Witches Whispers

St Kilda Beach

Despite it remoteness, St Kilda, is globally connected.

St Kilda Village

Through shared histories, oceans and skies

St Kilda Airport Lounge

with flight                                maritime transports                          we congregate

nearly 1 million birds

Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Leach’s Petrel, Kitiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Great Skua

summer

at the archipelago

Hirta, Dun, Soay, Boreray.

St Kilda Seabird

Remote Life

Collect Bird

Cleit Dry

Boreray Wave

Yet we wont linger on Hirta but head to the world of Boreray

Boreray Revealed

Through

wave

wind

Boreray Splash

and wonder

Boreray closer

we reach

Stac Lee

Stac Lee

look back

Hirta

with anticipation

St Kilda birds

before crossing

beneath

sea cliffs

thrumming

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

soaring

Flight

sweeping

crucifix

Flags

filled

vision

Teaming Skies

wards

Residues

pulse of the world

Nesting

receeding

Brooding

further

Seascape

from

Depths

memories

Archipelago

navigate dangerous waters

Navigable

voices voiceless

witches whispers

Fortress

kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroKk roK kroK kroK kroK

Stac An Armin

‘a great noise like that made by a gannet,

but much louder when shutting its mouth’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘A storm rose, and that, together with the size of the bird

and the noise it made led them to think it was a witch.’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘they were beating it for an hour with two large stones before it was dead’

Torment

‘he was the most frightened of all the men, and advised the killing of it.’

Rupture

‘they killed the bird on the third day after it was caught’

Regret

Can we ever leave

the world

 

 

of birds and witches,

St Kilda Stac Lee Boreray

now unclear

which is which,

St Kilda and Stac Lee

Bird as person,

bird sustains life

person as bird.

 


The collection of eggs and hunting of birds provided a significant amount of sustenance to those living on Hirta.  Stone shelters, Cleits, were built and used to air dry the birds for consumption later.  Climbing cliffs and seasonal stays in bothies on the archipelagos other islands and stacks to hunt was part of the strategy for sustaining life.

Stac an Àrmainn is the highest sea stack (196 m) in the UK and is the location of at least two powerful tales.

One tells of the group of three men and eight boys from Hirta who were stranded here in 1728 for 9 months.  Upon returning they were to find that during their absence most of the community had died, all bar 4 adults and 26 children, from small pox.

The second tale, from about 1840, is of the death of what was probably the last Garefowl (Great Auk) in Scotland, when three men allegedly thought it to be a witch, only a few years before the species became extinct.

The quotes above are details of the St Kilda witch account, taken from a letter by Henry Evans, and can be found in:

Harvie-Brown, J A 1888 Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides p 158-59.

How faithful the details of the story are can be debated but there was certainly a strong folklore which may have provided a context.  An interesting overview of witches can be found here:

 

and a broader context can be found here:

Campbell, J G 1902 Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland : Tales and Traditions collected entirely from Oral Sources. Glasgow.

Seeing a Great Auk in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century would probably have been a rare occurrence, numbers already depleted, and with the last small colonies on Iceland some distance – so there may have been no familiarity with this species of bird among the men on Stac an Àrmainn.  Whether the killing of the last Great Auk in Scotland as a witch (presumably in a shape shifted form) is true or not, today we are faced with the certainty if we do not do things differently other species will become extinct and St Kilda and the wider world it represents will be poorer for such losses.

How will we explain to future generations, what will undoubtedly seem 170 years in the future as, unjustifiable behaviours which lead to such losses.  Seemingly enlightened, we may not fear witches, but through our behaviours we make our offerings to other gods of consumption and waste.  They may not be so overt but our brutalities can be small, long  and incremental.

Listen for the whispers….


I was privileged to journey to St Kilda earlier this year with the wonderful Kilda Cruises a great highly knowledgeable team.

For more details about St Kilda, please visit, the National Trust for Scotland website, the St Kilda website  and the UNESCO St Kilda World Heritage Site

If St Kilda is not possible for you, another option to consider is the journey to Ailsa Craig, some details can be found in another post

Imaginary Island – journey through the south west.

 

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Through the Eyes of the Ballachulish Goddess

The Ballachulish Goddess was discovered in 1880 beneath about 10 feet of peat.

When she was lifted from lying face down,

her quartzite pebble eyes stared forward,

unwavering.

How remarkable it would have been, when she was first lifted to gaze upon her, or rather for her to see again, to gaze upon us, for the first time in over 2000 years.

ballachulishfigure-originalphoto

Whether deliberately so, her eyes seem different.  Her larger right eye appears to have a distinct pupil marked, as if staring directly at us, or forward into the distance. While her small deeper set left eye, evokes an inward contemplation, perhaps a second sight to other places and times. Her mouth appears poised, as if about to speak to us, perhaps of some wisdom from the past or I can almost hear the first notes of a song emanating.

