1 IX 1773
3 VIII 2013


Johnson complains the wild mountains are “abundant in springs”, like Homer’s Phrygian Ida, but they lack leafage. 

waving their leaves
quassantes folia

leaving their waves
undas relinquentes

Ida, Mountain of the Goddess, sacred to the Cybele, Mater Idaea, The Idaean Mother, features in the Iliad and Aeneid. Rising in western Anatolia, it belongs within the river-mother goddess culture of Anaitis, whose supposed temple in Waternish, on the River Bay, the Reverend MacQueen would guide Boswell to in a few weeks time. Another shadow it casts as far as the Hebrides is the raspberry, whose Latin name, rubus idaeus, means ‘bramble of Mount Ida’.

Johnson disliked the desert drums of Glen Moriston and Glen Sheil, “wide expanse of hopeless sterility”.

M A T T 
E R W I 
T H N O 

(for Luke Allan)

A few miles further on, Boswell will point to a mountain “shaped like a cone”. Johnson’s reply is caustic: “No, sir. It would be called so in a book; and when a man comes to look at it, he sees it is not so. It is indeed pointed at the top; but one side of it is larger than the other.” The skyline changes, though it is by our doing.

The cone has a name. Sgurr na Ciste Dubh, ‘The Rocky Peak of the Black Breast’. She is one of the Five Sisters, cast in stone by the Grey Magician. A pap – like Beinn na Cailliach, Beinn Dorain, and Schiehallion – and therefore, a worthy hyperborean Mother Ida. Alec made a collection of cone-mountains along the way.

Soon Johnson’s mind would be freed by these hills, for now his eyes were hemmed by the horizon.


Finlay, Alec (ed.); The Way to Cold Mountain: A Scottish Mountains Anthology (2001)
Homer; The Iliad