r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: 2016

Oidhche nam Bannag

"This is the night of gifts
Goodwife rise up and bring down the Hogmanay bannock..."

Dr. Isabel Frances Grant, from Highland Folk Ways

Hogmanay customs
Gillean Calluinne

Happy Hogmanay to all this night!

6 days 592 kilometres 5492 metres

A beautiful bike ride through the Scottish Highlands in between Christmas and NYE.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest experiences in my life. - Ivan Bellaroba

a Shetland Christmas

Da Day Dawn
Christmas pony dance ;)
Shetland Christmas past
Yule guid an Yule gaer, be wi wis aa year.

May your heart and home be filled with the joy and peace of Christmas.


The coming of the winter snow upon the highland hills
Hits the mind with sorrow blind and numbs the cutting chills
Our morning days in youthful haze we'll never see again
And all the years we thought we had have left our hallowed glen

And if the sun comes down in December
And the snow lies over the green
I’ll leave the last drop in my glass to remember
The eyes of my highland queen.

That Christmas day so long away when first I saw her eyes
Now every year she reappears in dark December skies
The moon it shone above the Ben as we kissed below the plough
The stars were singing as we lay upon the frosted ground

And if the sun comes down in December
And the snow lies over the green
I’ll leave the last drop in my glass to remember
The eyes of my highland queen.

But maybe we will meet again on the circle of the sea
And in this world or the next I’ll feel her close to me
And the golden west horizon will be ours for just a while
When the snowflakes of our future will melt upon her smile

And if the sun comes down in December
And the snow lies over the green
I’ll leave the last drop in my glass to remember
The eyes of my highland queen.

il o ho ro 's tu mo run
il o ho ro 's tu mo nighean


A Calendar of Hares

 1. At the raw end of winter
     the mountain is half snow, half
     dun grass. Only when snow
     moves does it become a hare.

 2. If you can catch a hare
     and look into its eye
     you will see the whole world.

 3. That day in March
     watching two hares boxing
     at the field's edge, she felt
     the child quicken.

 4. It is certain Midas never saw a hare
     or he would not have lusted after gold.

 5. When the buzzard wheels
     like a slow kite overhead
     the hare pays out the string.

 6. The man who tells you
     he has thought of everything
     has forgotten the hare.

 7. The hare's form, warm yet empty.
     Stumbling upon it he felt his heart
     lurch and race beneath his ribs.

 8. Beset by fears, she became
     the hare who hears
     the mowers' voices grow louder.

 9. Light as the moon's path over the sea
     the run of the hare over the land.

10.The birchwood a dapple
     of fallen gold: a carved hare
     lies in a Pictish hoard.

11. Waking to the cry of a hare
      she ran and found the child sleeping.

12. November stiffens
      Into December: hare and grass
      have grown a thick coat of frost.

Anna Crowe, from A Secret History of Rhubarb

Windy Nights

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
    Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
    A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
    And the ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
    By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

Robert Louis Stevenson

October extinguished itself

in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.

- J.K. Rowling, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Jenny Does Burn

Mairi Orr
The Last Witch

Janet Horne

In Dornoch there was a burning
With no sign of mourning
That January morning

This was the final solution
The last execution
Of an ancient persecution

For they called it witchcraft
An old woman's stitchcraft
Or a bit of leechcraft

Century of enlightenment
Still thirled to torment
Thumbscrews and judgement

Janet made a pony
Of her daughter, says the story
Rode her for Satan's glory

They tarred her and feathered her
Bound her and gathered her
Screaming and barrelled her

Burning in the peat-smoke
While the good Dornoch folk
Paused briefly for a look

Dear God were you sleeping
You were certainly not weeping
She was not in your keeping

Today there is a garden
Where a stone stands guard on
The spot she was charred on

O heart never harden!

