12 Dùn Beag

Dùn Beag

Dùn Beag, EN

spring’s fragments 
fleeced in coarse
cropped grass

summer’s bells
ring the cliff-
top broch

autumn’s light
blinks at
blinks at dusk

winter’s stone
bone’s seen
in the round

Dùn Beag, The Small Fort (Grid ref: NG3338), for site record see RCAHMS. One of the best 
preserved brochs on Skye; set on a spur, with views over Loch Harport, Loch Bracadale and 
Waternish. As in the Quiraing, the Little Fort has a Big Fort nearby, An Dùn Mor (Grid ref: 
NG340390). Johnson & Boswell visited Dùn Beag on their tour; Johnson suggested the dùn 
would have served as a cattle shelter. The blinking is the Ardtreck lighthouse, below  
Dùn Ardtreck.

poem & photograph, AF

Dùn Beag 1, photograph AL

Dùn Beag 2, photograph AL

Preshal More

south-west from the dùn's raised wall,
over the loch, the Ardtreck light & Arnaval
I cast the alluvial image of Preshal More

Preshal More, geograph.org.uk

furious mane of lavic rock 
which Sorley visioned as a stallion
protecting the west coast against the wild ocean
shaking its dark head over the bare shore,
   into the maw of Talisker Bay

far a bheil am bil mór bàn
a' fosgladh eadar dà ghiall chruaidh
Rubha nan Clach's am Bioda Ruadh

where the great white mouth
opens between two hard jaws,
Rubha nan Clach and the Bioda Ruadh

on soot-streaked grey sand
the poet found no familiar:
caught between alien sea & stone,
the world & eternity,
confronting wave upon wave
   unto infinity

inimical sea & savage rock
crushed into the primeval massif
being endlessly worn to nothing,
   grain by grain

Sorley's only surety of humanity
   a synthesis of love

I look around the ruin,
drawn to a yellow fleck of tormentil,
which, in its season, will shatter
the antinomies of stone

there is comfort in the things
   we can name

rock pipit, sedge warbler
   & twite

for naming seems
   to bring a pause

bishort, comfrey, meadowsweet
   & pearlwort,

to the relentless infinite,
   a moment

water dropwort, adderstongue fern,
   & valerian

of detail, intricate
   in the weave

Sorley MacLean’s early poem ‘Tràighean’, ‘Shores’, refers to the coast and hills around Talisker 
Bay (Collected Poems, Polygon, 2011). The stallion reoccurs as a central image in MacLean's 
epic poem 'An Cuilithionn', 'The Cuillin', symbolizing the revolutionary spirit incarnate in wild 
nature. The species of birds and flora are taken from the blog Nature Notes from Skye.

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

Loch Harport & the Cuillin

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

south-east, down the loch
are the coronal peaks of sunrise;
saying the names I recognize,
I set them down carefully
where they belong
   with my gaze

giddy hefted wilderness
serrated in scars & corries
   of immense age

hand over feet, those who scale 
the mountains, let's say they
   get over them

seeing as I'm unable to,
is that the same then
as what Suzanne Piper said:
   that I could never belong?

Ach Suzi, your mountain
may seem terminal,
but me, I found a way to begin 
again, synthesizing
language & remembrance,
giving the mountains their names,
writing them out, letter-by-letter,
pronouncing each one over

   [ˈs̪kuːrˠ nəŋ ˈkʲiʎən]

searching for their likeness 
in unfamiliar languages
– Norse, Gaelic, remnant Pictish –
knowing nothing is accurate
to the resolve of this vastness 
nothing will lessen
the numb indeterminacy
   of skylines

names are arbitrary, 
how can they not be?
lodged in the alien mass
they fix details 
that mean nothing 
to the mountain
Big, Red, Dark, Yellow, 
Notched, Hill, Peak, Knoll

         stands there
        in  the  round

someone is looking
saying her name:
she is known, she is one
among the blown volcanic ruin 
   of prehistory

left out in a thousand thousand 
   thousand nights of rain

as with all summits
she has limits, she flourishes
locked & barred by
   her horizon

our seeing weighs on her
   like a void 

our fond skyline illusion 
cannot encompass
   epochs of stone

our names become memories
which flare & extinguish,
engulfed in the losses of history
   & the firestorm of time

there's nothing else for it
but to take our turn
and count our way along
   the abacus of peaks

   Beinn Dearg Mòr
   Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach
   Sgùrr nan Gillean
   Am Basteir
   Bruach na Frithe
   Sgùrr a Mhadaidh
   Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh
   Sgùrr na Banachdaich
   Sgùrr Dearg
   Sgùrr Mhich Choinnich
   Sgùrr Alasdair

