Monday, 27 June 2011

(7) Killin & Acharn

Are you happy,
with the life you’re living?

‘Exodus’, Bob Marley

Our Mt. Kurokami hung with mist and still snow clad is Ben Lawers, peering through morning fog

Our head shaven changing apparel is change of all kinds, clothing and flitting, vitamin injections and chemo-induced hair loss, beech leaves and bracken fronds

Our Matsushima is Luing, our Kisikata is Raasay

Our waterfall is the Falls of Dochart at Killin, and the Acharn Falls

Our cavern is the Hermit’s Cave

7 Eck & Ken
photograph Luke Allan, 2011

"changing clothes"

alec for eck
kenneth for ken
ken for chonzie
sogoro for sora
judy for judo

Mt Kurokami is where Basho sketches Sora, suggesting something of the vow they’ve made to 'ginko' together, journeying-and-composing-poetry. Both men have changed names to mark changed lives. Don’t we all: for lovers, workmates; at different ages; as URLs and passwords, bynames.

Our project truly began when we found our name for Oku-no-hosomichi: not Back Roads to Far Towns, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Narrow Road to the Interior, Narrow Road Through the Provinces, but

the road north

Which became our motif rubber stamped on each hokku-label, our leaving for your finding.

Along our road friends have been found new names – Rhodo, Rebo, Barno. Among them Judy, Ken's sister, who I've anointed Judo. We first met last summer, as the trip began, tea and cake between Aberfeldy and Bruar. What changes, how suddenly, for by the time we’d reached Argyll her dizzinness had become a brain tumour.

A thing can be awful and yet good can come from it, and even though life now has a different measure, we are both moved by the changes she's made, a new home, a new view, a journey not so different from that chosen by Basho who, at her age, seeing death on the horizon, set off for the horizon. A journey is one way to change time. When we met first her hair was straw in the sun, since then she’s been shorn by the chemo, as Sora was at Kurokami. It’s grown back well, still curly, but darker now, and she looks like she knows the compass of her new life from this new home.

Whether it was planning or our hearts doing the right thing, we found our way on the last day to Judo’s Killin.



7 hokku-label
(finding / the right / shampoo // that fits / you // (and no more / tears)', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

finding a haircut
that suits you
or a wig

finding something
to wear
that goes

finding a view
that you can cling to
then opening the window

finding a name
that goes
and one for your pal too

finding a journey
to make
and the right map

finding a pair of boots
that fit you
and a walk

finding a hill
then discovering
it’s got a waterfall

finding the healing
that heals you
and a good doctor

finding a bed
that supports you
and someone to share it

finding a life
that fulfils you
and a death too


finding a flat
with space enough for
company and solitude

finding a song
with words that hit
a raw nerve

finding a tea
the best cup

finding a beer
that next day your mouth
and not your head

finding a pen
that flows without

finding a poem
you find, without trying,
you’ve memorised

finding curtains
day can sidestep
but not the night

finding a hill
that’s fine in sunshine
or wrapped in mist

finding a chocolate
so good
you want to eat only a little

finding an answer
so wrong
you rewrite the question

finding a coat
that fits you so well
you long for winter

finding a street
in a foreign city
that sounds like your childhood

finding a spring
near the shore
dabbling against the breakers

finding a language
in which you feel
at home


The Road North

7 Basho's way-hokku
('each journey seeks / the life we don't lead', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

The road north is the A82, following the shape of Loch Lomond on the map. The lay-by looks over the loch to the mountains where Eck ties a WORD MNTN for Ben Lomond, where Gerhard Lang went to gather clouds, as he did on Schiehallion.

Alec Finlay, 2011

7 hokku-label (for gerhard)
('a good day / for Gerhard / gathering clouds', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

33 Gerhard Lang

7 hokku-label
(‘with the rain / comes a watershed // delighting salmon / and Salmond alike’, AF)
Ken Cockburn 2011

The only news on the radio is the SNP’s absolute majority in the new parliament.

