7 Rubha an Dùnain

Rubha an Dùnain
word-mntn (Sgùrr Alasdair, Sgùrr Theàrlaich, Sgùrr Sgumain); poem AF, photograph LA

from the Skye Cuillin to the Cuillin of Rúm
janus-like, look on the way you're heading,
north-east over Loch Brittle
up the scree ridge of Sgùrr nan Gobhar
upon which the Cuillin rise, forming
   that stupendous arris of peaks

janus-like, look back the way you came,
south over the heavy sea from which the Cuillin rose
   forming that stupendous arris of peaks

now take some time to sit down
and pair off these mountains
   island for island

   Sgùrr nan Eag
   with Hallival

   Sgùrr Dubh Mòr
   with Askival

   Sgùrr Alsadair
   with Trollabhal

   Sgùrr MhicCoinnich
   with Ainshval

   Sgùrr Dearg
   with Sgùrr nan Gillean

Rubha an Dùnain's a longish hike over rough ground
crossing burns that feed or flood from mountain lochs,
so take care, for June's relaxed tramp to the azure headland
may become November's epic hike in the scary dark
– head-torches required –
as the rush of rain erases the fords beneath
   tattered white spume

take note of these plashing burns,
for when night comes you can still know them
by their wild tunes and fixed intervals,
recalling the path's thread as you re-cross



until you find yourself safely back
on the soft sands & marram
   of Culnamean

Rubha an Dùnain. (Grid ref: NG31NE 1). Site records can be viewed on RCAHMS. It translates 
as Fort of the Point. This walk inspired the artist Alison Lloyd to make a re-enactment, 'Dùn 
Bàn, Sleat and Rùbha an Dunain looking South from Glen Brittle, Skye', contouring a round-
about in an East Midlands town, Sunday 11 December, 2011. More information here.

Rhubh an Dùnain, AF

seven burns
Loch na h-Àirde & chambered cairn, Rubha an Dùnain, NS

some burn names were lost
with the families that left

a burn with a lost name
   fed by Loch an Fhir-bhallaich

a burn with a lost name
   fed by a loch with a lost name

a burn with a lost name
   fed from the slopes of Buaile Dhubh

confluence of Allt na Buaile Duibhe
      & Allt Coire Lagan
      fed by Loch Bàn and the gulley in Coire Lagan

confluence of a burn with a lost name
   fed by Lochan Coir' a’ Ghobhainn,
   and Eas Buaile Bhainne
a burn with a lost name
   fed from the slopes of Sgùrr nan Cearcall

a burn with a lost name
   fed by a loch with a lost name on Creag Mhòr

a burn with a lost name
   fed by Loch na h-Àirde

The peninsula was Mackaskill land, but by the mid-nineteenth century most of the crofts were 
abandoned. One effect of emigration in the Highlands has been the loss of knowledge regarding 
place names, their memory or their meaning. This walk is a survey of those burn names which 
remain and the lochs that feed them: The other place names of hills and isles are: Soay, Sheep 
Island; Eigg, Hollow Island; Càrn a' Ghaill, Rocky Hill of the Storm; Canna, Porpoise Island
Vatersay, Water Island; Flodday, Flat Island; Sanday, Sand Island; Pabbay, Priest Island
Mingulay, Big Isle. The pesky rabbits damaging the chambered cairn on Càrn a' Ghaill are

Alison Lloyd, photograph LA


word-mntn (Beinn Bhreac), AF

John Berger, somewhere in the highlands

Rubha an Dùnain, NS

there are castles
there are the lines
which could be
and have been
defended, deaths,
but there are no
final barriers

this is why the sky
can appear to have
more flesh on it
to be more hospitable
than the land

here between
the land and sky
it is like a shore
and as the seashore
smells of seaweed
so this shore smells
of uncounted time       
uncounted time
heavy with a sense
of loss

   (John Berger)

This verse for the ruined fort was composed after a passage in John Berger's essay, 'Somewhere 

in the Highlands', And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (Pantheon, 1984). Luke Allan’s 
advice was composed after a hike back from Rubha an Dùnain in the dark, with Alison Lloyd.

chambered cairn


view of the Cuillin from Rubha an Dùnain, NS

an archaeological palimpsest on the beak of Skye,
the opening's hidden among flecked boulders
so bend your head below the lintel
and creep your mind inside the neolithic,
into the cairn that was filled with stone
after the last beaker was carefully
   placed within
there’s a sense of
terror & loneliness
to the chamber at dusk

as if its bones
would pull me down
into the hollow

   (Alison Lloyd)

Rubha an Dùnain, drawing NS

keeping silence in shadow
scanning the broken
black rugged cross
from Sgùrr Dearg to Gars-bheinn 

& in the centre of it all
the pyramid of Sgùrr Alasdair
a fitting geomantic alignment

   (Norman Shaw)

for the site records of the neolithic chambered cairn on Rubha an Dùnain, at Camas a' Mhùrain, 

Bay of the Marram Grass, see RCAHMS. The artist Norman Shaw’s account can be read here
and his recording made inside of the chamber can be heard here. The verse on the chamber was 
composed from an email by Alison Lloyd; and the view from an email by Norman Shaw describ-
ing the conspectus view of the Skye and Rùm Cuillin, rendered by the artist below.  

