14 Dùntulm


word-mntn (Cnoc Roll); poem AF, photograph EN

before cnoc roll was topped by a telecom mast
it was the rolling knoll, down which miscreants flew
   in a nail-studded barrel

the Macdonalds marched a small band round
& round & round this grassy knoll,
Dad’s Army style, as a ploy to dissemble
and confuse a murder-keen band 
of raiding Macleods from
   assaulting Dùntulm

Dùntulm, Fort of the Grassy Headland, (Grid ref: NG 40994 74359), for site records see RCAHMS
Originally known as Dùn Dhaibhidh, David's Fort, ownership of this prestigious site was fought over 
by the MacDonald's and Macleaod's for many years, as in the tale of the MacDonald’s deception on 
Cnoc Roll. It was abandoned in 1730s.

panorama of the Western Isles

word-mntn (Roineabhal), poem AF, photograph EN

'what? You claim you’re a Scotsman too?
Come, let us test you then, my friend…
Where are Fladda Chuain and the Ascrib Isles?'

   (Hugh MacDiarmid)

where are they, they’re here, washed 
by the tides that trend 
from the sea-girt ruin of Dùntulm,
spiraling between isles, 
around the rock sills
   of Fladaigh Chuain

   Fladaigh Chuain
   Gaeilavore Island
   The Cleats

surging on to the fey Shiants, aligning
   with the moon

   Garbh Eilean
   Eilean an Taighe
   Eilean Mhuire       
   Gealta Beag
   Galta Mor   

the flat isle of the ocean, 5 miles out
in the sea room, circled by puffins,
who flight above a scattering of skerries,
like so many skimmies that were flung
   and forgot to sink

until it went missing on Fladaigh Chuain
the weeping stone was always wet
like the deck of the Apollo, (ex-Kathar, ex-Santiago)
   wrecked here in 1971

on 6 November 2002 the nuclear submarine
HMS Trafalgar ran aground on the rocks
   due to a navigational error

allowing the sailors to become birders
with the chance to hear the special wrens
of these isles, which differ from the wrens
of the mainland in the timbre of their
   islandish song

and where’s the island over The Minch,
there’s the island, Siud an t-Eilean,
whose English names suggest a holm divided,
though circumnavigating Vikings & Gaels
knew the isle is bridged by a horseshoe
   of mountains

Isle of Lewis

   An Cliseam
   Mulla Bho Dheas
Giolabhal Glas
   Ceann Reamhar

Isle of Harris

Ian Stephen's view of Lewis: East Side

   for Pat Law

It's only one clear line.
One of the unwritten rules
between the sharp upper shape
and the lower


a reflection.

In this light now
the rocks in air and water
are strong, white, equal.
The little green's gone.
Maroon is a tint
in the charcoal blacks.

   (Ian Stephen)

The epigraph is from Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem ‘Scotland’. Fladaigh Chuain, Flat Isle of the Ocean
with the smaller Cleats, Sea Cliffs, nearby. Fladaigh Chuain is host to a sub-species of wren, featured 
in the artist Rebecca Chesney’s ’dead wrens’ project (University of Aberdeen, 2009). Her correspond-
ence with Dr. Emily Brooke confirms that the Fladaigh wrens have a distinct song. The weeping stone
a black stone which Ott Swire describes as being within the chapel St Coumba ordered to be built on 
Fladaigh Chuain. Swire also tells of the old belief that puffins circled the isle three times sunwise before 
departing. The Shiant Isles, Hallowed Isles, brought by Nigel Nicolson, thye publisher, son of Harold 
Nicolson and Vita Sackville West, in 1937, now owned by his grandson Tom. No sea separates the isles 
of Lewis and Harris, which are known in Gaelic as Siud an t-Eilean, literaly there’s the island. Ptolemy 
refers to the island as Adru, Bulky Isle. Translations of some of the mountain names appear in the 
conspectus below. Ian Stephen, formerly coastguard on Isle of Lewis; this poem, 'Shoreline (East Side
of Lewis)', revised from a version published in Adrift/Napospas vlnám (Periplum, Olomouc, 2007). In
a recent email Ian recalls 'great memories of meeting up with Pat and Andy at Dùntulm – we'd sailed 
through fog from the Shiants and were quite relieved to get clear of Eilean Trodday shipping lane – Pat 
met us with dinner to take aboard El Vigo'.

