Prieshwell, Preshal More



Talisker – ‘The House at the Rock’ – is the name of a well-known single malt, but the distillery is at Carabost, and it’s another six miles to Talisker itself; a white house surrounded by mature trees sitting beneath the “stallion head” of Preshal. We find a parking space – just – near the house, edging our way through peacocks and guinea-fowls unconcerned by traffic. Ken heads for the shore; Alec gets kitted out in his anti-midge armour and poems in a meadow.

conversing smoothly
the gentle Sleadale burn
has no ken of eternity

for Ken & Sorley

The path to the bay runs beneath steep slopes grazed by sheep. It’s a busy route, and cosmopolitan too, as I pass families and groups speaking French and German; a guide book highlight. I know the name ‘Talisker’ from a Sorley Maclean poem ‘Traighen’ (‘Shores’), which in Iain Crichton Smith’s translation begins:

If I were in Talisker by the shore
where the great white foaming mouth of water
opens between two jaws hard as flint –
the Headland of Stones and the Red Point…

The scene and the poem deliver us, by association, south and east:

litus ut longe resonante Eoa
tunditur unda


Resounding the waves
of the western ocean

after Catullus

the shore where the pounding
of the western ocean
resounds far and wide

variation, after MacLean

woh sahil jahan behr-e-Oqianoos Shimali
takrata hay, aur baz gasht bann jata hay
duur duur talak

Urdu version

The bay is a wide sweep of tumbled rocks, and the “round blueish-grey pebbles” used, says Boswell, “injudiciously” to pave the courtyard at Talisker House. The pebbles suggest an adaptation of a Boswellian footnote, late in his account after Johnson has departed south again:





[this poem can link to ‘some pebbles’, an essay ready to blog, once KC checks it – yes, looks good, Ken 18/12/13]

It is at Talisker that they meet Donald Maclean, ‘Young Col’. The introduction seems inauspicious, as Boswell delivers to him a letter from his uncle in Aberdeen, one of the professors who so bored the travellers there; but they will relish spending most of the next month in Young Col’s company. Johnson, with his liking for old money and new ideas, introduces him as “a young gentleman” and “heir to a very great extent of land”, notes that he has spent time in England learning from improving farmers, and then seals his admiration by comparing his new acquaintance to no less than Peter the Great: “If the world has agreed to praise the travels and manual labours of the Czar of Muscovy, let Col have his share of the like applause, in the proportion of his dominions to the empire of Russia.” (Capable and charming as we find today’s Collovians [?] to be, there are none we’d compare to Vladimir Putin.)

Johnson likes the house, but not the setting: “Talisker is the place beyond all that I have seen, from which the gay and the jovial seem utterly excluded”, but he does appreciate the enclosing trees: “the garden is sheltered by firs or pines, which grow there so prosperously, that some, which the present inhabitant planted, are very high and thick.


Sorley Maclean, Poems to Eimhir, translated from the Gaelic by Iain Crichton Smith (1972)
William Orme, A History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan from the year 1745 (1763 / 1778)