1 dùn bàn

Dùn Bàn
Dùn Bàn & Port a' Chùil, AF

let's begin with a pun, surveying the skye-line
from a cliff-top dùn, where viewing can discern design
deepening the meaning that hides within seeing
   beyond even these far horizons

as with Dùnan an Aisilidh, Dùn Sgathaich & Dùn Liath
Bàn is a coastal dùn, perfect for a beacon flame,
set on a stack of rock, ideal for a defensive wall,
though now only bracken delays us on the path
above the cliffs of Port a' Chùil  
where the boats are bobbing in a blaze of June sun

Dùn Bàn, The White Fort (grid ref: NG71SW 2). Site records can be viewed on RCAHMS
The other dùns – Dùnan an Aisilidh, Sgathaich & Liath – have their own guides. Port a' Chùil 
is sometimes translated as bay of boats, cùil, nook, and caol, kyle or narrows.

the western seaboard

word-mntn (Ladhar-Bheinn); poem & photograph, AF

'one does not go to Sleat to climb mountains'

   (SMC Guide: The Island of Skye)

Skye’s preeminent peaks are hidden from view
but north, south and east
còmhlan bheanntan, the company of mountains
sweeps across the mainland, from Knoydart
to Morar, Arisaig, Ardnamurchan & the Isle of Mull

imagine you could see through Beinn a' Chapuill’s ridge
to the dùns of Troddan, Grugaig & Telve,
the great ruined brochs crowning Gleann Beag
there are three peaks west of Beinn a' Chapuill
two form Beinn Sgritheall,
the third, Beinn na h-Eaglaise
south are the eminences of Beinn na Caillich
the arrowhead of Ladhar-Bheinn
& Stob a' Chearcaill

due west of the dùn is Meall Buidhe,
the yellow knoll,
and peeping over the skyline
above the port of Mallaig,
the crest of Mèith-Bheinn
sunk north of this peak
is Loch Morar's deepest freshwater

   deeper than
       the sea
       as deep
   as the ocean

south of Knoydart shine the silica-white sands
of Morar & Arisaig, which squeak as they sing,
looking south now, beyond Loch Ailort,
let your eyes settle on the widely-spaced summits
   that crown Rois-Bheinn 

this entire rugged skyline of Knoydart, Morar & Arisaig
is known in Gaelic as Na Garbh Chrìochan
   The Rough Bounds
a name faithful to a region
devoted to the Jacobite cause
which was terribly cleared

a clear day's panorama over Ardnamurchan
reaches south to the caldera of Mull’s great mountains
the greatest, Beinn Mhòr, spewed out the lava
which froze in the basalt columns of Staffa & Ulva

The quote is from Malcolm Slesser’s SMC District Guide: The Island of Skye (Scottish 
Mountaineering Trust, 1970). The mountain names are translated in the conspectus below.

word-mntn (Beinn Mhòr), AF

   Meg hands me

   and points out
     Beinn Mhòr

Isle of Eigg & Isle of Rùm

word-mntn (An Sgùrr); poem & photograph, AF

the intelligence of Dùn Bàn’s position
can be seen if you turn and look over the horizon
of Sgùrr nan Caorach, south-west, to the skyline of Rùm
from this conspectus you can visualize
a complete Rùm traverse
scrambling south-north from Sgùrr nan Gillean
along the ridge to Ainshval
down Bealach an Fhuarain
to the twin tops of Trollabhal
across Bhealach an Oir to the highest peak,
the spear of Askival,
on to the boulder-strewn ridge end
at Hallival

further south the silhouette of Eigg
   echoes the ridgeline of Aird Point

Sandaig & Camusfearna

word-mntn (Beinn Sgritheall); poem AF, photograph EN

turn north-east, up the Sound of Sleat
there's another fort named Bàn,
twinned by dint of aspect and rock type,
both Bàns being white as a mark of the tumult
of schist & quartzite that ripples in the fault
of the moine thrust, through Applecross & Assynt,
to Loch Eriboll & Durness, threading an immense
vein from the garden of Sleat to the wilds
   of the north coast

giving its name to Doune Bay, Bàn faces Bàn diagonally,
the two coastal ruins align the twin summits
of Beinn Sgritheall, south-west, with Rùm’s peaks
   Askival & Trollabhal

the far ruined fort stands above Sandaig point,
near Gavin Maxwell’s Camusfearna,
named for the bay of alders;
the house only survives in his three famous memoirs
   of those years spent with otters

under the spell of desire the poet Kathleen Raine
came to Camusfearna, drawn by Gavin’s luminous aura,
she wooed him with votive offerings
of sea-shells and feathers, gifts which went unnoticed

sharing only one lonely night together in his bed
their bodies did not meet; Raine’s mind fantasized
a chimera of emotions revealed in her diaries,
to which Gavin’s only response was
   I feel none of this

He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples travel from the Sound of Sleat,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift Allt na Loacainn
He has married me with the sun's circle
Too dazzling to see, traced in summer sky.
He has crowned me with the wreath of white cloud
That gathers on the snowy summit of Beinn Sgritheall