Taken back to Edinburgh, she was uncared for, and as she dried out, her fabric twisted and split, presenting a countenance which differs greatly from her appearance of 2600 years previously.  Now a look of shock, or worry perhaps, a permanent rigor mortis – her eyes pleading to be freed from permanent public display.

ballachulish-figure2

Many have speculated, who she is and what she may have represented.  Others have noted that the location she was left was a special place, next to a narrow water crossing, the successful navigation of which allowed travel on land up the west coast of Scotland.

DSC_0526

Some have noted, with the proximity to Beinn a’Bheithir, that the Ballachulish Goddess may in some way be related to the Cailleach Bheithir.  Described by some as the winter storm goddess, responsible for sudden changes in weather, which even in April with snow in the corries and successive bands of icy rain sweeping across Loch Leven still seems within the Cailleach’s purview.

DSC_0524

I cannot contribute much to the story, like many before I wonder who she may have represented – an individual, an archetype, a goddess, named or nameless – perhaps all these at different times.  However, I can reflect on the landscape she was found within and how earlier sites may reveal something of her nature.  Other archaeological sites including cairns and burial cists suggest this part of the landscape had been used for ceremony and ritual by people in the third and second millennia BC.  So the Ballachulish Goddess was located in a landscape which had a depth of story before she was created about 600 BC.

The location where she lay beneath peat for over two thousand years is on the brow of a raised beach.

IMG_20170404_114026IMG_20170404_113900

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A shore line, when following the last ice age, sea levels rose rapidly and water lapped many meters higher than today.   However, about 600 BC that raised beach line was already a distant memory and much of the ground below had been revealed by falling water levels.

IMG_20170404_113838

Where she stood, she looked over a small islet An Dunnan. When the water lapped at the raised beach line where the Ballachulish Goddess was placed An Dunnan would have been totally submerged. By the time the Ballachulish Goddess was actually placed at the raised beach An Dunnan had been emerging for several thousand years.

DSC_0501

Others before had marked these profound changes. On this islet, there is a small group of cup marks, a distinctive form of rock art dating from the the fourth millennium BC.

IMG_20170404_115046

DSC_0497IMG_20170404_115016

As the water retreated and the island became accessible, perhaps a thousand years later people modified the rock with cup marks.

IMG_20170404_115142

Most striking perhaps is that they are adjacent to significant outcrops of quartz, which even today seem to flow or drip into the sea below.   But in heavy tide or winter storm, they will be washed and partially submerged by the sea.

IMG_20170404_115033

Where the Ballachulish Goddess was located was not only liminal in terms of the distance across a short, but potentially hazardous, stretch of water.  The liminality was also temporal, a place of deeper time where sea and land played out a dance through millennia, as sea levels rose and fell, and then land sprang back up after the weight of an ice sheet lifted.

The Ballachulish Goddess stood poised above An Dunnan, with one of her eyes looking back to when people, perhaps two thousand or more years before had marked rocks revealed by watery transitions.

One quartzite eye staring back calmly at the quartz which marked this place of rock-water which had been birthed as the sea levels fell.

Yet as she stood on the raised beach, she also looked forward with another quartzite eye, to a time

when sea levels may rise again, and

the dance of water-rock continues.

——————————————————————————————————————————-
The images of the Ballachulish Goddess are from the National Museums of Scotland website where more information can be found.
Further information can be found at the Canmore
The original publication of the discovery can be found in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
While further thoughts on the ritual context of the Ballachulish Goddess can be found in an article by Jeff Sanders  ‘The sky almost never falls on your head – why ritual rarely fails’
in
Koutrafouri, V G ‎and Sanders, J (eds) 2013 Ritual Failure. Archaeological Perspectives. Sidestone Pres
And a brief introduction to some of the geology of the wider region.

Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun…

 

Among Dead Dunes

Primordial Arboreal Gold

Washes Upon Baltic Geographies.

Millennial Boundaries Shift

With Faint Traces

Of Ancient Rites,

Through Weaving Light & Shadow

We Can Glow Like The Sun.


I was privileged to stay nearly three weeks in Lithuania spending much of the time exploring aspects of its heritage and landscapes.  The first week was spent at the wonderful Nida Art Colony, a creative center from which I explored the landscape of the Curonnian Spit.   Located on the Baltic coast, the spit is about 98 km long, the northern part of which is within Lithuania and the southern part in the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation.  I was drawn back to the Curonnian Spit, in part due to my interest in a Neolithic amber hoard, within which are a range of unusual figurative forms, that had been discovered in the 19th century at Juodkrantė.

However I very quickly became more interested in a series of tensions and entanglements that the forested nature of the landscape and the elemental nature of amber began to reveal.  The Curonnian Spit has a remarkable natural and cultural significance in part recognised with its inscription as a World Heritage Site in 2000 and its status as Kuršių Nerija National Park and as the Kurshskaya National Park of the Russian Federation.  So interesting tensions can be encountered between geo-morphological forms, climatic processes and the movements of other species which do not recognise political boundaries and the management of designated landscapes.

