Thursday, 7 July 2011

(53) the hidden gardens

So leben wir, und nehmen immer Abschied.
(So too our life, an ongoing goodbye.) 

– Rilke, Eighth Duino Elegy

Our Joko’s house, the demesne of Ogaki is the hidden gardens, back of tramway

Bashoing the hidden gardens

Luke had come to tramway to meet us. Reached the seclusion of the familiar brick and raised beds of the hidden gardens by Scotrail, Irfan having also come in from London and Angus came speeding in with the kids on the mainline, got together at the Yurt. Larry, Colin, Margaret, Morven & Gerry, as well as other friends, day and night, kindly called, as if encountering someone restored to life, showing their pleasure and warm affection. Before fully recovering from the exhaustion and exertion of the long journey, on the final day of the season, decided to visit the old woodland platform. With the wooden books sheltering under the big oak, back on the train again
pulling mussels 
from a shell  

parting the paired 
tea cups  

May leaves
lead this journey 
back into memory

(May 15, 2011)

53 the road north  
Alec Finlay, 2011


53 Tomohiko Ogawa
An e-mail arrives on the 11th from Tomohiko.

Today I sent you a package of green tea for the Matsuri Festival in Glasgow. It will be arrive hopefully 14th, it might be 15th. If you have it in 14th, please bring it and serve it at Glasgow. If it's not in the date, please take it to the road north trip.

The tea is taken in Yame (Yame is written with eight women in chinese chracter), and the place is well known as good quality tea and also it was well known as great early exporter of tea for Europe. Yame is not so far from where now I live.

The place is very far from Fukushima (probably Fukushima has been known as same as Hiroshima and Nagasaki now), so you don't have to worry about nuclear.

53 Tomohiko's tea
Ken Cockburn, 2011

the way west

On the 11.00 train Waverley–Queen Street, over a thermos of puerh, we adapt station (53). It goes fine until that dense closing hokku, which we puzzle over between Linlithgow and Falkirk.

the hamaguri  
shell and innards parting 
departing fall

Eck puns on the Squeeze song 'Pulling Mussels from a Shell', and finds the line, ‘parting the paired cups’, referring to the two tea-bowls Lorna gave us before the first road trip a May ago. They’ve come on our journeys, and then sat together on the shelf in Ken’s new flat, until Eck, who stayed there last night, brought ‘his’ bowl with him today, leaving the other behind.

53 Eck's tea-bowl
Luke Allan 2011

The train is busy. Before we pull out, a young policeman walks through the carriage, disembarks. There are two football matches taking place in the west today, with the championship at stake, though you’d be hard pressed to make either the kick-off from this train. Shoppers, more likely, though we can’t imagine they’re the policeman’s concern.

As we walk down Buchanan Street towards Central Station, Eck talks about his first football match, the infamous 1980 Celtic-Rangers cup final, won by a sclaffed deflected Danny McGrain 'shot', which he remembers more for being hit in the face by a can of tennants flung from a Rangers bus that took the wrong road in to the game, and the riot afterwards, sparked when a wee Celtic fan ran onto the pitch, kicked a ball into the goal at the Rangers’ end, and flicked them the Vs.


Ken’s glad his own memories of Starks Park can’t compare. The first game saw go Raith went 2-0 down to Falkirk, before winning 4-2, which he found excitingly satisfactory.


53 the hidden gardens  
Luke Allan, 2011

Luke & Colin are already at the hidden gardens when we arrive. Colin, just back from a week in North Uist, shows us photos of Langais Wood – new display boards, letterboxes among the trees, stamps in his notebook.

53 Langais  
Colin Will, 2011

Eck and Andy are in constant discussion about how to stop the boxes from flooding in horizontal Uist rain: option (A) alter the lid, option (B) alter the rain.

53 Bharpa Langais  
photograph by Dana Macphee, 2010

Colin still couldn’t bring himself to crawl into that ancient hillside chamber.

53 Irfan 
David Williams, 2001

Next to arrive is Irfan, up from London, after getting in touch via the blog and sending some haiku we’ll read today. We haven’t seen him since the pocketbooks days, ten years ago. He was our poster-boy, the wonderful David Williams’ shot of him in turban and grandpa shirt gracing the cover of Wish I was here.

53 Morven 
Luke Allan, 2011

53 Gerry 
Luke Allan, 2011 

In the café Morven and Gerry arrive as we’re finishing, so we leave them the table. At the yurt the first tea-flasks are set up, Granny’s Green Cherry Tea (as Eck calls it) and a rich Black Gabalong.
We scan the clouds for any sign of a helicopter, its direction of travel an oracle for the way the championship’s headed. The shouts from a nearby block of flats suggest someone’s scored, but who?