chambered cairn, Rubha an Dùnain, NS

boatyard, Loch na h-Àirde


boatyard, Loch na h-Airde, NS

wrack in freshwater
barnacles gripping on
the trunk of an oak,
riddles solved in the loch’s
channel that translates
pool into dock & harbour

anchoring what we know
under the proven cover
of what was once
fastened in secrecy,
as overlapping timbers
render clinker-hulls worthy

this construction is fluent
combining the found
sound of the burn
with the made form
of the stone-lined canal
that flows to the boatyard

 in noosts
   for birlinn                       

     of the raven

   shelter from
the wind’s claim

Loch na h-Àirde is on the east of the peninsula; much attention has been given to it recently as an 

archaeological site associated with boat repair, most likely predating the Vikings, although it is 
often referred to as the Viking Canal or Boatyard. Gavins Morrison discusses the site in his essays
The description of the loch and oak trunk were inspired by Seton Gordon's account of his visit in  
The Charm of Skye (1929); there is now no oak tree. Noost, Norse for a boat stance; clinker-built
Norse style of boat construction, with overlapping planks. The Vikings released ravens as an aid to 
navigation: see Kathleen Jamie’s essay ‘Aurora’, Sightlines (2012). The ruin of Francis Tolmie’s
home can be seen near Rubha an Dùnain; a collector of Gaelic folk-song, she was the last of her 
generation to live on the old McKaskill croft    

Francis Tolmie, One Hundred and Five Songs from the Western Isles of Scotland

panorama of the Hebrides

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

put that headland past your prow
where you strain with sweat-drenched brow
and lift the sails upon her now
   from Uist to the Sheldrakes!

   (Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair)

the promontory of Rubha an Dùnain
offers a sense of distance & proximity
   to the isles scattered south & west

an isle riddled with lochs, where fires
were built to signal for a ferry boat

An Sgùrr           
the spine of Eigg and its neb

Càrn a' Ghaill
the wee mound of Canna with its own
wee chamber bothered by rabbits

Heabhal on Barra
overlooking Vatersay, Flodday,
Sandray, Pabbay Mingulay
and the rest of the extended Barra island family

Stulabhal, Seabhal
Beinn Mhòr, Hecla             
along the fjordic inlets of Uist's seaboard

Lì a Deas, Lì a Tuath
near the loveliest slope of all, Eabhal

The quote is from ‘Birlinn Chlann-Raghnaill’, ‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’, Alasdair MacMhaighstir 

Alasdair, tr. Hugh MacDiarmid, The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry (Macmillan, 1940); 
MacDiarmid’s version draws heavily on a line-by-line translation provided by Sorley MacLean. 
The other place names of hills and isles are: Soay, Sheep Island; Eigg, Hollow Island; Càrn a' Ghaill, 
Rocky Hill of the Storm; Canna, Porpoise Island; Vatersay, Water Island; Flodday, Flat Island
Sanday, Sand Island; Pabbay, Priest Island; Mingulay, Big Isle. The pesky rabbits damaging the 
chambered cairn on Càrn a' Ghaill are coineanach 

Hanna on Canna

chapel, Canna (photograph, Geoff Sample)

trilleacham trilleacham   red-bill peeping
trilleacham trilleacham   red-shanks flitting

to and fro   at the edge of the wave
take me up   into strangeness
flight me   in mimesis

between sense   and senseless-
ness   thought washed   overwhelmed
with tides of feeling   roused

through   the littoral margin
Hanna   weaves together
fluid strands of bird-   song piping

little-winds   sound-wings
rose in overtones   of recognition
within & without   the kirk’s architecture

from the half-   known dim
their songs   in your song
translate us   into recognition

we become the exchange   passing
out from the arch   of the clerestory
into the full light    breathing
   in the sky

Hanna Tuulikki, Lucy Duncombe and Nerea Bello performed Tuulikki’s Air falbh leis na h-eóin

a vocal improvisation made from extracts of Gaelic song in imitation of birdsong, in St Edwards 
Chapel, Sanday, September 2012, in collaboration with the sound-recordist Geoff Sample.

drawing (oystercatcher), for HT, AF, 2012  

from mesostic Air falbh leis na h-eóin

Haematopus ostralegus
European Oystercatcher


    Numenius arquata


Seferis on Eigg

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

the Greek poet George Seferis
visited Eigg during his service
as vice-consul in London,
guest of Steven Runciman,
don, aesthete, Byzantinist
and the son of the island's
   absentee landlord
Seferis's experience of the island was reimagined
   by Edwin Morgan

Seferis stiffly cupped warm blue May air
and slowly sifted it from hand to hand.
It was good and Greek. Amazed to find it,
he thought the dancing sea, the larks, the boats
spoke out as clear as from Aegean throats.

   (Edwin Morgan)

Morgan's complete poem can be seen in Sonnets for Scotland (Mariscat, 1984). Steven Runciman  

introduced Cecil Beaton to the fashion for wearing Fair-Isle sweaters. It was also said of Runciman 
that when he gossiped, names that did not so much drop from his lips as diaphanously float. For a 
more recent web-based artwork about Eigg see Alexander Stevenson.