Edwin Morgan

Freedom Come All Ye

In August 2013 members of Cape Farewell's "Sea Change" project explored the landscapes, history and future of the Orkneys whilst sailing on board The Swan, a beautifully restored Shetland Fifie. The group consisting of artists, musicians, writers, scientists and filmmakers visited sites across the islands.
On Friday 23rd August they arrived at the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. The story behind the chapel is a testament to the power of faith, creativity, and peaceful reconciliation
In 1942, more than 1300 Italian prisoners of war were captured in North Africa and taken to Orkney, where they remained until early 1945. 550 were taken to Camp 60, where they were put to work building the Churchill Barriers, four causeways created to block access to Scapa Flow.
In 1943, Major T P Buckland, the Camp 60's new commandant, and Father Giacobazzi, the Camp's priest agreed that a place of worship was required. Two Nissen huts were joined together to form a makeshift chapel. The prisoners, under the leadership of prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti, did all of the work to transform a simple corrugated iron structure into a work of beauty. The chapel was lined with plasterwork and an altar was made out of concrete. Chiocchetti painted the sanctuary end of the chapel. The beauty that he created led to the prisoners decorating the entire interior and creating a front facade out of concrete that concealed the shape of the hut and made the building look like a church.
Since the prisoners' departure, several residents of Camp 60, including Chiocchetti, have made return visits to the chapel they created. In 1996 a declaration was jointly signed by officials in Orkney and Chiocchetti's hometown of Moena, reinforcing the ties between the two places. The building has been lovingly preserved and is still used as a chapel.
During the group's visit, Karine Polwart gave this powerful solo performance of the anthemic "Freedom Come All Ye". The song was written in 1960 by Hamish Henderson, a passionate proponent of peace and international cooperation. Henderson was a leader of the post war Folk revival, and founder of The People's Festival [...] he was also a fluent Italian speaker. - Andy Crabb

writing her way home

Amy Liptrot's blog
a reading from The Outrun
a review from Will Self
just one of the writers featured in this year's Faclan Hebridean Book Festival

Take Me Back to the Islands

Yeah the moon brings us back, I'm going back over to the islands
In between your smiles there's a clue whether to scream or be silent
And the wind blows sad and joyful on our arrival onto the islands
With your sense of dislocation you make the perfect travelling companion

And the world will always seem so much younger than me
when I take the boat out
A crowded world will always seem emptier to me
when I take the boat out

Suspicion fills a stranger who looks beyond the horizon
And all the days that I've found love and left with only my feelings to survive on
And I walk the solemn line in with the rhythm of the seas around the islands
There are times to act and times to stand back and time to show what's needed to rely on

And the world will always seem so much younger than me
when I take the boat out
A crowded world will always seem emptier to me
when I take the boat out

How come you always seem so real defined
You put your hand in my hand make it my design
And we give what we have and we do what we can
So, put your hand in my hand

When the sea answers the island
oh oh oh
When the sea answers the island
oh oh oh

Idlewild, from Post Electric Blues


I da dizzied hoose, a strum of flechs baet
endless drums fornenst a frenzied window.
Belligerent, dey want nedder in nor oot.

Apö da broo, ahint a wheeshtit chapel,
twa windmills spin new soondscapes owre
da laand, kert-wheelin alleluias.

Cloistert granite hadds a orchestration
o birds, a oorie whirr, a vimmerin
o whaaps an peewits. Da wind

troo da grind is a spaekin in tongues
wi da bruckit feed-hoop tunin in:
idder-wirdly, intimately insistent.

Aa dis music ta lö tae, ta slip inta:
a aald organ nönin, a hushie hubbelskyu.
Up owre da hill, airms turn, da haert lifts.


In the dizzied house, a strum o flies beat
endless drums against a frenzied window.
Belligerent, they want neither in nor out.

On the brow of the hill, behind a silent chapel,
two windmills spin new soundscapes over
the land, cart-wheeling alleluias.

Cloistered granite holds an orchestration
of birds, an eerie whirr, tremulous sounds
of curlew and lapwing. The wind

through the metal gate is a speaking in tongues
with the broken feed-hoop tuning in:
other-worldly, intimately insistent.

