Monday, 23 August 2010

(8) Loch Insh

'We see one thing next to another. In time they get superimposed
and then who looks silly? Not us, as you might think, but the curve
we are plotted on, head to head, a parabola in the throes
of vomiting its formula …’

John Ashberry, ‘from Tuesday Evening’

Our shortcut through fields is orienteers in Inshriach Forest

Our rain is rain

Our farmhouse is Jon & Ali's flat in Kingussie

Our horse is 2 horses on the shinty pitch

Our Kasane is Heather


We drive east from Loch Duich past Lochs Cluanie, Loyne, Garry, Lochy, Spean and Laggan and stop at Loch Insh.

On the way Newtonmore advertises


and the Waltzing Waters – The world's most elaborate water, light & music productions! And we wonder why Strathspey and not Badenoch's a dance-tune.

Loch Insh

8 hosomichi way-marker
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Despite the forecast the day clears as we drive. We continue beyond Kingussie on the back road, north-east, parking between an archaic roadsign and partially built house, and follow the path into Insh Marshes Nature Reserve.

8 Loch Insh oku
Alec Finlay, 2010

We're trying to navigate this Basho station – fields easy to get lost in, and the characters a courteous farmer, a pathfinder horse, and a little girl with a flower name – but no warriors, poets, priests of renown, it’s more nature than culture. Put another way, the best of culture here’s toadstool and mushroom, blue sails growing and shrinking at the far end of the loch. So we refer to these –

8 hokku-label, Loch Insh
('for 'Heather' read 'Kasane'', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

8 circle poem
(...'for 'Kasane' read 'Heather'', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

and other materials to hand –

8 hokku-label (Elegy for Soutar/blaeberry mou, AF & KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Blaeberry Mou

The flitterin faces come doun the brae
And the baskets gowd and green;
And nane but a blindie wud speer the day
Whaur a’ the bairns hae been.

The lift is blue, and the hills are blue,
And the lochan in atween;
But nane sae blue as the blaeberry mou’
That needna tell whaur it’s been.

William Soutar (1898-1943)

8 Basho, homage to Soutar
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Blaeberries, suggesting the poet William Soutar; juniper, imagining a local brand of gin – and Ken makes more fourteens for Isobel's recent birthday.

8 Fourteens (for Isobel)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There’s a lightness to our poeming here, mostly from exhaustion. We couldn’t do another station.

8 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010

8 hokku-label, Loch Insh
(‘In severe rain / use a paddle’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Down at the waters edge we add a pair of hokku-labels to the same birch branch – Ken’s for Basho, Eck’s as a memory of childhood walks with Ailie and Sue, and their donkeysome burdens, Serpellete and Maus, up on the moor.

8 hokku-labels, Loch Insh
poems AF, KC; photograph KC, 2010

Don't worry,
the courteous farmer has a horse
that knows the way


the donkeys
trot faster

for home


8 hokku-label (Cairngorm Sapphire)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

and Ken’s nod to the juniper, rare now, always a find.

Cairngorm Sapphire


We read the text in situ and sharing a giggle at Eck’s lisping ‘whores’ for ‘horses’ – well, they can both show you the way.

audio, Kurobane, Loch Insh (Basho’s station 8)
KC & AF, 2010

(KC, AF)


We're staying with Mr & Miss, Thomson & Craighead, aka Jon & Ali: artists who've shown at H.I.C.A. but who neither of us have met before. They both teach in London, but manage to spend about half the year in Kingussie, from where there's a daily direct train to King's Cross. We set ourselves off mapping contemporary arts in the wilder airts ‘beyond Shirakawa’, but our method is Basho’s: friendship and conversation, minds that meet over tea – Jon picked out the wildly named Goomtee White Ball Darjeeling from our selection – and sake or whisky – native Dalwhinnie.

The only forms that we utilise are tick-boxless: hokku, mesostic, wish; to which Jon and Ali kindly add the perfected domestic form of the meal; their table an episodic still-life, composed of varieties of oatcake, cheese, condiments, each with its own tale – this is Lisa’s blueberry jelly, that an unlikely heavenly rice-pudding made with soyamilk.

Their latest project,
A Short Film About War, is a narrative made from gleanings, eye-witness reports, woven into Homeric interweb rite – echo of our visit to Kevin Henderson at Dunsinane, where we witnessed his memorial to the dead of Afghanistan.

