13 An Dùn Beag

An Dùn Beag

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

begin with these stones
as the world began

   (Hugh MacDiarmid)

begin with these names
as the poets began

   (Davy Polmadie)

poem AF, photograph EN

we begin again with the Cuith-raing,
emblem of strength & ruin; it takes a slip of time
to climb the tussocky terraced incline
   from sharp rush to soft mosses

the volcanic castellations of An Dùn Beag & Dùn Mòr   
make a fort of the massive escarpment:
it takes a lavic mode of growth
& tertiary flows to set the needles slipping
down from Meall na Suiramach
   to the sea                           

An Dùn Beag (Grid ref: NG4668), The Little Fort, with Dùn Mòr, The Big Fort, nearby, as at 
Ullinish, in the guide to another fort named Dùn Beag with a Big Fort a short walk away; for  
An Dùn Beag site records see RCAHMS. The Quiraing, or Cuith-raing, Round Fold, the name 
is said to derive from its use as a shelter, concealing cattle from Viking raiders. Poucher trans-
lates Meall na Suiramach, the hill above the Quiraing, as Height of the Maiden. The epigraph 
is from Hugh MacDiarmid’s modernist epic ‘On a Raised Beach’ (Stony Limits and Scots 
Unbound, Gollancz, 1934). Little is known about Davy Polmadie, a minor poet of the hutopian 

poem AF, photograph EN

poem AF, photograph LA


 word-mntn (Quiraing), AF

every dùn

every dùn should have a beacon dùn
of its own, lofted above, as here,
where the sheep-cropped grassy knoll
is topped out by the solid lump
   of Dùn Mòr       

Arne Naess, shaping the mountain

                                        shape of a mountain
                             has much to do  with its character
                           touching the heavens   the mountain
               doesn’t really belong   to the earth   the mountain
           is a kind of protector   like a good father   teaching one
        to be calm   self-contained   constant   showing equanimity
        and a tough place too   with many dangers   but no disputes
because there are no people   with people there is always disharmony

Composed from a passage in an interview with the Norwegian philosopher and mountain climber 
Arne Naess, with David Rothenberg, first published in Is it painful to think: Conversations with 
Arne Naess, Father of Deep Ecology (Allen & Unwin, 1993)

panorama of Staffin, Flodigarry & Trotternish

word-mntn (Dùn Caan, The Stòrr, Beinn Edra); poem AF, photograph EN

we see the wide sea before we hear it
because waves are different;
but, as so often, today's wind has stolen
the rocking-chocking sound of Staffin
   away from the dùn

that beach raised to the east
is where the beasts were swum
   over the kyle to the island

at the point of An Corran
there was a mesolithic midden
   of shell, chert & flint

south is eachy-peachy Beinn Edra,
a bridge arched in Trotternish
the longest ridge in these isles,
criss-crossed by the old ways of bealachs
   marked by mossy cairns

north, above Loch Hasco, Grianan nam Maighdean,
is the sun bower of the maidens:
a soller to tell tales in or arbour for lolling,
viewing hills, picking crab apples,
   tormentil & celandine
across the strait of Poldorais, Eilean Fhlòdaigearraidh,   
the green wing of the swan sweeps across
the Inner Sound, flighting toward South Rona,
with its lighthouse below Meall Acairseid, the little knoll
   of the harbour
north of Rona is Red Point
   & another light

The place names include: Trotternish, Thrond's Ness; An Corran, The Point; Beinn Edra, 
named for its position in the Trotternish Ridge, Hill Between Others, with the most famous 
bealachs, or passes, Bealach Úige and Bealach nan Coisichean; Loch Hasco, High Shaw 
Loch; Poldorais, Doras' Pool, the strait between Staffin and Eilean Fhlòdaigearraidh, Float or  
Fleet Garth (house & yard), which The Vikings saw as a swan’s wing. Martin Martin describes 
the isle as ‘sweet with hay’. Poldorais is thought to derive from an early Christian saint, Turos, 
Dòrais. Rona is the Rocky Island; Rubha Rèidh the Smooth Headland. The name grianan, 
sun-bower, from 'grian', 'sun', occurs in a number of places in the Highlands; some interpr-
etations suggest a constructed form, possibly a sunny chamber or soller (open balcony exposed 
to the sun), however, as the sites are usually on mountainsides it seems more likley that they 
were places for viewing, or female rites. The most famous of these sites is Deidre's Tigh 
Grianach, House of the Sun, in Glen Etive: see The Road North, Bonawe.

cartographic Trotternish

Timothy Pont (1565-1614?)

on the old maps, such as those illustrated by Pont,                   
the length of Trotternish points flat
   out into The Minch

sat on this dùn, the isle seems to tilt and swell
back through the quadrants, toward its rightful
   mercatorial consciousness

raising its northern finger to full index length
asserting its right to the same longitudinal angle
   as Raasay, Applecross & Gairloch

