At the end of September I was in Inverness, where I saw a batch of poems I wrote last year about the River Ness and its vast catchment area being installed on the new flood wall. I’d been asked by Mary Bourne to produce the work, which she intended to carve directly onto the wall, but it turned out the stone wasn’t good for carving (a soft sandstone, with hard bits of quartz spread erratically through it), so she had most of the poems etched onto steel and set into the wall. The masons were at work setting them into the coping as we walked along the riverbank in unseasonably warm sunshine.
The poems are mostly on Bank Street, between the Young Street Bridge and the pedestrian bridge, though there are a few beyond that, along Douglas Row towards the Friars Bridge. A further group of texts will be installed on the west bank of the river in the new year, and stones featuring circle poems written by local writers are to be installed at Kessock Road near the mouth of the river shortly.
I recently spent a week in Moray with Angus Reid, writing and walking. We stayed above the River Fiddich in the house of Mary Bourne, the sculptor who co-ordinated the Mortlach Storywalks project. The house has views west towards Ben Rinnes, the highest top in the area.
It also looks across the glen to the ruins of Auchindoun Castle, set on a low hillock above the River Fiddich. It was from Auchindoun that Adam Gordon rode out to Corgraff Castle; his burning of the latter is told in the ballad ‘Edom o’ Gordon’. The revenge attack is told in the shorter and less well-known ballad, ‘Burning of Auchindoun’ (Child #183).
As I cam’ in by Fiddichside, on a May morning
I spied Willie MacIntosh an hour before the dawning
Turn agin, turn agin, turn agin, I bid ye
If ye burn Auchindoun, Huntly he will heid ye
Heid me or hang me, that shall never fear me
I’ll burn Auchindoun though the life leaves me
As I cam’ in by Auchindoun, on a May morning
Auchindoun was in a bleeze, an hour before the dawning
Crawing, crawing, for a’ your crouse crawin’
Ye brunt your crop an’ tint your wings an hour before the dawning.
I made a few label-poems there.
Near the castle there are some ruined farm buildings – some are being renovated, but we looked round a particularly delapidated house.
We drove a few miles into the Cabrach to Rhinturk Farmhouse, still standing, still productive.
Earlier this year I worked at Mortlach Primary School in Dufftown, mainly with the P2, P4 and P7 classes. We walked – in snow and sunshine – some of the paths around the town, which the kids had already explored with Wild things!, and I got them to write about their impressions of the ground we’d covered. I collated, edited and wrote up their material as stories, which have just been published as three leaflets, designed by Glasgow-based artist Janie Nicoll. P2 collectively describe Meg’s Widd, P4 become Jimbo, a local boy showing visitors round The Toon’s Widd, while P7 encounter a shape-shifter who opens up the history and ecology of The Giant’s Chair. The leaflets are available from Dufftown Tourist Information Centre, and other venues in the town.
The project was co-ordinated by Mary Bourne, sculptor, and a member of the School Council. Her carved stones using poems by children from all classes have been placed along the three walks.
Works made by P1, P3 and P5 with Janie Nicoll have been installed in Dufftown’s Cottage Hospital, Tourist Information Centre and at the local library. Additional works are in the school itself.
The P6 class prepared an orienteering route around Meg’s Widd, making a map and contributing words for the stones which serve as control points.
The nursery children worked with Vivien Hendry and Mary Bourne, making peg-fairies which they took to Meg’s Widd. I ‘interviewed’ them about their fairies’ skills and adventures, and Vivien has made a limited-edition book, The Magic of Meg’s Widd.
Mortlach Story Walks is a partnership project between Mortlach Primary School, Dufftown, Moray and the Speyside Paths Network Group to produce arts-based interpretation for the countryside around Dufftown. It is initiated and supported by the school’s Parent Council.