The landscape of the Curonnian Spit has been subject to major changes in character, sea level, deforestations, erosion and drifting of sands, and then reforestation and management. People have responded for millennia, and in part caused, some of these changes. For millennia they have encountered timeless gifts cast up from the sea. At times they reworked these gifts, and sent them back, perhaps in an attempt to make sense of or intervene in the world of change around them.

While there I worked on a piece through researching the history of the landscape and those who have dwelled within it for nearly 5000 years and by creating a series of small temporary installations in the landscape. This resulted in the development of a piece Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun which was performed the following week in Vilnius.  The 12 minute performance explored the ongoing inter-relationships between people and landscape, and invited us to re-imagine the way we interact in the future.   Rather than try to reproduce that performance here I show some of the elements which I responded too.

There Is An Equilibrium Here… ?

Five days and fifty miles I traveled by foot.

Narrating the journey, as a linear movement would be possible, but my experiences were more complex, more entangled, with a range of eruptions and encounters in the changing landscapes which continue to resonate.

Some sense of the journey may be gained, however, through the images below, some of which were incorporated in a joint exhibition held in Caithness, Scotland, in 2016.  Each image, a compound of particular serendipitous conditions, mediated by subsequent selective sensibilities, represents moments of revelation.  Brief entanglements, enchanted, with the rich flows of time and the dynamic inter-relationships between people, other species and landscapes.

The Flow Country, a patch work of Lochs and Lochans, stitched by burns and rivers, often offered views to the distinctive peaks to the south of Morvern, Maidens Pap and Smean.  These peaks guided my journey, topographic beacons, which drew me onward and inwards.

birdland

Bird-land encounters were prevalent, when I couldn’t see birds their song was ever present, even at night my sleep was disturbed by their ghostly clicks and calls.  Only once did bird-land go silent, during my last morning heavy rain confined me to the tent, but it was the energetic call of song birds which told me it was time to depart.

Before my journey commenced, I encountered the realities of the avian beach, where angels wings littered the foreshore : stripped of flesh, divorced pairs of wings, perhaps the work of skuas.  Five peewits mobbed a buzzard ; a heron leaving the Strath, frantically avoids being pulled down by gulls, its elongated body bending unnaturally in utter terror desperately dodging the beaks of kindred.

beach-dream

Stooping for water at Allt nam Beist (Burn of the Beast) there is a huge splash nearby.  I quickly turn to see an Osprey breaking from the water, a fish hanging from its feet, it ascends and turns to the south : I did not exist.

The loch is fringed with deposits of sand, beneath which is sealed peat, erosion reveals the stumps of ancient trees.  No arboreal fantasy but revelations of possibilities.  Moments later, fragments of flint, reveal themselves from where these deposits are being gradually worn by the gently lapping waters.  The forms of the worked flints suggest they were left by hunter-gatherers who also rested at this location, perhaps 7000 years ago.  We probably drank from the same burn, in which small fishes still leap to catch flies, and rested at the shores of the same loch : I almost heard the whisper of their voices.

Abandoned farmsteads in the uplands were prevalent, part of a  widely known story of the depopulation (the deliberate removal of people and change of landscapes) of Caithness and Sutherland, and much of Scotland.  Sheep played their unwitting role in this story, introduced by landowners, with landscapes and communities being re-organised in part to accommodate them on the land in the 19th century.  It seemed appropriate to sleep where the sheep had been penned, so for one night my tent nestled within a small sheep fold.

cotton-grass

The low red sandstone walls gave some shelter to the wind which whipped along the Lochside.  Then I wondered, it was a very small pen, perhaps too small for sheep.  Earlier inhabitations are also found in the uplands, hut circles perhaps four thousand years old, within which I think I slept.   I wanted to mark my brief dwelling at this spot, cotton grass, evocative of fleece, nestled in the cracks of the walls.

aumbry

Many of the longhouses (and shielings) have stone boxes built into the walls.  Aumbries perhaps for cool storage of foodstuffs, or safe display of treasured items.  Years later the soil reveals, the signs of former fertility, a flush of nitrogen, often ring such settlements, a sharp reminder of our loss : stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).

