5 Elgol

the mountains remain
what remains

without sentiment
memorials to nothingness

poem & photograph, AF

driving into Elgol the hill opens out
onto the band of sharp Cuillin;
we are the same people we will be at Sligachan,
this is the same broken-ridged horizon,
though the skyline is entirely different   
as the curtain draws 

   in another direction

at the foot of the harbor road
3 bridges cross the Allt Port na Cullaidh,
where the track winds itself around the burn 

and they determine to share
   the same briny end

the road gives over to the ramp of the jetty
stacked with creels & a red lifebuoy
to watch over the ferry, Misty Isle
which plies to and fro from Port na Cullaidh
to Loch Coruisk, steered by Seumas,
son of Lachlan, who will ferry us across
   & those who come after us

Elgol view, LA


when Alexander Smith was rowed over the loch
he thought himself sailing
from the 19th century
   back into the 9th

with R
ùm shooting up from the flat sea
like a pointed flame, its granite mass
as firm as the foundations of the world,
   washed against by the sea

   flushed opal
      dim azure
         tender pink
            sleek emerald

Elgol (Grid ref: NG51SW 45). Site records can be viewed on RCAHMS. The name may mean Noble 

 or Sacred Hill. The burn at Elgol, Allt Port na Cullaidh, Burn of the Port of the Boat or Treasure
named after Port na Cullaidh, Port of the Treasure or Cellar. Loch Coruisk, named for the waterfalls 
on the precipitous Cuillin, Loch of the Corrie of Waters. Seumas & Lachlan Mackinnon have run the 
ferry to Coruisk for many years. Alexander Smith's account of his trip to Coruisk is given in A Summer 
in Skye (1865)

poems AF, photograph EN

the Skye Cuillin


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

Elgol gives a new view of peaks
heaped on peaks, fanned out like cards;
a deck of Happy Families,
   or is it poker that you’re after?

   Sgùrr nan Eag           
   Sgùrr Dubh na dà Bheinn
   Sgùrr Alasdair
   Sgùrr Mhic Coinnich
   Sgùrr Dearg
   Sgùrr na Banachdaich
   Sgùrr Thormaid
   Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh
   Sgùrr a’ Mhadaidh
   Bidein Druim nan Ramh
   Bruach na Frìthe
   Sgùrr Fionn Choire
   Am Basteir
   Sgùrr nan Gillean
   Beinn na Caillich

word-mntn, Elgol; poems AF, photograph EN


all the while remembering that mountains
   have no names to mountains,

all the while smiling and singing along
   with Hal David & Burt Bacharach:

lord we don't need another mountain
there are mountains and hillsides
   enough to climb

Elgol’s a place to plan your ridge traverse
pointing out all 24 peaks in turn,
scrambling the horseshoe, arguing the toss
   over which route's best

is your preference North–South, or South-North;
it all depends which way you want to bow low
   before the Inaccessible Pinnacle

the traverse is a long day spent
clinging to a narrow way,
but how much longer yet
if you just stood & quietly looked
for the length of time
   it takes to climb

cuchulainn / cuillin; poem AF, photograph LA

Elgol’s got a fine outlook for settling,
once & for all whether the ridges’ name
is ennobling the warrior Cù-chulainn,
or is the name an imitation of the Norse,
who saw the keel-shaped crests
through their sailor's eyes,
   as kjollen?                   
at Elgol you can look over to Blà-Bheinn
where the first recorded ascent
is reputed to have been made
by Nicol & Crosskey, with their friend Swinburne,
   famous poet & infamous drunkard

all sounds of all changes,
all shadows and lights
on the world’s mountain-ranges
and stream-riven heights,
whose tongue is the wind’s tongue
and language of storm clouds
on earth-shaking nights

   (Charles Algernon Swinburne)

'What the World Needs Now Is Love', popular song by Hal David & Burt Bacharach. Kjollen, Norse 

for keel, is now thought the most likely derivation of Cuillin. Blà-Bhein's name derives from Norse, 
Blue Mountain. Nicol, Crosskey and Swinburne are supposed to have climbed the mountain on a 
visit to Skye in 1857. The quoted lines are from Swinburne's long poem, 'Hertha', published in 
Songs before Sunrise (1870). Gavin Morrison discusses Swinburne's visit to the island in his essays.

