LOCH CLUANIE

1 IX 1773
4 VIII 2013


LOCH CLUANIE


Here lay our Shirakawa, gateway to the outlands. 

Johnson, in a letter to Mrs Thrale: “I sat down to take notes on a green bank, with a small stream at my feet, in the midst of savage solitude, with the mountains before me, and on either hand”. He wondered at not being “more affected, but the mind is not at all times equally ready to be put in motion”. The river of conversation is “parent of remarks and discoveries”, but where are his dearest friends? The writer has become talker, the undisputed magisterial performer of spoken thought in his era. The drama of his mind is prompted, and recorded, by his companion.


AS FAR AS
THE MOMENT SEES

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“Romance”, flowed though the letter to Hesther, “sweet Thralia”, rippling the rivulet of experience into the river of conception. 

“The day was calm, the air soft, and all was rudeness, silence, and solitude.  Before me, and on either side, were high hills, which by hindering the eye from ranging, forced the mind to find entertainment for itself.  Whether I spent the hour well I know not; for here I first conceived the thought of this narration.”

The narration of the Journey was now in motion. Come late October, by which time the travellers had sailed out from and come safely back to the mainland, the river would be in flood.


Caochan Cam 

A RIVER OF THOUGHT
HEMMED BY HILLS

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Glen Aray

THE TORRENT
OF RETURN

time


A “narrow valley”, “high hills”, a “small stream”, but where precisely? In Peter Levi’s edition of the Journey, a waggish footnote confirms that the “exact spot” has been identified by a number of scholars, though “not always in the same place”. Before the hydro dam was built, the radical liberal George Birkbeck Norman Hill searched this road, having dreamed the spot for years. Hill tramped too far – misled by Johnson’s reference to Glensheals – and, backtracking, found only “dried up watercourses”. Ian Simpson Ross records how the dam subsumed the burn in an inlet of Loch Cluanie, formerly Loch Lundie.

In early August we took our turn to stalk the spot, parking the car in sight of the dry island. This wild stretch has always been a place to pass through, but, stepping off the road, we scented an arrival.


A ROUGH TRACK
SCENTED WITH MYRTYLE

memory


Though everything was in flux – sun-patches came and went on rocky slopes, the foxgloves retained some purple bells, just, and an enormous caterpillar awaited its metamorphosis – our romance chose as the “exact spot” not Allt Coire Lundi, or Allt Ruigh a’ Chreagain which flow down from the “narrow hills, Creag Lundie and Creag na Mairt – but Caochan Cam. 


the crooked burn
hidden by herbage

the rill purls
like worts fermenting

the little blind one
found by the ear


(In Maclennan’s dictionary, ‘caochan’ is given as “the little blind one; a streamlet hidden by herbage; a gurgling streamlet; a purling rill, purling noise, like worts fermenting”; ‘cam’ means crooked.)

Rising a dozen steps above the highway we found a track, which we read as the old Wade military road. A band of rain marched down the glen.


Advice to Dr. Johnson Regarding his Enquiry into Second Sight

Bog myrtle is a powerful aid
in astral projection & lucid dreaming
and cure for ‘separation’ –
be it of people, issues, or places.

Protective of those planning long journeys,
and thought to ward off midges,
some say it has the power to steal words
from the lips of liars, revealing truths.


Bibliography

Hill, George Birkbeck Norman; Footsteps of Dr Johnson in Scotland (1890)
Darwin, Tess; The Scots herbal : the plant lore of Scotland (1996)
Maclennan, Malcom; Gaelic Dictionary (1925)
Ross, Ian Simpson; ‘Dr. Johnson in the Gaeltacht, 1773’, in Studies in Scottish Literature, vol. 35 (2013)