(AF, KC)

Bell & Horse

8 Insh Church, Kincraig
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Outdoors, what we share with Jon & Ali is a sense that we’re still learning the landscape, daily, seasonally. Approaching Tom Eunan (Adamnan's Hill) we hear the pew-pew of ospreys on Tom Dubh in Loch Insh, think maybe kayakers have got too close. Insh Church (nearer Kincraig than Insh) contains St Adamnan's bell, one of five bronze bells remaining in Scotland… made around 900AD, and similar in size to the one that welcome the Kilmichael Cross home. Cracked, its peal has palled.

8 St Adamnan's bell
Thomson & Craighead, 2010

8 hokku-label, Tom Eunan
(‘Tom Eunan – / ring the bell for / the innocents’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We walk through the raspberry-fringed old churchyard past the tidily landscaped new burial-ground, and reach the shinty pitch, undulating and dotted with flowers and toadstools.

8 Basho's horses
Thomson & Craighead, 2010

8 Basho's horses
Thomson & Craighead, 2010

I recall Basho's pathfinder horse, and hum the old song about San Jose.

8 hokku-label
(‘Do you know the way / to Kurobane?’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Uath Lochans

8 at Uath Lochan, (l to r) Alec Finlay, Alison Craighead, Emma Nicholson, Jon Thomson
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We’re joined for lunch by Emma Nicholson, newly of ATLAS (Arts Team, Lochalsh and Skye). Then a walk round one of Jon & Ali’s local highlights, the 4 Uath Lochans in Inshriach Forest, SE of Loch Insh.

8 Uath Lochan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Sunlit birks against a backdrop of black clouds look unreal. The lochan supports waterlilies and kayakers, novices and a tutor, and no ospreys here to mind.

8 hokku-label, 4 Uath Lochans
(‘blades / in the / glade’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

8 hokku-label, 4 Uath Lochans
(‘buds of cottongrass / and bandaged moss / bind the lochs', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We’re immediately asked by 3 teenage orienteeters if we've
seen a red triangle, and we have to say no, but we smile realising we’ve been gifted Basho’s easy to get lost – and we’d thought it was the poets who would get lost!

8 hokku-label, 4 Uath Lochans
(‘many paths, hereabouts – / the orienteerers ask the poets / the way’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We can’t help seeing the combination of vertiginous pines, misted mountains, wispy clouds, water and tall swaying reeds as the landscape of Chinese poems and paintings of the ‘Mountains and Rivers Without End’ era. To honour this view we adapt Iain Crichton Smith's ‘Chinese Poem’ to the scene.

8 hokku-label, (after Iain Crichton Smith)
(‘Sacked from the department / I am alone here. By the lochan / drinking tea from a flask in the rain / I think of distant friends.’ KC & AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Then magical rain drops tinkle glass on the lochan’s meniscus, each sound the shape of a teardrop. Pathos becomes comedy in this list of returned library books left in the middle of our path. (We’re tired poets now, after all these days of writing labels in places, so such foundling poems are welcome).

8 An Inshdursley reader
Ken Cockburn, 2010

An Inshdursley reader

Kaymon the Gorgon
Sea haze
toilet of doom
Surprises according to Humphrey
Starlight dream
Horrid Henry wakes the dead
Ruby Rogers get me out of here!
Tell me about it
Ruby Rogers get a life!

As the walk winds on round the lochans, 'setting out' merges into a reassuring 'nearly there now'.

4 hokku for the 4 Uath lochans

(for Jon)

the wind
the quiet

the pines
the silence


there were
woods here

before there
were woods

(III) (for Ali)

It's all
from here


It's all
from here


look closely
and the pines
begin to bend


8 hokku-label, (4 Uath lochans)
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

8 hokku-label, (4 Uath lochans)
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

8 hokku-label, (4 Uath lochans)
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

8 hokku-label, (4 Uath lochans)
poem AF, photograph KC, 2010

(AF, KC)

Ma Belle

Fourteen chanterelles
Ken Cockburn, 2010

8 Gleaning
Alec Finlay, 2010

The afternoon ends cosily, damply, in a nearby wood, where we pick chanterelles (this arrangement’s for Isobel again). An undertone of moral crisis enters when each of us in turn spots the best specimens flourishing over the fence, in the back garden of some folk who clearly won’t pick them. In the end we don’t invoke the right to roam, but Eck leaves a confessional poem.