We say hello to as many of the guests as we can, some of whom we met on the road. It’s disorientating and delightful to find them all here in one place on one day. Emma (Loch Insh), Ella (Falkland), Pat & Andy (Luing), Margaret (Dunira), Colin (Langais), Gerry & Morven (Carbeth, Glen Fruin), Isobel, Lorna and Holly (Kilmartin), Angus, Mark and Tana (Edo), Maris (Kinloch Rannoch), a This-Is-Your-Life moment, with the wooden books of the Xylotheque as The Big Red Leather Book.

53 Gathering, Woodland Platform  
Luke Allan, 2011

We’d planned to read with our backs to the Woodland Platform but the crowd beat us to the only shelter available. While they huddle against the drizzle we each take our turn on the gravel stage. A glance back, no sign yet of Mr Tarahara, the Japanese Consul.

53 Maris & Angus  
Andy Law, 2011


53 Colin's ceremony
Luke Allan, 2011

Colin begins with drum and chimes. Margaret sings our pair for the women's rice-harvest song of Shirakawa, ‘Gradh geal mo chridh’ (I would plough with you and reap'). We read the poem's prologue. 

when was it I first had that dream of roving the glens up and down guided by Basho’s oku? leaving behind the pink lanes of gean blossoming in The Meadows heading off to look for Shirakawa...
Taking us back a year to setting-out at Bonnington Road, the Pilrig Park cherry-blossom, and stops along the way.

53 wish, cherry blossom, Pilrig Park  
Paul Edgerley, 2011

ten years on this old house 260 is our degree zero not all the vista but still a start gean pink again in Pilrig Park and a flitting in the offing

swopping one hill view for another familiar streets Pilrig, Rosslyn, Bonnington exchanged for hills Tinto, The Buchaille, Roshven

Names that touch us more than we knew they ever would.


53 reading, Angus Reid
Luke Allan, 2011

53 reading, Larry Butler
Luke Allan, 2011

53 reading, Ken & Alec
Luke Allan, 2011

53 Margaret
Luke Allan, 2011

The centrepiece of the day is a word-map of Scotland. Of course, we haven't covered the whole country, still it's a start. 9 readers read 100 place-name hokku, which we've gathered from a range of contributors, listed on the website. To read the word-map, or to download the complete reading, click here.

***the road north: an audio word-map of Scotland

***Track 1. Margaret Bennett's 'Gradh geal mo chridh'
***Track 2. Basho & Sora's introduction
***Track 3. Alec Finlay (1 - 11) *** 
      Track 4. Morven Gregor (12-22) ***
      Track 5. Irfan Marchant (23-33) *** 
      Track 6. Larry Butler (34-44) ***
      Track 7. Margaret Bennett (45-55) *** 
      Track 8. Gerry Loose (56-66) *** 
      Track 9. Colin Will (67-77) ***
      Track 10. Angus Reid (78-88) ***
      Track 11. Ken Cockburn (89-100)
***Track 12. Rewriting Basho's last station *** 
      Track 13. Margaret Bennett's 'Grioal cridhe' (Glen Lyon's Lament)*** 
      Track 14. Mr Tarahara's Kojo no tsuki (ruined castle)
   *(Recording by Alexander Maris, 2011)

53 Mr Tarahara  
Luke Allan, 2011

Mr & Mrs Tarahara have arrived and we agree what he’ll do and when. Eck and Ken read the Basho adaptation for this station. Margaret sings the great lament of Glen Lyon, which we last listened to after our swim on that scorchio day June 21, 2010. To close Mr Tarahara speaks of how we shall all someday ruin. We couldn't agree more. And sings ‘Kojo no tsuki’ (ruined castle).

53 the road north 
Luke Allan, 2011
Eck says: I’m sure it was on Neil Young's jukebox, that bluesy classic of the road: 'We are all gonna be a ruined castle someday’.

Tomohiko adds: 'Kojo no Tsuki' is the song for ruined castle and moon. It’s a interesting coincidence that I am living in Oita prefecture now where there is the ruin of the castle in that song. I haven't visit there yet but I will visit someday not for far future.

the hidden gardens

It's always a pleasure to wander in the hidden gardens, and from what people tell us after, the quiet performance has a calm that fits. Jim McGonigall writes to say it was 'absolutely memorable, strange, human and spiritual.' Our minds go back to the twenty-four hour renga we composed here a few years ago, moon rising over a sleeping city, the first train at dawn and a bow to Peter Manson's marathon contribution.

