11 Dùn Gerashader

Dùn Gerashader
Dùn Gerashader, LA

shorn of dwelling, the oval plateau’s lush
with flora, flagged in the rivers crook,
by yellow iris, thyme, stinging nettle,
sharp sorrel & dwarfie willow;                    
heir to the fort and its remnants,
this wild garden sinks its roots
into the bog-rich nutrients
   of ruin

Dùn Gerashader & An Stòrr, LA

snug in the confluence of River Chracaig & Martaig Burn
Gershader reminds me of Carver’s poem
describing his love for the places
where waters meet one-another:
meandering burn, winding river,
flow down to the bustling harbour
and generous broad bay that opens
   into the sea highway

dùns such as Gerashader were forts & grainstore                   
corrals for cattle, homes & seats, hollow-walled
   keeps & watchtowers

it’s easy to imagine the dùn as a hilltop compass,
aligning calends, determining the shining domains
   of the inter-lunar lords

overlooking the long glen there are peaks dividing
each quadrant of the dùn, issuing an invitation
to draw leys as poetic lines, over the township
   and wild landscape

   that men may read
   in the mysterious map
   all lines and signs

   (Ben Jonson)

Dùn Gerashader, Fort of the Little Dwelling (Grid ref: NG489452); see RCAHMS site records.  
Discussing the flora with a local expert in botany, I speculated from past experience that, sometimes, 
a hidden dùn can be found by identifying plants, in particular thyme and sorrel, descendants of the 
ancient fort-dweller's garden; he disagreed, saying it was ' stretching a point', and countering that 
dwelling leaves a rich bed of nutrients: 'the building of the dùns and their subsequent development 
will have encouraged the growth of these and other plants. Another plant that is quite uncommon 
locally but is to be found on several duns is Dove's-foot Crane's-bill. Off the top of my head I know of 
no culinary use for this plant - there might be some obscure medical use. None of this proves that 
ancient plantings have not persisted - this is unknowable.' (Stephen Bungard). From whatever 
origins, the flora at Gershader includes: yellow iris, sealastair; thyme, lus an rìgh; nettle, deanntag;
 sorrel, samh; and willow, seileach ailpeach. River Chracaig , Crook-Bay River; the harbour is, of 
course, Portree, King’s Harbor. Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Soluis’ (‘Lights’) includes the line, 
‘boillsgidh uachdarain ra-dhorcha’, (‘the interlunar lords are shining’). Raymond Carver uses the 
image of a confluence in ‘Where Water Comes Together With Other Water’, in All of Us: The 
Collected Poems (Harvill, 2003); the quotation from Ben Jonson is from Pleasure reconciled to 
Virtue (1618), it was suggested by Amy Todman

Dùn Beag; poem & photo AF

word-mntn (Ben Tianavaig)



more notes on dùns

Dùn Gerashader; poem AF, photograph LA

the dùn was a collage of stone & timber

the dùn was a seat & keep

the dùn was prestigious, making a show of defence

the dùn was where I saw you coming, miles off

the dùn was an event
the dùn was a centre for a scattered settlement, defining folk’s place in the scheme of things

the dùn was proud of its midden, kept close-by, as proof of status

  (after Ian Armit) 

the notes on dùns draw on my research from the road north, and from the archaeologist Ian Armit’s 
survey The Archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles (Edinburgh University Press, 1996); a further 
set of these notes appear in the guide to Dùnan an Aisilidh

compassing the dùn

word-mntn (An Stòrr) poem AF, photograph LA

Gershader is a natural compass and sphere
   of influence:

west, the top flagstone, Healabhal Mhòr

south, the near eminence of Ben Tianavaig;
farther off Glàmaig, Marsco   
and the reigning ridge design of the Black Cuillin

north, A’ Chorra Bheinn, Beinn Mheadhonach, & Beinn a' Chearcaill
vertical, on the horizon, the bull’s pintle
hard as a rock, not drooping, but still
caught in a slow decline from An Stòrr to the seashore

word-mntn (Glàmaig) poem AF, photograph LA

looking at The Cuillins with Kuo Hsi

a mountain looks this way close to
another way a few miles away
and yet another way
from a distance of a dozen miles

a mountain changes shape at every step
the moreso the farther one goes

a mountain looks this way from the front
that way from the side
another way from the back

a mountain changes aspect from every angle
as many times as there are points of view

a mountain contains the skyline
of several dozen or a hundred mountains

a mountain changes with the seasons
looking this way in spring & summer
another way in autumn & winter

a mountain looks this way in the morning
another way at sunset
yet another way in rain or shine

a mountain changes manner and appearance
with morning and night

a mountain contains the form
of several dozen or a hundred
or thousands of mountains

   (after Kuo Hsi, 11th c. AD)

A suite of photographs depicting some of these hills and mountains can be viewed below. The final 
verses are a version of the Chinese painter Kuo Hsi's treatise mountains & rivers. The translations 
of the mountain names are included with the conspectus below. An Stòrr, The Big (One), fearures 
the Bodach an Stoir, Old Man of Stòrr: 46m pinnacle which detached from the cliffs c. 14,000 years 
ago and is slowly slipping toward the coast. Commonly identified with a pintle or penis; in his essay, 
‘Paths of Our Ancestors’, John Purser argues for an association with a bull, rather than human 
phallus, given the symbolical importance of cattle management in ancient Skye, (An Stòrr: 
unfolding landscape, NVA/Luath, 2005).

