Tuesday, 23 November 2010

(11) Tingwall

Hent du!

Dy gæt's awa, owir da stank
quhar broun ert's sib tæ green –

So move
yourself. Your path's away, over the ditch, where brown
earth's next to green.

Robert Alan Jamieson

'Desire path' – the thoroughfares that sheep carve in the turf over hundreds of years, graving intimate channels along the contours of the land with their delicate accurate hooves. A walk is like following an electrical circuit: if you try and fight against the current, you run up against fuses, gates, barbed wire, resistors.

Yes, the land's juxtaposed: the shaved nap of the Asta Golf Course, like a synthetic lawn in a space-station, bulging against the brown heather of the hill. I'm up on the hill, looking down on the two lochans, the green, the Murder Stone in its maelstrom of oaty grass at the edge of the Rough. The busy B9074. The sea and Foula beyond.

This is not a walking place and I'm like Robert Alan's outcast, fighting the flow. My energy's expended wading through the shallow loch, fighting the wind, dithering sheepily along the fence, on the wrong side, losing my desire path. The heather catches at my ankles whilst my wellies smear over the roots, my tendons strained.

11 Bog Asphodel | Narthecium ossifragum

11 Heath Spotted Orchid | Dactylorhiza maculata

11 Bog Myrtle | Myrica gale

I'm grimly singing 'The Wedding March' because, as you may know, the only way to get a parasitical tune out of your head is to sing it out loud. I am singing it and thinking how much I hate marches of all kinds. This reminds me now of a woman my friend and I met on Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk.

A whole lot of Coast-to-Coasters had got bunched together on the North York Moors, a sort of Roman trudge to the Lion at Blakey, along the disused railway. It was hot, really hot, a bronzy air up there, and there'd been a hatch or a mating of some species of winged ant. The ants were irresistibly attracted to our sun-block, clustering round our ears and necks and eyes. We were nearly there when we met this couple.

"A stretch like this, you just keep marching, tramp tramp tramp; you just grin and bear it and march along the road." The one woman was the spokesperson, rummaging vigorously in her companion's daysack. The other stood patiently, her head down; bore it like a mule. I wondered if she had blisters like I had. I had a blister bigger than my big toe, on my big toe. Every night when our tents were up and I dared unshoe myself, to hobble on feet as fragile as shelled eggs to wash them in a river, in wet grass, in a pub sink, balancing on the other foot, I petted the thick blister of clear sap.

She indicated the great hairpin the trail made along the valley-head. "Some people would cut across there and try and save themselves, but I say you just stick to it – march, march, march." Then in case we had missed the point: "We're walking on the road. That's what Wainwright did and that's what we're doing." Finally her friend lifted her head. "I hate walking on the road," she said.

In Tingwall, Kristi and I have decided not to walk along the road. We thresh along the very edge of a field of deep rye, wet-wellied, while cars tear round those blind bends like hurled thunderbolts. We cross one of those lovely tenuous rights of way that animals make: a loose zigzag through the wet and swishing stalks. An otter, rabbit or cat.

The air is dense with meadowsweet and midges, and I'm claustrophobic this far inland. Kristi thinks we should the two of us get a boat. I agree. I'm a sicky sailor and have no idea how a boat is driven, parked, maintained, but I'm in that phase where I say Yes unreservedly to all suggestions. A period of Yes is always followed by a tempering spell of No, and that's how I keep things balanced out. Anyway the thought of an ocean-going craft is like a draught of bitter lemon.

I do hate golf courses, even adorned with a Murder Stone and a pair of speccy lochans that will reflect the lovely chocolate light of the hill in winter, also attracting whaups and shalder and tufted duck. I've tried to find a way in, but from the sign 'Preferred Lies' at the gate to the flat calm of the green itself, wealed with bunkers, the migraine of midges, I'm hostile. No bingo bango bongo, here, no Amen Corner. The currents, unlike that of the darting rabbit or otter, are wrong: the verges clogged with meadowsweet, tufted vetch and comfrey. Maybe it's the malevolent magnetism of the Murder Stone.