53 Nest-box, The Parliament of the Birds (Alec Finlay, 2004) 
Luke Allan, 2011

The nest-boxes have been redone. The wooden books have survived well, the oak's girth's expanded, and Angus, the gardens' founder, is here – Angus who whose trail we've followed from Achnabrek, through Glen Lyon to The Quiraing – with his 2 girls bonny and growing.
  53 Xylotheque (Alec Finlay, 2004)
Luke Allan, 2011  

coda: The Mainline To The Shallow South

as if the endless sari 
of Draupadi  
unravelled at the matsuri

born this way – 
ballet dancers  
in the Tramway

rereading Calvino  
Why Read The Classics? 
on the Virgin Pendolino

last night in Carlisle  
Lady Gaga  
was all about style 

the craving's begun – 
no cigarette 
till London

counting every sacred cow  
to be here now

coda: gallery 

53 woodland platform
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label
('now the poem's over / it's able / to begin again', KC)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label
('I kept seeing the birds / flying in and out / of the boxes / during the reading', KC)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label
('May leaves / lead this journey / back into memory', KC)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label
('as it should / the last tea / has a tang / of seaweed', KC)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label
('pulling mussels / from a shell // parting the / paired cups', AF)
Luke Allan, 2011 

53 hokku-label
('one helicopter / doesn't make / a summer', AF)
Luke Allan, 2011 

53 hokku-label
('silver birches / green city shade / reclaimed ground', anon)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label (Irfan Merchant)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 hokku-label (Irfan Merchant)
Luke Allan, 2011

53 wish
Luke Allan, 2011

53 wish
Luke Allan, 2011 

53 yurt gathering (L-R: Angus, Alec, Ken, Larry, Morven, Gerry)
Luke Allan, 2011


Kojo no tsuki was composed in 1901 by Japanese pianist and composer Rentarō Taki. The music of the song was inspired by the ruins of Oka Castle. You can view the arrangement here, and the Japanese lyrics and their English translation here.

the hidden gardens are situated on what was once a debris field of bricks and rubble harking back to the partial demolition of the building in 1987-88.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

(9) Monreith

‘hide a stone among stones

a man among men’

- Akira Kurowsawa, Hidden Fortress

Our Joboji would have been Tom Pow, but he’s away in Lebanon

Our shrines to inspect are Celtic Christian and Neolithic: chapels of Ninian and Medan, The Wren’s Egg and Nest; our temple there called Shugen-komyoj is St Medana’s Chapel down among the rocks

Our Inuoumono, the dog-shooting field, is Gavin Maxwell’s basking shark fishery, Soay, and the memorial to him here at Elrig

Our Nasu reed-brakes are ‘medan’, the cliff-top meadows of the Rhinns of Galloway

Our Tamamo-no-mae's tomb is St Medan’s stone-boat by the chapel, the hawthorn and well, found and not.

Our native land has turned gorse-yellow, Salmond-yellow

Our prayer is to our boots, that they be waterproof without waterproofing for one last trip

9 ‘Last few days’

Alec Finlay, 2011

‘Last few days’: the road south-west

Ken starts his civic day voting at the Ebeneezer Chapel in Bangor Road – then drops off a bag of books at at St Andrew’s & St George’s on George St, for the annual Christian Aid book fair. Books bought there in the past are still unread, so now he’s happier to give than to receive.

He drives slowly through morning traffic as Eck’s train pulls out slowly from Newcastle Central. Past Tollcross it’s quiet and soon the car skirts the Pentlands on the A702, as the train shuffles along The Wall towards Carlisle. Rain’s forecast later but for now the weather’s fine. Ken stops for tea and wifi at Annandale Water, scenic services remembered from long-past family and SPL van trips; Eck empties his flask of dark puerh cup by cup.

Our ways intersect at Dumfries without mishap. We head west beneath still fair skies, though by the time we stop at Bladnoch the rain’s on. At the distillery we forgo the tour and the venerable bottles for a 46% miniature – from a choice of labels we opt for a Wigtown-Scotland’s-Book-Town stack of books rather than Burns and scenery

(KC, AF)

Isle of Whithorn

9 hokku-label
(the flag of the Fifth kingdom, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Our first stop proper is at Isle of Whithorn. Bladnoch’s as far as Ken’s been before, so the Machars is new territory for him. The land is fairly flat and, despite proximity to the sea, with rain reducing visibility we feel landlocked – views defined by gorse and cattle. We follow the blue P round past the harbour, and an optimistic berth.

angled rain

safe & dry
in the car

an ironical boat
in the harbour


The locals say
on a clear day
you may see
four Kingdoms from here

& the fifth Kingdom

whose flag is
sometimes grey
sometimes blue

and which
translate into
Radio Scotland on-FM-and-Medium-wave
BBC Ulster
Radio Cumbria
Man FM
Celestial Radio

9 The Chapel

Ken Cockburn, 2011

St Ninian’s Chapel is a short walk away. By the time Ken’s gathered thoughts and necessities from the car Eck’s poemed, and drunk a cup of lukewarm Jasmine tea – that thermos from Lewis is on the wane, new-filled it’s hot near the neck.