Those rich deposits can also be found in buildings which have been abandoned as sheep shelters – hard won ground, hard won places, lives and loves no more… !

hearth

Deer-land, dear-land, our-land.  For much of my journey I traveled through deer-land.  At first it was their multiple footprints, along shared tracks, least resistance across ground that you would sink deep in peat and water, still used by estates.  Then I encountered the herd, aggregations of stags and larger groups of does.  They watched, with flick of ear and rise of nose, my every move.  Brief silhouette on skyline, flash of white tail, gone.  A few watched longer, the last small groups of does and hinds, tenderness grazed patiently if I kept a respectful distance.  I continued to follow the deer paths, a different form of route along edge of river and burn, their path cutting more directly across loop and meander, a quicker more confident travel which I learned to trust.   One night I was woken by the grumph and roar of stags, so close it seemed they were next to the tent.

iron

Shelter can be found in these lands, a range of corrugated iron bothies, huts and boat houses.  Often a focus for hunting or fishing they are open to all who respects the spaces provided.  In some cases, a chronology of rubbish suggests it has been 20 years since properly used.  Brown rusted skeletal beds, and broken seats greened with age, a reminder of comfort and company long afforded by such places to those who make the journey.

bothy

A tradition of visitation was marked upon the wall of the few I visited, written in pencil, etched in pen and scratched with pen knives, a stratigraphy of dates and names going back to at least the 1930’s.

marks

R Hendry 11th May 1931 Killed Fox Last Night – there is a reality to this landscape, foraged, browsed, managed and changed with time.

My preconceptions of the Flow Country as empty lands was being challenged by the encounters, with the liquid landscape, I could only readily traverse where others had created track and bridge.  Many of the burns were wide and deep enough that a bridge was needed to cross, and if not maintained routes will shut and landscapes become less accessible.  In one case, I balanced precariously, with a full pack, on old railway sleepers which were the only remains of the long gone timber bridge.  Upon which I couldn’t turn back and if I continued was likely to take an early bath.  They bounced and swayed as I slowly edged over, not believing I actually made it to the other side.

bridge

Lichen colonises wood-land above peat quenched waters. They lead us to places of contemplation.  The aggregation of the fishers bothy, the curation and discard of meaningful journeys.

assemblages

Around the huts, slowly sinking into the peat, clinker hulks rotting on the shores of distant lochs.  Small rowing boats, in the main, but evocative of the sea and a wider tradition of boat building.  Rose headed copper rivets, copper nails, plank and cauking, paddles and playful catch.

clinker

For a moment, upland water, settles on the hull of the boat.  I drift, carried on the thermals, dip and rise like the cycle of the swifts, and soar in the gyre.

copper-nails

Woodland disappears beneath peat and the hooves of herbivores. I flow, return to the source.

clinker-beach

We are riveted to the changes of the foreshore, inescapably we are bound to the cycle.

sand

Imagine if we should be able to see worlds in grains of sand…

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In July 2016 I walked solo from Thurso on the north coast of Caitness south, through farmlands and into the watery interior of the Flow Country. Camping for four nights I arrived five days later in Dunbeath. The walk was my approach to developing content for a joint exhibition, with Ian Giles and Andy Heald, at North Lands.  It resulted in a series of photographic prints, texts and sculptures by me which responded to the encounters.

installations

Thanks to Dunbeath Preservation Trust for kindly providing accommodation at the Old School House in the days before and after the journey.  Many thanks to North Lands for their support and to Andy and Ian for the collaboration and companionship to produce the exhibition There Is An Equilibrium Here…

Patarei – darkness and light

Patarei  1

From outside,

summer sun graffiti regeneration,

walls white washed realities,

gives sense of warmth and light.

Brief sun glimpses,

trapped in small world exercise yards,

never escape glare of guards.

So try hiding in the warren of corridors

and mouldering rooms.

So try finding the darkness pierced by light.

Patarei Window Light

Fallen signs of medication and disease.

Treatment of deteriorating conditions.

Patarei ward

Traces of nameless and named remained.

Curios,

cabinets,

tidied and arranged

Rooms rummaged,

staged and reworked,

towards artful forgetting

of impositions from above.

Were their ever moments of humour and love?

We linger on,

traces of presences.

Patarei Sight and Sound

We shudder at,

spaces of absence.

Patarei Shadow and Light

We are poised,

semi-ruinous,

Patarei darkness

threatened by the realities of

forgetting

and

decay. 

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Patarei was one of the most disorienting and disturbing heritage sites I had visited.  Patarei operated as a prison till 2002 and is described ‘as the most notorious prison in Estonia.’  It was recently shortlist nominated as one of the most threatened heritage sites in Europe and as such I thought this post may be of interest in the context of the Europa Nostra nomination by The Estonian Heritage Society.  The images were taken in August 2011, and I am not sure what state it is currently in, but yet to this day, when I think of the visit to Patarei, it still makes me shudder.  It was not always clear what had been left by prisoners, and to what extent it represented their experiences, or where later interventions of art or looting had modified the rooms and corridors.

I remember being struck by learning that Patarei (in 2011) catered for stag and hen parties (providing drink, food and drink) : with the unwitting bride or groom having to spend some time in a cell during the evening.  A form of entertainment which I was uncomfortable with : yet it was an attempt to ‘generate revenue’, to find a reuse for a heritage site.  Like many heritage sites it faces the challenges of finding new uses but in the current economic climate probably will not find sufficient core funding to keep running without some other revenues.  Finding reuse is perhaps even more challenging with a site which could be described as relating to ‘dark-heritage’.  Difficult and painful places, which we must remember, and through which have to reconcile tensions from the past.