8 My Neighbours Chanterelle
(‘most of all / I desire / the chanterelle / of my neighbour’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010


(AF, KC)

Kurt & Wantee

Our old pal Davy Polmadie told us of a rumour that Kurt Schwitters used to Summer near Kingussie, in an old manse with pebble-dash walls, where he was cared for by his companion ‘Wantee’, made friends with field mice and composed collages from musty copies of the Sunday Post and People’s Friend.

Somehow fitting that just over the fields was the birthplace of that other great collage artist, ‘Ossian’ MacPherson. Perhaps it was one of these visits which inspired this undated poem of Schwitters’, celebratory of Ben MacDuhi?

‘Whenever you are standing on a high mountain you feel free and
happy. You see around you bigger and smaller mountains, you
feel the music they play together, nothing irritates you, nothing
seems to trouble your sight. You feel happy.’


Before we leave we exchange memories of Berneray: Jon & Ali love that louse-shaped little isle as much as Eck, though their trips have never overlapped. They are just off to the west of the west; we follow them the week after. I wonder if they’ll see Sado?



Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead have been working together as visual artists since 1993, exploring sound, video, and the internet: Thomson & Craighead

HICA (the Highland Institute for Contemporary Art) is an artist-run space located near Inverness in the North of Scotland.

ATLAS (Arts Team Lochalsh and Skye) is a new initiative for creating exceptional contemporary arts projects across the region, unbound by a specific gallery or venue. Led by Emma Nicolson, ATLAS will work with local schools and communities to bring high quality visual art to the islands.

For more details on the island of Berneray and where to stay, visit the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust website.


Insh Church is at the N end of Loch Insh, off the uncategorised road that runs between the B970 and the B1952. The Uath Lochans lie S of Loch Insh in Inshriach Forest, and can be reached by leaving the B970 at Insh House and heading S. The chanterelles can be found in… no, that’s our secret.


8 shown the way by a horse...
('Take the horse / he knows the way / when he stops get off / he'll come home alone', AF after Sam Hamill)
Peter Foolen, 2011

Monday, 16 August 2010

(14) Saint Fillan's Hill

‘Men ask me the way to Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail

In summer, ice doesn’t melt
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
How did I make it?
My heart’s not the same as yours.
If your heart was like mine
You’d get it and be right here’.

Han Shan, ‘Cold Mountain’ (6), tr. Gary Snyder

Our Shirakawa is Saint Fillan’s Hill

Our Tokyu is Margaret Bennett


People ask us
the way to Shirakawa Barrier?

our reply: take it easy
there are Shirakawa Barriers


It follows that Edo and Oku are states of mind too; the A9 cutting a swathe through remoteness.

The signs tell us we have crossed into Perthshire; later signs say we've crossed into Highland; but where are the signs marking Highland Perthshire?

The lovers' beeches are Shirakawas too – close enough to settlement to be reached, to be more or less safe, but remote enough for privacy, for intimacy.

Comrie's confluence of Lednock, Earn and Ruchill, is Shirakawa too; east is Edo by way of Crieff's Hydro, delis, bistrots; west is Oku by way of Dunira's wooden sign, pheasants and deer, tumbledown gardens.

Saint Fillan's Hill

14 Saint Fillan's hill

Ken Cockburn, 2010

14 hokku-label, gean, Saint Fillan's Hill
Alec Finlay, 2010

Another hill fort and Saint’s seat: what’s this, the Caledonian geo-anti-syzygy?

Saint Fillan’s Hill, for gazing, or Dundurn, ‘Hill of the Fist’, for fighting. Once seen an outline has to be given meaning, by clambering up and bringing down the memory.

Attempting the hill, small as it is, was my wager against my muscle fatigue; 20 years of journeys to special places where my excitement takes me too far, and I end up in a lactic pain cycle – which only makes the beautiful place strange and worriesome. The Saint’s Hill just about worked; if the fist clunked down for a day or so of extreme wabbitness, it was worth it, O yes.

When the winding path through the bracken opened, we each chose our way, it seemed, by a different wildflower.