Pont is recognized as the first topographer to produce a detailed map of Scotland based on surveys. 
On one of my tours of Skye researching A Company of Mountains I was lucky enough to view a 
private collection of maps at Orbost House, assembled by George Kozikowski. I was struck by the 
gradual evolution in the cartographic outline of the island.

view of St Kilda

from the ridge of Beinn Edra, on the clearest day
you can see the 80 miles to the white stacks
   of Kilda

   Isle of Death
   Fortress Island
   Sheep Island

panorama of the mountains of mainland Scotland

Slioch, photograph Ken Cockburn, 2010

Seton Gordon says that, given good weather,
the view from here is wide and remarkable,
over the sea lochs, Ewe, Gairloch & Torridon,
to hill upon hill, south-east, east & north-east,
   rising in beauty

the dome
of Ben Alliginn

the spear of Slioch
often in cloud

the forge
of An Teallach

the islanded pillar
of Suilven
the milk-pail
of Cuinneag

Fionn Bheinn
the wind hill

& the level top of Arkle
in the distant Reay Forest
the bald red pate
of Maol Cheann-Dearg

the grey massif of Liathach
with its peaks
Spidean a' Choire Léith
& Mullach an Rathain

the massif of Beinn Eighe
with its peaks
Spidean Coire nan Clach
Ruadh Stac Mòr
Meall Dearg
Stob a' Choire Liath Mhòr
Stùc a' Choire Dhuibh Bhig

Geikie says step briskly up these mountains
for one foot stands on the red conglomerates
that mark their former shorelines
while the other stands on the grey gneiss
   that rose into dry land

Translations of the mountain names are given in the conspectus below. The quotation from Sir 
Archibald Geikie is taken from his A Geological Map of Scotland (1876).

Maoilios Caimbeul, The Mountain Said

word-mntn (Beinn Edra); poem AF, photograph LA

the mountain said:
I hear you coming
listen well,
I am a concrete abstraction,
there is nothing beyond
my summit but blue

the mountain said:
feel me well
with your heart-feet,
clump and stomp
strive for my zenith
and know this
know this
that your action is the real mountain.

the mountain said:
it’s a life’s work
to be a mountain,
to accept the feet,
the stone-fall, the heart-feet,
say well the proximate
fall and cause
as it clatters down my side
to a gully unknown.

it’s a life’s work
to love the mountain well
to love the shadow, the master
of all mountains
to listen
to feel
to say well
to taste infinity
on a summit.

Composed by Maoilios Caimbeul, for A Company of Mountains. Maoilios also published a renga 
word-map of the area around his home of Flodigarry, near An Dùn Beag, for The Road North
a recording of him reading the Gaelic original can be heard here. He is a founding member of the 
Staffin Eco-museum, an innovative embedding of local history and culture in the landscape,
initiated by Meike Smeidt in 2006. Two examples of their work are included below.

my little treasure, photograph by LA

M' eudail, photograph by LA

Tobar Loch Shianta

Maoilios Caimbeul, Tobar Loch Shianta, LA

hidden behind the Dùnan mounds lies Loch Shianta,
the enchanted loch, in whose grey-green waters
you may still glimpse descendants of the 7 fair trout
   with which MacDonald stocked the lochan

in his tour of the Hebrides Martin Martin
   described Shianta

several of the common People
oblige themselves by a Vow
to come to this well
and make the ordinary
Touer about it call’d Dessil
   performed thus

they move thrice around the Well
proceeding Sunways
   from East to West

this is done after drinking
   of the Water

there are no miracles to be sipped these days,
but there is the walk through the fields,
where the yellow buckets wait
   for lambs

there are the 7 streams
flowing under the hazel wood,
feeding the well sheltering in the calm

   under fuchsia bells

there is the blessing of Ben nuzzling
   your fist open

and, where the burn reaches the sea
there are eider ducks to prove
   the water's goodness

Martin Martin, a native of Skye, published this description of the well in his A Description of the 
Western Isles of Scotland (1703). dessil, deosil, to move sunwise, east to west, considered prosp-
erous; the opposite term is widdershins. The description also draws on Seton Gordon's essay on 
Tobar Loch Shianta in Highland Summer (Cassell, 1957). There  is a vigorous fuchsia, gucan fiùise,
 growing around the well; the sheepdog from the local croft is named Ben. For more on the well see 
the road north.