The verse about indeterminacy derives, distantly, from Mallarme’s characterization of a poem 
as ‘chance defeated word by word’. Suzanne Piper, post-urban artist. The line describing mount-
ains locked in their skylines is after Elizabeth Jennings. The translations of the mountain names
appear in the conspectus below. 

word-mntn (Sgùrr na Banachdaich), AF


word-mntn (Arnaval); poem AF, photograph EN

from the dùn the low peninsula
   portions out the sea 

ths swathe of land has no memory
of sharp-toothed wolves; they belong only
in the name of the point, the lair
   of ‘Ullinish’

the sea lochs recall nothing,
though their Norse names,
– Harport, Gesto Bracadale –
project the image of whetted keels
& raven-flagged longships
   bellying out their sails

Sgathaich took the hydra-headed gae-bolga,
forged in the depths of the Cuillin,
& forced it into the fist of Cù-chulainn,
the lover she inscribed forever
   in the skyline

Ullinish: sometimes translated as Promontory of the Wolves, though MacBain prefers the 
simpler Norse Ulli's Point. It is now thought the Cuillin themselves are named from the Norse, 
kjollen, keel-shaped, for the sharp ridges, though some still cling to the association with Cu-
Chullain and Sgathaich. The gae-bolga is described in more detail in the guide to Dùn Scaich

Corse Scotia

Mt Cinto

when Boswell viewed the jagged ridge
from his windows at Ullinish
he reminisced of his tour through hilly Corsica,
seeing these mountains as those mountains
for there are Cuillin close by Corte
   in a typically Scottish synthesis

   Mt Cinto
   Mt Rotondo
   Puta Minuta
   Paglia Orba
   Monte D’Orbo
   Monet Renoso
   Capu Tafunatu

word-mntn (Capu Tafunatu), AF

Bozzy set down his bowl of punch
& told the good Dr how much he was reminded
   of his tour of Corse

just as his account of Corse had put him in mind
   of dear auld Edina & Scotia

following his traces
Moray McLaren plays
on the same flute

the small port of Centuri
   is very like Crail

the picturesque parts of the Genoese old city
must have been like the Old Town of Edinburgh
   before it fell into decline

Joseph Chiara is almost as much of a Scot
   as a Corsican 

The day we came to Corte lacked the brilliant blue skies and sunshine we 
had had everywhere else. Clouds obscured the mountain-tops and there 
was a hint of rain about. This gave Corte to our Scottish eyes even more 
the appearance not only of Edinburgh but of an imaginary Highland city 
set in the centre of the uplands. One thought of Inverness as it had been 
some thirty or forty years ago, yet an Inverness not low-lying by the 
mouth of the River Ness but proudly and dominantly set in the heights of 
the Grampians.

Corsica Boswell: Paoli, Johnson and freedom

Ullinish Lodge, LA


Pasquale Paoli

the Cuillin also reminded him
of his admiration for his friend,
   the revolutionary Paoli

‘magnis tamen excidit aufis’

Boswell to Paoli
what a thought?
that thousands owe
their happiness to you!

Paoli throwing himself
into an attitude
as if he saw the lofty mountain
of fame before him 

THERE, is my object
(pointing to the summit)
if I fall, I fall at least THERE
(pointing a good way up)

Gavin Morrison first drew my attention to the amusing parallels that Boswell establishes between 
Corsica and Scotland, in particular the Cuillin and the mountains around Corte, published in his  
An Account of Corsica (1768), from where the extracts above are taken. Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807), 
Corsican nationalist, leader of the resistance, author of the constitution (the first composed under 
Enlightenment principles). Boswell met Paoli, a second father figure, on his tour of Corsica, and 
would later send arms to support the resistance; see Morrison’s essay 'Cuillin and Corsica'. The Latin 
motto translates as either do not attempt at all or go through with it. I am reliably informed there is 
an anthology of ‘just like Scotland’ clips from Macgregor and Charlie Boorman’s motorbike journey 
to Mongolia, Long Way Round (2005), on youtube.

Corse Cuillin, AF

Cuillin massif, LA 

Mountain cabin, Corte

word-mntn (Preshal More), AF

looks just like

we are not so different on our expeditions:
Ewan MacGregor pulls his bike over,
stops and turns his cheeky grin to camera,
saying how some corner or other of Outer Mongolia

   “looks just like Scotland”


Ardtreck Lighthouse; poem AF, photograph LA

‘future prospects, with their joys and sorrows,
cloud what is actually at hand’

   (Virginia Woolf)

will careful remembering reignite 
the winter flames of Imbolc, 
topping the Calliach’s summits?