14 foxgloves marking the oku
Alec Finlay, 2010

My oku was marked by foxgloves, nodding at the edge of the scree field. Ken’s by English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum), a stranger – like Fillan – fitting right in to the vein of the rock.

We took turns to rest on the hard chair – more of a bed – and took in a Saint’s conspectus, to pair with Adamnan’s Stone and Dunadd. The airts and glens were set out from this natural outlook tower, a compass centuries before the Gospels reached this glen. I sketched this response.

Then we named the view from the map: from Glen Artney (‘Glen of Pebbles’) under Beinn Dearg, beyond the screen ridge pegged between Beinn Fuath and Mor Bheinn; along the ridge of Bealach Ruadh, Meall Remhar, imagining the hidden western peaks of Beinn Domhnuill and Ben Vorlich (‘Hill of the Kingfisher’?). Then East: to Dunira and Comrie (‘Confluence’), where Lednock, Earn and Ruchill meet, with Melville’s needle hung over.

14 Skjolden
Guy Moreton, 2005

It reminded me of Wittgenstein’s house at Skolden, perched on a shelf ridge over the lake, among rowans and birks; near enough to the village to be away from people; and at just the right height to set the landscape out as a series of thought-paths. All that the Saint was missing was the pulley mechanism Ludwig devised to bring up buckets of water.

14 Mor Bheinn
Ken Cockburn, 2010

T t R r E e E e

This was the day we kept finding trees within trees, saplings growing in the little dust and moss in the bole crack: rowan within gean (Dunira); rowan within ash, (Saint Fillan’s Hill).

14 rowan out of ash, Saint Fillan's Hill
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I climbed down a wee cliff, to hang a wish and pin a poem on one of the lovely geans on the northern cliffs.

14 wish, gean (Saint Fillan's Hill)
Alec Finlay, 2010

14 leaning gean, Saint Fillans Hill
Alec Finlay, 2010

14 mirror-gean
Alec Finlay, 2010


‘The rest is all a walk in silence, on the oku of
the tombs of meaning. Or is this all still the highest seat?

AF, after Clark Coolidge, ‘A Note’

Seton Gordon wonders if there may have been two Fillans, but Gilbert Markus says ‘there was only one 'Scottish' Fillan, with a medieval cult-area stretching from Tyndrum and Glen Lochy in the west to Killin and St Fillans in the east. Our Fillan, feast on 20 June, is recorded in early Gaelic matryrologies (ninth century). Was he dumb? – 'Fáelán ... in t-amlabar ánsin' (‘Fillan ... that splendid mute’); or had he taken a vow of silence?’

a Saint’s blessing
on the breeze

that wafts
the midgies

14 wordrawing (Saint Fillan)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Shirakawa, Gradh geal mo chridh

14 Sora’s Libation (Saint Fillan's Chair)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

14 Basho’s seat (Saint Fillan's Hill)
Alec Finlay, 2010

As this was the hill we climbed together, Ken kindly agreed it could be our No. 1 Shirakawa. We’d already decided that, like Basho, we would mark the crossing in song.

natural grace’s
beginning found in Oku's
rice-planting singing

Basho had not long left Saigyo’s willow (our Birks o’ Aberfeldy, station 13), where he watched or imagined a summer scene of country-women. Ueda: ‘a celebration of the graceful, willow-waisted maidens who are planting the rice fields’. His moment of transition, beyond the capital, through Shirakawa and on into the hills, is our moment to hear an old Gaelic song. We asked Margaret Bennett to choose the most appropriate, and she made this beautiful recording for us: ‘Gradh geal mo chridh’, ‘Dear love of my heart, I would plough with you and reap’.

14 wordrawing (mntns)
Alec Finlay, 2010



Margaret Bennett is a singer, storyteller, and part-time teacher. Her prize-winning books include Oatmeal and the Catechism (1999), The Last Stronghold: Scottish Gaelic Traditions in Newfoundland, (1989), and Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave, (2004).


this is a guide to 14; take the minor road east of the village of St Fillans past the golf club and park by the Sewage Works. Cross the field and follow the rough footpath uphill through bracken.

the completed journey will be realised as an audio-visual word-map, published online and in print, May 16, 2011. If you would like more information about the project email