Optimism about the future doesn’t mask current dangers –


Evening coming on, we climb out of the lochside woods, past that beautiful name Ardlui, one of the way-glens, cross over again into the wild lands through the grey heights of Glen Falloch, snow patches, fuzzing radio.

Sharing a joke about bad phone signal we play it out to images of clan badges and tartans imprinted with new loyalties.

the O2 McGregors
the T-Mobile Campbells
Clan Ranald of VODAPHONE
Mairi Mhor Nan Orange

And their mottos

Loyalty & Value
Uninterrupted Service
Under Blue Skies
Free Evening Calls

Allofasudden Crianlarich, neither of us saying what we know, that this is the last time we will go through the 'way-glens' as Basho & Sora.

Our direction says it all, E-W, rewinding

trahcod nelg
riahbul hcol
letoh egdol eius
rahmaer llaem

Taking the turn for Killin, feeling the pull of Glen Lyon.

(AF, KC)


7 hokku-label
Ken Cockburn 2011

With Judith, Judo, we visit the Falls of Dochart, just upstream from the old bridge, that’s wide enough for one vehicle, and no pavement. The Heritage Centre, where the mill-wheel still turns, faces a troubled future, and may or may not re-open in its current form.

7 Judo reading Basho

Alec Finlay, 2011

7 hokku-label

('changing apparel / is the river surprised / to become the falls?', KC)
Ken Cockburn 2011

Basho’s waterfall is horizontal but the Dochart’s white waters run vertically, rapid-like. The river, narrow and placid both up- and downriver, suddenly widens here, its flow interrupted, diverted, jostled, accelerated, by rocks and islands. The sculpted stone, wee pools and runnels that each visitor has to find their way over, speaks of the power of water that has and will come through here. Casting a glance at the arches of the bridge and storms to come.

7 Ruskinian pose

Alec Finlay, 2011

We sit below the lone Scots pine, our right viewpoint and gallery. A place to poem from and strike the odd Ruskinian pose.

7 Dochart, Judo & Basho
Ken Cockburn 2011

7 hokku-label
('rock water / and a scrim of soil / what more / would you need', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

7 hokku label, changing names
Alec Finlay, 2011


Even after yesterday’s rain, the river-flow’s still moderate. A group of Italians come over to read the labels as we're still adding them, but don’t stop to talk. We're inured to our eccentricity. A yellow bus with the word AWESOME on the side crosses the bridge.
Over the walls a stilled wheel.



As we leave Eck calls Ken back with that age-old cry of the child to the departing adult: Come over here, you’ll like this!

7 Buddha frog
Ken Cockburn 2011

7 'frog pool falls'
Alec Finlay, 2011

in gloup river’s
rounded filled
stilled & stepped
( today )
away from

Buddha frog
on air &
water **stillness &
motion **thought
& action** trance
& will
there is no
leap **or splash
to this ** his

7 Dochart poem-hung Scots pine
Ken Cockburn 2011

A wee blessing for the frog Ken carefully shooed off the road in Glenelg.

7 Basho reflecting in the toad's mirror-pond
Alec Finlay, 2011

We leave our, now your, pine, embroidered with poems and wishes. A Scoto-Japo hybrid.

(AF, KC)


7 Kinnell gatepost lion
Ken Cockburn 2011

Instead of crossing the bridge by the inn, we drive down the avenue of trees straight ahead, past the gatepost lions to a wee ring of standing stones. Pair to the Fortingall ring a glen away.

Judo, a little tired, stays in the car. From the shade of the avenue, and the muddy track underfoot, it’s a pleasure to walk out into the sunny sheep field.

7 Kinnell stone circle
Ken Cockburn 2011

Overlooked by Sron Mhor, on the south side of the Dochart, looking up S to Beinn Lebhainn and W to Sron ’s Chlachain; 6 stones, the northerly having cup & ring marks. Gillies writes, This well preserved stone circle is situated close to the old home of the Macnabs at Kinnell. It is within the policies, and near the corner of a broad, level field called Kinnell Park… There are six stones, five of which are standing in their original position… The space enclosed by these stones is quite smooth and level, bearing no indication of having at any time been disturbed.
(In Famed Breadalbane, 1938)

He differentiates the six thus:

****A’s oblong base
****B’s sloping back
****C’s pyramidal summit
****D’s flat-topped, very massive block
****E’s rough, uneven top
****F’s white quartz veins

The sheep keep their distance; white wool punctuates the green. It's sunny afternoon but the Modern Antiquarian says sunset’s obscured by the tree line.



