10 dun caan

Dùn Caan

Dùn Caan, LA

Dùn Caan offers its image
to the sky in the dark
   pool of Loch na Meilich

delighted by the cap’s view
Boswell performed a solo
   Highland Schottische

Dùn Caan’s name may derive from Canu, a king referred to in Annals of Ulster. For site records of the hill and 

the battle fought on its summit see RCAHMS (Grid ref NG53NE 6). This viewpoint on Raasay, Isle of the Roe 
Deer, is the only one located off Skye. The distinctive flat-topped volcanic plug of Dùn Caan gave it the nickname 
Raasay’s Cap. Boswell & Johnson visited the island on their Highland tour in 1773; the verse is based on a poem 
Ken Cockburn composed on the summit, published on the road north. Gavin Morrison discusses Johnson's visit
in his essays.

panorama of ‘Hallaig’ from Dùn Caan

Hallaig (after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA

‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig’

Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig
trom faca mi an Àird an Iar
’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig
’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh
eadar an t-Inbhir ’s Poll a’ Bhainne,
thall ’s a bhos mu Bhaile Chùirn

   (Somhairle MacGill-Eain)

(after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA

‘Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig’

There's a board nailed across the window

I looked through to see the west
And my love is a birch forever
By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst
Between Inver and Milk Hollow,
somewhere around Baile-chuirn

    (Sorley MacLean, tr. Seamus Heaney)

Hallaig (after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA

the flat palisade of the summit
overlooks the 12 places whose names
form the skeleton of Sorley MacLean's
   elegiac masterpiece, ‘Hallaig’

litany of a heartbroken landscape
devastated by the hated Rainy
who cleared the townships the poem
   lovingly commemorates

years ago now, I climbed the path,
more kin to a purling burn,

and sat with my back to the trig,
holding the poem open,
looking around me,
along the length of Raasay
across to the mountains of Applecross
   & the Cuillin massif

I realized the poem was embedded
in Dùn Caan's complete conspectus,
& as I located each name

on the map, it lit up
   in my mind

as Sorley summoned the procession

of the dead to endlessly pass by,
alive, if only in his magnificent
incantatory speech & my remembrancing

Hallaig (after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA


   Allt Hallaig
   the Burn of Hallaig

   an t-Inbhir

   Poll a’ Bhainne
   Milk Hollow

   Dùn Cana
   Dùn Cana

   Cnoc an Ra
   Cnoc an Ra

   Bheinn na Lice
   Beinn na Lice





   Allt na Feàrnaibh
   Burn of Alders

Hallaig (after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA

added to these, the unnamed home,
‘Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig’

the window, now unboarded, that looked
   to the west

Meg & I ate our picnic as the rain
slid down the windshield,
parked by the cottage at Oskaig;     
   we followed the poet’s gaze

from Àird Ghiuthai & An Àird’s wing,
over the beacon of Dùnan an Aisilidh,
on between Ben Lee & Glàmaig,
down Loch Sligachan to Sgùrr nan Gillean
& the fourth pinnacle,
   the Knight’s Peak

that day a life came into perspective,
looking over to Sorley & Renee’s final home,
snug at Peighinn a’Chorrainn,
where Glàmaig & Oskaig are framed
in different windows
& the Battle of the Braes is
   by the garden gate

Hallaig, Sorley MacLean, tr. Seamus Heaney; Hallaig (see here and here). I made a poem-label bearing each 

of the names and Luke Allan photographed in the direction of each place, from Dùn Caan. You can view the 
complete panorama of labels here. The Clearances on Raasay predate the island's purchase by George Rainy
in 1846, but it was he who brought in workers from the Lowlands and England, bringing about what Norma 
MacLeod defines as a 'definite break in tradition'; see John MacInnes' review of MacLeod’s Raasay: The 
Island and its People (Birlinn, 2005). The name 'Hallaig’ may derive from Norse,  Holy BayMacBain gives 
Oskaig as either Osk's Bay, or The Desire Bay; Àird Ghiuthais, Fir Height or Pine Height; An Àird, The Point
The Knight’s Peak is on Sgùrr nan Gillean. Translations of the mountain names are given with the conspectus 
below. Peighinn a’Chorrainn, or Peinachorainn, the poet's final home, is also referred to in the guide to Dùnan 
an Aisilidh, which begins very near it, and which looks back toward Dùn Caan and Oskaig. For more on the 
Battle of the Braes see Gavin Morrison's essays.

word-mntn (Quiraing); poem AF, photograph LA

word-mntn (An Storr); poem AF, photograph LA

Raasay word-map

Sorley MacLean’s conspectus


word-mntn (Glàmaig); poem AF, photograph LA

in a later retrospect, Sorley described
his childhood view from Raasay
as a conspectus & the foundation
   for his poetics

Raasay is a centre-point, with such a wonderful
situation in relation to Skye & the mainland
   of Wester Ross

from Raasay we could see the Cuillin,
from Sgùrr nan Gillean to Bruach na Frìthe
& further south-east, the great landscape
   of Blà-Bheinn & Garbh-Bheinn

from Raasay we could see the coast of Skye,
from Beinn na Caillich in Broadford
to Rudha nam Bràithrean in Staffin

from Raasay there must be very few
stretches of sea in the Highlands
more spectacular than the Clàrach,
   the southern sound

   (Sorley MacLean)

This description is adapted from an interview with Sorley MacLean by Donald Archie MacDonald, ‘Some 