All this music to attend to, to slip into:
an old organ droning, an uproarious lullaby.
Up over da hill, arms turn, the heart lifts.

Christine de Luca, from Gutter, Issue 13

Ida and Meg

Miss Woodham and Miss Peckham
known inevitably by the gossiping classes
– aka the inquisitive and mostly kind
citizens of Stromness, Houton, Orphir –
as The Woodpeckers
in Muckle House (not so big)
were the sole inhabitants of Cava
without company or electricity for near-on thirty years.

They were not a couple
(all who knew them insist
as, scandalised, did they).
That is not the issue.
That does not seal the deal,
whatever they signed up to
1st April 1959 in Clevedon
when they packed everything that mattered
(it was very little)
(it was essential)
in a tea chest on an axle with two pram wheels,
(Ida’s work, the maker and fixer)
topped by Fanny the cat in a box with a window,
Meg’s peddler’s licence in her purse,
attached the rope harness,
looked at each other –
and if you want to get a handle
on a door into your life,
you could start by reaching for
whatever passed between them
– a promise, a joke, a shared
sense of how things shall be –
that morning in 1959
when Meg fitted the harness across Ida’s shoulders
and they took a deep breath, stepped North.


There must have been
the island they carried in their heads,
and the island they themselves invented
every unswerving step away from Clevedon.
In the Borders the pram wheel broke.
They left the bogie with a farmer’s boy,
put the tea chest on a train,
picked up the cat and walked on.

* * *

How they chose to live
and what they inhabited,
their daily living by each other
with nowhere to hide,
each other’s staff,
makes marriage seem faint-hearted.
The sheer bloody work of it!
After the first 400 bags of sheep-shit, bottles,
floats and bruck carried from the House,
Meg stopped counting.

Without electricity,
peat for heat, a harmonium, books and radio,
a flower garden in one ruin, veg in another,
their lives together so long in such proximity:
a conundrum
a bare island
only vision and work make habitable.

Peat dug from the Calf, Meg rowed,
Ida bagged and worked the pulleys.
There was a well of sorts,
for water always seeps in Orkney
between sandstone layers; buckets lowered, yoked,
staggered to the house, till Ida rigged
a hosepipe, pump and storage tank.

Standing in the debris of their lives
among buckets, a rusted Singer, curtain rags,
whatever kept them bound together
(Meg slept in the Muckle House,
Ida in the Wendy by the shore)
is more intriguing than desire
to one in his life’s October.
It could be each had sunk
a shaft down through their days
of necessary work, bird-silence, sea,
and reached the water table, life itself,
and there lived as they wished
in concurrence

Andrew Greig, from Found At Sea

October arrived,

spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students. Raindrops the size of bullets thundered on the castle windows for days on end; the lake rose, the flower beds turned into muddy streams, and Hagrid’s pumpkins swelled to the size of garden sheds.
J.K. Rowling, from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


The Tailor of Inverness

The Tailor of Inverness is a story of journeys, of how a boy who grew up on a farm in Galicia (Eastern Poland, now Western Ukraine) came to be a tailor in Inverness.  His life spanned most of the 20th century.  His story is not straightforward. 

He was taken prisoner by the Soviets in 1939 and forced to work east of the Urals, then freed in an amnesty after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.  He then joined the thousands of Poles who travelled to Tehran, then Egypt, to be integrated into the British Army, fighting in North Africa and Italy.  He was then resettled in Britain in 1948, joining his brother in Glasgow. 

This is the story he told.

I come from Gnilowoda.  I come from a tailoring school in Podhajce.  I come from the Eastern Front because when you are a tailor, they send you to be a soldier.  I come from the Soviets and the Nazis.  I come from a farm, from the forests and fields of green Ukraine. 
 From the resettlement camps of Germany.  From the beaches of the Adriatic.  From the grimy streets of Glasgow.  And the cool air of Inverness.  Now I am here.  I am from here.  I speak the language of here. - Matthew Zajac

Can You Hear Us Now?