word-mntn (An Cliseam)

            circle poem, AF


Alexander MacQueen's suicide note, GD

in Kilmuir graveyard, near Flora MacDonald's cross,
which still bears Johnson's paean in praise
of the everlasting honor of her name,
there stands a new stone, with golden lettering,
fashioned for Alexander MacQueen, inscribed
   after these lines from the dream

   love looks not with the eyes
   but with the mind

Dr Johnson’s words inscribed on MacDonald’s grave: "A name that will be mentioned in history, and 
if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour". The fashion designer Lee Alexander 
MacQueen was descended from the MacQueen's of Dùntulm; his ashes were scattered in Kilmuir. 
The drawing by artist Graham Dolphin is one in a series depicting papers, including suicide notes, 
belonging to figures in the world's of fashion and popular music (here).


R.House, Borgh na Sgiotaig, NT

among the crofts of Borgh na Sgiotaig
is an R.House, a social house, a flexi kit-house,
clad in render panels & larch, which will weather
   to silvery grey   

inspired not by the black houses but the byres
of Skye, which are as much part
   of its peoplescape

R.House (Alan Dickson & James MacQueen) aim to provide high quality design with low-cost constr-
uction. The first example was built near Kilmuir in 2011, with panels built at Crossal, and then craned 
into position. For more details of the innovative R.House concept see the website.

R.House, photograph NT

Uamh Òir

Uamh Òir; photograph, John Allan

on the point at Bornesketaig is Uamh Òir,
the Cave of Gold, in which a piper battled
the monstrous 'green bitch' in a tale retold
   by Iain Crichton Smith

He went into the cave
as into a grave
playing his pipes.

And the green bitch savaged them.

She snapped furiously at the bag
with her sharp teeth, and the music flagged
into the grey prevailing fog.

O the green bitch savaged them.

I shall not return,
shall not return,

though the rash boy should become old bone

though the gauche girl should become old crone

though the moss be in the bagpipes' drone.

I'll not return.

From the green hill the green bitch came.
O was it Nature was its name

   (Iain Crichton Smith)

Crichton Smith’s translation after ‘The Cave of Gold’ was first published in P N Review 118, Vol. 24, 
No. 2, 1997. For a longer version of the tale see Sorley MacLean's poem ‘Uamh Òir’ and translation, in  
Sorley MacLean: Collected Poems (Polygon, 2011); MacLean includes the famous lines in which the 
piper regrets not having three hands, two to play the pipes and one to wield the sword. You can hear
 a song version by Margaret Bennett here.

Tulm Bay

word-mntn (An Cliseam); poem AF, photograph EN

Seton Gordon liked to play the pipes
along Tulm Bay, performing piobaireachd,
or using the chanter to mimic the keening
of the augural redshank, his tune rising
from the note of sorrow, to mingle
with the calls & mews of the birds echoing
   from the cliffs
so our expedition ends with this poetic rendition,
in theme & variation, imagining a pibroch
as it reverberates among the mountains
   of Skye

   the only fit music
   for the Last day

   (Hugh MacDiarmid)

The naturalist and author Seton Gordon lived at Dùntulm for many years. James Macdonald Lockhart 
provided the information on his piping and the ‘Orphean’ imitation of birdsong, which recalls John 
Purser’s discussion of the shamanic mimicry of birdsong in Celtic and Gaelic music in Scotland's Music 
(Mainstrean, 2007). Hanna Tuulikki is currently collaborating with Geoff Sample on a vocal project,  
Air falbh leis na h-eòin (Away with the Birds), inspired by the relationship between the Scottish Gaelic 
tradition and birds. You can listen to a sample here, and there is more about this project in the guide to 
Rubh an Dùnain. The piper’s note of sorrow is a high G; piobaireachd, pibroch, the great music of the 
Scottish bagpipe. For more on Dùntulm see Seton Gordon’s essay ‘Northernmost Point on the Misty 
Isle’, Highland Summer (Cassell, 1957).