An Storr: Unfolding Landscape, photograph by Euan Barr

NVA, an environmental charity based in Glasgow, presented a contemporary rite on An Stòrr, feat-
uring lighting, sound and song; conceived by Angus Farquhar, An Storr (2005) was a reflection on 
mountain culture, in particular the mountains of Skye and Nepal, and a homage to the poetry of 
Sorley MacLean.

word-mntn (Ben Tianavaig); poem AF, photograph EN

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

word-mntn (A’ Chorra Bheinn); poem AF, photograph LA

flora of Trotternish

word mntn (An Stòrr / The Storr); poem AF, photograph EN

Gerashader's waters feed an alphabet of flowers
as your eye flutters along the wavy ridge
of the Trotternish trap, where slopes & crannies
are rich with mats of alpine & arctic flora,
wee orchids wedged in the scrim of flushes,
purslane, pearlwort & liverwort in the lee of cliffs                        
putting down roots into mineral soils
laced with zeolites which were deposited
   before life began

In geological terms a trap is basalt lava, stacks & sills; zeolite is microporous aluminosilicate. The 
names of the flora are orchid, mogairlean; purslane, seachranaiche; pearlwort mungan & liverwort, 
duilleag a' chruitheachd. The mesostic poems below list some of the flora that grow on the the 
Trotternish ridge, in English, Gaelic & Latin; the species were provided by Alex Turner of Scottish 
Natural Heritage; he also told me about a gentian that thrived under the equipment stands that NVA 
set up for An Stòrr, Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris; Lus a Chrubain). The translations are 
taken from C. W. Murray and H. J. B Birks, The Botanist in Skye and adjacent islands.


                    iceland puRslane
                                  koEnigia islandica
                                   puIrslean innis tile

                    northern rOck cress
                       arabis peTraea
                              biolaIr na creige thuathach

                    alpine peaRlwort
           sagina saginoidEs
               mungan mòiNtich

                  alpine saxifRage
                              saxifRaga nivalis
 clach-bhriseach an t-Sneachda

       alpine lady’s manTle
                                alchEmilla alpina

                                 yellOw saxifrage
                        saxifragE aizoides
                      clach-bhrIseach bhuidhe

                          globe flOwer
                         trollius Europaeus

                       field genTian
                         gentianElla campestris
                 lus a' chrùbaIn

vision of the Bunnymen

[http://www.flickr.com/photos/11121516@N03/]ask permission from Allan Brown
Echo and the Bunnymen, Portree Gathering Hall, July 5, 1983, AB

on their legendary leylines tour around the Hebrides
dreamed up by Bill Drummond, Echo & the Bunnymen
   played The Gathering Hall, Portree

guitarist Will Sergeant recalls all the Bunnymen
camped out like another invading army –

they were all camo'd up, so it was like
   army manoeuvres

J. C. R. Green, Hebridean haiku

word-mntn (Am Basteir); poem AF, photograph LA

noon (or 2 am)
   sunlight (or moonshine)
      the sea cools

in the dense mist
   what is being shouted
      between hill and boat

with the evening breeze
   the water laps
      the heron's legs

the sea darkens
   the voices of wild ducks
      faintly white

J. C. R. Green’s haiku, selected from 'Six Haiku Showing Zen, Harris 1973', in A Beaten Image 
(Aquila, 1973), and Sixty Haiku (Aquila, 1982). Thanks to the Scottish Poetry Library for providing 
the text. Green, known as Jim to his friends, was editor of Aquila Press and editor and publisher of 
the magazine Prospice. The poet and bookseller Alan Halsey recalls ‘Aquila was a prolific publisher, 
particularly of translations of poetry in languages not commonly translated – east European etc. He 
told me once that the latter financed his operation – he'd get generous subsidies from the embassies 
who would then take most of the print-run. When he moved from Skye he sent me his remaining stock
in I can't remember how many huge parcels; they arrived in Hay completely sodden, as if they'd been 
trailed off the back of the ferry’. 

word-mntn (Beinn a' Chearcaill)

Dùn Gerashader 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 Gerashader.

The typography represents the view as it is experienced by the human eye, 
an approximate impression of distance and scale. Mountain ridges are 
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 Gerashader. 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 Gerashader, can be found on the drawing page.

A' Corra BheinnMountain of the Hollows
Am Basteir The Executioner
An StòrrThe Big (One)
Beinn a’ ChearcaillThe Mountain of the Girdle
Beinn MheadhonachMiddle Mountain
Ben TianavaigBay or Harbour Mountain
GlàmaigThe Greedy Woman
Healabhal MhòrBig Flagstone Hill
MarscoSeagull Rock

Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Allan Brown
J. C. R. Green
Alan Halsey
Gavin Morrison
Emma Nicolson (EN)

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


No comments:

Post a Comment

Get in touch...