There is a deeper story to Patarei, having been built as a military fortress at the instruction of Russian Czar Nicholas I from 1829 to 1840.  The fortress was then converted into a prison, between 1920 and 2005, and became a powerful symbol of national resistance in Estonia to both the communist and Nazi regimes.

Information on Patarei which strikingly sums up the aspirations for historical transformation and regeneration as:

‘This unique example of finest military engineering and architecture of early 19th century has finally, in the 21st century, changed from a longtime symbol of repressions and evil to a favourite hangout for the residents of the nation’s capital and visitors alike, a multifunctional place to spend one’s leisure time and have fun.’

A real challenge in these times perhaps, but I hope the site is not lost through further decay and neglect. Patarei is a remarkable part of the heritage of Estonia, and importantly it contributes to, and resonates in many ways with, the broader history of Europe which we all share.

More about the Patarei Sea Fortress Europa Nostra shortlisting

Lost and Found

From Deep Earth,

Molten Spheres,

Are Cast Along Our Shores…

 

Bauxite Buoy 1

Hall–Héroult Buoy 2

Ocean Buoy 3

Float Buoy 4

Netted Buoy 5

Lost  Buoy 6

Uibhist a Tuath Buoy 7

Stranded  Buoy 8

Traigh Lingeigh Buoy 9

FoundBuoy 10

We are but a moment in the flow of time…

 Flow 1Can we speak of love…

love of a landscape,

of the dance of light and cloud upon leaden Autumn waters,

of the sway of cotton grass in a playful Summers breeze,

of the cool green air which wisps around your Spring hair,

of those little details which reveal a world,

of the escape from mundane valley floor,

of soaring rocks, glacial scarred and Winter shattered

raptor and carrion,

your rapture and return…

Can we speak of love…..

…. from fragments,

from imperfect
traces….

from the hard cold realities….

Can we speak of love….

love of the object,

sought,

hard won,
cherished

and

curated.

Flow 4Flow 5Can we speak of love…

separated by 5000 years,

joined by a humanity.

Is it too hard to feel…

what it means to acquire,

to complement,
to share…

Flow 9Flow 10Flow 11

These partial traces,

spectres

of

objects desired,

with no value…
only discard,

detritus,

the waste from

greater

desires…

Flow 12Yet …..

….they were hard won

by trowel,

by folded body

by stiffened knee…..

by cut finger and

aching arm…

they were hard won….

by stone upon stone,

crack and dust,
clatter and clinker,
roughed out…

waste, waste, waste, waste, waste,

the object is borne

Flow 13Can we speak of love….

again revealed,
bagged and tagged
cleaned

measured,

incorporated into a world

beyond their….

… imagine,

a metric curation,

an assertion of the rationale…

suppresses

a terror of what they may reveal…

Flow 14Flow 15Can we speak of love…

love of the object…

a fetish beyond,

love of the insight,

of the revelation,

of the enlightenment,

beyond, we love beyond

the bounds of normal understanding…

for one moment they mattered,

the core of a world denied for millennia,

for one short moment

a sweet anticipation of display and adoration,

of wonder and desire… Flow 16Flow 17Flow 18Can we speak of love…

Care, and ware, grind and polish…

Smoothed and caressed, a concentration,

focus,

effort,

an obsession…

material meditations…

shared and displayed…

an eternal transformation…

objects transcending moments of humanity…

…your daughters daughters sons

daughtersonsdaughtersonsdaughters

tell tale of those who pulled them from

the mother rock…

Flow 19And yet we have inherited hard cold curation,

an uncomfortable,

comfort from discipline,

little known,
little revealed,
little shared,

but we are satisfied ?

with what…

Flow 20Flow 21

Flow 24 Flow 22with the recovery of loss,
with the ordering of disorder,
with the categorisation of the chaotic,
with the control of the uncontrollable….

with our conceit …

can we speak of love…

Flow 25 Flow 26Flow 27Look again,

look carefully,

not at the traces of the past,
but
at the fleeting glimpses

of the future…

Flow 28…fragments shared,

flow

…fragments journeyed,

flow

…fragments retold,

flow

…fragments transformed,

flow

…fragments returned…

Flow 29Can we speak of love…

love of the possibilities of what might be,

love of our shared humanity,

love of the intangibility of the tangible…

Dry and broken husks, pass no more on the winter stream,

occasional glints, below the surface beckon Spring rains.

Flow 32

Can we plant and tend,

seeds of spirit

grow

seeds of soul

grow

seeds of light

roots and radiance,

beyond generations glow.