7 hokku-label
('just for / a while // stuck / within / stones // in sun-/shine', AF)
Ken Cockburn 2011

Alec Finlay, 2011

Alec Finlay, 2011

7 hokku-label

('lacking ceremony / old coats cast off / for summer', KC)
Ken Cockburn 2011

(KC, mesostic AF)


We return to Judo’s flat. Eck needs his bath to wash off the lactic from his over-enthusiastic cliff-top path-finding down on the misty Rinns yesterday.

Ken fancies another ramble before lunch, Judo says she’ll walk to the start of the path but ends up coming the whole way – the spit of land between Rivers Dochart and Lochay, who meet and almost immediately open out into Loch Tay. Judo points, a hare!, and Ken misses it, but another lopes, left to right, into the trees, reddy-brown, like a red squirrel, rather than muted rabbit-gray.

The creep-along, the sitter-still,
the pintail, the ring-the-hill,
the sudden start,
the shake-the-heart,
the belly-white,
the lambs-in-flight.

Seamus Heaney, from ‘The Names of the Hare’

7 Lochay iron bridge
Ken Cockburn 2011


Basho’s Declaration of Dochart & Sora’s Declaration of Acharn



7 Follow Me, Acharn
Alec Finlay, 2011


Alec Finlay
Photograph Ken Cockburn 2011

After lunch with Judo’s son Daniel, and elder daughter Katie (Anna’s at a Tai Kwan Do event), we drive along the northside of Loch Tay, fond again of how you can see the shore lines as they lie on the map. Dorothy Wordsworth only saw a lake:

there is an uniformity in the lake which,
comparing it with other lakes, made it
appear tiresome. It has no windings:
I should even imagine, although it is
so many miles long, that, from
some points not very high on the hills,
it may be seen from one end to the other.
There are few bays, no lurking-places
where the water hides itself in the land,
no outjutting points or promontories,
no islands ; and there are no commanding
mountains or precipices

Below Ben Lawers, Eck does a WORD MNTN and sighs for our not turning left at Edramuck.

Alec Finlay

Photograph Ken Cockburn, 2011

Another WORD MNTN looking south to Beinn Bhreac At the east end of the loch we bend back through spick and span Kenmore and take the wee road down the southside back to Acharn, for we've still to find our pair for Basho's horizontal falls and this morning’s decision was that the last place to go on the last afternoon was Acharn, ‘field of the cairn’, as visited by Burns (29 August, 1787) and the Wordsworths (5 September, 1803). It seems that Dorothy was homesick.

******The face of the country
******not very interesting,

******though not unpleasing,
******reminding us of some

******of the vales of the north
******of England, though meagre,

******nipped-up, or shriveled
******compared with them.

Maybe it was raining.

7 Sign
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Acharn is where we began our first road-trip last June – Fortingall, Schiehallion, World Cup – and, being base-camp, we neglected what was nearest to hand, putting off the walk to the falls until it fell off the end of the week. Now, fittingly but without our planning, the journey curves back into a memory of itself.

7 Acharn, Eck wishing
Ken Cockburn 2011

running my fingernails
along the contour lines

gauging the incline
and fatigue that results

We park in the village, and Eck assumes a crown of white blossom.

7 Acharn, last year this year (beech & bracken)
Ken Cockburn 2011

following the sound of a burn
up another steep path
fringed by shady groves
of fern, gean, hazel and larch

a young beech
holding on to the old
until it’s sure of the new

Drummond Hill
thickly wooded behind us

beyond that Fortingall nestles
and the entrance to Lyon
at Sput Ban

gazing over Kenmore Church
that hazy peak due NE
must be

Ken Cockburn 2011

7 Hermit's Cave sign, Acharn
Ken Cockburn 2011

We accept the invitation, moving
through a dungeon-like
passage that
delivers us
into the

and the very beautiful prospect of, across the gorge, water falling white before us.

