Tuesday, 13 July 2010

(25) Dunsinane

‘why should I not sing them, the dead, the innocent?’

– Hamish Henderson, ‘First Elegy: End of a Campaign’, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica

Our Shiogawa Myojin is Dunsinane.

25 Dunsinane (looking south)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I’d lost touch with Kevin Henderson – poet, performance artist, teacher – ‘Uncle’, we used to call one another; my invention, for no reason, except kinship, with a hint of 'Nuncle', from Lear, being Fools of our own making. A couple of weeks ago I dropped Uncle an email saying we were going on the road, inviting him to the nearest station, Dunsinane. Turns out he now lives on a cottage at Whitehills, just opposite the Black Hill, that adjoins Dunsinane. Connections again; as if the journey itself was a form of attention that attracts them.

25 Kevin Henderson, Dunsinane
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Softly spoken, heedful, in his work Kevin enacts extremities of physicality in terms of self, and care for others. Wound is one theme.

Now he’s translated the need to wash thought through with bodily action into road cycling and mountain biking. This, in turn, has taken his pedagogy in new directions, working with challenged kids on bikes in the outdoors.

25 organo-cycle, Whitehills
Alec Finlay, 2010

For Kevin Henderson

on the bike
did Kevin say

it was space
became time?

or time
became space?

25 hokku-label, Dunsinane (the trees are moving /
but its just the wind)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Aside from Kevin’s new form of daily journeying, there were reasons I hardly knew I had thought of for visiting him; notably the martial connection with Dunsinane. Sat at the foot of the hill I took in the northern skyline, the line of hills Malcolm came from.

The last snow patch shone on Hill of Fernyhirst; the windmills shone on Drumderg – standing in for the wood that walked. I counted off different Kings Seats from the map, most as old as this Iron Age fort, so similar in position and feel to Dundurn and Dunadd.

Basho came to Shiogama Myojin shrine from the Tsubo no Ishibumi waymarker (at Taga Castle), our St Adamnan’s stone: that Law of Adamnan’s guaranteeing safe passage and protection to the innocents is overlooked as much today as ever.

For Hamish Henderson

there were our own
there were the others

they marched from the blue hills
12 miles to the north

25 wish (hawthorn)
Alec Finlay, 2010

I tied a wish to the hawthorn; looked over at Blair where Hamish was born and listened to his ‘Highland Div’s Farewell to Sicily’.

‘The pipie is dozie, the pipie is fey
He wullnae come roun for his vino the day
The sky owre Messina is unco an gray
An aa the bricht chaumers are eerie’



The Scottish Hill

25 Basho and Sora in the garden, Whitehills
Kevin Henderson, 2010

From Dunira we stop in Crieff for supplies – whisky, raspberries, oatcakes, cream for my midge-bites – then drive to Abernyte, near the Tay, driving inland as far as Whitehills.

Whitehill’s live
with waves

blawin thru
Bill’s wheat

Kevin gives us a pressed flower from the garden. We sit in the sun by the potato patch – Red Duke of York, Catriona, Nicola – and drink our tea and his Grasshopper Colony tea.

25 Basho, viewed through-memorial
Kevin Henderson, 2010

25 Pressed flower
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The memorial on the labels in the photograph is to British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, their names written down as news comes through. The early ones are starting to fade in the sun. As well as this military connection to nearby Dunsinane Hill, there’s the grey oil-lantern in the other corner of the garden, a gift from Kevin’s aunt, which pairs with the ‘fine old lantern’ Basho mentions seeing at Shiogama.

We drive the short distance to Collace Quarry, and Kevin and I climb the hill – known locally as Dunsinnan, with the stress on the second syllable. We take note of the Beware of the Bull sign, but he seems to be on his holidays. On the way up we talk to each other about our work in schools, my poetry workshops and his cycling sessions. At the top it’s breezy, and we get great views south to the Lomond Hills (our station 2), and north across the plain towards Birnam – 12 miles north-north-east – Malcolm must have had a fairly easy march of it, even if the land was more wooded a millenium back. We’re also struck by the fact that there are higher hills nearby, but Dunsinnan is steep on all sides, has a good overview all round, and the nearby Macbeth’s Well on the map suggests water was available too. We’d seen other remains in similar positions – Bharpa Langais, and Dundurn. We find wild thyme, and pick some for adding to the next meal.