The first wee beach is mirrored by another, 30 yards away, like Eilean nan Gobhar. The drystane walls on the approach are thick with lichen, but the ruined chapel itself is well-maintained, tidy stone and shorn grass, sans wildflowers of say Sand or Kilmarie.

9 Sora’s cloistered window

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Although haphazard, the Witness Cairn’s permanent-markered stones are fastidious compared to our transient labeling.

9 The Witness Cairn

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 i.m. Kenneth Kay

Alec Finlay, 2011

It’s cold and windy. May, and we agree not bringing gloves was a mistake. Eck returns to the car for shelter while Ken investigates an odd square white structure at the headland – no idea what it is.

Nearby’s a second Solway Harvester memorial – the first one, ‘Erected by the Freemasons’, sits outwith the Witness Cairn wall. A scallop dredger, Solway Harvester sank off Man in January 2000 with the loss of seven crew. One suspicion was nets became entangled with a submarine which dived, dragging the boat under, but the final report raised concerns over maintenance.

(AF, KC)

Tale of the stone woman

St Medan's 'boat'

9 'St Medan's boat'

Courtesy Les Dunford, 2011

At Dunadd we saw the footfall of King or Queen or Witch imprinted in rock, here there’s a whole woman, man or boat, Medan, depending how you open the name:

Nadokoro Medan

for Medan

read maiden

for Medan

read Edan, Etain

for Medan

read Medoin

for Medan

read Moninne


for Medan

read Muadan

my Aedan

for Medan

read Modan

friend of St Drostan

(our translation)

for Medan

read cliff-top meadow

Rhinns of Galloway

There being no consensus. let’s agree: Saintly man or Saintly woman, probably from Ireland, in the era of tidal influx associated with Ninian, whose cave is nearby.

The shape-shifting of myths and beliefs gives us Medan as our pairing with Lady Tamamo, the fox spirit who assumes the guise of a seductive woman. That story originally Indian: Kalmasapada, a king, was born of a union between his father and a female tiger. Fierce he was, and with stripy legs.



In the Japanese tale Yasube no Yasunari exorcised Lady Tamamo’s fox spirit, revealing its true form.



She was then hunted over the reedy plains of Nasu where Miura no Suke Akira shot her through with an arrow.




This gave Basho reason to mention the dog-shooting competition. Lady Tamamo’s ghost was transformed into the Sesshoseki rock.




This noxious moth-killing stone we paired with the Murder Stone by Tingwall, which Jen visited last summer.




Eventually, through the guidance of Minamoto Kazunao, Tamamo was enlightened. For more details see the Noh play Sesshoseki.

9 The Murder Stone, Tingwall

Jen Hadfield, 2010

Tamamo-no-mae’s tomb

Nasu Kogen 那須高原 - Sesshou seki 殺生石

9 Nasu Kogen, Sesshou seki
courtesy Nekoguchi, 2011

9 the stones of Kirkmaiden

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Haec Loca

9 Maxwell Memorial

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Heading down toward the bay we come across the memorial to Gavin Maxwell out on the cliff-top. This was his childhood home, on the family estate – Maxwell was a Percy of Northumberland, but they’d family lands at Monreith.

9 otter & Sora

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 Kirkmaiden may

Ken Cockburn, 2011

There’s white may, though the hawthorn, mindful of the searing wind, is cooried down in the scrub. There’s a signpost pointing the way we’re not going.

9 Clarksburn

Ken Cockburn, 2011

'Take the last path to Clarksburn, and I’ll meet you at the seaside’, as the Monkees might have sung.

9 Mounted Archery Chasing Dogs circa 1896, Japan.

Maxwell is our pair for the Inuoumono Basho records: the ancient dog-shooting field, where skilled warriors practiced for the hunt. The author of Ring of Bright Water, one of the classic idylls of wild nature written in the last century, killed over 1000 basking sharks during his ill-fated fishery on Soay (1945-48). Kathleen Jamie records how

Rifles and ammunition were never far from hand. ‘We were raised to hunt’. he says. Indeed, before Camusfearna, Maxwell had already had a short-lived and ruinous career as a basking-shark fisherman, laying waste to those huge creatures. Raised to hunt, indeed, but observant enough to notice that the fox had undigested sand-hoppers in its droppings. Two pages after the fox-slaughter, Maxwell professes ‘a love of living creatures’. He has, he says the ability to ‘make a conscious effort to put myself in the animal’s position.’