Aspects of Family and Local Background’, published in Sorley MacLean: Critical Essays, ed. Raymond J.
Ross & Joy Hendry (Scottish Academic Press, 1986). Rudha nam Bràithrean, Headland of the Brothers
translations of the mountain names are given with the conspectus below.

 word-mntn (Liathach); poem AF, photograph LA

 word-mntn (Sgùrr nan Gillean); poem AF, photograph LA

word-mntn (Dùn Caan), AF

Luke Allan's vision of the Cuillin

the Cuillin from Dun Caan (photograph LA)

when Proust caught sight
in a foreign market town 
of a spire above the trees
it reminded him of the spire 
from the church of his childhood 
and he exclaimed, simply,
the church

so from the summit of 
Dùn Caan
look out over the Cuillins' 
undulating cloud shadow, Glamaig's 
distant lifted pinnacle,
and exclaim, silently,
the world

   (Luke Allan)

Composed after a stay on Raasay in August 2011. Story about Proust and the spire is taken from Swan's Way 

For 'the dim glen's lamp' (below), see Trevor Joyce's poems of Sweeny Peregrine: a working of the corrupt 
Irish text (New Writers Press, 1976)

word-mntn (Glamaig), AF

Trevor Joyce's vision of the woods of Raasay



   (after Trevor Joyce)

vision of Celeste

The Celeste, Zoe Walker & Neil Bromwich

from Raasay bàta brèagha
the bonnie boat Celeste set sail
   over the Clàrach

around the point of Beinn Tianavaig
broadcasting her shimmer of soundings
   & silver beams

Celeste featured in Bàta Brèagha / Bonnie Boat, a multimedia artist project by Neil Bromwich & Zoe  
Walker, commissioned by Atlas (Skye), Isle of Skye, September 2011.

word-mntn (Beinn Tianavaig), AF

Strummer of Raasay


Hallaig (after Somhairle MacGill-Eain); poem AF (after SM), photograph, LA

look from Dùn Caan along Raasay's spine,
beyond Inverarish & Beinn a Chapuill,
is the road Callum made by hand,
   from Brochel to Arnish

a way of life may someday flourish
beyond the road end, beneath the gneiss slabs
   of Beinn na h-Iolaire

at the township of Umachan, far from the Westway,
the ashes of Joe Strummer were scattered
by the ruined croft built by his

Calum's Road, constructed by Malcolm MacLeod, as described in Roger Hutchinson's Calum's Road 

(2006) and Timothy Neat’s When I was young: voices from lost communities in Scotland: the islands 
(Birlinn, 2000). Paul Camilli writes an intersting blog on life off-grid on Raasay, life at the end of the 
road. Joe Strummer, founding member of The Clash, discovered his Skye Nicolson ancestry late in life 
and, although he never visited, he had his ashes scattered on Raasay. Bandmate Paul Simonon painted 
this view and left a Clash album lodged in the township's last standing gable. 'London Burning' includes 
the lyric: "I'm up and down the Westway, in and out the lights. / What a great traffic system, it's so bright.
/ I can't think of a better way to spend the night, / than speeding around underneath the yellow lights." 
(1979). It is interesting to compare the band's romantic insurrectionary spirit on albums such as  
Sandinista with Sorley MacLean's anti-Fascist poetry of the 1930s.

word-mntn (Bruach na Frìthe); poem AF, photograph LA

the island not taken

word-mntn (Meall Acairseid); poem AF, photograph, LA

in the early 90s Jimmy Cauty & Bill Drummond
came to Skye, seeking an island on which to found
   a new vision

they sailed from Portree in a fishing-boat,
over the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Rona,
   which was for sale

they shared a vision of the island as the base
for the next chapter in their creative adventure;
a cross between The Thunderbirds isle
   & something not yet dreamed

on the crossing the distinctive form
of a killer whale surfaced alongside the boat
   & followed them

it was the first time either of them
had been close to a killer whale;
a porpoise or dolphin would have felt welcoming
but this killer sent a different message:
   they were being warned

landed safely on Rona’s south tip
the fisherman agreed to collect them
from the main bay, Acarseid Mhór, at eleven
   the next morning

all that day they fought their way
through heather, birch, bracken & bushes
under attack from battalion after battalion
   of midges

the night Bill spent on Rona was filled
   with disturbing dreams

the next morning the fisherman
picked them up at the allotted time
   & ferried them back

it was a relief to be off the island;
they never discussed their idea further,
knowing instinctively that Rona
   was not the place they dreamed of

Bill Drummond recalls that the asking price for the island would only get you a flat in London; they were 

flush from meddling in pop music at the time. Drummond later returned to Skye to work on a very different 
project, The 17, described in the guide to Dùn Liath

Dùn Caan 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 Caan. 
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 Caan 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 Caan, 
can be found on the drawing page.

An StòrrThe Big (One)
Beinn a' ChapuillMountain of the Horse
Beinn LìColoured or Water Mountain (?)
Beinn na Caillich Mountain of the Crone
Beinn na h-IolaireMountain of the Eagle
Ben TianavaigBay or Harbour Mountain
Blà-bheinnBlue Mountain
Bruach na FrìtheBrae of the Moor Forest
Garbh Bheinn Rough Mountain
GlàmaigThe Greedy Woman
LiathachThe Hoary Place
Meall AcairseidMeall, lumpish, shapeless hill; Acairseid, anchorage, harbour
Quiraing Round Fold
Sgùrr nan GilleanPeak of the Lads

Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Ken Cockburn
Bill Drummond
Gavin Morrison

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



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