Eigg, LF

Peter Levi's vision of Rúm


Trollabhal, MF

the poet Peter Levi spent some weeks on Rúm
in the 1960s ringing shearwaters,
a sojourn he recorded in a long poem,
   from which these are extracts

from The Shearwaters

We walked on in file, following
a path so silent and so overgrown
it seemed this whole island like quiet stone
hung in its sea as a hawk hangs on the wing

And now the hill had opened like showers
suddenly concentrating in heavier rain,
as if the divinity of this rough terrain
were grasping by half-knowledge what was hers,
and flung her wide arms out, making the crest
fall in a slope of yellow or of blue,
and made it lie as gradual and true
as that long line which streaks the fainting west.

There was no smooth pallor or fantasy,
but the direct and dying sun, outright
shadow perspectives etched in fields of light
from an airy ridge, remote simplicity.

And further now below, foliage of woods
still broke and darkened in luxurious seas
where the tall hills like mental images
upreared their never speaking solitudes.

And always as we climbed we strained to hear
(but too far off and now not visibly)
fierce intonations of the self-echoing sea,
austere voices of the shallow water.

We came out at last into a place
where yellowish grass gloomed in a level
floor among ridges like a lightless shell
not far above us darkening into space.
High up behind its peak the moon floated
making the wind seem solemn and slow,
but we were caught in hollows of shadow.
This mountain was as silent as the dead.

And in strange touches of a reflected light
the topmost of the rough grass on the entire
motionless circle shone with sudden fire
and we through light moved onward over it.

Overhead the sky spread its fine
impenetrable moonlit blackness,
and Halleval visible less and less
bulked upward vanishing into a darkening line.

But the mountain was windy and bare,
and we were crouched scarcely speaking,
a flung pebble struck with a quiet ring,
there were no birds in the whole empty air.

So there for a long hour we waited
as if by mental visions we had done
with the day's heat and iron-burning sun
here first received among the invisible dead.

We waited for that hour of night which dumb
instinct of a god or beast prefers
guiding far off the tireless shearwaters
which in obscurest night will sometimes come

to fill the whole dark with their wings and cries
penetrating these cliffs with a broken call,
and suddenly settle, populating all
the northward faces, so thick out of the skies

We crouched waiting for the wind to die
or the bright moon to sink into a cloud,
but the savage wind still bellowed as loud,
and the remote moon trailed its clear glory.

And all that night the moon shone
while we in the shadow of the breeding-slopes
wandered and murmured, nursing our hopes,
and the heavy-bodied wind bellowed on.

Between dusk-coloured rocks like a ruin
in the place where the mountain was most bare
there was a sudden whirring in the air
and the first shearwaters came in.

And now and then as quiet as breath
one shearwater flighted down to the ground
between long beams of light flickering round
in allegories of surprise or death,

or else a sudden light held him
rocks echoed suddenly with noise
and lifted by a tiny crowd of boys
he was fearlessly blinking his dim

eyes confused in the torchlight,
silently fingered marvellous thing
he seemed too weak or light for ringing
then whistled and vanished in receptive night.

Big Trolleval and Arkeval seemed near,
the remote moon was walking on the sea
paving the waves with bright transparency
terrible as justice, nervous as fear.

Space seemed alight, it was as if
the enormous wind had in his clumsy dance
quite brushed away the night's thin substance
dropping it broken round some distant cliff.

Far out to sea absolutely nothing
moved but the wasted water,
mile beyond mile there was no shelter,
mountain beyond mountain, nothing.

Light and time outnumbering sense
fell in a complete quiet,
as if this sailing moon could never set,
or time were intellect and providence.

Then down again from the massive wind we crept,
half-mastering stiff legs and drowsy sight,
slope below slope, moon-shadows and night,
and in the hearing of a stream we slept.

   (Peter Levi, Stonyhurst, Isle of Rum), 

   The Shearwaters (Harlequins Poets Series, 1965)

word-mntn (Askival), AF

Rubha an Dùnain 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 Rubha an Dùnain.

The 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 Rubha an Dùnain 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
Rubha an Dùnain, can be found on the drawing page.

AinshvalHill of the Strongholds
An SgùrrThe Peak
AskivalPeak of the Ash
Beinn Mhòr Great Mountain
Garbh Bheinn Rough Mountain
HallivalFell with Ridge of Terraces
HeclaHooded Shroud
Lì a DeasNorth Lee
Lì a TuathSouth Lee
Sgùrr DeargRed Peak
Sgùrr Mhic CoinnichMcKenzie’s peak
Sgùrr AlasdairAlexander’s peak
Sgùrr nan ÉagNotched Peak
Sgurr nan GilleanPeak of the Lads
Sgùrr nan GobharPeak of the Goats
TrollabhalTroll Peak


Alec Finlay (AF)
Luke Allan (LA)
Linda France (LF)
Malcolm Fraser (MF)
Peter Levi
Alison Lloyd (AL)
Edwin Morgan
Gavin Morrison
Norman Shaw (NS)

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...