Loch Coriusk


after T’ien Hsieh of Wei-lo; rubber stamp circle poem & photograph, AF

look for Loch Coruisk in-between
   the outlier peaks

Sgùrr nan Strì
ascended by deer paths
with bold stags
to contend with

Sgùrr nan Eag
where you can sample
the latest rockfall

 Loch Coruisk, LA

Sir Walter Scott found fault with this dour rock,
as bare as the pavement of Cheapside,
then took his lairdly possession
of the magnificent prospect in the rhymes
   of ‘Lord of the Isles’

   – ceaseless change
   – lofty range
   – foreheads bare
   – middle air
   – mantle furl’d
   – waters curl’d
   – breezes whirl’d
   – earthquake’s sway
   – shatter’d way
   – naked precipice
   – dark abyss

poem AF (after Sorley MacLean), photograph LA

Turner might have slipped to his death here
   but for two tufts of grass

the painter lived on to surpass Coruisk's cauldron 

with his painterly imagination,
engraving inhanging cliffs, veiled in mists,
jagged images praised by Ruskin
   as a geological revelation

rain & seas, amplified by the waterfalls’ white noise
   wilden this place

wild to Robert Macfarlane, so wild as
to feel uncaring toward his
   brief visitation,

so silent as to seem to be falling
back into the age of ice
beyond the span of human time;
though, like most feelings, it felt much better
after a wild swim, plunging his body
   into the lochan

poem AF, photograph LA


no, the landscape can't think for us,
being thoughtless, but I understand
you found thought welling up
   in this silence

you were struck still
swathed in fear under
the Inaccessible Pinnacle
happening on death you turned
   back at the last

exchanging dread for the ice
coursing through you, rising
in an icy band that tightens the skin,
pumping blood through your heart,
cold-wiring your brain
   in the lochan

For the stag on Sgùrr nan Strì, Peak of Contention: see here. For the rockfall on Sgùrr nan Eag, 

Notched Peak: see here. Gary Snyder's poem 'Endless Streams and Mountains' surveys ancient 
Chinese mountain poetics, including T’ien Hsieh (Mountains and Rivers Without End, Counter-
point, 2008). Sir Walter Scott visited Skye in 1814, publishing his acclaimed poem ‘Lord of the 
Isles’ the following year. The reference to Cheapside is from the poet's diary, published by J. G. 
Lockhart in his Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott (Vol. III, 1837). Scott commissioned J. M. 
W. Turner to visit Skye, in order to illustrate his poem; the painter visited Coruisk in 1831, later 
depicting it in one of his most famous watercolours (1834). Ruskin praised the savage grandeur 
of this painted landscape, but referred to the Cuillin themselves as ’inferior’ in Vol. IV of Modern 
Painters (1856). Robert MacFarlane describes his visit to Loch Coruisk in his tour of Britain’s 
remote landscapes, The Wild Places (Granta, 2007). A version of the mesostic for MacFarlane 
was first published in Mesostic Interleaved (morning star, 2009)


word-mntn (Sgùrr nan Eag), AF

Tichy's Murray

Murray wrote Mountaineering in Scotland
in a German P.O.W. camp
(clothes drying in the open air)
and ‘not merely to divide the light
behind some human figure’
And not merely to divide the light
did Gwen Moffat go on her climbing spree:
Holly Tree, Snowden
and six Welsh peaks I can’t pronounce
Barefoot on granite, AWOL in 1945
(watercress green on the cliff-tops)
To wander is Taoist code for ecstasy

To wander is code for ecstasy:
‘lodging in damp rhododendron beds
storm-beaten, stupefied, and sulky’
Or laughing, stupefied, and sulky
for nothing is blacker than wet ink
while ‘even the darkest part of the mountain
is lighter than white paper’
(sunlight or cloud on vertical rock
blue growing tips of the spruce trees)
Play it with the brush, as Ruskin says
until it finds its place

Play it with the brush till it finds its place
Hillary answered ‘because it’s there’
when he got fucking tired of the question
His Sherpas had no word for summit
(footprint of the pot in ashes)
Sherpas have no word for summit
and ‘the Way’s been in ruins a thousand years’
Scratch of coarse lead on coarse paper
Clothes drying in the open air
(Push through willows, there’s a path here somewhere)
Murray wrote Mountaineering in Scotland
in a German P.O.W. camp — twice

Gwen Moffat, Milestone Butress, Tryfan, photo S.R.G. Bray

Susuan Tichy, American poet and cabin dweller. This poem first published by Cerise Press.

hutopia: Coruisk

Coruisk memorial Hut, photograph LA

out of sight is the squat shelter of the Memorial hut,
built by Lachlan MacKinnon in the summers of ‘58 & ’59,
venerable among the 1,000 huts Nueva Scotia aspires to,
   inspiring this hutopian fantasy

each hut will have 9 snug berths
cooried in soft feathers below 1,000 peaks,
enamel cups & a broken pot to brew-up in,
while you plan a new route along
the shiels & cabins of the Hebridean
   vihara route        

in this counter-culture the members' first rule
is to select one & all: for WE-ARRA-ELECT
   whether we climb or not!