Come together, one and all
Stand together, stand tall
Try to find the strength that lies deep within your heart
There will be an answer rising from the dark

Take your chances, take them all
The battle can be won but a few must fall
Separate the truth from all the lies that have been thrown
Show the world your face, you are not alone

Cos’ I wanna know, will you listen to us now?
Can you hear us, can you hear us shout?
I wanna  know that you really understand,
that you’ve truly got it figured out
I wanna know, will you listen to us now?

Find your voice and shout it out
A little louder, no doubt
Make them listen, make them know
Plant the seed, let it grow

Cos' I wanna know, will you listen to us now?
Can you hear us, can you hear us shout?
I wanna know that you really understand,
that you've truly got it figured out
I wanna know, will you listen to us now?

Speak your mind, play the game
Save the future, spark the flame
Take the jump, bridge the gap
No regrets, no looking back

Cos' I wanna know, will you listen to us now?
Can you hear us, can you hear us shout?
I wanna know that you really understand,
that you've truly got it figured out
I wanna know, will you listen to us now?



two years ago today
second Indyref anniversary marked


I've seen the darkness and I know there's a storm
Out of my window to the west in the clouds
I've been waiting for
I've been waiting for
It to come
I've been waiting for
I've been waiting for
It to come
Way in the distance through the hills there's no fear
The struggle of a village where it was where it flee'd
I've been waiting for
I've been waiting for
It to come
I've been waiting for
I've been waiting for
It to come
In my darkest hour
In my darkest hour
I'll become
What my brothers said
What my brothers said
I'd become
I've seen the darkness and I know there's a storm

Gary McDowell

The Study


    what do you mean,
entering my study
like a curiosity shop,
stroking in mild concern

the telescope mounted
on its tripod, the books,
the attic stair? You
who rise by night, who draw

the inescapable world
closer, a touch,
to your gaze –why
query me? What’s mine

is yours; but you’ve no more
need of those implements
than a deer has,
browsing in a glade.

Moon, your work-
worn face bright
outside unnerves me.
Please, be on your way.

Kathleen Jamie, from The Overhaul

Dubh Linne / Dark Water

Mary Ann's  translation of Sean Cooney's (The Young Uns) exquisite 'Dark Water' - the story of two refugees from the Syrian War - Hesham Modamani and Feras Abukhalil - who swam the perilous waters between Turkey and Greece in search of a new life and safety.

The journey was made overnight, beneath the Mediterranean stars, and Hesham and Feras's story now forms part of the Blas Festival 2016 New Music Commission for Mary Ann Kennedy and Nick Turner - 'Beul na h-Oidhche gu Camhanaich' - 'Mouth of the Night to First Light' - a celebration of our fascination for the night skies.



King Line

Climbers often search for what many call the “King Line” - this is the perfect route! It will take the best line up the rock face; it has the best climbing on the most exposed section of wall!

I had heard of one such line existing on Lewis that would stand out above all others; it was called “Mega Tsunami” - a fitting name for the wall that rarely see’s waves of less than 10ft high breaking against it’s base on a windy day!
  - Robbie Phillips


Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic-room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.

It was August. She travelled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,

and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects

stirred, as in a rockpool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;

the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harboured some intention,

I waited; watched for an age
her cool glaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall

then glide to recline
along the pinewood floor
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, we’re both scarred now.

Are they quite beyond you,

the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.

Kathleen Jamie, from The Overhaul 

waltzing the stones

"Moving the stones, aye it's the same as though ye's waltzing, in fact I mind a woman saying 'til me, you're like that you're waltzing out there at the back" Hector Sutherland

Northstone 58° Stonefest
Caithness quarries
George Gunn walling

Do Bheithe Bòidheach

Neul a’ snàmh air an speur,
   duilleach eadar è ’s mo shùil;
ùr bàrr-uaine gruag a’ bheithe,
   leug nan leitir cas mun Lùib.