(Kathleen Jamie, ‘Ring of Bright Water’, London Review of Books)

9 Kirkmaiden otter

Ken Cockburn, 2011

When Kathleen visited Sandaig she found piles of frogs’ legs at the mouth of the burn; not the aftermath of some teenagers’ massacre but the work of otters, a natural killing field.

9 hokku-label

(‘flame will / claim you’, AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Camusfearna / Sandaig’s also where Ken left a verse of Valerie Gilles' last August.
'The lost cascade’ is a translation of the name of the Allt Caillte waterfall on Sleat.

the sound of the lost cascade
reaches out
beyond the sea

Valerie Gillies)

9 audio: Valerie Gillies,
'St Medan'
Alec Finlay, 2011

Eck tags the otter’s paw. The same flames that cast this memorial would destroy Camusfearna, killing Edal, enacting the curse that ended Maxwell’s idyll.

Medan (East Coast)

9 Kirkmaiden Chapel

Ken Cockburn, 2011








We’re seeking our stone-boat man-woman, Medan. Eck used to holiday down here, at Port William, and has dredged up a cinematic memory of visiting the stone-boat, which carried a beautiful young woman away over the bay, safe from a lightbob soldier who was bewitched by her eyes. A retelling of the Medan myth set in the Napoleonic era. His gran read the story from a big red book of folk-tales as they sat on the boat-rock, which really did seem as if it could have floated off on a tidal flood, if the need came.

The tale had sunk back into deep memory for years, and then at one of Norman MacCaig’s birthday bashes Eck heard Tom Pow – who Sheena McDonald rudely introduced on stage as the ‘tall, strange-looking one’ – read his retelling of Medan, ‘The Gift of Sight’, it all came flooding back. It was Tom’s poem that suggested to us we should find our way back to Kirkmaiden, the site of the blinding, and of the healing. We’d hoped to meet him here, but today he’s heading for Beirut, as part of Reel Festivals.

9 hokku-label

(‘seen thorn / Medan / seeing spring’, AF, for Valerie Gilles)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 Medan’s blinded eyes AF, after Valerie Gillies

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Now the map’s Gothic letters promise us Kirkmaiden and St Medana’s Well, which we know from Valerie Gillies’ poem in her survey of holy wells The Spring Teller.

St Medana’s Well, Wigtownshire

Medana left Ireland and the man

who stalked her. Stepping onto a rock,

she floated here across the bay.

He followed, tried again to praise her.

She plucked her own eyes out.

You want these? He left unseen.

A disc of blue, the spring is flowing

from the boat-shaped rock

and its strand enters the salt sea.

This is where she washed her face

and somehow she could see again:

the painful stabs of sea holly,

a rock pipit on the cliff,

its streaked breast.

A tight cluster of sea aster

and a great mass of thrift.

Two perfect quartz pebbles

white and smooth as eyeballs.

9 Medan’s blinded eyes

AF, after Valerie Gillies

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 hokku-label

(‘are the ash & the ivy / the only one’s left / to celebrate the arch’, KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

We find Kirkmaiden easily, following the path bending below the golf course – old gravestones, an open enclosure, and a padlocked chapel, the carved arch in good nick, but otherwise cracks and missing slates say disrepair.

9 Kirkmaiden Chapel

Ken Cockburn, 2011

But down the steps to the beach, we don’t find the well or the boat-shaped rock which crossed Luce Bay.

9 hokku-label

(‘myth’s semblance / of shadow / sinks into / cold stone’, AF, for Tom Pow)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Eck’s mythic childhood movie is dissolving in the rain. He walks forlornly up and down the length of the beach looking for the spring of his imagining. There’s nothing harder than being a failed finder.

9 hokku-label

(‘LITTORAL / as far as the sprays / cast / as deep as the sea / reaches’, AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

The skies lower than low, greyer than grey, so we can’t see over the water to Medan’s twinned chapel on the Mull, to the west of the west. That’s the mist we’ll disappear into tomorrow.

Ken has a theory based on observation: the tide isn’t far enough out – below the cliff the big boulders are still sea-buffeted – and he suspects the floaty-stone is one the tide’s still holding onto. We take it in turns to point at the tops of rocks farther and farther out, that one, perhaps, this one, maybe. All the while our boat-stone feels more sunken.

