8 Sligachan


word-mntn (Sgùrr nan Gillean); poem AF, photograph LA


the rain falling on Am Basteir       
gushing down Fionn Choire
   & Harta Choire

blends again in the confluence
of the Allt Dearg Mor
   & the broad river

then dissolves
in the bubbles & salt wrack
   of Loch Sligachan

Fionn Choire

the highest coolness
of crystal clear
spring water greening
the steel-blue talus

turning Fionn Choire
into a rock garden
of thyme, tormentil,
rock cress & saxifrage

   (after Sorley MacLean & Seton Gordon)


lavic spot flares
spurted off the eruption
in frenzied whorls
leaving this mountain
tumult as remnant
of the great volcano

memorialized in charcoal
ash of ancient fires
points of charred light
on the mantle of the ridge
flaming votive sites
marking clan boundaries

Sligachan (Grid ref: NG42NE 2); one of Skye's great landmarks, the hotel is popular with climbers.
For site records of the old bridge see RCAHMS. The river Allt Dearg Mor, The Big Red Burn, rises 
in Coire a Bhasteir, Executioner's Corrie, and flows into the River Sligachan. Seton Gordon and  
Sorley MacLean praise the high spring which rises in Fionn Choire, The Pale Corrie, beneath Sgurr 
 a Bhasteir, Executioner's Peak. In Highways & Byways of the West Highlands (MacMillan, 1935)  
Gordon describes the slope around the spring as a rock garden. The volcanic origins of the Cuillin  
and geological features on Skye are a recurring theme in a company of mountains. Local archaeo-
logist, Martin Wildgoose, describes charcoal remains of Neolithic fires found on the Cuillin Ridge, 
votive offerings and/or boundary markers.

Sorley MacLean, vision of An Cuilithionn

'mountaineering is metaphor acted'

   (G. F. Dutton)


memorial to Buenaventura Durruti, Cuiilin; poem AF, photograph LA

muir mhòr chiar nan tonn gabbro,
roinn nan dromannan caola àrda,

an crios-onfhaidh dorcha stàillin:

cuan 's a luasgan teann an creagan,
a chraosan maireann an caol eagan,
a spùtan sìorruidh anns gach turraid,
a bhàrcadh biothbhuan anns gach Sgùrra.

   (Somhairle MacGill-Eain)

the great dim sea of gabbro waves,
knife-edge of high narrow ridges,

belt of the dark green surge:
an ocean whose unrest is tight in rocks,

its yawning mouths permanent in narrow chasms,

its spouting everlasting in each turret,
its swelling eternal in each Sgùrr.

   (tr. Sorley MacLean)

One of the best-known passages from MacLean's epic, An Cuilithionn, The Cuillin, a poem that 

interfuses the mountains of Skye and the anti-Fascist struggle. First published in an abridged 
version in 1939, Christopher Whyte recently published an expanded edition (Association for 
Scottish Literary Studies, 2011), along with previously unpublished poems. The poem-label for 
Durruti acknowledges MacLean’s connection of the massif with Revolutionary socialism.

 for Durruti, poem & photograph AF

walks in the Cuillins

word-mntn (Sgùrr nan Gillean, Bruach na Frithe, Am Basteir); poem AF, photograph EN

magnetite in the rock
deflects the needle
from magnetic north

true to the climber’s motto:
if the equipment’s too good
then you don’t learn


poem & photograph, AF

Bruach na Frìthe, Slope of the Deer Forest

discerning shelves
in aimless rock

shattered glacial terraces
& chockstone

midway up or down
the slope of the deer forest

word-mntn (Bruach na Frìthe), AF 

Marsco, Seagull Rock

it is the clouds
that return us to
the ancient coastline

as cold water trickling down
a pure stream
marking the stranding
of the littoral
on the mountain

it is clear air
that allows
the peak to settle

it is light
that eclipses
rock’s stasis

it is the glen path
that changes
the shape of Marsco

  word-mntn (Marsco), poem & photograph, AF


Meall Dearg, Red Knoll




           m    n t   n    s





poem & photograph, AF

Sgùrr na Strì, Peak of Contention

a ring dyke
of hybrid magma
and cone-sheets
of granite

the cauldron
of a catastrophic
thermal alteration

an epicenter to
place your hand
on the cool face
of molten eruption

 AF, Sligachan; photograph KC

turning toward the Cuillin

you’re always saying
eruptions were the making
of these mountains

isn’t that just Scotland’s
old habit of falling for
a culture of blame?

turning away from the Cuillin (after William Carlos Williams)

sparing a thought
for the Skye granny who,
the moment before she died,

turned her head
taking one final look
at the Cuillin, saying

take away those useless
great lumps of meaning,
I’ve no more use for them

 word-mntn (Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh, Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh), poem AF, photograph LA

Glàmaig, The Greedy Woman

a moment
for the sun
to flame
& fire

one more cone
into the perfect
red summit
of sunset

   (after G. F. Dutton)

  poem & photograph, AF

Sligachan Hotel

after a day on the peaks, you might want to
stop in at the hotel for a bite to eat



   (after Alfred Jarry)