.............We returned to Kurobane and from there we went to see the Slaughter Stone of Nasu. [According to legend, when Lady Tamamo, loved by Emperor Konoe (r.1139–1155), was found to be a fox in human guise and was put to death, her fox-soul turned itself into this noxious stone.]

..............The Slaughter Stone was in a mountain niche where there was a hot spring. The stone's poisonous vapors were as yet unspent, and bees and moths lay dead all around in such heaps that one could not see the color of the sand beneath. (Dorothy Britton's translation)

Tingwall's Murder Stone is meant to be the site of a battle between Malise Sperra, Lord of Skaldale and his cousin Henry Sinclair, the 1st Earl of Orkney, in the 14th century. Malise and seven of his supporters were killed and the stone raised to commemorate his death. It's also said that a murderer could earn himself a pardon if he could run from the Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone without being caught and killed by his victim's family.

There is no fox woman, and poisonous vapours or no, the midges are thriving. It's a thick squarish menhir with a chalky scar across its waist and a shaggy pelt of rough green lichen.

We wade through the rough; it's like wading through rapids. We eddy up in a little green tucked below a bluff of gorse and meadowsweet. Soothing soughing of the windmills. The midges find me, the poem doesn't. Just a wee little midge of a poem. Come on poem.

We've augmented the ritualistic victuals: Kristi's brought the thermos of tea, little Yell strawberries, sugar, and those big plain crisps made of thick slices of blistered, but recognisable potato, like insoles. I've got the whisky, oatcakes and serviceable sheepy Manchego.

I enjoy the feeling of trespass about as much as I did when I was a child: not at all. The picnic's good though and I think of a little bleat for the tee in the hole and tie it on, a midgy little bleat, and I squash it onto the tag.

bunker picnic – straw-
berry tea and the wind tur-

bines softly soughing

We lie back on the soft pallet of the green. The eddy of midges passes over us. It's like sinking into the mesopelagic zone. Darkening and the sponge of the air sopping up the loch. Cooling, thank god. And we make a shared wish, and for want of a bough to tie it on, I tie it on to the surface of the Loch, and it gently floats away. Then we tee up a strawberry at the whatevernth hole.


Tingwall's Murder Stone touches on the Japanese mythological sesshoseki, a stone inhabited by a disembodied spirit and said to kill those who touch it. Paola Arosio and Diego Meozzi have indexed Scotland's own ancient standing stones.


'This is the first poem I've made in a long time. I've missed the feeling. I re-read Harryette Mullen's Sleeping With the Dictionary recently. A kind of permission in there to do what you must to make language new. You know how hard it is with landscapes sometimes to get beyond the O.S. All this time I've been interested in babble and in the senseless chatter that invades into your dwindling consciousness as you're falling asleep, wanting to lighten my controlling hand, letting the toxic fallout of the Murder Stone warp the language, but hanging on to a sense of the place and mood, and a procession through these'


after Harryette Mullen

The bog's blithe nymph pishing through mishapens: big Aspergers,
Parson-grass, Fitting Orchis breach
a wonderwall of rusted iron.

Think of the desire path, mangoes of Sunday and tortoise-shell,
hopes too big and hot until they reap the high pith which sweeps the meek along. Hatethat wedding march, cuckold spit and span,
knee-deep weather.

Parrotism of nudges, and that meddling song works my what like a wig-worm.

The ordure stone broadcasts its dilute curse, a tocsin.
The opalescent parturition and the piss-take: gophers trundling a wilderness,
spraying their pocked roe, unpursing it from tender caddies,
as if to split it with the stick and spray it with the milt;
we've weirder ways to fertilise.

Berks, darlings and debbie-calls-them horse-cures, and bops,
imploding from the hearkening. Thoughtfully, the sea's lift-offish vacancies,

blurred with fetch and carry.