Flow 34The journey, the narrative continues….

how will you love

heap more order upon disorder

or narrate the next chapter, the next journey

share and tell,

show and reveal,

one year to this day…

is

Flow 35but a moment in the flow of time…

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One interest I have are the threads which can be drawn out and traced through the millennia.  So slight, so fine, they can only be seen from certain angles – a flash, a glint, in peripheral glances – but I am sure they are there.

One fragile thread I have been teasing out was originally found in the uplands.  Five thousand years ago people quarried stone from mountain places such as the Langdale, Cumbria and Craig Na Caillich, Perthshire.  From the stone they produced polished stone axes. Polished stone axes may have been considered prestige objects and often traveled significant distances, perhaps handed from person to person.  Each time a polished stone axe moved, its story may have traveled with it linking time and space through the memories of generations.

The piece I present in part here traces these threads and looks forward.  Some images show a small quartz cairn I first created in the uplands six years ago and how it has changed.  Other images show large waste flakes from making rough out axes 5500 years ago: they had been excavated by archaeologists and they were going to be disposed of as no longer wanted for curation.  Many of the images relate to the burn which flows down from Craig Na Caillich axe factory, other relate to prehistoric sites where polished stone axes may well have been used and deposited.

The piece was presented in the Creative Archaeologies session, co-organised by Antonia Thomas, Dan Lee, Carolyn White and Ursula Frederick, at the 2015 European Association of Archaeologists conference.

As part of the piece 25 boxes were given away and an invite extended to those who took them to collaborate in exploring the future chapter of what was inside.

Flow of TimeThe piece extends :

In The Flow Of Time We Are But A Moment ….

Fire and Moon

BuildNBurn 13

Fire and Moon are a powerful combination.  There is no doubting the importance both had in the past, both moon and fire were clearly incorporated into rituals and ceremonies for thousands of years.  What may be less apparent is the power of groups of people building together, a communal effort to create not only structures but more importantly lasting memories of striking events.

BuildNBurn1A week of preparations, involved felling trees, and hand breaking trenches through bedrock to hold the timbers.

BuildNBurn 2Posts were decorated using pigments found from local sources.

BuildNBurn 4Special objects were made in preparation of the events which were to follow.

BuildNBurn 3Everything was set for the arrival of extraordinary figures.

BuildNBurn 5Preparations completed, we were ready…

BuildNBurn 6for transformations through fire…

BuildNBurn 8for remembering ancient stories of the landscape beyond…

BuildNBurn 7for remembering the people who had explored before us…

BuildNBurn 10for measuring things in a new light…

BuildNBurn 9 for transformation, to find a different beauty in wood.

BuildNBurn 11An illumination cloaked in possible pasts.

BuildNBurn 12An intensity of insight, focused at night.

BuildNBurn 14Fire beckoned darkness and called another light.

BuildNBurn 15A monument captured a lunar moment…

BuildNBurn 16 … of rhythms hunted through the ages.

BuildNBurn 17  Memories,

of figures and festivities, fire and moon blended,

blazes.

BuildNBurn 19Could never be revealed in mornings traces ?

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The BuildNBurn approach has been developed with Kenny Brophy and Corinna Goeckeritz.  For some partial insights into other BuildNBurn events, please look at:

Burning the Circle 2013

and

Burning the Circle 2014

Please contact me, if you have any ideas for other BuildNBurn events, we are happy to collaborate.

The BuildNBurn presented above was produced as part of the Joseph Anderson 150 Festival organised in collaboration by the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, Northlight Heritage, the Yarrows Heritage Trust, Venture North and Northshore Pottery. The Joseph Anderson 150 Festival was supported with funding from the E.ON Camster Community Fund, supported by Foundation Scotland and by Eneco and Venture North. 

The BuildNBurn performance ‘Joseph Anderson Presents The Mysteries of Prehistories’ could not have happened without the support, hardwork and creative efforts of: Tom (Performance and Build); Andrew Baines (Performance); Cara Berger (Technical Advice); Nan Bethune (Storytelling); Alex Carnes (Performance and Build); James Dilley (Performance); Helen Green (Performance and Build); Steve (the sound man) Mills (Audio);  and Brianna Robertson (Song and Technical Advice).  Thanks also to Ian Giles for providing two carved oak plaques for carbonisation.  Many thanks to Islay MacLeod and Catherine MacLeod for providing copious quantities of wood and putting their faith in the BuildNBurn team.  A special thanks to Amelia Pannett who made Joseph Anderson 150 Festival happen and dealt with too many challenges during the week : but we got there in the end !

Lands of the Caillich

There are traces of time every where in the Lands of the Caillich.

Some are obvious, such as the tumbled drystone walls which had been constructed about 200 hundred years ago as the land was enclosed and more sheep introduced.

Other traces are more elemental, the different states of quartz rocks revealing greater time depths…

Mountain Wall

…angular outcrops, shattered by a thousand winters or more…

Mountain Quartz

…rounded quartz rocks, rolled by glaciers, and washed for ten thousand years in burns.