Still, we’ve the poems to imagine. We read Valerie’s poem by the cliff, with the rain soaking the sheets and our fingers freezing. Imaginations consoled, Ken projects a miracle onto the isolated rock safe on the sand. Maybe?

9 hokku-label

(‘you may know the story / you may know the place, / still it’s the poem / that bears the trace’, AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Eck finds his own miracle of the fishes.

9 flying fish, Medan’s angel

Alec Finlay, 2011

On the path back we read Tom’s poem by the brightest hawthorn, and stop for a quick libation of Booktown Bladnoch overlooking the shore, our backs to the putting green. It has to be said, dram 52 isn’t the finest we’ve tasted.

9 audio: Tom Pow, 'St Medan'

Alec Finlay, 2011

9 rock & whisky

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 Sora’s libation: wet meets wetter

Ken Cockburn, 2011

The Wren’s Egg & Nest, Monreith

9 Wrens Egg

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Damp as we are there’s more to do, balancing Christian and pre-Christian. The area between the coast and the Fell of Barhullion, with its fort, is scattered with a rich arc of Neolithic culture: circles, rings, pockled rocks and homesteads, cupped toward the sea highway, as at Dunadd.






Reminders of other places. Benbuie Burn up the glen at Moniave; Dun Troddan Broch in Glenelg; and Craigenvenie at Rannoch.

Is a Stellock a Fankock on a hillock for the sheltering of sheep?

Farther east on the map we enjoy the name Barmeal, and wonder, if we drive through there and go far enough, do we reach the wee hamlet of our dreams, Alldaybreakfast?

9 Wrens Egg

Ken Cockburn, 2011

The monument we pick out is the the Wren’s Egg, still near Monreith; curiously, it’s the single feature that finds its way onto the AA road map, though unnamed on the orange Pathfinder. We follow a single-track road and turn down a farm-track before skirting a just-sprouting crop-field. There’s a mound topped with beech, like Paul Nash’s Whiittingham Clumps, and alongside them nestles the Wren’s Egg.

9 Wrens Egg

Ken Cockburn, 2011

An erratic boulder, a ‘natural’ stone, set down here gently by the cradling of a glacier, like Clach Ossian.

9 Clach Ossian

Ken Cockburn, 2010

The egg stone looks like it’s just been placed – nested – on a bed of fresh compost, with two smaller stones just below it. Eck says, “I wouldn’t like to meet the wren that laid this”; and we share a joke about its alignment with the nearby farms of Low Clone and High Clone. At the fringe of the wood we find Spring’s blue broken egg-shells to place on the mother-stone.

9 Wrens Egg & ‘wren's’ egg

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Back in the car we decide that was the final drenching off the day. At Glen Luce, a wee place the road forgot, the hotel rooms have big warm radiators like in an old school, which become driers for boots, coats, waterproofs, socks, trousers. Now we’re inside the rain has eased. Ken asks what kinds of tea they have. “Just tea, son, just tea”.

9 St Luce Hair cult

Alec Finlay, 2011

St Medan (2): west

Most of what we went to look for we never found – but still it was all grand. Breakfast tv has the SNP on 46 seats, Labour 20, Tories 4, LibDems 2 and Greens 1.

9 West Freugh Wren’s Egg

Ken Cockburn, 2011

We head down to the Rhinns past another, even bigger, Wren’s Egg – there really is something in this cloning lark – towards the westerly Kirkmaiden, St Medan’s Chapel and Cave, down at the very foot of the Mull of Galloway. It’s fairer today but the far shore of Glenluce Bay, where we were yesterday, is still fog-shrouded, extending the voyage of the stone into another dimension of time and space.

When we park we’re welcomed by swifts, on the fence, circling and dipping, accompanying us along the cliff edge, close-calling the thrift, joying in their safe arrival.

East Tarbet and West Tarbet, another narrow neck of land with a beach either side, wider than at Isle of Whithorn.

9 wish, gorse (Rhins of Galloway)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Medan’s meadows

9 Medan’s meadows

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 Meadan's meadows

Ken Cockburn, 2011


***alternate translation:

**a clifftop meadow










**greeN ivy

9 circle poem (‘bobs of drifting thrift nod on the cliff’, AF)

Alec Finlay, 2011

A journey of faith

The big brown bull the other side of the drystone wall we wouldn’t like to be in the same field as backs off when Eck approaches. We’ll call him Tomintoul. The book says the chapel isn’t visible from the clifftop path, and the map’s vague as to its exact location. It’s a journey of faith.

