17 IX 1773
5 VIII 2013


“the straths of Lydia
convalles Lydiae

the temples of Waternish
templa Vaternish

The Reverend MacQueen’s speculates that a neolithic site, known as Ainnit (Annait on the current OS maps), by the River Bay in Skye, was a temple of Anaitis, a goddess of Lydia. Pausanius, writing in the second century AD, describes Anaitis as a veiled goddess whose worship consists of a ritual chanted from a book by priests wearing the tiara, in a language unintelligible to the Greeks. The celebration included the miraculous kindling of fire upon the altar of the goddess.

Johnson is sceptical, and asks McQueen the meaning of Annait in Gaelic; on being told it means “water-place, or a place near water”, he concludes the Skye Anaitis to be “a mere physiological name”, defined by its location. (Today the generally accepted view is that ‘Annait’, and the various extant place-names derived from it, means ‘mother-church’, the first Christian foundation in a particular area.)

Boswell and McQueen explore the ruins; in his journal Boswell goes to some lengths to describe it, but in his published account he writes, “from the great difficulty of describing visible objects, I found my account… unsatisfactory”.

We have a hard trudge over the moor from the road through bracken and heather, and steep banks down and up by the river. Ken sees nothing of the walls Boswell describes, but the attractions and drama of the site are obvious; a small rise bounded on either side by river, the two streams meeting where the land comes to a point; and it’s lush compared to the featureless moor, with hazel, birch and alder covering the riverside slopes.

Alec was drawn down to the knoll; despite the steep slopes and rough ground, he threw himself down and pulled himself up, until he sat on the saddle; the rock was flaky, as is often the case on vitrified dùns. But the midges rose in toxic clouds. There was no moment of calm and looking; a moment’s pause and the insects rose up from the heather. It is as rich a site as one could find on Skye, in the banks or the river –a vertical richness, with the falling waters, and the small trees reaching upwards.

Climbing up from the river the wee moths rose in numbers, like dark paper wishes.