Seton Gordon

word-mntn (Todùn), AF

two sorrows





Harry Gilonis, pibroch

a heron landing
on top of sea-wrack
folding wings
attending what’s near

on stones of the ebb-shore
seeing slippery ocean
hearing sea swallowing
brine chafing pebbles

seeing cold water
listening to uproar
breaking on slabs
a restless sea

ath-ruith  (thumb-variation/theme)

on wrack
folding wings

on an ebb-shore
seeing ocean
hearing sea 
chafing pebbles

seeing water
hearing uproar
on slabs
the sea


a grey heron landing
on top of sea-wrack,
folding wings
attending to what’s near

on the stones of an ebb-shore,
seeing the slippery ocean; 
hearing the sea swallowing,
and brine chafing pebbles

seeing the cold water, 
listening to beach uproar;
breaking on slabs, 
the restless sea


a demure heron landing
lowering her legs
on top of sea-wrack,
maroon and vile-smelling; 
folding her wings close
- neat, quite fastidious -
attending to what’s near

on the bare stones of the ebb-shore
above the tide-line,
seeing the slippery ocean
light-patterned, netted; 
hearing the sea swallowing
- gutteral, glottal -
and brine chafing pebbles

seeing the cold salt water
of a cut-off lochan, 
listening to beach uproar,
slap of water on water;
breaking on flat slabs
- raised beach or skerry -
the restless sea


a demure grey heron landing
lowering her long legs
atop scattered sea-wrack,
midged, maroon and foul-smelling; 
folding her wide wings close, 
neat, if not fastidious,
and attending to what’s near her

on the bare stones of the ebb-shore
above the tide’s kelp-line,
seeing the slippery ocean
bright-light-patterned and fretted; 
hearing the throated sea swallow
gutterally, glottally,
and its brine chafe at pebbles

seeing the cold trembling water
of an arm of a sea-loch, 
listening to the beach uproar,
percussive slapping of water;
breaking headlong on slabs
of raised beach or skerry
is the restless sea

crunnluath (crown-variation)

a demure grey heron landing limber
lowering long legs and brown feet sluggishly
to alight on a spot she’d once arisen from 
on wave-scattered bladder-wrack,
midgy, maroon, slimy, foul-smelling; 
compactly folding widths of wings close, 
neatly, fastidiously, leaving her free
to turn an eye’s yellow iris
to attend to what’s near her

on the bare pale gneiss of the ebb-shore
above the syzygied spring-tide’s
storm-blurred kelp-line,
with the sun descending a flame of wrath:
seeing the ocean, slippery, reticulate, 
bright, light, and speckle-patterned; 
hearing the sea’s weeded throated
stuttering, swallowing, glottal and gutteral,
spitting at froth, its brine chafing at pebbles

seeing the tremulous salt-packed sea-cold water
of a lochan’s inlet cut off from the loch, 
listening to the noise of each agile wave
in its rising, its falling, and its swift rebounding,
each reach of beach’s reverberating roaring,
percussive slapping, water on water, as spray cascades;
and - breaking headlong on craggy slabs
of ceaselessly battered raised beach or skerry - 
are the dark deep waves of the restless sea

   for Sorley MacLean

           (Harry Gilonis)

after the last drone has faded
we attend to the silence
of all that we have seen and all
   that has happened

Gilonis's pibroch, which takes the familar theme and variation of the musical form and realisizes them 
in terms of poetry, first published in London (levraut de poche, 1994), republished with Gaelic trans-
lations by Maoilios Caimbeul (Edinburgh: Morning Star, 1996)

Dùntulm 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 Dùntulm. 
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 on the map page.
A complete list of the mountains referred to in the Dùntulm guide is given 
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
Dùntulm, can be found on the drawing page.

An Cliseam?
Ceann ReamharBig (Round) Hill
Cnoc Roll?
Giolabhal Glas?
Mulla Bho DheasSouthern Mound
RoineabhalRough-ground Fell

Alec Finlay (AF)
Gavin Morrison
Graham Dolphin (GD)
Ian Stephen
Harry Gilonis
Emma Nicolson
Nick Thomson

Gaelic consultant
Maoilios Caimbeul


to view the first conspectus, Dùn Bàn, 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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