9 Sora's Path of Faith

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Eck chooses the path of ecstasy and risk, heading his boots down a precarious-looking ridge too beautiful with flowers not to brush against death for. Thankful for the little knoll at the end of the dragon’s back. It was one of the loveliest moments of the whole year’s journey, so perfect in its meeting of geology, ecology and poetry.

The plunge was a short-cut to the chapel - not - and he ends up clambering over cliffs, round a point and then back up through a chimney of rock, forsaking the chapel to loll in the meadow, suited to his creed.

9 hokku-label

Ken Cockburn, 2011

sea-meadow hokku


taking the wrong cliff path
trapped among Medan’s

tormentil, primroses, meadow-
sweet and nodding thrift


my path
leads down

marked by flowers
and birdsong


if I’d come looking
for bright flowers

would I have found
the dark chapel?


trending spring
may, primroses

ramsons and every-

9 Sora's Path of Faith

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Ken sticks to the high road of quietude and certainty along the gorse path of life, descending further along. Down on the beach there’s no sign of any chapel – looking back at Eck, shouting to ask if he’s found it gets a thumbs down.

9 Medan's schooner

Alec Finlay, 2011

Clambering between huge rocks to the next bay, and then up to the grassy slope, and still nothing.

9 hokku-label

(for 'cassock' read ‘tussock’ / for ‘saint’ read ‘snail’, KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Another mystery withheld, contenting himself with wildflowers and the ubiquitous snails, Ken thinks it can’t be any further on so give up and head back, and of course it reveals itself, the remains of a drystone wall against a natural cliff.

9 St Medan’s Chapel

Ken Cockburn, 2011

The cave is at the back where a wall has been built up, holding a low iron rectangle a spiderweb’s spun on which marks the entrance to Medan’s original hermitage the chapel was a later extension to.

9 St Medan’s Chapel

Ken Cockburn, 2011

The way the site’s been used is impressive, the two side walls formed by slabs of rock. Ivy grows down from the cliff above, as ivy half-covers the Machars’ Kirkmaiden.

And here’s Sora, back where he started – at the top of Eck’s ridge, looking down to Finlay’s Point. A swift flies low between us. We walk back in a dry fog. The bull’s mingling with the crowds. Three lambs we pass weigh up anxiety against indolence, and shift a bit, but don’t exactly scarper. The swifts are still pegged to the fence.

Come evening, searching for a place to eat, we're enjoying the radio again, tuned to Scotland 'Getting it on' the FM band.


right this is Senga

on the blog

wanting to hear

the whole meat loaf

cause it’s good

right the way through

from The Rhinns to Killin

this is the day

Scotland turned yellow

balancing the best

of her scorn

with her desire

for the ideal

summed up in

Wee Eck’s cheeky grin

As we leave the Rhinns and the count is continuing we take a quick stop to photo the windmills at Ardgour.

9 hokku-label

Ken Cockburn, 2011

9 hokku-label

Ken Cockburn, 2011


the black-headed turbines

prefer to take their turn

on the lower hills

close to the farm

Ailsa Craig: for sale

9 hokku-label

('For Sale, beautiful beaches, bijou beaches; own supply of curling stones. Plentiful bathing. For details apply A. Craig', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

9 yellow, from Kelty to Skye
Ken Cockburn, 2011

By Stranraer the SNP are up into the 50s, Libdems stuck in low single figures. North through Ayrshire, between the news we listen again to old favourites: Neil Young’s Jukebox, classics all; Van Morrison’s St Dominic’s Preview; Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark, which Ken knows vaguely except ‘Raised on Robbery’ which he knows perfectly – probably taped off the radio onto a C120 and played and replayed then taped over and long since discarded. Van Morrison’s ‘Jackie Wilson says’ is great, a tight song, but whatever comes next has him improvising grunts Ken’s less time for (seeing The Last Waltz back in those C120 days, Van didn’t do it for him.)


9 VARYAG memorial, Lendalfoot
Ken Cockburn, 2011

We’re intrigued by a War Memorial sign that has a Russian translation. Pulling in we read a story of loss and failure – a Czarist ship defeated in battle, scuttled, raised and reused by the (Japanese) enemy, sold back to the Russians, sent abroad for renovation, ‘set adrift’ by the Revolution, sold for scrap and finally sinking here off the coast. It’s a big, traditional, heavy, recent, bilingual monument, and we wonder why. An unlikely source of pride for contemporary Russian patriotism. Perhaps it’s a new narrative to counter the old one Ayrshire’s Moscow tells. But it reads too much like a government-approved textbook version of history to be convincing.

the road north

The road north runs through Paisley, specifically Nitshill, once home to the legendary Frances Seneca McDade. Sadly a visit to the crucible of this remarkable mind will have to wait for another occasion, as the Erskine Bridge beckons. We cross the Clyde beneath grey-black clouds, but by the time we reach Loch Lomond (our Matsushima parva, as McDade macaronically might have put it), the sun is more or less out again.