Fatty orchids, the bog's
blue lymph slumping through marsh avens
bog asphodel, grass of parnassus

the bridge a wobbleboard
of rusted iron


Adrift of the desire path
draining mangroves
of sundew and tormentil.


Hooves too hot and big
until they hit the desire path
which sweeps me along
like a seabean or satellite

through cuckoo spit
and knee deep heather


paroxysm of midges

that Mendelsohn march in my head
like a hookworm

a dog barking furiously across
the valley


the opulent park and
the mussed rough

golfers becalmed
on the course trundling

spraying their pocked roe
and pursuing it with
tenacious caddies

as if to spray them
with the milt


the murder stone broadcasts

its dilute curse


thankfully the sea's
lavish verges blued
with vetch and comfrey

bees, starlings, and davey

calls them horse-gocks

and whaups exploding
from the heather

Friday, 5 November 2010

(34) Outlandia

‘How can one square longing
for distance with settledness.’

– Friederike Mayrocker, tr. by Richard Dove

Could you think and write your way past Romanticism and if so where would you get to?

– Tracey Warr

Our mountain temple, Ryushakuji is the mountain hut, Outlandia

Ken Cockburn, 2010

In the desmesne of Lochaber the mountain platform called Outlandia. Founded by London Fieldworks, unusually spruce quiet place. "You must go and see it," Malcolm urged; from here off past The Fort a mile or so. Sun not yet out. Reserved space at chalet nearby, then climbed to platform on slope. This mountain one of rocky slopes, larch plantations and birch, brown needles and stone and smooth moss, and at the end of the boardwalk hut doors locked, no sound. Unlocked the door, opened the window catch with the key and sat down, composing the view, sublime scene, profound quietness, heart/mind open clear.

silence itself is
in the rock absorbing

cicada sounds

silence is inside

before we arrive

after we leave

Basho, Oku no hosomichi, May 27 (July 13) 1689, Ryushakuki Temple Alec Finlay, Ken Cockburn, the road north, August 22, 2010, Outlandia

(‘Silence is inside / before we arrive / after we go’, AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010 ]

34circle poem (silence)

Alec Finlay, 2010

Lime Tree

Before we go to the mountain hut we’ve a reading to do at the Lime Tree in Fort William, hosted by Tracey, Bruce & Jo. I have in my head it’s a café but the hotel receptionist is quick to point out they’ve a Michelin-starred chef. And its own gallery, where we read. Here we meet our first Outlandians: Jo and Bruce of London Fieldworks and their toddler son Jetson, Tracey Warr – artist, writer, mentor – who's been walk-commuting to the hut for the past week, Alex and Margaret who've lived their lives on and around the Ben, and Norman, ex-champ downhill skier, who built the hut.

The reading's a review of the road so far, with verses criss-crossing our many places. Eck reads his mesostics ‘F-O-R-E-D-W-I-N-M-O-R-G-A-N, i.m. ‘Yeddie’, who died two days previously, and whose toast we continue to declaim, ‘Schiehallion! Schiehallion! Schiehallion!’.


What is Outlandia?

Ken and I read the station, Ryushakuki | Outlandia. For Basho’s journey this was the pivot of enligtenment: profound quietness, heart/mind open clear. Could this guide Jo & Bruce in their need to determine the purpose of their hut: what is Outlandia? What is its silence?

Bruce and I chat about the renga platforms I’d made in the 90s, which share with Outlandia the fundamentals of inscape and outlook. All I can advise is wait, don’t worry you don’t yet know what you’ve made; use determines meaning; walls and windows gather patina over time.

Let use-less-ness be this hut’s Outlandish virtue. Allow each resident – for by definition anyone who visits has been an ‘artist-in-residence’ – to answer the question why am I here on the walk up the steep path, to answer in their own way on the walk down. Word spreads composite definition(s).

Listening, the people at the reading are welcomed into that process of definition.


Apache Ranch

Next morning we head for the Fort, Outlandia bound, playing Neil Young’s Jukebox, as we pass by one of Eck’s iconic memory-buildings, from bus trips of yore.

