Guest Article

 

HIGHLAND FLING

Poems and reflections written during a holiday visiting and returning from mid-west Scotland,

via the Lake District,

June 9th – 17th June 2017


by Alan Rayner



Sunday 11th June


We explore the local area around Tyndrum of woodland, moorland and fast-flowing rivers, enchanted by the calls of Wood Warblers and a misty gathering of Wood Horsetails.


Wood Warblers and Horsetails


The sound of a spinning coin

Making its mind up

Whether to settle for heads or tails

Issues from branches in tall, straight trees

With carpets of Rhytidiadelphus

Sprawling at their feet

Opens the way for a day

Beside rushes of peaty water

From rain-soaked hillsides


A misty gathering of horsetails

With delicately branching sprays

Whorled around tubular stems

Brings to the woodland floor

That same kind of atmospheric drift

Which coats the upper reaches

Of mountains hiding their faces


A black liquid mirror

Fringed by sweet gale

Is the legendary repository for Bruce’s discarded Claymore

It hides its past

While reflecting its present

Gathered together

Standing on ceremony




Saturday 10th June


We drive up to our accommodation for the next 7 days at Glengarry House, Tyndrum, stopping for a sandwich lunch beside Loch Lomond, which evokes a strong memory from childhood.


Bonnie Banks Revisited

Aged six

In these clear, broad, tranquil waters,

Charmed by the green, wet luxuriance

Of dripping foliage and cushion covers

Over its margins –

In stark comparison to the sticky heat of Kenya –

I caught an eel

With my new birthday fishing rod and line

Weighted with lead and baited with worm


The shock of its pull

Electrified me

With unanticipated new experience


Shaking, I had to hand my rod over to a young Scotsman

Who carried with him an air of confidence,

Know how -

He reeled in the sinuous, slippery form

Like a lump of seaweed come alive

And handed it to me, saying

That, to kill it,

I had to bang its head on a rock

And so I did

Again and again and again

But it would not die –

It just seemed to bounce

Like slithery, wet rubber

So I had to hand it back to him

To complete the dreadful deed


Next morning, we had it for breakfast

Its mild, succulent flesh

Seemed wondrous to my young palate


Now, over sixty years later

I still see the look in its eye

As I tried to do as I was told

And feel flames of guilt

Searing my back


What cruelty we carry within us

When called to follow instructions

Delivered by Figures of Authority

Who we think must know better than me


My memory reaches back and asks for forgiveness –

I didn’t know what I was doing

When excitement and fear coursed through my veins

Urged on by elder brother figure


The clean, clear, tranquil water

Ripples gently over pebbles

Swallows and martins swoop low over its surface

Engulfing oblivious insects into oblivion,

Two swans with single cygnet

Drift by,

A merganser appears and disappears like a bobbing cork,

Oystercatchers pipe together with a kilted Scotsman

Entertaining tourists

At this confluence of High Roads and Low Roads

That makes us how we are



Friday 9th June

On the day after the UK General Election, Marion and I drive up to Penrith, via the M5 and M6, for a one-night stopover. After a long journey we take a short walk to visit the town centre and castle (formerly owned by Richard III).


Penrith

A northern town

With northern sounds

And multi-coloured terraces

Built from red stone

Like ruined castle once owned by hunch-backed King

Ill-fated for burial beneath a Leicester car park


A place approached through Fells

Rising beyond congested motorway

To barren peak

Before descending slowly

To where I write in recollection