Quarts Water

On my way to my intended destination, Creag na Caillich, I pass by a collapsed cliff line,

Cliffs

scattered boulders creating a maze of shelters, for a range of creatures.

Complexity

The cliff face reveals other scars.  Probably a result of where quartz has been extracted.  When this took place is difficult to tell.

Scars

What is clear is that there has long been a fascination for special stones in the Lands of the Caillich – with examples of healing stones and talismans in folklore and history.  Even today the property of Triboluminescence which quartz displays, visible in darkness, has a hypnotic, slightly unnerving effect : materials releasing other energies and powers.

Quartz Extraction

Quartz may have been extracted by the people who occupied the nearby summer shielings, tending their cattle in the uplands, over two hundred years ago.

Shieling

Or it could have been 5000 years before when people came to the uplands to acquire another special stone.  A ragged hole still visible in the mountain, visibly seeping more water than elsewhere, is the result of quarrying for rock suitable to produce polished stone axes at Creag Na Caillich.

Creag Na Caillich

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I have explored this part of Scotland many times before and occasionally at times encountered the wintery veil of the Caillich.  I had been to Creag Na Caillich twice before. The first time I arrived, hail immediately fell on me : perhaps no surprise in March.

The second time going to Creag Na Callich, I never actually made it, after climbing Ben Lawers earlier in the day, I was turned back by overhanging snow in a small corrie and to be honest due to a nagging sense of not to go any further.

Winter LandsFurther west I have explored Gleann Calliche several times and encountered weather anomalies : but that is another tale.

And – while I have encountered the different faces of Ben Cruachan in both Summer and Winter many times before – I only recently learned about the story of Cailleach Bheur.

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This time the weather was relatively kind to me at Creag Na Caillich, perhaps to be expected in July.  Having completed the piece I was creating I began my return journey when my eye was caught by a rock I had never spotted before on the distant horizon : the slopes of the mountain side meant it can only be seen briefly from a very limited position.

Troll Stone

I continued to move on down slope, but something nagged at me to go upwards and explore further : perhaps, upon reflection, the rock reminded me of the trolls stones I had seen in Iceland.

Caillich Land

I eventually found myself crossing an area of peat hags, situated in an enclosed amphitheater like area of ground.

Peat Hags

Caillich Lands

As I approached the rock, I realised it had an almost figure like form.

Liminal

Perhaps it was tiredness or low blood sugar but at this point I had the strangest sensation.  I suddenly felt very cold, began shivering, and walking became like swimming through treacle : a minute or so and it passed but slightly disorientated I continued.

Time Distortions

The rock, perhaps 10 m tall, has a remarkable profile and presence in the landscape.

The Caillich

Like a seated watcher,

contemplative,

brooding,

patient.

Old as the Mountain

The back of the stone reveals a series of almost step like levels as it narrows towards the top of the head.  They appear worn, probably just weathering, but I ponder whether others have stood here in the past to experience…

Steps Backwards

…the view of the stone…

Caillich's View

…which has sat for over ten thousand years,

The Caillich Lands

watching the Lands of the Caillich.

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The top of Creag na Caillich is located c 900 metres to the north west from our stone figure.  However on the Ordnance Survey Map the name Creag na Caillich is located significantly distant from the top and closer to where the figure is situated.  I wonder if the association of the name Caillich at this location was in part due to the presence of the stone figure.  The Caillich (or Cailleach) has significant antiquity in folklore, referring to a deity, associated with winter weather, who manifests in the form of an old woman.

The times I have spent up the mountains have been in exceptionally varied weather conditions and different states of tiredness.  When I approached the stone figure of the Caillich, the sensation was like nothing I have experienced before and it left me somewhat unsettled for quite some time.

Perhaps in remote, rarely visited places, where the elements rage with such power at different times of the year, there are residual energies which can be encountered… ?

Mac-Talla Nan Creag

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 3When I received a copy of Mac-Talla Nan Creag from Forestry Commission Scotland archaeologist Matt Ritchie I was interested in hearing what had been produced.  I had previously managed to see an insert from the Mac-Talla Nan Creag LP and was aware the work engaged with the laser scanning of several prehistoric archaeological sites by AOC Archaeology Group.

Four archaeological sites which have survived to this day from Scottish prehistory and are currently on land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 1Caisteal Grugaig an Iron Age Broch

Ormaig Neolithic rock-art

Bucharn Bronze-Age burial cairn

Kraiknish Iron Age dun

were subject to laser scans producing point cloud data which provided the basis of some of the artwork.

What I had seen before as outputs from the laser scan were some striking digital images from the survey of archaeological sites : but to be honest I was a bit doubtful as to whether the resulting music would be of merit.

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 2So I listened to the CD

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 5and was immediately drawn in by the rhythmic tension of the first track NR 8720 9577 and then taken by the wonderful lyrics and vocals of ‘Where the Corries Hold the Snow’ (Track 2)

‘What is your idea of North,

to what places do you go,

to the lands beyond the Forth,

where the corries hold the snow’.

