r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: May 2014

Wester Ross

Stone and rock
Boulder and pebble,
Water and stone,
Heather and stone,
Heather and water
And the bog cotton that is not for weaving.

Peats uncut
And the orange moss
Under sharp rush
And spiked deer-grass,
Under tough myrtle
And thin blue milkwort,
And ever, ever,
The silver shining
Of the bog cotton that is not flowers.

The stones drop
From the height of the bens,
In the low houses
Of the dead crofters
The rafters drop,
And the turf roof:
Stone after stone
The walls are dropping,
And the bog creeps nearer
With the bog cotton for the fairies’ flag.

Naomi Mitchison, from The Cleansing of the Knife and other poems

Orkney / This Life

For Catherine and Jamie

It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other's face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.

It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other's prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I'll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an inland loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises...

It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends' houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle's switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the fern's engines thrum
this life this life this life.

Andrew Greig, from Into You

The Coast of Widows

A broken necklace of crofts
strewn across the sandstone floor
of the north Caithness coast
these sea-beat parishes where the fields
are sea-tang & the hay has herring-dream
in root & stalk
this is where Scotland stops & starts
here faces turn to check the Pentland Firth’s
anxious coupling of North Sea
to Atlantic Ocean
the incessant urgency of tide upon tide
& these same faces when the night
opens her black windows to them
look up to see the infinite cod roe

of the stars above

George Gunn, from Winter Barley

Shiants moon


The basking islands. The rocks
like sails or fins or teeth.

High wings are black blades
as the barnacle geese pass.

The blue men from narrations
are the grey seals, treading water.

Our cleated and welted movements go
by beaked clowns, lambing ewes.

What Compelled You to Write in Gaelic?

Dè a Thug Ort Sgrìobhadh sa Ghàidhlig?

Theirinn gum bu dual domh sin –
dòch’ gur h-e Bhaltair Mòr as coireach,
sgeadaichte gu lèir sa bhreacan
ged nach bu spìocach e mu bhriogais;
b’ e gluntow wi giltin hippis,
ag èigheach ‘Suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig’
mus robh an Comunn idir againn
’s a’ Bheurla mhòr a’ tighinn don fhasan
an Cathair cheòthaich mhòir Dhùn Eideann –
bu chaomh le Uilleam an t-àite sin
is e ag ràdh ane lawland ers
wad mak a better noyis, ma-tha.

Greitand doun in Gallowa
mar bu dual don gallow breid
a’ dranndail is a’ canntaireachd
le my trechour tung, gun teagamh
that hes taen ane heland strynd.

A’ siùbhal dùthaich Chinneide
bho ‘Carrick tae the Cruives o Cree’,
mur eil luchd-labhairt eile ann,
O, horò, nach bithinn sùgrach
bruidhinn ris gach craoibh a th’ innte.

Nach b’ fheàrr dhomh mo neart a chur
gu sgrìobhadh Beurla Lunnainn shlàn,
’s gum faighinn leabhar bàrdachd beag
is e le còmhdach cruaidh glan
na bhith a’ toirt the Carrick clay
to Edinburgh Cors, a ghràidh.

I would say that was my right,
likely Walter Mor’s to blame,
dressed up in the Gaelic fashion,
though not mean about the breeches;
he went bare-kneed with saffron hippings
shouting ‘Up with the Gaelic’
before An Comunn was with us at all,
and posh English coming into fashion
in the big smoky city of Edinburgh,
a place that Will (Dunbar) much liked
and he saying that one Lowland arse
would make a better noise indeed.

Grumbling down in Galloway
the habit of yon gallows breed,
muttering and deedling
with my traitor tongue, doubtless,
that has taken a Highland twist.

Travelling in Kennedie’s country
from ‘Carrick to the Cruives of Cree’,
if I find no other speakers (of Gaelic)
O horo won’t I be joyful
speaking to each tree that’s there.

Would it not have been better to spend my powers
writing faultless London English,
so I could get a little poetry book
with clean hard covers on it,
than that I bring the Carrick clay
to Edinburgh Cross, my dear.

uilleam nèill/ William Neill

Ealaíontóir/Artist: Stan Clementsmith
Peannaire/Calligrapher: Réiltín Murphy

from An Leabhar Mòr - The Great Book of Gaelic 

Shandwick Stone

[image courtesy of ScotlandsPlaces]

As jets without the black box of memory
Startle sheep in deserted glens
the stone hunters stalk their various prey.

Chaotic and recurrent as the tides
incised patters swirl underneath them.
The Pictish beast, that composite

bird-fish-mammal, harbours a smile
having already weathered eras and elements
untraceable by radar.

The rain-clouds gather above an unyielding sea.
Wildflowers and seeding grasses rustle
in anticipation of the next downpour.

Ken Cockburn, from Present Poets compiled by Jenni Calder

our wild ways

Take a short journey through the wild world of John Muir Trust path work amid stunning landscapes and extreme weather. We continually need to raise funds for this valuable work. Please find out more and make a contribution at John Muir Trust Wild Ways.

A Very Small Miracle

A lamb was born near Dunnet Head,
tumbling in a yellow broth of legs
on the dark earth,
finding its feet just before
the brawling wind from the skerries did.

Nobody paid much heed.
The ewes were not easily impressed
by gyniatrics and two old women
talked on about tomatoes.
There wasn’t even a farmer there
to count this a triumph for finance.

The dreaming lamb wobbled
on the lip of cool reality.
At thirty seconds old it had felt
the first rough edge of a tongue
and already knew that life
was not a bed of turnips,

at a minute
it was standing quite still
staring rudely at me,
as if it knew that being born
a sheep here
in these extremes of circumstance
was a very small miracle indeed.

Hugh McMillan

path to home


The shores and the coastlines glisten, with each wave breaking,
As our nation’s forgotten souls start their journey home,
With the sound of their heartbeat racing, the Clan’s begin embracing,
A bridge forever, a path to home.

Wherever we may go, our bloodline flows,
we’ll always find a path to home.
Our heritage and clans, pride in our land,
We’ll always find a path to home.

The Gathering has to end now, with last words spoken,
As our people leave again, a thousand miles from home.
Through the mountains and over oceans, our bloodline stays in motion
A bridge forever, a path to home.

Wherever we may go, our bloodline flows,
we’ll always find a path to home.
Our heritage and clans, pride in our land,
We’ll always find a path to home.

Skerryvore*: a band originally from the Hebridean Isle of Tiree

(*from the Gàidhlig An Sgeir Mhòr meaning The Great Skerry)


come home to Scotland this summer  :)

and if you're in the Highlands

highly recommended reads:
Highland Homecomings: Genealogy and Heritage Tourism in the Scottish Diaspora by Paul Basu (review)
My Own Island Home: The Orkney Homecoming by Paul Basu (abstract)
To The Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora 1750-2010 by Prof. Tom Devine (review)
Wish I Was Here ed. by Alec Finlay and Kevin MacNeil (a wee peek)

for more information on the Scottish diaspora and researching Scottish ancestry:
Who Do You Think You Are and Clans & Castles blogroll