r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: December 2009

Fog at dusk

Fogs move in drifts and where the drifting comes
Their cold webs change clear bushes into slums
Where branches blacken with an evil stain
From drops that could not ever have been rain.

The fog webs fatten the spiders' till they sag
As thick as cloths. I touch one - its cold rag
Becomes a filthy glove. Trees disappear
And come again, translating there to here.

A drift goes by. I walk out of the murk
And see, high overhead, the moon at work
Like Cinderella, though soon to be so proud,
In the cold kitchen of a sluttish cloud.

Hollows are cups of vapour. One, too full,
Spills over, slow as lava. The seapool
Is ghosted with false sails. A window's spark
Is a red eye that burns sore in the dark

Norman MacCaig

Old Highland woman

She sits all day by the fire.
How long is it since she opened the door
and stepped outside, confusing
the scuffling hens and the collie
dreaming of sheep?
Her walking days are over.

She has come here through centuries
of Gaelic labour and loves
and rainy funerals. Her people
are assembled in her bones.
She's their summation. Before her time
has almost no meaning.

When neighbours call
she laughs a wicked cackle
with love in it, as she listens
to the sly bristle of gossip,
relishing the life in it,
relishing the malice, with her hands
lying in her lap like holy psalms
that once had a meaning for her, that once
were noble with tunes
she used to sing long ago.

Norman MacCaig

The modern clearances which took place within the last quarter of a century in Guisachan, Strathglass, by Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, have been described in all their phases before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1872. The Inspector of Poor for the parish of Kiltarlity wrote a letter which was brought before the Committee, with a statement from another source that, "in 1855, there were 16 farmers on the estate; the number of cows they had was 62, and horses, 24; the principal farmer had 2000 sheep, the next 1000, and the rest between them 1200, giving a total of 4200. Now (1873) there is but one farmer, and he leaves at Whitsunday; all these farmers lost the holdings on which they ever lived in competency; indeed, it is well known that some of them were able to lay by some money. They have been sent to the four quarters of the globe, or to vegetate in Sir Dudley's dandy cottages at Tomich, made more for show than convenience, where they have to depend on his employment or charity. To prove that all this is true, take at random, the smith, the shoemaker, or the tailor, and say whether the poverty and starvation were then or now? For instance, under the old regime, the smith farmed a piece of land which supplied the wants of his family with meal and potatoes; he had two cows, a horse, and a score or two of sheep on the hill; he paid £7 of yearly rent; he now has nothing but the bare walls of his cottage and smithy, for which he pays £10. Of course he had his trade then as he has now. Will he live more comfortably now than he did then? "It was stated, at the same time, that, when Sir Dudley Marjoribanks bought the property, there was a population of 235 souls upon it, and Sir Dudley, in his examination, though he threw some doubt upon that statement, was quite unable to refute it. The proprietor, on being asked, said that he did not evict any of the people. But Mr. Macombie having said, "Then the tenants went away of their own free will," Sir Dudley replied, "I must not say so quite. I told them that when they had found other places to go to, I wished to have their farms."

They were, in point of fact, evicted as much as any others of the ancient tenantry in the Highlands, though it is but fair to say that the same harsh cruelty was not applied in their case as in many of the others recorded in these pages. Those who had been allowed to remain in the new cottages, are without cow or sheep, or an inch of land, while those alive of those sent off are spread over the wide world, like those sent, as already described, from other places.
from The History of The Highland Clearances by Alexander MacKenzie

Wild Mountainside

Beauty is within grasp
Hear the islands call
The last mile is upon us
I'll carry you if you fall
I know the armour's heavy now
I know the heart is tired
It's beautiful just over
The wild mountainside

Snow is falling all over
Out of clear blue sky
Crow is flying high over
You and I are going to wander
High up where the air is rare
Wild horses ride
It's beautiful, let's go over
The wild mountainside

Wild and free we roam
Only a mile to go

Wild and free we roam
Only a mile to go

Beauty is within grasp
Hear the highlands call
The last mile is upon us
I'll carry you if you fall
I know the armour's heavy now
I know the heart inside
It's beautiful let's go over
The wild mountainside
It's beautiful just roaming
The wild mountainside

John Douglas, of the Scottish band Trashcan Sinatras


a testament to
Scotland's cold months

When the snow falls,
Over barren hills,
When the wind blows,
Sending cold, dark chills,
Inside a house,
Inside an inn,
The fire is warm,
And burns within,
The trees are bare,
The animals hide,
The water is frozen,
It's cold outside,
The sky is dark,
The birds are gone,
The wind has chased them,
Far from home,
The snowman lives,
The scarecrow dies,
The snowballs form,
The songbirds cry,
All is dark,
And all is cold,
Warm is gone,
And winter unfolds.