Oiteag ’tighinn bhàrr an tuim,
   a’ toirt fuinn às do dhos,
cruit na gaoithe do bhàrr teudach,
   cuisleannan nan geug ri port.

Àilleagan nan glac seo shìos,
   sìthbhrugh do na h-eòin do dhlùths,
thu gan tàladh às gach àirde,
   iad a’ teàrnadh ort le sunnd.

Ceileireadh ’s e binn binn,
   seirm is seinn air a’ chnoc,
nuair a chromas na h-eòin Shamhraidh
   air do mheanglain ’s mil ’nan gob.

Is fheàrr na ’n ceòl t’ fhaicinn fhèin
   air bhogadan rèidh fon chnap,
seang bàrr-snìomhain amlach ùrar,
   is dealt ’na chùirnein air gach slait.

Deòrsa Mac Iain Dheòrsa  / George Campbell Hay, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair / The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Sampler (ed by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin / Christopher Whyte)

To a Bonny Birch Tree

A cloud is floating on the sky
But my eye is lush with green:
Leafage fresh, a visual symphony,

The bonny birch, the hillock’s crown.
A breeze is plucking at the mound,
Sweet sounds rising from your core,

The wind, angelic in each part,
A harp is playing its simple score.
You are the jewel of these hollows.

See swallows light upon the fairy ring.
You have conjured them from air,
From far and near. With joy they sing.

They warble summer melodies,
They merely want to share their joy,
Your branches tremble with their notes.
Their throats are thick with honey.

Lovelier than music is the dance,
Stark elegance of tree and stone.
Your lithe limbs soaked with dew,
The dew like diamonds, tiny suns.

trans by Tracey Herd


Bealach meaning the pass as in mountain pass, filmed in the area called bealach na ba (the pass of the cattle) an old drovers road. The pass a journey to home a steep challenge having to go against the flow, the land never changes it's the same today as for the eighteenth century highlander, secure the country's future as we are merely custodians of this ancient land. The reference to the sheathing of the sword depicting that the pen is mightier than the sword, contemporary times merely need ink not blood to achieve independence. Craig Mackay

Bealach na Bà



petition gaining momentum
Please support this petition



Plodda Falls

Snails...and more so Slugs

They came out in the dusk.
It was not easy to walk,
even on stone,
without crudely smashing
some spiralling shell.

we trailed with our torches
inspecting young plants,
shone beams on snails,
considering them.

Night upon night
we tipped slugs from leaves
brought them in cartons,
antlers astir, to forage
in wilder greenery.

Laughable folly,
futile as hope:
dahlias and asters
stricken by morning
were sullied to rags.

To try beer
seemed the optional, half
moral strategy: let them
choose to get drunk,
topple and drown.

We expected, of course,
the first squeamish guilt:
heavy slugs
lay like whales
wrecked by disaster.

Then rank after days
the death trays were cleared,
odd-sized shreds
of discoloured rubber.

Now big winds
blow through the trees.
The reddened brambles
gleam with black.
Our summer has come to little.

Madeline Munro (d. 8 June 2016)


Let’s blether about doors.
Revolving doors and sliding doors;

Half-opened, half-closed:
The door with your name on it,

The heavy one - hard to open.
The one you walked out when your heart was broken,

The one you walked in as you came to your profession
(And the tiny door when you made your confession)

The school door at the end of a lesson,
(Yes, Shut the door in Gaelic is duin an doras!)

The wee door on your doll’s House, or
Ibsen’s Nora’s door, or Chekhov’s Three Sisters’

Doors imagined by writers the world over - Proust.
And the chickens coming home to roost!

Or Chris Guthrie’s open heart at the end of Sunset Song
Or the step left when the house is gone, the haw.

The door to the stable, bolted after the horse left,
Not Tam O’Shanter’s tail-less horse!