we will all sign the petition, pledging
to forgo rope, carabiner & piton,
chanting Alba’s latest revolutionary slogan:
   not climbing but viewing!

in gales that last for days, hutters
will brew oolong, sharing a chuckle:
how long has yon window held
   ma gaze!

when the skies clear we will stargaze
   from Yird Muin Starn               

we’ll toast Outlandia with nips of Super-Nikka,               
drink to the pioneers of the hut insurrection,
fondly recall the kennel-wigwam of 1897
    ferried in to Coruisk by Douglas & Rennie

we will name our new huts:

   Wee Malkie’s
   Cold Mountain
   Mt Analogue
   The Bothy Anaitis
   The Deer Path
   Heather Thatch
   Kasane’s Grianan

 Sweeny’s Wee Hut; poem AF, photograph LA

The SMC Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut, the best loved hut in Scotland, for its remote location. The broken 
pot hut is a reference to zen master Daito Kokushi: ‘Let, however, there be just one individual, who may 
be living in the wilderness in a hut thatched with one bundle of straw and passing his days by eating 
the roots of wild herbs cooked in a pot with broken legs; but if he single-mindedly applies himself to the 
study of his own spiritual affairs, he is the very one who has a daily interview with me and knows how 
to be grateful for his life. Who should ever despise such a one? O monks, be diligent, be diligent’ (‘Daito 
Kokushi’s Admonition). Vihara, Buddhist pilgrimage hut in India.

The list of proposed hut names refers to Mt: Analogue, after René Daumal; Wee Malkie’s, after Stephen 
Mulrine’s well-known comic Glasgow poem; Cold Mountain, after the Chinese hermit-poet Han Shan; 
The Bothy Anaitis, after the pre-Celtic goddess; The Deer Path, after Gerry Loose & Morven Gregor’s hut, 
Carbeth; Hozomeen-upside-down, after Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder’s stints as fire lookouts, gazing at 
Mt. Hozomeen, described in Synder’s poems and Kerouac’s novel, Big Sur; Macnab’s, after the John 
Macnab novels by John Buchan and Andrew Greig; Heather Thatch, after the tradition of using heather 
for roofing material for shelters in Scotland; and finally, Kasane’s Grianan, after Matsuo Basho’s ‘Kasane’, 
a little country girl named after a pink flower.

   I thought the voice
   of a lovely woman less melodious
   than the dawn-cry
   of the mountain grouse

Rody Gorman, an Irish Gaelic poet who lives on Skye, composed his own poem to Sweeny and all, 
nakedwoodloonies, for the Cape Farewell project. 'We ar-ra elect', after the popular cry 'We are the People', 
uttered by fans of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, sometimes considered within their own ranks as an elect. 
Super-Nikka, superior Japanese whisky. 

Sweeny’s Wee Hut, AF

hutopia: Scotia

Rennie's hut, SMC camp, Coruisk, Summer 1897

my own contribution: Sweeny’s Wee Hut:
4 walls lined with 10,000 colourful feathers
   & pinned quotations from Han Shan

aye, my hut's magic, for you take a wee snooze
snug on the slopes of Blà-Bheinn,
    & wake to a windowful of the Quiraing   

none of these proposals is more fanciful
than the floating hotel MacIan schemed
anchored off Coruisk, with a brass band
playing the latest operatic hits,
& waiters serving the best cuts of meats
   & plentiful quantities of drink

Sweeny’s Wee Hut is named after the hermit Suibhne, who lived in the trees – Meg Bateman 
suggested the idea that Sweeny’s flight with the birds recalls shamanic Druidic visions, and 
Trevor Joyce published innovative translations of his tale, poems of Sweeny Peregrine: a work-
ing of the corrupt Irish text (New Writers Press, 1976). The SMC Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut 
inspires this vision of contemporary 'hutopia', combining recently constructed huts by artists 
and architects, along with the possible huts of an ideal future Scotland. These projects belong 
with the 1000 Huts campaign; together they constitute a new movement, or renew an old trad-
ition. MacIan’s hotel scheme is described in Alexander Smith's  A Summer in Skye (1865).