7 Acharn Hermit's Cave & Falls of Acharn
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Before we take it in, we’re distracted by an off-stage scamper.

7 hokku-label
(‘as we emerge from / the theatrical cave / a red squirrel / upstages the falls’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

The roofless platform is what remains of Dorothy’s quaint apartment stuck over with moss, hung about with stuffed foxes and other wild animals, and ornamented with a library of wooden books covered with old leatherbacks, the mock furniture of a hermit's cell. Not a xylotheque then, but an installation of faky books, or boks.

This view was conceived and constructed by the 3rd Earl of Breadalbane in the 1760s. Artificial, quaint-seeming, and yet as modern in its way as Turrel’s great sky-space temple at Rannoch. The hermit being a sign, ridiculous and riddled with class to our modern eye, but as true an indication of the potential other lives such places suggest as Karimor or North Face. Our aspirations always have a laughable aspect, but they also make us smile.

7 hokku-label Acharn summer opening
('in this wee while / all / summer / open / -ing', AF, after Basho)
Alec Finlay, 2011

7 Sora labelling
Alec Finlay, 2011

7 audio, Acharn
Alec Finlay, 2011

The falls have come down the Acharn Burn from the crotch between Creagan na Beinne and Sron a Chaoineidh to leap 50 feet and rill their way down to 90'. Beyond are the higher wilder standing stones on the slopes of Creagan Odhar and the old drove road that winds down Glen Almond to Newton and Sma’ Glen, tributaries of our imagination.

Burns found inspiration and consolation, embedding a prediction of the wordsWORTHs’ arrival:

Poetic ardours in my bosom swell,
Lone wand’ring by the hermit’s mossy cell:
Here heart-struck Grief might heavenward stretch her scan,
And injured Worth forget and pardon Man.

7 Acharn, Basho libating
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Without a plan we've led ourselves to this last calm view, the trees newly green, the oak leaves still unfurling. We can go no further than the little shelf closed off by the rail, unless it's a fall down.

7 'Basho'
Alec Finlay, 2011

33 'Marcel'
Alec Finlay, 2011

Translate Loch Tay into Lake Geneva, Acharn into Forestay and the screen of falling water becomes a veil for Duchamp, whose 'Large Glass' conceals a secret landscape, rippling waterfall tresses as the mons venus of his lover Mary Oliver. People suffering from TB stood under the Forestay falls seeking a cure. What we see is always real and imaginary. A year on we weave the Maspie falls and the hermitage cavern into Acharn. But most of all we follow our guide, Basho, for this bowl and lip with the sun streaming in are summer's opening, seen in the gap the burn makes between the tree-line.

sharing the whisky
with strangers

in place of Dorothy
& William

now we know
opening our

ending is
an opening

our ending
is our beginning

7 Sora leaves the cave
Alec Finlay, 2011

(KC, AF)

Now we know where we’re going,
we know where we’re from

‘Exodus’, Bob Marley


Gerhard Lang's 'nubeology' is the study of the natural phenomenon of clouds. Much of Lang's work deals with the relationship between between landscape and man.

Falls of Dochart web-guide by Undiscovered Scotland

Maggie's Centre


  1. Douglas Section27 June 2011 at 17:24

    Ken has taken the tonsure
    I look at my hair
    contemplate grace and disgrace

  2. Do you leave all the poem labels on the trees and things?

  3. (in answer, from the road north poem)

    I wind a few words
    round the stalks
    of plaited bog-grasses

    and green rushes
    hooking the knot
    over the spike

    pulling the bow tight
    on the seed-head
    aiming the camera

    at poems left among
    catkins and leaves
    of alder and rowan

    to be found
    and undone
    whether from love

    or disliking
    or left for the sun
    and rain

    to seasonally fade them

  4. sort of
    environmentally friendly

  5. Ian in Cornwall21 July 2012 at 12:43

    a poet may also
    unlabel things -
    restore their mystery