The one that shut suddenly behind you
Banged by a violent wind,

The painted red door code for asylum seeker,
The X that says Plague or Passover

The one turned into a boat to cross the ever-widening waters.
The North seas and the Aegean, reminders

Of the people cleared off their land, out their crofts
To whom the sea was their threshold - on, off.

Take the big key and open the door to the living, breathing past
The one you enliven over and over,

To the ship’s port, or the house of the welder;
To the library door of Donald Dewar.

Then picture yourself on the threshold,
The exact moment when you might begin again,

A new sitting, new keys jingle possibilities.
Hope comes with a tiny Greyfriar’s Bobby key ring.

Then come through the door to this Parliament, new session!
Pass round the revolving door (change in the revolutions,

In 360 degrees) – Take in the mirrored opposites:
The Dutch Gables, the cross step Gables…

Here - rising out of the sloping base of Arthur’s Seat
Straight into this City, a city that must also speak

For the banks and the braes, munros, cairns, bothies
Songs, art, poems, art, stories,

(And don’t forget the ceilidhs – who doesnie love a ceilidh? Heuch!)
A city that remembers the fiddlers of Shetland and Orkney
The folk of Colonsay, Bute, and Tiree
The Inner and Outer Hebrides, the glens and the Bens

The trees and the rivers and the burns and the lochs and the sea lochs
(And Nessie!)

The Granite City and Dumfries and Galloway
The Dear green place and Dundee

Across the stars and the galaxy,
The night sky’s tiny keys, the hail clanjamfarie!

Find here what you are looking for:
Democracy in its infancy: guard her

Like you would a small daughter
And keep the door wide open, not just ajar,

And say, in any language you please, welcome, welcome
To the world’s refugees.

Scotland’s changing faces – look at me!!
Whose birth mother walked through the door

Of a mother and baby home here
And walked out of Elsie Inglis hospital without me.

My Makar, her daughter, Makar
Of Ferlie Leed and gallus tongues.

And this is my country says the fisherwoman from Jura.
Mine too says the child from Canna and Iona.

Mine too say the Brain family.
And mine! says the man from the Polish deli

And mine said the brave and beautiful Asad Shah.
Me too said the Black Scots and the red Scots

Said William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots.
Said both the Roberts and Muriel Spark.

Said Emile Sandé and Arthur Wharton.
Said Ali Smith and Edwin Morgan.

Said Liz Lochhead, Norman and Sorley
And mine said the Syrian refugee.

Here we are in this building of pure poetry
On this July morning in front of her Majesty.

Good Day Ma’am, Ma’am Good Day.
Good morning John and Helen Kay -

Great believers in democracy.
And in gieing it laldy.

Our strength is our difference.
Dinny fear it. Dinny caw canny.

It takes more than one language to tell a story, (Gaelic)
Welcome (Cantonese)
One language is never enough (Ewe)
Welcome (Polish)
It takes more than one language to tell a story (Hindi)
Welcome (Punjabi)
One language is never enough (French)
Welcome (Gaelic again)
It takes more than one tongue to tell a story (Doric)
Welcome (Syrian)
Welcome (Igbo)
Welcome (German)
Welcome (Italian)
It takes more than one language to tell a story (Urdu)

C’mon ben the living room.
Come join our brilliant gathering.

Jackie Kay, from the Opening Ceremony of the Scottish Parliament, 2 July 2016


Well my heart’s in the Highlands gentle and fair
Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air
Bluebelles blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow
Well my heart’s in the Highland
I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go

Windows were shakin’ all night in my dreams
Everything was exactly the way that it seems
Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page
Same ol’ rat race
Life in the same ol’ cage

I don’t want nothing from anyone, ain’t that much to take
Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake
Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery
I wish someone would come
And push back the clock for me

Well my heart’s in the Highlands wherever I roam
That’s where I’ll be when I get called home
The wind, it whispers to the buckeyed trees in rhyme
Well my heart’s in the Highland
I can only get there one step at a time

I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
Someone’s always yelling turn it down
Feel like I’m drifting
Drifting from scene to scene
I’m wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean?

Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well, I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop

My heart’s in the Highlands at the break of dawn
By the beautiful lake of the Black Swan
Big white clouds like chariots that swing down low
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
Only place left to go

I’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure
Waitress comes over
Nobody in the place but me and her

It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around
She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

She looks at me, says, “I’d bring you some
But we’re out of ’m, you picked the wrong time to come”
Then she says, “I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!”
I say, “I would if I could, but
I don’t do sketches from memory”

“Well,” she says, “I’m right here in front of you, or haven’t you looked?”
I say, “All right, I know, but I don’t have my drawing book!”
She gives me a napkin, she says, “You can do it on that”
I say, “Yes I could, but
I don’t know where my pencil is at!”

She pulls one out from behind her ear
She says, “All right now, go ahead, draw me, I’m standing right here”
I make a few lines and I show it for her to see
Well she takes the napkin and throws it back
And says, “That don’t look a thing like me!”

I said, “Oh, kind Miss, it most certainly does”
She says, “You must be jokin’.” I say, “I wish I was!”
Then she says, “You don’t read women authors, do you?”
Least that’s what I think I hear her say
“Well,” I say, “how would you know and what would it matter anyway?”

“Well,” she says, “you just don’t seem like you do!”
I said, “You’re way wrong”
She says, “Which ones have you read then?” I say, “I read Erica Jong!”
She goes away for a minute
And I slide up out of my chair
I step outside back to the busy street but nobody’s going anywhere

Well my heart’s in the Highlands with the horses and hounds
Way up in the border country, far from the towns
With the twang of the arrow and a snap of the bow
My heart’s in the Highlands
Can’t see any other way to go

Every day is the same thing out the door
Feel further away then ever before
Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
Well, I’m lost somewhere
I must have made a few bad turns

I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They’re drinking and dancing, wearing bright-colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I’d trade places with any of them
In a minute, if I could

I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length leather coat
Somebody just asked me
If I registered to vote

The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that used to be
The party’s over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away

Well, my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day
Over the hills and far away
There’s a way to get there and I’ll figure it out somehow
But I’m already there in my mind
And that’s good enough for now

Bob Dylan, from Time Out of Mind



from Three Battles

To the 51st Division

High Wood, July-August 1916

Oh gay were we in spirit
In the hours of the night
When we lay at rest at Albert
And waited for the fight;
Gay and gallant were we
On the day that we set forth,
But broken, broken, broken
Is the valour of the North.

The wild warpipes were calling,
Our hearts were blithe and free
When we went up the valley
To the death we could not see.
Clear lay the wood before us
In the clear summer weather,
But broken, broken, broken
Are the sons of the heather.

In the cold of the morning,
In the burning of the day,
The thin lines stumbled forward,
The dead and dying lay.
By the unseen death that caught us
By the bullets’ raging hail
Broken, broken, broken
Is the pride of the Gael.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh


ah kent yi wir cummin
an goin
thi ebb an flo
o ma
body clenchin
         letting go
         letting go

lets go
down tay thi harbour
ah sayz tay ma lassy
ma first born
see thi boats cummin in

an we stood taygither
at the endy thi peer
lookn outwards
trine tay mind oan
thi namesy thi boats

cum hame boy gordon
we called oot
cum hame girl mina
john L

cum hame two belles
storm drift
silver wave

cum hame sunrise
radiant queen

an they came
rite inuff
thi way they do
thi tiny black spex o thum
pulsin larger
taywords us

over wottur
sun frostid
like bathroom glass
hidin deep
domestic secrests

ma body clenched
and ah reeched doon
tay clasp
thi smilin hand
o ma first one

taygether we watched
thi big ball o sun
slip slowly
over thi ej
o oor wurld
and inty

Alison Flett, from Whit Lassyz Ur Inty

Fratres (Taking You With Me)

I paint the low hill until I admit
to how the light is on it.
Morning's coldest – working in thermals
and fleeces and socks in triplicate –
a lugworm, bundled bait
for the sky with the thunder-grey roe.