Ninian Stuart, 1000 Huts Campaign

The hut projects include: a visionary hut on Skye, by the bothy project (Iain MacLeod and Bobby 
Niven), who recently opened a bothy in Inshriach Forest, near Kingussie – the first in a network 
of small-scale art residency spaces in distinct and diverse locations around Scotland. 

the bothy project, vision of a bothy on Skye

Yird, Muin, Starn (Earth, Moon, Star), a bothy for star-gazing in a remote forest in Galloway, 
conceived by Mandy McIntosh & Kaffe Matthews. 


Outlandia, an off-grid tree-house viewing hut in Glen Nevis, opened in 2010; pioneer among cont-
emporary hut projects, conceived by London Fieldworks and designed by Malcolm Fraser architects. 

 Outlandia; photograph Ken Cockburn, 2010

A forerunner of these huts was the temporary portable wooden 'tent' Rennie designed for a climbers’ 
camp at Coruisk, Summer 1897, featured in Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1898. 

 Rennie, plan drawing for a hut

poem label: PAPER, CLOUD, MOUNTAIN, poem & photograph AF

credo; poem & photograph AF

 word-mntn (Sgùrr nan Stri), AF

hutopians will play our new game




PAPER–CLOUD–MOUNTAIN, a variant of rock-paper-scissors, devised by 
Ken Cockburn & Alec Finlay at Outlandia on the road north.

Momus's visionary Skye


Scotland 84

The Scotland in which the crofters
evict the landlords

Scotland 35

The Scotland in which you’re not allowed
to own more property than will fit into a rucksack

Scotland 105
The Scotland of the Munro Mao
whose Long March takes him over
two-hundred-and-eighty-four mountains

Scotland 93
The Scotland which revives Gaelic
the way Israel revived Hebrew

Scotland 120

The Scotland which becomes the world’s
first successful post-Industrial matriarchy

(with its High Temple of Anaitis, High Pasture Cave)

    Momus (Nick Currie), The Book of Scotlands (Sternberg Press, 2009)

Pat Law's anchorage

swim, PL

when you steer your way in
you find the anchorage feels
even smaller than it is,
one cold steel ring
fixed in a south-facing rock
where we tied Kirsty
inside the witches cauldron
whose lava black cliffs
cloaked in swirling clouds
should be monochrome,
but those blacks are so rich
you could jump into them

holding on to dreich weather
wind & rain keep up their
relentless pounding rhythm,
so much part of Scavaig                       
it stops feeling threatening
and becomes almost comforting

Pat Law’s account of the anchorage on Loch Scavaig, by Coruisk, composed from emails to AF.


Scavaig, PL


Climbers' Camp, Coruisk

‘The Climbers' Camp at Coruisk’, Summer 1897

rain! rain! rain!
rain all day!
it rained most of the morning
it had been raining all day

rain, rain, rain! pouring all day
real Skye rain and no mistake
another night of heavy rain

all night the rain came down in torrents
as the evening advanced
the storm increased
the rain descended in sheets
the rain was now coming down in floods

the noise of many waters
the howling of the wind
the rattle of the wind

high up in the corries I could hear
the storm-fiends shouting and howling
the roar of the winds
and waters was deafening
the whole air was filled
with driving sheets of spindrift

the wind, too, came
in sudden and cold gusts
sweeping the rain from off the rocks
in clouds of spray

last night we had a renewal of the storm
last night we experienced
another stormy night

the heaviest gale we had yet had
of wind and rain
the storm still continues
even worse than we had had it before
we had a tremendous gale last night
it was the worst we had yet had

if the gale of the 16th was bad
that of last night was infinitely worse

   (W. Douglas)

Composed from Douglas’s record in Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1898. Douglas 

commented: ‘in reading over this record of our daily doings there appears to be an undue proportion of 
"weather", and too little "climbing" recorded, but no doubt "weather"  always impresses one more when 
camping out than at any other time.’

Isle of Soay

word-mntn (Beinn Bhreac); poem & photograph, AF

Elgol road-end’s a place for soaking it all in
with a panoramic view of the small isles

Canna, small as a postage stamp
that shows Compass Hill & a pair
   of shearwaters

due west is Soay, the isle of sheep,
shaped like an hour-glass
with perfect harbours on both sides
   of its low hill, Beinn Bhreac

the islanders were fire-starters signalling
for a boat to cross, while the ferryman guesses
who is coming or going by the location
   of the rising plume of smoke

nowadays Soay has an easier time communicating,
plugged in via the sun, dialling up via number one,
fully connected through the world’s first
   solar-powered telephone exchange