Andrew McDiarmid


A transit crawls up on stealthy tyres—

byres bump shore on breakers of fog,

gates pause on hinges of fog,

a cat is crayoned on a throne of fog,

and leaning from the cab in shirt-sleeves,

one elbow rowing the visible air,

it is so mild, he says, as fog

consolidates his stacked, white hair.

Jen Hadfield

'stumba' is Shetlandic for 'a thick mist'

The Caledonian Bank

The Caledonian Banking Company was established as a joint-stock company in Inverness in 1838, with a nominal capital of £125,000. The Gaelic motto used on its banknotes - Tir nam Beann, nan Gleann, s'an Gaisgeach - translates as "Land of Mountains, Glens and Heroes".

Between 1838 and 1845 the bank established 20 branches in the Moray Firth, Caithness and Wester Ross areas of the Highlands. Its expansion eastwards, however, caused friction with the Aberdeen-based North of Scotland Bank, which saw the Caledonian as encroaching on its patch.

The main customers of the Caledonian Bank consisted of farmers, Highland gentry, fishermen, whisky distillers and grain factors, along with summer visitors. The head office on Inverness High Street was built in 1847 to the design of Mackenzie and Matthews.

(archive photo)
Former head office of the Caledonian Bank, High Street, Inverness

The Bank continued to enjoy relative growth until the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878. The Caledonian Bank held £400 of the City of Glasgow Bank's stock as security. The latter did not have limited liability and so shareholders were responsible for all liabilities. Panic set in and the Caledonian Bank was forced to close its doors, temporarily, on 5th December 1878. The Bank of Scotland agreed to tide over the Caledonian Bank, and this assistance, along with the realisation that the City of Glasgow Bank liability stood at only £11,000, enabled the Caledonian Bank to reopen its doors for business in August 1879.

The rot however had set in, and the bank's decline became increasingly evident around the turn of the century. In 1896 it had liabilities of £1,223,000 and net profits of only £14,000. By 1907, the Bank's reserves were down to £195,000 with net profits barely over £12,000.

(archive photo)
Caledonian Bank £1 note (1904) and £100 note (1883)

Two other factors finally put the nail in the coffin. Firstly, the bank's lending and investment controls were not stringent enough. Some of the famous Highland distilleries that were built around the turn of the century would not have been possible had the more stringent banking attitudes of the Edinburgh and Glasgow banks prevailed. Secondly, the failure of the Scottish India Coffee Company of Madras Province, which went into liquidation in 1902, left the Caledonian Bank with a debt of £30,000.

Unable to recover, the Caledonian Bank directors approached Bank of Scotland for an amalgamation in 1906, which the proprietors duly agreed to at a special meeting in 1907.

The above article is taken from the Lloyds Banking Group website. Sadly, Lloyds acquired the Bank of Scotland in January of this year, making it the largest retail bank in Britain...for now. And so, the cycle continues.

As for the former head office, it is now a pub....

(a closer look at some of the detail)

To Exiles

Are you not weary in your distant places,
Far, far from Scotland of the mist and storm,
In drowsy airs, the sun-smite on your faces,
The days so long and warm?
When all around you lie the strange fields sleeping,
The dreary woods where no fond memories roam,
Do not your sad hearts over seas come leaping
To the highlands and the lowlands of your Home?

Wild cries the Winter, loud through all our valleys:
The midnights roar, the grey noons echo back;
Round steep storm-bitten coasts the eager galleys
Beat for kind harbours from horizons black;
We tread the miry roads, the rain-drenched heather,
We are the men, we battle, we endure!
God's pity for you people in your weather
Of swooning winds, calm seas, and skies demure!

Wild cries the Winter, and we walk song-haunted
Over the moors and by the thundering falls,
Or where the dirge of a brave past is chaunted
In dolorous dusks by immemorial walls.
Though rains may thrash on us, the great mists blind us,
And lightning rend the pine-tree on the hill,
Yet we are string, yet shall the morning find us
Children of tempest all unshaken still.

We wander where the little grey towns cluster
Deep in the hills, or selvedging the sea,
By farm-lands lone, by woods where wildfowl muster
To shelter from the day’s inclemency;
And night will come, and then far through the darkling,
A light will shine out in the sounding glen,
And it will mind us of some fond eye’s sparkling,
And we’ll be happy then.

Let torrents pour then, let the great winds rally,
Snow-silence fall, or lightning blast the pine;
That light of Home shines warmly in the valley,
And, exiled son of Scotland, it is thine.
Far have you wandered over seas of longing,
And now you drowse, and now you well may weep,
When all the recollections come a-thronging
Of this rude country where your fathers sleep.

They sleep, but still the hearth is warmly glowing,
While the wild Winter blusters round their land:
That light of Home, the wind so bitter blowing --
Do they not haunt your dreams on alien strand?
Love, strength, and tempest--oh, come back and share them!
Here’s the old cottage, here the open door;
Fond are our hearts although we do not bare them,--
They're yours, and you are ours for ever-more.

Neil Munro