Ken Cockburn, 2011

Eck labels Ben Lomond. The kids in the extended layby step back sensibly from the road as we drive slowly past, but it doesn’t stop them aiming their toy guns at us.

On the radio Ken's eastcoasthometown Kirkcaldy’s the star; David Torrance brings the SNP to 65, and an absolute majority in the new parliament. Eck imagines the measures his namesake will have to take to tone down his smug smirk at victory as he descends to Prestonfield House in a helicopter. The radio presenter suggests it’s been circling, waiting for the magic number. What is it about political leaders ascending from the skies? He involuntarily thinks of Triumph of the Will, and Hitler descending from the skies at Nuremberg; but we democrats respond to theatre too.

At Crianlarich, where we meet the Oban road, Eck says he finds this an incongruous junction, a meeting of two different holidays, Kyle and Argyll.

At Killin we eat with Ken's sister Judith.

coda (I): Jim’s hokku

Although our journey is nearing it's end there are still new poems arriving

Full moon on the loch,
****are you also composing
a fine letter home?

Loch Ken

Rhythm of footsteps,
****the weight in your heart, sighting
the evening star.


Boughs bent with berries
****above waterfall bubbles.
My old eyes lost count.


White breath of cattle
****and hay strands frozen today
in muck round the heck.


Trout underwater
****watch us passing like shadows
of the old gods. Gone.


My ancestor shot
****yours hereabouts. Now speugies
peck at roadside grit.

Newton Stewart

(James McGonigall)

coda (II): Jen’s poem

And this is from Jen on Shetland, after her mulling over Tingwall.

coda (III): Ken’s Triduana

“Medan – whether she was a she or a he – the story about her blinding herself (as in Tom's poem) has to be the story of a woman – it is basically the same story of that St Triduana, who has a chapel here in Edinburgh and one on Papa Westray too. 'Intercession', the first poem in On the flyleaf is about her. But she is a very different character from the fox lady – renouncing rather than seeking power. Perhaps a closer parallel is a selkie? Not that we will find a grave.”


St Triduana’s Well and Chapel, Restalrig:
among the graveyard’s still apparent skull-and-crossbones
there’s a sign, that the chapel keys can be collected
at DECORUM, Painting and Decorating Contractors,
9-5 Weekdays. Somebody’s taken the trouble to mark nearby: PINK FLOYD, NIRVANA, BEAST McPHILLIPS.

The unusual hexagonal chapel was built for James III
above a spring, and the floor-slabs, laid below ground level,
would have been underwater: became, much later, linked
with Triduana, an “obscure Pictish saint”,
who gifted a princely suitor enamoured of her eyes
those eyes on thorns; was granted her desired seclusion.

The waters, like her intercession, the blind’s remeid;
all mere idolatrie, in the Reformers’ eyes,
who tumbled down the upper part: the lower, since
restored, re-roofed, kept dry with pumps, is bare except for
a wooden figure rising above the streams of sunlight,
plotting a king’s descent into humility.

High up on the outside wall, somebody’s taken the trouble to record, twice, with a permanent marker, the name: SHEREE.
The enormous trees are beginning their meditations on autumn,
and beyond the ordered, secular windows of
the Pensions Department, in which so much has been invested,
the golden-antlered flanks of Holyrood unfold.

Where a well-house stands, the chapel’s
miniature double, exact
down to the floral bosses,
but pumpless: mosses thrive,
and a pipe dribbles water into a pool of water.

A small-mesh grill bars
the aperture, bars touch,
taste, the chance to test it,
but wishes are still admitted;
coins, their remnants, dot the flooded chamber’s floor.


St Medan’s Chapel: grid square reference and summary at Geograph

Tom Pow is a poet as well as writer of young adult novels, picture books, radio plays and travel literature. In The Becoming, Selected and New Poems was published by Polygon in June 2009.

Valerie Gillies' collections of poetry include Each Bright Eye (1977), Tweed Journey (1989), The Lightning Tree (2002) and The Spring Teller (2008).

Jen Hadfield wrote Almanacs (Bloodaxe) in Shetland and the Western Isles in 2002, winning an Eric Gregory Award for the work in 2003. Nigh-No-Place, written in Canada and Shetland, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2007 and won the T.S.Eliot Prize for poetry in 2008.