Wednesday, 14 July 2010

(21) Dunkeld

‘Lyke as the swyft wattyr stremys cleyr’

– Gawin Douglas, The Aenid of Virgil translated into Scottish Verse, Eneados, CAP VII

Our Pine of Takekuma is a choice of old oak, tall Douglas fir or hybrid larch.

Our Noin Hoshi is Gawin Douglas (c.1475-1522), poet-Bishop of Dunkeld

This was another 2 station day, which suited the towns, Dunkeld & Birnam, divided by the river and the railway, which the Duke of Atholl insisted be kept from his view.

We agreed to split the day between Ossian’s Cave (morning) and Cathedral and Birnam (afternoon). The p.m. slot was divided again: Ken would walk up to Rohallion on Birnam Hill, put on his crown in the rain, and look over the vale back to Dunsinann. I would sit where Braan and Tay meet, by the Cathedral larches – ‘Planter’ John’s, the Duke who cast his seed with canon – and take in our first mizzle.

These 2 stations (16 and 21) are entangled by trees. Ossian’s Cave is our Kurozuka cave (16), but it is the Hermitage Wood around the cave which has the tall Douglas firs, for adding to the Birnam oak, cathedral larches and, Ken’s coda, the solitary pine on the hill: taken together these trees are our pair with Basho’s split Pine of Takekuma. Reader, you are welcome to make a choice of your own – whether by form, age or poetry – from Basho’s description

At its roots trunk breaks into two arms, probably much as in olden times, nothing lost … Time and time again, said to have been replaced, cut down, and now standing, the image of a thousand years in fine shape again, miraculous.’


football before footfall

First though, there was the footie, England v. Germany, over lunch in the bar of the Atholl, which divided its allegiances evenly. The English contingent drifted away early; maybe there was a battle on somewhere? Ken sacrificed the second half to head off up hill, winning him the Basho award of the day. I watched the Schweinsteiger orchestrate the midfield and gazed at the top shelf of whiskys, planning our route farther north.

as the players
troop off

the barman marks
the wallchart

(history –
as soon as that)


Noin– Gawin

Noin, originally Tachibana no Nagayasu, late Heian period, numbered among the 36 ‘poetic geniuses’ (not currently a category Creative Scotland recognises). Gawin Douglas, favourite makar of Ezra Pound, who rated his Eneados better than the original. Hamish Henderson used him as an exemplar of multilingual Scotland.

preaching Latyn
to Gaels

translating Virgill
intil Scottis

21 hokku-label (Dunkeld Cathedral)
(‘light shines through / from window / to window’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Gawin’s situation was as hybrid as the larches.

larix x eurolapsis henry

the Scoto-Japanese larch
straightlike & hardy

with tips turned up
for the mntns

21 hokku-label (Dunkeld Cathedral)
(‘the Scoto-Japanese larch / an accidental hybrid // that endures / as it endears’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

This was the label the folk from Boston saw me tying on; they’d been following our trail for 3 days, from Bruar, south through Hermitage Wood to Dunkeld.

I sat on one of the benches, sipping puerh, watching the drops fall from the trees after the shower. A Kirk elder arrived for Silence & Songs; pointing his binos towards the middle of the river – when I asked what was there he told me about the old bridge of the Culdees.

21 audio, Culdee (confluence Braan–Tay)
Alec Finlay, 2010

moss on the larch roots
afraid to climb higher

softening the oaks'
every branch

Kyohaku wrote a poem-letter to his friends in the north: as Basho would arrive after the gean blossom, he asked that they show him the pine at Takakuma instead. In exchange I’m sending Kyohaku this image from the Cathedral lawn.

two pools
of petals

coloured pink
coloured plum

21 audio, Improvisation (Songs & Silence, Dunkeld Cathedral)
Alec Finlay, 2010


Birnam Hill

21 Birnam Wood, as was
Ken Cockburn, 2010

21 A9 seen from Birnam Hill
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I leave Eck at the Atholl Hotel at half-time. Unlike Hurst, Lampard didn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

The Russian linesman
at home in Azerbaijan
isn’t looking today

Afterwards I sense this is understood as the repayment of a long outstanding debt.

Across the Tay in Birnam I walk with Barno from the Beatrix Potter garden beneath the railway line and on, a tough, clammy, buzzing climb. I meet a couple heading back down who’ve had enough.

21 hokku-label
(‘Oku's heat and flies / a steep path / through birks and bracken’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At the top I get my bearings – the Atholl Hotel, the Loch of the Lowes where the venerable osprey is ailing (headline news below in town), but Dunsinane is hidden by the trees, which makes sense.

21 Kings Seat looking NE
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I’m about to write another hokku-label when the first rain of the week falls enthusiastically. I take what shelter I can under a rowan and wait for it to ease.

Continuing cross-country, it’s heavier going than Glen Lednock yesterday, wilder country; and steeply downhill past felled trees to arrive eventually (it feels a long slog) at the old quarry car-park, and an easier walk through dappled woods to the sound of the A9.

21 hokku-label (‘ascent intense / but descent / seems endless’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I find Eck now at the Taybank and learn the full-time score; despite that disallowed goal, the English don’t seem too aggrieved and acknowledge that the better team won. Our whisky’s a 12 year-old Edradour, ‘Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia Selection’, drunk in honour of Dunkeld’s most famous contemporary son, and former owner of the Taybank.

Gawin Douglas is acknowledged as being the first poet to write about landscape for its own sake, rather than as the backdrop to a scene, and I like to imagine, anachronistically, that as well as Virgil he also translated Basho. This couplet is Basho in spirit if not in form, Oku in Edo:

The wyld geiss claking eik by nychtis tyde
Attoure the citie fleand hard I glide.

A version by Cid Corman might run

wild geese clack
at night too above
town (listen!) & glide


21 The Taybank Inn, Dunkeld
Alec Finlay, 2010


Dunkeld Cathedral : web-guide to the building's history, and a list of current events

The Taybank : information, events and bookings


From the Beatrix Potter Garden (beside the Birnam Arts and Conference Centre and opposite the Birnam Hotel) walk SW beneath the railway and beside the Inchewan Burn. The path then bears S uphill to the top of Birnam Hill / Kings Seat, and descends to the E, before a track running parallel to the A9 returns to Birnam. Reward: stovies at The Taybank.

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