34 Great Glen Cattle Ranch

Ken Cockburn, 2010

We mosey around, then Eck goes back to the car, opens the doors and turns up the volume, nerr-now nerr-nerr-now nerr-nerr-nooow – Apache!

34 audio, Apache
Alec Finlay, 2010

34 hokku-label
('ranch-hands & stockmen & cowboys / & steers & cattle & collies / all lost in the clouds', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Braveheart to Boardwalk

Jo & Bruce imagined Outlandia; Malc and Niall of Malcolm Fraser Architects – we stayed with Malcolm at Lochailort – designed it; but Norman had the task of construction on this remote hillside. From Braveheart car park we take the steep peat track up – Up! – to Cow Hill . There are other routes in, one by Dun Dearsail, via the West Highland Way.

These verses are our Outlandian word-map, intermixed with words of Li Qi, Friedericke Mayrocker, Norman Clark and Tracey Warr. (The ‘angels’ wings’ are secular, being funghi).


bright rowanberries
show the way –

the path’s ditch’s
edged with alders

scarlet rowans

and the last late wet

wild rasps of summer

seasons change

raspberry darkens

to bramble

life’s path’s

light and shade

a raindrop

about to fall

Norman says imagine this walk up

with a plank of wood

heavy on your back

how can one square longing
for distance with settledness?

could you think and write
your way past Romanticism

if so
where would you get to?

drifting to the end

of the boardwalk

we'll be havin’ some fun

clouds come and go

like a carousel

walks come and go to

it’s all “making-up”
and “making real”’

the most dangerous thing

was the dropping of the bags

of concrete from the sky

clearing a stand of spruce

to make a hut of larch

made from the trees cleared

(though they’d to be helicoptered
back up the slope)

this hut has a mast
this is a crow’s nest
a woodshed

this building

is a window
with walls wrapped around

this is an Odd Pod
an A-dream

a toadstool

this shoogle-shack
will give you vertigo

its floor is
a frottage cottage
its roof
an angel’s wing

this is Larch View

along Mushroom Lane

this mountain home

used to belong to Han Shan

to all those who come here

what’s before you is silence

and what comes after you
is silence

so leave something behind

but nothing on the ground

ridges & peaks lean over

desk and chair

the log’s rings
a silent record

out of the window

down the hill

into the world

mist rising up from the dim lush glen

people walking up into mist

people & gods

linked by the view before us

in these Highlands

angels’ wings

thrive at altitude

walk at the foot of Mount Fuji

gaze up at the snowy peak

play our new game

cloud obscures mountain

paper absorbs cloud

mountain pulps paper

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('our new game is / paper cloud mountain / cloud obscures mountain / paper absorbs cloud / mountain pulps paper', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('the last / late wet / wild rasp / of summer', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('life is a path / of light and shade / a raindrop / about to fall', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('it’s carbon dioxide / attracts the midges / all you need do / to keep them off / is stop breathing', KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('Norman says imagine / the walk with a plank / of wood heavy / on your back', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('drifting to the end / of the boardwalk / we'll be having fun', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 ('Morning glory', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Outlandia (arr.)

As the drifters we are, we walk the boardwalk, pine-sheltered, mushroom-flanked. Approaching the aspect is 2D – just as Jo said it would be – primed for a Keatonish fall through an open door into the forest –but no, inside’s a deck which, like a ship, or a suspension bridge, or a tree in the wind, shifts around with us. Crude wooden seat/table, block of wood, broom. The first rite’s the key-trick, enlightenment opens the window/view to mountains through larches. Purpose settles around well-made things. The guard over the window’s a poem-rail, so we leave our poems a-flutter for the next visitor.

34 Outlandia interior

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Barno, temple dog

Alec Finlay, 2010

34 Ben Nevis double vision

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 A libation

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Clouds come and go, sometimes clearing from Carn Dearg, never from Ben Nevis. We open our Dew and libate on the block before drinking in view of its source. Ken wantonly nibbles on Jo’s angels’ wings, raw for lunch – not a strong taste, but pleasant, moist, good with oatcakes.