How is the light on the low hill now?
Blood through skin.
Once or twice a day sun opens the vein and
white is white of seagulls – sour Messiahs!
– then another two hundred
of Tommy's rainstained fleeces.


I said to Tommy (shifting stone)
whatcha doing and he said
playing at Nelson Mandela
what does it look like?


The layby's up for it, grips
your car, windows mossed with thin damp.
Headlamps chuck out sticky webs to slide
from the windscreen and your black/bright forehead.
Headlamps – grasses giant
and shrinking - and us knotted in the hill's hair.

Now you turn the key and the gate's sudden
red iron – the last moment we've netted.
You've picked a soundtrack, you want
to say to keep it light, don't get attached
('no angel') and I want to shock you agreeing
yeh keep it light
and I can carry you a while. For a day or two
I'll have this cumulus bruise (your passing weather)
on my lower lip.


Up here it turns out it's less simple
a ewe's fleece
stained by the season of her last tup.

Jen Hadfield, from Scottish Poetry Library

Humming Home

Home is calling me
I hear it in the engines humming
Upon my tracks a storm is coming, but I'm not running
I'll be safely in their arms when it comes knocking

And home is calling me
Asking me to lay my head
Release my thoughts and let them tread the softest ground
I am keen to watch them running for the hills

And I may join them
Dismiss my duties
Me and my demons
Are daring beauties

And at the horizon we'd stand
With hope in our hands
Casting our shadows, tell every man
"We are free! We are free!"

I do not want a war
But if you've come to claim my land
I cannot swear I'll be so kind to give in
I have dug my heart and soul into this soil

But you are wearing me down
I need to find a place to fall
I cannot rebuild these walls with every shell
I am asking you to let me be myself

For if I join you
Took up your duty
You and your demons
Obsessed with beauty

So soon would I run to the river
And take off my shoes
Swim for my life and call to the sky
"Set me free! Set me free!"

I had to leave
Return to where I speak the truth
Return to where I left my youth
It still plays on, home is calling me

Home is calling me
Home is calling me
Home is calling me

Rachel Sermanni

Air Tràigh Bhostaidh

Air mo làimh chlì
tha tobhta;
air mo làimh dheis muir a’ gluasad.

Tha ’ghainmheach bhàn a’ sìneadh
fo mo leth-thaobh ’s mi air m’ uilinn
gu a crìch, thall
aig cluas na geodhaidh;
’s tha ’ghrian geal oirre
a’ cuir lasair an aghaidh nan gràinean—
aodainn a thàinig air uachdair
latha soilleir
eadar dhà shluaisneadh
’s a dh’fhiosraich boillsgeadh a dh’eachdraidh a’ bhaile.

Air mo chùlaibh tha leas;
fo thuim ghlasa, suainte
às a’ ghréin
tha na daoine ’nan eachdraidh.
Ann an aodann a leacan, ’na seasamh
am fianais na tobhta
’s na mara
tha saoghal ’s a bhial fodha—
eachdraidh a’ dol am fuar-mheas.

Donald MacAulay, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair / The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Sampler  (ed by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin/Christopher Whyte)

On the Beach at Bosta

An old house decomposes
to my left;
sea is travelling
to my right.

Pitched up on my elbow
I make a kind of cavern
for the crab-coloured sand. It skitters
away to the edge of the inlet
where the sun pins it white,
irradiating the grains’ faces—
faces which surfaced one day
between surges, gleamed and glanced
with the township’s history.

Behind me is a garden;
under fallow hillocks
tucked away from the sun
the people are in history.
Facing its stones,
within sight of the roofless house
and the sea,
a world swings into its antipodes,
and history turns over and over and over.

trans by David Kinloch