the grass ring on the dùn's walls softens ruin
where warmth once reached
   from the hearth

beacon fires were lit
by the round walls of Dùn Taimh
one promontory down the loch
and on Merkadale, crowning
   the lovely pap hollows

a lantern swung, to and fro, on the prow
of the ship Dr Johnson, that vast galleon,
spied from his window in Ullinish House,
vanishing into the swirling dance of emigration,
whose involutions and evolutions
   are still in motion

the electric light goes untended,
its point–blinks–on and off the waters–blinks–
casting the promise of tomorrow’s excursion–blinks–
   to keep the boy from sleep–blinks–

Dùn Taimh; Dùn  Merkadale. In 'The Cuillin' Sorley MacLean refers to Bracadale's mounds as 'lovely 
pap hollows'. Dr Johnson saw an emigrant ship from Ullinish House; elsewhere on Skye he records a 
'fashionable' ceilidh dance, America, with couples making ‘involutions and evolutions’. Alexander 
Smith refers to Johnson as: ‘that vast galleon floating on the sea of Boswell’s vanity’, A Summer in 
Skye (1865). The Ardtreck light is a reminder of Virginia Woolf's novel, To The Lighthouse, described 
as taking place on Skye, though it is a Skye unknown to locals or visitors (See also Gavin Morrison's  
essays). There are various theories concerning fire-rites on summits on the Celtic cross-quarter day 
Festivals, such as Imbolc, also known as St Brighid’s Day, 1 or 2 February. The Calliach, Crone or  
Winter Queen

woods & isles

Rebel's Wood, photograph by Joanna C. Dobson

Mark and Alf Trekked, 2008

nearest to the dùn, the prow of Oronsay,
half an island gained
with the sea’s permission
   by the tidal causeway

further west is Wiay, largest of Bracadale’s isles;
then Sula Skerry, Tarner & Harlosh,
whose fire rock recalls
another beacon signal station,
   Dùn Neill

along the peninsula of Duirinish
is Joe Strummer’s pew,
by the sapling Rebel Wood,
   where the rebel yell
   swirls in the wind’s call

   birch wood! birch wood!
   I wanna birch of my own!

out of sight, beyond Beinn Bhreac
are the little isles of Clett
   Mingay & Iosaigh

Macleod offered Johnson Iosaigh
for his own Hebridean island dream-home
kitted out with cannon: the stated bargain
being he’d stay 3 months every year
   on a writer's residency

Donald MacDonald sold the same Iosaigh
to hand-me-down hurdy-gurdy-man Donovan,
as a Celtic Avalon, sanctuary of free love
   & misty song-writing

   how high the gulls fly
   o'er Ilay
   how sad the farm lad
   deep in play
   felt like a grain
   on your sand


Vashti Bunyan took her time reaching
the far-flung commune by horse & caravan
traveling 18 months, staying one night;
Donovan’s dream lasted as long
as a spell of Skye rain,
so Bunyan headed her caravanseri
   on to Berneray

the latest lairdie tried to sell-off Iosaigh
in 25,000 one-foot sized bits, pitching peats
   for sale to romantic idiots

Many place names in this region derive from Norse: Arnaval, Erne Fell; Stockval, Stock Fell; Oronsay, 
Ebb-Tide Isle; Loch Bracadale, Loch of the Sloped-Dale; Wiay, Temple Isle; Harlosh, Fire Rock
Healabhal Mhòr, Big Flagstone Hill; Healabhal Bheag, Little flagstone Hill. The wood at Duirinish 
was planted in memory of Joe Strummer (1952–2002), founding member of The Clash, by Future 
Forests; funded by carbon offsets, plantations such as this have sparked controversy. Beinn Bhreac,  
Speckled Hill; Clett, Sea Cliff; Mingay, Lesser Isle; Iosaigh or Isay, Ice island, or possibly Plant isle. 
 Bunyan’s caravan was a converted bread-delivery van, transformed into a chicken shed on Berneray. 
For more on Donovan & Vashti Bunyan in the Hebrides, see Rob Young's archaeology of Britain's 
visionary folk-music, Electric Eden (Faber, 2011)


Vashti Bunyan & family


a panorama from Dùn Mòr

word-mntn (Healabhal Bheag & Healabhal Mhòr), poem AF, photograph LA

'The tables and the Maidens remain forever bearing Macleod's name,
while you – the individual Macleod – are as transitory as the mist wreath
of the morning which melts on the one, or the momentary shape
of wind-blown foam which perishes on the base of the other'