   (after Kathleen Raine)

the ring was offered in vain; love turned
from frustration to wrath, and the curse Raine cast
under the protection of the rowan
   which stood near the house 

   let Gavin suffer in this place 
   as I am suffering now

Raine’s abiding wound was regret, and the guilt
that her fatalistic thought imposed, as if her curse
had been the cause of the fire which
killed Edal the otter, and brought ruin
   to Gavin’s retreat

Gavin Maxwell: see Ring of Bright Water (1960), The Rocks Remain (1963) and Raven Seek
Thy Brother (1969). The poem is an extract from Kathleen Raine's 'The Marriage of Psyche', 
with place names local to Sandaig interpolated by AF; it was first published on the road north 
blog. After the fire that killed Edal Maxwell had the cottage demolished. My account of 
Maxwell & Raine's relationship draws on a conversation with Meg Bateman.

colours of Dùn Bàn

Dùn Bàn (The White Fort); poem & photograph, AF

Dùn Bàn, The White Fort,
named for the quartzite
it was built upon

white riddled
in the language
of wildflowers

pinks of marsh valerian,  
thrift, darker campion
& dove’s-foot cranesbill  

yellows of St John’s Wort
plied ragwort
& tiny eyebright  

purples of thyme,
bell heather
& melancholy thistle

blue scabious,
& blue-black bramble

tell-tale tang of sorrel
white of styptic yarrow  
& scattered cow parsley  

some see a ruin
while others scent
a wild sea garden

on a spit of rock
covered by sward
splashed by white spume  

recolouring to Dùn Bàn

on the April day we return
last summer’s flowers are gone
and this year Bàn is coloured

with yellow primrose & celandine  
and the new white is snow                                                                       
veiled in cloud on Beinn Sgritheall

Meg Bateman helped me identify the flora on Dùn Bàn on our first visit, with Emma Nicolson, 
in May 2011: marsh valerian, caoirin lèana; thrift, neòinean cladaich; campion, cìrean coilich
dove’s-foot cranesbill, craobh preachain mìn; St John’s Wort, lus chaluim chille; ragwort,
buaghallan buidhe; eyebright, lus nan leac; thyme, lus an rìgh; bell heather, fraoch a' bhadain
melancholy thistle, cluaran; scabious, gille guirmein; forget-me-not, lus midhe àitich; bramble,
dreas; sorrel, samh; yarrow; lus chosgadh na fola; cow parsley, costag fhiadhain; and the 
primrose, sòbhrac, and celandine, searragaich, which I saw on my second visit, with Ken 
Cockburn, in April 2012.

 Dùn Bàn (The White Fort)

Meg Bateman’s flora

this litany of flora, composed by Meg Bateman,
celebrates the flowers of this region

The Year’s Flowers              
for my mother              
who taught me their names                
      The first sign, a starry celandine,
   shining through a lattice of broken stalks,                
then my favourite, wine-heady primroses,                
   and anemones in quivering clumps by the burn                
where violets flicker, and naked coltsfoot                
   stare unblinking at the watery sun,                
and dandelions and marigolds blaze lusty                
   as Van Gogh’s sunflowers in craggy paint.

May comes in a blur of bluebells,
   impossible to sidestep in field and wood
where fronds of bracken unfurl beneath them
   and constellations of garlic turn above.
Bog cotton waves bright silk pennants,
   snow piles high on hawthorn in the heat,
tormentil and bedstraw strew the meadows
   with their minute rectilinear geometry.

Above its lime-green leaf corona
   butterwort’s pansy-faces float in June,
and spikes of deep magenta orchids
   and orange asphodel stud the moor.
Pale, purple-veined lady-smock
   is favoured for cuckoo-spit in long fresh grass;
eyes of speedwell open wide on the world,
   milkwort’s infant eyes are pinched and dark.

Architectural, angular, the yellow iris
   blooms too briefly in bog and on shore
where stonecrop and thyme carpet the boulders
   and sea-thrift springs straight from the rock;
pink sea-spurrey and sea-milkwort
   spangle the shingle with their fleshy lobes
and your shoes scrunch on the sea-aster
   growing on the flats in luxuriant mounds.

Powder-blue, floppy, crimson-spurred cranesbill,
   valerian and woundwort grow tall by the burn,
with delicate stitchwort and globeflower like peonies,
   and the utmost azure of forget-me-not;
in the dusky hues of old satins and damask
   water avens hide below their burs,
and waterlily buds, like eggs in waterglass,
   linger below the surface of the pools.

Rhododendron’s mauve is tinged with orange
   of stigma and stamen as it blooms in the woods
where foxgloves meet in secret conventions,
   their nipples dangling deepest pink;
and pink is the campion, the herb Robert,
   and ragged Robin, straggling through fields
whose hedges are musty with sprays of elderflower
   above tangled brambles in rose-like bloom.

Ox-eye daisies sway by the roadside,
   purple clover cushions the verge,
walls sprout waxy saxifrage and stonecrop,
   and butterfly orchids gleam candle-white.
St John’s wort, St Columba’s armpit,
   opens its yellow flowers amid red buds,
and the umbelliferae, like nests in the ditches,
   too numerous to learn, spread out like lace.