Loch Shianta photograph AF

Tobar well 2 AF, photograph AF

AF drinking at well; photograph LA

word-mntn (Meall na Suiramach)

a word for the spring

in the spring’s honour, an offering from the poet
   Thomas A. Clark



wells of Staffin

Dunan, Flodigarry; photograph LA

this region is rich in wells and springs
   splashed over the OS map

   Tobar Heibert
   Tobar na Cairidh
   Tobar a' Ghreip
   Tobar Kiltavie
   Tobar na Slainte
   Tobar na Curra
   Tobar Cleap

with enough wells to fill your cup
   in the place names survey

   Tobar Cùl-chinn
   Tobar Bhaltos
   Tobar a' Bhodaich, Breacraidh
   Tobar a' Bhràigh Lochan
   Tobar a' Chaiptin, Sartal
   Tobar a' Cheàird Cùl nan Cnoc
   Tobar a' Ghreip, Flòdaigearraidh
   Tobar a' Ghrianain, Tobhta
   Tobar a Ròig, An Gàrradh Fada
   Tobar a' Sgùrr, An Gàrradh Fada
   Tobar Amhlaidh, Cùl nan Cnoc
   Tobar an Druim Fhada
   Tobar an Fhadail, An Dìg
   Tobar an t-Siùcar, A' Ghlas Pheighinn
   Tobar Beag, Steinnseal
   Tobar Bual' Eòrna, Steinnseal
   Tobar Bual' Iain, Brògaig
   Tobar Cath a' Chreagain, An Gàrradh Fada
   Tobar Chleap, Steinnseal
   Tobar Chorr-ghàrraidh, Steinnseal
   Tobar Cill-dà-bhì, Flòdaigearraidh
   Tobar Cnoc a' Bhallainn
   Tobar Dearg
   Tobar Geal, An Gàrradh Fada
   Tobar I'n Pheutain, Sartal
   Tobar Lòn na Muille, Flòdaigearraidh
   Tobar Màiri Anna Thormoid Ruaraidh, Steinnseal
   Tobar Mòr
   Tobar na Craoibhe, A' Ghlas Pheighinn
   Tobar na Creige, Clachan
   Tobar na Curra, A' Ghlas Pheighinn
   Tobar na Dòmhnaich, Sartal
   Tobar na Fainge, Sartal
   Tobar na Gaineamh, An Gàrradh Fada
   Tobar na Grìogag
   Tobar na Làire Glasphein
   Tobar na Slàinte, An Dìg
   Tobar Neacail, Steinnseal
   Tobar Ruis Cùl nan Cnoc
   Tobar Smearail

some wells are so overgrown, to find them you may
need to take up divining, as poet and spring-teller
   Valerie Gillies explains

you need to be prepared to search for them;
I was taught to use divining rods
by a friend who’d spent years
putting up fences in the Borders
and used divining rods to find the best place
   to put a fence stob

anyone can do it: the rods are an extension
   of our own arms & hands

The names of wells and springs were collected from members of the community, initiated by 
Urras an Taobh Sear - Staffin Community Trust, 2006; it is by no means exhaustive. Maoilios 
Caimbeul notes: not all wells are holy wells. In the old days water was taken from the well, 
carried by pail to the house. I remember doing that when I was young in Staffin – the well was 
about 400 yards from the house, although it had no name as far as I know. Only a few wells had 
a reputation as holy wells. I'm not sure why this was. Although they were holy in the middle ages
– in the Christian era – they may have been deemed sacred in pre-Christian times, but the myth-
ological reasons are lost to us, if there were any.' Valerie Gillies published a survey of wells and 
springs, The Spring Teller: poems from the wells and springs of Scotland (Luath, 2008); her
notes on divining appear in an interview with Jenny Renton.

word-mntn (An Storr), AF

need, for Maoilios

a well for every house
makes need

into the ordinariness
of a daily task

a drop from the springs

The Water Archive (Tobar Loch Shianta), JR

from delight in the springs
a gathering by the artist Jessica Ramm
   from her Skye water archive

This photograph documents one of Ramm's glass 'retarts', containing samples of water from 
Tobar Shianta, with Loch Shianta in the background. The vessels are based on those used by 
the Edinburgh chemist Joseph Black, now held in the collection of the Royal Museum of Scot-
land. They were produced as part of her residency at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, mapping the 
island’s water. http://www.jessicaramm.com/

The Water Archive (Tobar Loch Shianta), JR

word-mntn (Beinn Eighe), AF

An Dùn Beag 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 An Dùn Beag. 

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 An Dùn Beag 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 An Dùn Beag, 
can be found on the drawing page.

An StòrrThe Big (One)
An TeallachThe Forge
Beinn EdraThe Mountain Between
Beinn EigheFile Mountain
Beinn AlliginBejewelled Mountain?
Dùn CaanPorpoise Fort
Fionn BheinnWhite Hill
LiathachThe Hoary Place
Meall DeargRed Mount
Meall na Suiramach?
Mullach an RathainThe Summit of the Pulley
QuiraingRound Fold
Ruadh Stac MorGreat Reddish Precipice
SliochThe Spear-like Place, or Gullied Hill
Spidean Coire nan ClachPinnacle of the Corry of Stones
Spidean a' Choire LèithPinnacle of the Grey Corry

Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Maoilios Caimbeul
Gavin Morrison
Emma Nicolson (EN)
Jessica Ramm (KR)

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


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