The view from Sligachan presents a series of peaks close-up; the guide evolved into a series of 
poetic portraits. Magnetite affects compass readings in the Cuillin. G. F. Dutton, poet, scientist, 
mountain climber, wild gardener; The Bare Abundance: Selected Poems 1975-2001 (Bloodaxe,  
2002). For the one-word poem after Alfred Jarry, see Alistair Brotchie, Alfred Jarry: A Pataph-
ysical Life (The MIT Press, 2011); Jarry's pickle of choice was the bicycle.

poem & photograph, AF

alignment: Marsco / tent, LA


I lay down my hand        yours covers it
      and mine               and yours
            and  mine  and  yours     mine yours

    (Libby Houston)

Libby Houston, poet & climber; this extract is from ‘For the Black Cuillin’, In Cover of Darkness 
(Slow Dancer, 1999).

word-mntn, Dun Caan, AF

leaving Sligachan

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

there’s no point asking a mountain
which side are you on?
there’s no way to fix the skyline
if you keep walking & climbing

the view of the summit
and the view from the summit
are two different things, not
to be known at the same time

the mountains are all around us
so why do they exist?
for their scale to impress
a sense of purpose?

to be a stage for snow
which their crags impel
but which they can never know
no matter how deep it drifts?

to obstruct the icy
cloud-mirrored lochs
trapping them in high corries
as revenge on the glaciers?

to be horizon clocks   
points de jour, celestial software
tracking lunar & solar orbits
by which we align the horizon

with standing stones
cols, knolls & duns
backsights and foresights
to time the turning year?

some mountain ranges
are said to divide cultures
as language is a block
between human consciousnesses

but even if the adored mountains
say nothing in return
their given names are sounds
which touch our feelings

The discussion of mountain skylines as calendrical, or points de jour, recurs 
throughout a company 
of mountains; it draws on Paul Deverux's writings on the subject, as well as my own research. Another 
cultural interpretation of mountains is hinted at in the Ancient Chinese vision of the Shanshui Cuillin 
below. The discussion of language as a block between individual consciousnesses was inspired by 
comments made by Meg Bateman & Ken Cockburn. The new monument at Sligachan, referred to below, 
represents the mountain guide John Mackenzie of Sconser, and his life-long friend Norman Collie, one 
of the great mountaineers of his time. The sculpture is by Steve Tinney.

word-mntn (An Coileach, Glàmaig), poem AF, photograph LA

word-mntn (Sgùrr Nan Gillean), AF

memorial, Sligachan

at odds with this wilderness
the new gate at Sligachan
will close on the cast bronze
of John Mackenzie, guide
& Norman Collie, mountaineer
fixed in perpetuity
intruding on the skyline

Shanshui Cuillin

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

a profusion of tops can be seen from Sligachan
– a right good dose of rocks –
but then the mountains withdraw, as mountains do,
into the lower layers of mist,
as if to remind us of ancient China’s
   Shanshui peak poetics

I spent the night halfway up pinkish Glàmaig
and on the high corrie heard its hidden springs.
Distant lights on far-away fishing boats,
a single waft of the lingering perfume of the hills;
my coat brushed past pine trees in the clouds;
my gate cleared the edge of the Milky Way.
Blà-Bheinn leaned over my mattress and pillow;
men and gods linked by this world before me.

    (Li Qi, tr. Brian Holton, adapted AF)

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

Haufroads up the verdant braes aa nicht A lay,
an heard the derk burn faa owre the hie binks,
wi farawa lamps cairriet on outbye cobles,
an the canny waff o hill airs.
Ma jaiket skifft at pinetrees in the clouds,
ma yett wis hingin outowre the Milky Way,
bens an ballochs taiglt owre ma bowster:
the warlds o men an gods cleikit thegither.

   (Li Qi, tr. Brian Holton)

Shanshui: Brian Holton explains: ‘the Chinese poetic term for 'landscape'; the abbreviation for 

'landscape painting' is Shanshui, literally Mountains & Water.’ Li Qi, ‘Stoppin i the Broch at 
Dulcehill Tempill’, ‘Staying in the Stone Tower at Fragrant Hills Temple’, tr. into Scots & English, 
from the sequence ‘In Praise o Ben Lu’, included in Holton’s forthcoming collection Staunin Ma 
Lane. I have interpolated local Skye names into the English version.

Neal Beggs’s cosmological vision of Skye

Island of Skye starmap, NB, 2011

Neal Beggs, another climber-artist
painted this Skye star-map
palling the folds of the OS
into the darkness of deep time

before the forest of trees
compressed into these
   boggy hags

before the hilltop chambers
and montane bonfires
   made by our forbears

before the catastrophic eruption
of the volcanic epoch
   that cast this ridge

reaching through the incomprehensible
distances of bright stars that shine
through the open tent flap
   of the boundless cosmos

Neal Beggs is an artist and climber, born in Northern Ireland, now resident in France. Beggs also 

collaborates with the artist-climber Dan Shipsides.

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

Am BasteirThe Executioner
An CoileachThe Rooster
Bruach na FrìtheBrae of the Moor Forest
Dùn CaanPorpoise Fort
GlàmaigThe Greedy Woman
MarscoSeagull Rock
Meall Dearg   Red Mount
Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh      Peak of the tormented torrent
Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh      The Foxes' Peak
Sgùrr na Strì     Peak of Contention


Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Neal Beggs
Ken Cockburn
Brian Holton
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


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