July comes with the scent of the dog-rose
   and plumes of creamy meadow-sweet;
rubies dangle in fuchsia hedges,
   blue vetch clambers though the apple tree.
Giddy with aggression, swords at the ready,
   busbied thistles stand guard by the road,
rusty spikes of sorrel and bristling rushes
   make punctuation marks on a page of green.

Heather everywhere makes August fragrant,
   an exquisite carpet lies over the scree
where crowberry and blaeberry have cast anchor
   by lady’s mantle’s seven-fingered leaf.
On a croft above Elgol, grass of Parnassus –
   the jewel I’ve hoped to find all year,
its green-veined petals make a cup of honey,
   five nectaries gathered in its base like pearls.

Yellow-rattle rattles at every footstep,
   pom-poms of scabious bob above the turf;
the ragwort looks ragged, the bracken deflated –
   no need now for the breast-stroke to part its fronds.
Strung between hardhead and fists of burdock
   chandeliers gleam with beads of dew;
willow-herb takes the crimson baton from the foxglove,
   and montbretia flares up at the opening of the schools.

With the onset of September the wind sounds different
   as leaves of bog myrtle and birch grow crisp,
the thistles collapse in disarray by the roadside,
   over the purple heather a brown tinge creeps;
yet among the hips, there are still roses,
   among the blackberries, flowers still shine,
on top of its spur, another foxglove opens,
   and Michaelmas daisies begin to bloom.

Like the low autumn sun, the last stragglers –
   hawkweed, hardhead, scabious, rose –
are richly hued, but for the bindweed,
   its pink candy-stripes incongruous in the cold.
With a hissing and tinkling, October showers
   tumble on the loch and as quickly stop;                
buzzards are buffeted as they ride on the currents,
   rank grass is blown in swathes and flops.

All movement now and gaiety and fragrance
   are not of the flowers but of falling yellow leaves,
as the land wraps her shaggy fur about her,
   against salt spray, leaching, hurricane, ice;
when a season later by the snow-muffled river,
   on a battered bank of pockmarked mud,
below beads of hail and broken bracken,
   a galaxy of eight-pointed celandines burns.

(Meg Bateman, first published Archipelago, No. 5, 2011)

Kevin Henderson’s Sandy Beach, Point of Sleat

the world emerges at a different pace
it’s there to study   time for things up close
the seeing mind moving   at this speed
can drift and go inside
as well as take in
that which is not a part of it

the birch-thin separation
of layers of perceived reality

a black polished stone
on this a square of toilet paper
on this a toothbrush

Kevin Henderson, May 2012

word-mntn (Beinn na h-Eaglaise), AF

Dùn Bàn conspectus 

This conspectus is composed from the names of some of the mountains that 
visible from this location. The centre-point marks the location of Dùn Bàn. 
typography represents the view as it is experienced by the human eye, 
giving an
approximate impression of distance and scale. Mountain ridges are 
indicated by
overlapping names. The gradation of hill slopes is suggested by 
the use of grey-
scale, with the peak in black.

Click on this graphic to view the original and, if you wish, 
print it out for use in
situ. A booklet containing all 14 conspectuses is available from ATLAS ArtsThe
14 conspectuses have also been archived in an 
album, indexed hereA complete 
list of the mountains referred to in the Dùn Bàn guide is given 
below, with links
from each one to its OS map. English translations have been 
given where possible.
A gallery of word-mntn drawings, including mountains visible from Dùn Bàn, 
can be found on the drawing page.

An Sgùrr The Peak
Ainshval    Hill of the Strongholds 
Askival Peak of the Ash
Beinn a' Chapuill Mountain of the Horse
Bealach an Fhuarain                            The Pass of the Well?
Beinn Bhreac Dappled Mountain
Beinn Mhòr Great Mountain
Beinn na Caillich Mountain of the Crone
Beinn na H-Eaglaise
Mountain of the Church
Beinn Sgritheall Mountain of the Scree
Eigg Notched Isle
Hallival Fell with Ridge of Terraces
Ladhar-Bheinn Hill of the Claw  
Sgurr nan Gillean Peak of the Lads
Meall Buidhe                          Yellow Knoll  
Mèith-bheinn Sappy Hill
Rois-bheinn Mountain of Showers or Horse Mountain
Stob a' Chearcaill Peak of the Rounded Corrie or Stump of the Circle
Sgùrr Alasdair Alexander's Peak
Sgùrr Dearg Red Peak
Sgùrr nan Éag Notched Peak
Sgùrr nan Gobhar Peak of the Goats
Trollabhal Troll Peak

Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Emma Nicolson (EN)
Meg Bateman
Gavin Morrison
Kevin Henderson

Gaelic consultant
Maoilios Caimbeul  


to view the next conspectus click here
to return to the map with links to all 14 guides click here
to read the project overview click here 

for basic project information, including acknowledgements, click here

Còmhlan Bheanntan | A Company of Mountains
commissioned by ATLAS, Skye, 2012-13