   Alexander Smith, A Summer in Skye

take a short tramp over the moor to Dùn Mor
hidden beyond Ben Aketil, the wind-towers on the lee
of Beinn a’ Chearcaill unfurl blade tips
   cutting into cloud
Healabhal Mhòr & Healabhal Bheag
dominate the west; below their flat-tops is Orbost
of the seals, where Otta Swire says
her window framed the finest view in Skye

nearby, her granddaughter, Flora MacDonald Swire’s
scattered ashes rest at St John’s, Caroy

west of Healabhal Bheag is Dunvegan
where the Skye Macleods’ seaward windows
frame prestige views of the Harris Macleods’
the square towered church at Rodel
& Ròineabhal's moon rocks
a reminder of MacDiarmid’s raised beach,
its stones littorally at one with the stars

Dùn Mòr (Grid ref: NG340390). Beinn a’ Chearcaill, Hill of the Girdle; the 10-turbine windfarm is run 
by Skye Renewables Co-operative on the Macleod & Coishletter Estate, crofted by Feorlig Crofting Com-
munity. Otta Swire, author of Skye: The Island and its Legends (1952) and other books on folk-culture 
and myth, lived at Orbost House after WWII. Her grand-daughter, Flora MacDonald Swire, was a victim 
of Pan Am flight 103. Rodel Church, on the Isle of Harris, near Ròineabhal, Rough Ground Hill,  whose 
summit is a granite intrusion, including anorthosite, similar in composition to rocks found in the mount-
ains of the Moon.

Anaitis on Waternish
Temple of Anaitis, photograph CD

partly Oriental in character the Celts remain
in the mountain vastness and remote Isles
and peninsulas where a remnant
is still to be found faithful to the old memories
and the old tongue. Hindu and Byzantine carving
certainly shows affinity with that of Iona
and there are traces also in Celtic airs of kinship
with Greek and Arabian

   (Marjory Kennedy-Fraser)

turn north-west, to Ben Horneval
& imagine the Fairy Bridge
   below Beinn Bhreac

in the cut & curl of a cleft of River Bay
is a dark amphitheatre, hemmed in by the eroded
confluence with a burn flowing down from the hill;
a rock pintle catches the line of the sun
shining on the unmarked graves
   of unbaptized children

here is the ruin of Anaitis' teampall;
4 oval chambers gone, but the vulvic mound still green,
revealing old habitation by contrast
with the harsh tones of rock & ling

Boswell’s Tour records Johnson’s lofty refutation
of their host, the learned Rev. Dr McQueen,
who thought the teampall a twin of Lydia’s Anaitidis delubrum

names veil the rituals that washed
from ancient Anatolia to Waternish
   with the goddess


Scythian hints of ‘Anaitis’ resound
   in other Skye sites

Teampall Annaitis
on the River Bay, Waternish

Camus na h-Annait
at Neist Point
 on Staffin Island

Ach na h-Annaid
at Braes

where McQueen & his visitors agreed
was that here processions led down to this riverside
where the sacred stones
   were ritually washed

The epigraph is from Marjory Kennedy-Fraser & Kenneth MacLeod, Songs of the Hebrides, Vol II 
(Boosey & Co, 1917). Ben Horneval, Horn Hill. Johnson's visit to the Teampall of Annait, or Anaitis, 
with Dr. MacQueen, minister of the parish of Bracadale, is recorded in Boswell's The Journal of a 
Tour of the Hebrides (1785). Johnson argued for a local explanation: ‘We have no occasion to go to
a distance for what we can pick up under our feet.’ Pausanias, Description of Greece, Chapter XVI, 
refers to the Lydian temple of Artemis Anaeitis. The description of the site by the River Bay came from
Caroline Dear, Nick Thomson, and J. A. MacCulloch's The Misty Isle of Skye (1905). Anaitis and her 
‘Temple’ at High Pastures Cave, referred to in detail in the guide for Clach na h-Annait. Information 
on the other Anaitis place names on the Skye came from Caroline Dear. Her book the colours of Skye 
offers another kind of overview of the island.

word-mntn (Ben Aketil), AF

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

Am BasteirThe Executioner
Beinn Dearg MheadhonachMiddle Red Mountain
Beinn Dearg MhòrBig Red Mountain
Beinn HornevalHorn Mountain
Bruach na FrìtheBrae of the Moor Forest
GlàmaigThe Greedy Woman
Healabhal BheagLittle Flagstone Hill
Healabhal MhòrBig Flagstone Hill
MarscoSeagull Rock
Preshal More?
QuiraingRound Fold
Sgùrr AlasdairAlexander’s peak
Sgùrr DeargRed Peak
Sgùrr Mhic CoinnichMcKenzie’s peak
Sgùrr a' GhreadaidhPeak of the tormented torrent
Sgùrr a' MhadaidhThe Foxes' Peak
Sgùrr na BanachdaichPockmarked Peak
Sgùrr nan GilleanPeak of the Lads


Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Caroline Dear (CD)
Alison Lloyd (AL)
Gavin Morrison
Emma Nicolson (EN)
Caroline Smith

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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