Gavin Maxwell spent his wartime service
training Special Ops sabs & agents
to kill in the wilds of Arisaig;
after the war he bought Soay
with £900 borrowed from his mother,
making the old stone warehouse
you can see by the harbor
a base for an industrial scale basking shark fishery,
processing 1,000 livers for oils & aphrodisiac,
hunting these harmless plankton grazers
   to the brink of extinction

when the venture failed Maxwell’s islomania
carried him to Sandaig, his Camusfearna,
then on to Eilean Bàn, with its white lighthouse
and white keeper's cottages, upon which
the Skye Bridge rests its immense
   white concrete column



Canna, Porpoise Island. John Lorne Campbell, laird of Canna, issued a postage stamp featuring a pair 

of shearwaters, sgrail. Beinn Bhreac, Speckled Hill. 'Camusfearna' is the name Maxwell gave to Sandaig
in his Ring of Bright Water trilogy. Eilean Bàn, White Island, where there is a natural heritage centre, 
Bright WaterThe Basking shark is traditionally known as sunfish. You can read Gavin Morrison's 
account of Maxwell in his essays.

Beinn Bhreac, AF

spotting submarines


HMS Astute

on Elgol jetty peel your eyes for porpoise,
dolphin & sharks, minke & killer whales;
but beware, for in the Sound of Soay
the sea may cough up larger mammals,
for there are hunter-killers
   plying these waters

cast your eyes from stone to sea
for there are subs in the Inner Sound
making their way to the testing grounds
where BUTEC tests their torpedoes
   before a new patrol begins

despite their infra gear electronics & radar
   subs don't always run smooth

on one nautical reconnaissance
the nuclear-powered attack sub, HMS Trafalgar,
made a navigational error & went aground
on the rocks of Fladda-Chuain,
one of the flat isles north of Trotternish,
in a mishap the R.N. attributed to
   the misapplication of tracing paper

once the Trafalgar had been rescued
from the perils of stationery, she limped
   back to Faslane

a similar mishap befell HMS Astute,
which was not, when, weighed down with
spearfish torpedoes & tomahawk missiles,
the captain's course was obscured by post-it notes
   and the sub beached on a shingle bank

a surprise for commuters, as she was
   in sight of the Skye Bridge;       
worse followed when the tug took a bite
   out of her starboard

a statement was issued by the R.N.:   
   this manoeuvre went slightly wrong

BUTEC, British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre. HMS Trafalgar grounded on Fladda-Chuain, 

6 November 2002; HMS Astute grounded 22 October, 2010; the tug which came to her aid was the 
Anglian Prince.

HMS Astute, AF, photograph LA

Isle of Rúm

poem, AF; photograph, LA

turn and look over the horizon
to the skyline of Rùm,
of which the poet Peter Levi said  

   this isle resembles

   it was too good to
      be true

in 1826 Lachlan MacLean, incumbent laird of Rúm
cleansed the island of islanders, for the benefit
of 800 black-face sheep; a shepherd recalled
   the terrible scene

they were carried off
in one mass, forever,
from the sea-girt spot
where they were born & bred

the wild outcries of the men
and heart-breaking wails
of the women & children
filled all the air

For the quotation from Peter Levi, see his memoir The Flutes of Autumn (1983); for extracts from
his long poem describing his sojourn on Rùm in the 1960s, see 'The Shearwaters', included in the 
guide to Rubh' an Dunain. The mountain names are  translated below. The verse is composed 
from the unknown shepherd’s description, quoted in Edwin Waugh, The Limping Pilgrim (1882)

Elgol 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 Elgol. 
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 Elgol 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 Elgol, 
can be found on the drawing page.

Am BasteirThe Executioner
Beinn na Caillich Mountain of the Crone
Bidein Druim nan RamhThe Summit of the Ridge of the Roots
Blà-bheinnBlue Mountain
Bruach na FrìtheBrae of the Moor Forest
Garbh Bheinn Rough Mountain
MarscoSeagull Rock
Sgùrr AlasdairAlexander’s peak
Sgùrr DeargRed Peak
Sgùrr Dubh an Dà Bheinn Black Peak of the Two Summits
Bruach na FrìtheBrae of the Moor Forest
Sgùrr Mhic CoinnichMcKenzie’s peak
Sgùrr ThormaidNorman's Peak
Sgùrr a' Fionn ChoirePeak of the Bright or Cold Corry
Sgùrr a' GhreadaidhPeak of the tormented torrent
Sgùrr a' MhadaidhThe Foxes' Peak
Sgùrr na BanachdaichPockmarked Peak
Sgùrr nan ÉagNotched Peak
Sgùrr nan GilleanPeak of the Lads
Sgùrr na StrìPeak of Contention

Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
the bothy project
Pat Law (PL)
Gavin Morrison
Emma Nicolson

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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