The album is a fine mix of electronica and traditional folk : blended with found sounds and marked nods to world music and esoterica.  Tracks are in some cases primordial (Track 6 – EternalDawnAndGloaming) and in other cases, while in danger of touching on playful Scottish kitsch, instead produce a fresh cyclical dirge (Track 5 – Dearg Agus Dearg).  Others evoke traditions of Gaelic song, the deeply soulful (Track 8 – 3rd Pass) (which I must confess produced tears : I have a soft spot for certain vocals), while others are reminiscent of how we may imagine shamanic chants from ceremonies past (Track 9 – Invocation).  A chiming glitchy interlude of NG 8663 2508 (Track 14).  The album finishes with the pulsing 18 minute epic Caisteal Grugaig (Track 16).  Mac-Talla Nan Creag is beautiful and uplifting album, an interesting conduit to the remains of the past, to which I will listen to over and over…

There has also been the bonus of introducing me to the work of some wonderful musicians, Wounded Knee, Lord of the Isles, Other Lands and House of Traps : who appear to have worked collectively in the production of different tracks.   It is this aspect of the process of making which is also of significance.  Other forms of collective collaboration is something the heritage sector could benefit greatly from in terms of how we approach the production of outputs and outcomes.  At times the heritage sector is highly formulaic and methodology driven.  Thankfully there are increasing opportunities, and I would argue need, to develop new processes and forms of collaborative expression to better explore our complex relationship to the past and the vital role, in terms of place and identity, this has for our futures.

Mac-Talla Nan Creag is a great example of how the ongoing conversation with the heritage of our landscapes can be extended through creative practices.  It is also an important reminder that through exploring the past we can produce more than academic knowledge through this conservation: only by the sharing and celebration of our archaeological and historic environment assets through different mediums can we grow their relevance.

Overall Mac-Talla Nan Creag as a collaborative musical response, to archaeological digitisation, with support by Forestry Commission Scotland to take such an approach, is to be commended.  It would, however, be interesting to discuss with the musicians to what degree, and how, the experience of archaeology and its laser scan affected (if at all) their compositions?

In the meantime please go to Firecracker Recordings and treat yourself to Mac-Talla Nan Creag

Door of Secrets

Hiding in the shadows is a metal studded door.

Shadows

Door

It is located on the west face of Pittenweem Tolbooth Steeple, Fife.  A building which dates back to the late 16th century and according to Stell (1982) it is one of only 20 tolbooths in Scotland which date to before 1707.

I was drawn to the door due to its old and weathered character but was soon attracted by letters scratched on its surface.

At one point is the date 1829.

DatesFurther below is inscribed in the wood:

NamesJ BeGole

1854

I am not sure, why these dates have been singled out.  And, if I am reading it correctly, who was J BeGole.  Did they live in Pittenweem?  Or was this a clandestine act of a traveler, perhaps only in the harbour for a matter of hours?

Subsequently, some rapid research, produced a photo on RCAHMS of the Tolbooth, taken in 1882 (at 1 pm) by archaeologist Erskine Beveridge.

Erskine Beveridge RCAHMS ImageBeveridge had been born in Dunfermline in 1851, three years before J BeGole was scratched on the Tolbooth door.

I wonder…

was the name visible to him when he photographed the Tolbooth,

and separated by only 28 years, did it resonate with any meaning to him?

I assume Beveridge would have realised that the door led into the jail cells within the Tolbooth.

Key HoleIf so, he may also have been aware of the stories of those who were locked in the cells in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  The RCAHMS records make no reference to this, while the Places of Workship record largely focuses on architectural details.

It is only in broader sources that you find out in 1704

Beatrix Lang,

Thomas Brown

and

Janet Cornfoot

were accused of Witchcraft

and subject to torture : behind the Door of Secrets.

I have not had time, yet, to find details of primary sources relating to these stories and their veracity.  However, it is clear that there is a horrific account of what may have happened.  Additionally it appears that in 2012 there was vote in the community as whether to erect a memorial to those accused of witchcraft who had suffered.

As always, knowledge and meaning of the past, is partial and diverse: some know of archaeology, history and heritage, some wish to remember and some wish to forget.

It would be greatly appreciated, if anybody has any further information, or suggestions as to the associations or meanings of the dates and name on the door of secrets dating to the 19th century.

But, perhaps, then the door should now reveal its secrets

and have

B Lang 1704, T Brown 1704 and J Cornfoot 1705

(and all the other names of those who may have suffered inside)

inscribed on it ?

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Stell, G 1982 ‘The earliest tolbooths: a preliminary account‘, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 111, 445-453.

And other doors which have cause me to ponder:

Beautiful Door

Time Travel, Through The Bronze Door

Door Way to The Imagination