s his wide-ranging work has been published in numerous UK journals, as well as internationally, in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA.

1 comment:

  1. I like your 'mess' - and those cups!

    Good travels to you, gentleman.