34 Angels' wings
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Outlandia exterior

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('from Shakey Toun / with Skakey's juke-box / to this shoogley hut', KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Standing on the slope looking back up at the hut, it seems to float in its own space supported by two metal anchor chains and a tree-trunk mast which doesn't reach the ground. A second look shows the metal pole that’s run through the trunk and sunk into concrete ground.

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('HAN / SHAN', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('R-O-C-K', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Sora’s Reflection
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)

Outlandia (dep.)

If the key-trick’s one rite, sweeping the hut out when you leave’s another. Locking the door behind us, sun’s out.

34 Basho, Outlandia

Alec Finlay, 2010

34 Sora, Outlandia

Ken Cockburn, 2010

On the way down we collect angels' wings for Annie, and Ken leaves a wish for his sister on a rowan in the car-park.

34 Angels wings

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Braveheart rowan wish

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Eck makes a promise to donate a letterbox (WWLB 082) for Outlandia, poem as passport stamp, summarising its making. (Which he does at Loch Ruthven, handing it over to Bruce on the bus to the opening of Outlandia).

34 circle poem (of a hut)
for Niall & Malc
Alec Finlay, 2010

And a set of pencils, for use. Temples attract gifts and myths.

Another gift for the hut was Adam Dant’s map which sees the hut as it’s seen, upside-down, from the roots of the Great Glen mntns.


Outlandia (meso.)



The Glen of…?

34 hokku-label
('Terror or Paradise glen / depending on the root / and derivation', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Further up the glen’s more characterful than the W face of Brute Nevis. We stop by the falls at Achriabhrach, eating brambles, arranging fourteens.

34 fourteens (ash-keys for Isobel)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label
('so many keys / so few locks')
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The bridge’s metal handrail is well grafittoed but the upstream side is almost blanked by the river-spray; the downstream side's clearer.

34 Bridgepage
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At the end of the road we sit below the white spout of An Steall Ban, imagine Lushan.

34 An Steall Ban

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Watching the Lushan Waterfall

the sun shining on the Incense Burner raises the purple mists
from far away the waterfall can be seen hanging from the Front Stream
down it comes rushing, for three thousand feet
you’d think it was the Milky Way, falling from the ninefold heavens

Li Bai, trans. Brian Holton


34 hokku-label
('these are some / of the lines / we didn't include / in the poem', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


The coda for Outlandia is an extract from an essay by its first resident, Tracey Warr, composed August 2010; and builder extraordinaire Norman Clark’s Outlandian Ode.


Approaching Outlandia … I think of my childhood treehouse in a holly tree from where I squirted the annoying boy next door with a water pistol, ate jam sandwiches, read Enid Blyton and Swallows and Amazons. Damp seeps into my clothes after a while of sitting. The completely waterproof swim-hike bag would be useful here to keep your papers and dry clothes dry. I want to design a writer’s toolbelt to walk with – customised clinches for pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, small notepad, spare ink cartridges, map, reading glasses, camera. Outlandia makes me think of other dramatic writers’ shacks like Dylan Thomas’ shed at Laugharne overlooking the stupendous blues and birds of the estuary. I like the discipline of coming up here each day. When I walk across the room the structure sways with me and the metal window-hook hanging on the wall knocks against the wood shadowing my footsteps, so that momentarily I think I am not alone. The wooden space is empty except for a log to sit on, a makeshift table and the astonishing view out the window across to Meall-an-t and the tourists’ path up to the Ben Nevis summit. Outlandia is a concentration space, a no distraction space, a get on with it space.

Even when there is the urge to be ascetic and minimal, to abstain from the stuff of consumer culture, how we need things. At Outlandia we are already needing a key, a chair, a table, a ladder to clean the pine cones from the skylight, a kettle powered by battery, sun, wind or water. But, writes Elaine Scarry (whose book I have carried up here with me), ‘the general phenomenon of invention could not possibly originate in the perception of need, for the vast and unanticipatable benefits of the object bear no resemblance to anything conjured up by the narrow word “need”’. In Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe ‘his reconstruction of civilization, is from a very early moment characterized by surfeit. [He] wilfully “makes” merely to make.’

