For Duncan Munro & Mary McNab

We are going through Glen Urquhart
out of our eyes in our enlightened minds
by Milton and Polmaily. That is
Saint Mailie’s Pool. Then

A sign pointing to the right up a hill

B & B

It is a steep twisting forest of a road,
going on for ever in a highland day
in that three-quarters of a mile.
but we arrive at Rychraggan, Slope of the Rock.

Ducks walk across as we arrive at the cottage’s
gable end. We pass through a wrought-iron gate
and go by gravelled path to the front door.
We knock and wait.

A scene glorious as any twelfth day
down the glen
to a glimpse of a rectangle of Loch Ness
with the sun beating out of a cove of blue sky above.

The hills a hazed backcloth for eyes on their unculled
stocks. As our feet a garden enclosed by stone dyke,
richly coloured with a bed of annual flowers,
orange, red, purple, white and green.

And over the wall, to the right, on the moorland,
a rowan tree heavy with berries looks older that its years.
A group of young crows on the wall rise into the sky. They
swoosh and swirl, turning on their many selves,
the sky alive with their triangulated, silhouetted
wings. A shot cracks the silence out of the hill. The crows
float in their space. Down the glen the loch
has moved in its own waves.

At the door Mrs Macdonald stands to welcome us.

Duncan Glen, from Selected New Poems 1987–1996

The Silver Darlings

They had never been so far from land...
Neil Gunn


All afternoon the sun burned your forehead and face,
driving for miles through peatscrapes,
bare rock ridges rising from moorland, driving through rain,
mist trailed past, the sunlight strong from the blue
where the clouds were broken.

We were the last to go through, after
the bath or shower, the tables were pretty in heavy pink covers.
Outside the windrows the jetty slips down to the loch,
and the boat pulls up past the seals,
heads bobbing, water lapping the boat, leaning towards moorings.

Blues come up out of the water, as darker blurs blend
on the hills; the water is exactly H20 and moves
in particular shapes all the time. The air smells of peat. I’m glad
you’re here, and know it’s that
the other way around, as well.

It wouldn’t be if there was any
other way but this. The sea is hushed at dusk,
and in the gloamin when I’ll walk beside you, with you, up
the sloping street with houses on the one side only,
to where the sign this afternoon read ‘Post

Office’: your picture-cards all stamped and ready,
written in your hand. I’ll strain to hear
nothing, clearly there, but welcome, quiet,
welcome, and keep moving, from
the landscape all around us.

Alan Riach, from Clearances


Southwest Harris

This island is discontent as light
glanced under precipitation:
a weather system from south of Islay.
Ireland is there, under Malin Head.

A melting landmass in the dunes of
Seilebost. Toe-Head out as an arm
but insufficient to shield the machair.
Then there are katabatic bursts of wind
against the grain of decent predictions
bringing destroying light
from Clisham and Mullach bho-dheas,
brushing deep below the surfaces
of the Sound of Taransay,
bringing only change.

Ian Stephen, from Providence II

Summer Day on Lewis

(from The Four Seasons)

Seen from the machair’s edge
miles of white sand swathe north.
The light is Greek, I’m told,
The green Atlantic merely
whispers of America.

Two black dots in the distance
move and grow, a couple
strolling towards me across the sand.

We are an infinity apart
which takes eternity to cross.

‘Nice day,’ he says, and she, smiling
offers, ‘what a lovely beach.’

I leave my cosmic survey
To hear myself reply,
‘A little crowded.’

William Oliphant, from The Mating of Dinosaurs

guthan chalanais

seallaibh sinne
dh’èirich às a’ mhòintich
far an do chaidil sinn
tro linntean dìochuimhn’

an-diugh nar sgeinean maola
gearradh an àile

chunnaic aon t-sùil màthair
a’ pasgadh pàiste
ann am fillean seàla

cluinn an guth òg
a’ faicinn cearban,
gob is druim siùbhlach

clach mi a-mhàin,
a sheas ann a sheo
bhon a thogadh mi

dè bha iad a’ cunntas, a dhearbh
tro rèiteachadh àraid chlach
gun èireadh a’ ghealach san aon
àirde, gach tomhas bhliadhna, ‘s
gu ruitheadh i, na dannsa ìseal
thar nan ruighe shìos, ann an
slighe dho-fhaicsinneach dè

tha naidheachd nan linn
anns gach druim dìreach balbh,
dhan aigne earbsach –
clàr-dùthcha sa chlach seo,
faic eilean ‘s a chòrsan eagach,
cnuic is glinn san aghaidh eile,

ged a rachadh tìm na tuaineal
air a’ ghaoith, seasaidh na tha
seo de dhraoidhean fuara, ‘s
na freiceadain àrda nan cip
gorma còinnich, air faire bhuan

callanish voices

observe us
who rose from the moorland
where we had slept
through forgetful centuries

now we are blunt knives
cutting the air

one eye saw a mother
wrapping an infant
in the folds of a shawl

hear the young voice
seeing a shark,
beak and swift back

i’m only a stone
that has stood here
since i was raised

what were they counting, those who proved
through a particular arrangement of stones
that the moon would rise at the same
point each span of years and
that it would run, in a low dance
along that southern ridge , as an
invisible god’s peregrination

the account of centuries is
in every straight silent spine,
to the trusting mind –
there’s a map in this stone,
see an island with its notched coasts,
hills and glens on the other face

and though time should go spinning
on the wind, what’s here of
cold druids will stand, and
the tall sentries in their green
caps of moss, on perpetual watch

Aonghas MacNeacail
from dèanamh gàire ris a’ chloc: dàin ùra agus thaghte / laughing at the clock: new and selected poems

Ruined Croft

The gable gash alone is not fatal.
Slates are sliding in crazy dips,
rattling like shards in the withering wind.
Deep rivulets are eroding the bedrock.
The whole thing is sinking.
Angry armies of reeds advance,
cutting swathes
through choking daffodils.
The timber is sound.
The door ajar, but hanging.
Joists and cladding, able and dry.
For eight years, a cup of tea,
half-drunk, sits on the table.

Reaching Helmsdale

If it weren't for
this red tweed jacket
I bought in Brora
I might well wonder
if we'd ever gone
north of Inverness.

We shouldn't need proof
but do, it not being
normal to crowd in
so many slow years
to three or four hours
cuffed by a sea-wind

and buffeted by
non-highland music
from the Highland Games
up on Castle Park
(now called Cowper Park
– no-one can say why).

We'd come a long way
to look at gravestones:
we could read father
was 'devoted' while
mother was 'beloved'.
Weren't both 'beloved'?

Wandering I saw
Andrew Rutherford
had four doctorates
(honorary) chipped
on his stone. And Nan
MacLeod my once fierce

maths teacher, mother's
best friend and bête noire,
had an out-of-place
middle name: Percy.
Her mother Lizzie
sat by a peat fire

trapped and arthritic.
Unmoving the stones
turn their backs on us.
Blind they look through us.
This brash easterly
from the Moray Firth

is not going to stop:
the longer it comes
to blow in my mind
the harder it will
tug at my coat-sleeves
my hair my eyelids.

Robin Fulton Macpherson

a day in Helmsdale