Nowhere to hang the hokku-labels, so we add them to the cairn. Kevin had cycled round the hill that morning; I saw Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood recently, based on Macbeth, at the end of which the king meets his death ‘porcupined’ with arrows – our whisky for the day was another Japanese Malt, in Kurosawa’s honour, Super Nikka. Eck and I both remember seeing Polanski’s Macbeth at school, shot on location – he remembers horses running across the beach at Lindisfarne and Keith Chegwin playing a boy, I remember a rather grisly execution early on (the previous Thane of Cawdor?).

Seton Gordon tells the story of a farm-worker discovering on the hilltop, after a landslide, the Stone of Destiny; not realising its importance, he only went back later to take it, by which time the opening had closed. There’s a similar tale in Andrew Greig’s second John MacNab novel. What’s considered the real stone is in Westminster Abbey, but there’s a replica at Scone; when this was stolen recently, and replaced with another stone, I enjoyed listening to the radio journalist differentiating between the ‘real’ replica and the ‘fake’ replica. When does a replica become authentic? Shakespeare’s play is more real than the history, according to which Macbeth was a good king, under whom Scotland prospered; but the fiction is so convincing, the fake so real, that mere facts won’t displace it.

Driving back, on the radio we hear of the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, for a wildly indiscreet interview in which he criticised Obama; of the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan, four killed in an accident when their jeep fell into a canal, one in a fire-fight. That evening at Margaret Bennett’s, she tells us of her work at BLESMA in Crieff, a care-home for injured servicemen.

‘if I talked
with 1 person

with no legs
I talked to 5’



Our coda for this station is an extract from Adam MacNaughtan’s ballad of The Scottish King.

tune: Soldier's Joy (AAB)

Macbeth meanwhile decidit the weird sisters he'd get haud ae
An' he fund them bilin' soup wi' Tartars' lips tae gie it boady,
An' they tellt him he could no' be killt by man that's born o' wumman,
An' he didnae need tae fear till he saw Birnam wuid was comin.

So Macbeth became quite gallus but he'd nothin' left but malice,
He couldnae show emotions like compassion, joy or sorra,
When he heard his wife had died, he juist said, "Ah wid've cried,
"If it had been the morra an' the morra an' the morra."

Though a' his pals had skied it, he was safe in Dunsinane,
An' he passt the time by pittin' armour oan an' aff again.
Then the news that Birnam wuid wis oan the mairch gied him a scare.
He says, "We'll fight ootside, Ah don't want bluid a' ower ma flair."

He wis swashin', he was bucklin', he talked Siward's boay tae death,
But his confidence wis shattert when Macduff shouts, "Hey, Macbeth!"
"Against men o' weemen born," he says, "Ah've goat divine protection."
Quips Macduff, "Ah wis delivert by Caesarian section."

Then Macduff cut aff his heid an' when he saw that he wis deid,
Malkie says, "Yese a' are earls, the first there's ever been."
That's the story at an end but Ah still cannae comprehend
Whit teachers find sae funny in yon porter scene.

(alternative ending for non-teachers)

Then Macduff cut aff his heid an' when he saw that he wis deid,
Malkie says, "Yese a' are earls, come oan alang tae Scone."
So noo the play is played an there's wan thing tae be said:
It's juist half the length o' "Hamlet" when the curtain comes doon.

Adam McNaughtan

copyright Adam T. McNaughtan 1992.


this is the guide for 25 Dunsinane (56°27'59.78"N) (3°15'59.80"W). Park at Collace, follow the footpath uphill, and beware of the bull.

the road north is a journey that will conclude in 53 audio | visual word-maps: poems describing different locations, typeset in the form of skylines and other natural features, accompanied by recordings in a variety of voices. The poetic mapping of Scotland will be available from May 16, 2011. In the meantime, visit the website of our recently completed word-map for the Peak District National Park, white peak | dark peak.

Harvest coda: Whitehills Purple Blush

In today, a letter from 'Uncle' Henderson, with a parcel of tatties from the back garden at Whitehills.

'The potatoes with the purple blush are "Catriona's" (2nd Earlies) while the others are Nicola's (main crop), grown from sees from Scott's in Blairgowrie, I hope you enjoy them. Ashile Gorky once said "You need to be strong enough to plough to paint" ... (KH)

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