Outlandia is the new echo of the ruined, rimed, Victorian weather observatory on the summit of Ben Nevis. The speed of weather coming up the Glen and moving fast across the face of Meall-an-t. Wispy white clouds love the mountain, flow into its gullies. They are like slow smoke on the hill. Now they swirl grey, clothing the mountain, draping it, shrouding it. Rain comes down hard. Suddenly the black clouds lift like a striptease, like a theatre-curtain, revealing a green mountainside streaked with white boulders, a veiny network of burns, brown heather, sun-lit circles. The colour of everything is subtly altered after its rain-washing, the green refreshed, the white more vivid. Now the cloud is horizontal, skirting the tops, scudding.

Looking through treetops, across and below to moss and fern. Immersed in a green world. Earth’s colour swatch. Emerald, lime, grass green, bottle green, lizard green, grasshopper green, jade, verdant, greenwood, viridescent, malachite, beryl, jungle green, Lincoln green, pea green, sea green, sage, celadon, viridian, bice, chlorophyll, leaf green, olive, chartreuse, jealous green, salad-days, greenhorn, apple green, green fingers, greengrocer, Green Man. Green is the colour that the human eye is most acutely tuned to because of our heritage as hunter-gatherers, woodlanders.

Scarry writes of ‘the tyranny of green things’. She says that the natural world is immune, inanimate, inhuman, indifferent, dispassionate, and that we build cities shutting out the green world to soothe our distress at the reminder of mortality visible in greenness – the process of organic growth and decay which we are also, irretrievably, implicated in. She writes that the objects we make are compassion-bearing. ‘Objects exist to remake human beings to be warm, healthy, rested, acutely conscious, large-minded’. Yes the rotting brown mush of old mushrooms, the fallen trees, the age of the rocks and the landscape compared to me, are a memento mori, but being here is also Joy. Some things you don’t want to write about or photograph, just look, just be. A month-long residency in Outlandia as a journal of continuous thought. Could you think and write your way past Romanticism and if so where would you get to?

Tracey Warr from ‘Beginning a Residency in Outlandia, Glen Nevis’

Outlandia, Glen Nevis

My Work is near done here
You may thank the lord,

My back is well bent

From carrying board.

But my spirit is lifted

As high as the Ben

And I'd think very carefully
If you asked me again
To build a POD up in the trees

A task that has brought Me to my knees

As the Buzzards fly around me ears,
A woodpecker hammers somewhere near,

A squirrel red runs around my feet,
The Roe deer and Red deer we also did meet,

To work in these woods
To work with these woods,

Oh what a delight

It's just the humans

That causes the blight

Leave nothing behind

We are told,

Well I leave here now

Refreshed to the sole

Now record in your way,

What you see, hear and feel

Pass it onto some others

For that is the deal

To all those who come here
Leave something behind

Just don't leave it lying

On this beautiful ground.

Norman Clark


Outlandia: the website

London Fieldworks was formed in 2000 by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson as an umbrella organisation for creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology intersection. Typically, their projects engage with the notion of ecology as a complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds.

The Arts Catalyst commissions contemporary art that experimentally and critically engages with science, producing provocative, playful, risk-taking artists' projects to spark dynamic conversations about the changing world.

Malcolm Fraser architects find simple solutions to complex problems. Their work aims to be open, inclusive and collaborative, fostering rich human relationships with the natural and built environment.

Tracey Warr is a writer, curator and teacher. Her publications include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000) and essays in Panic Attack!: Art in the Punk Years (Merrell, 2007), Art, Lies and Videotape (Tate, 2002), London Fieldworks: Syzygy/Polaria (Black Dog, 2002) and a film interview with Marcus Coates for The Dawn Chorus (Bristol: Picture This DVD Publication Series, 2007).