WALKING LIBRARY: BOTHAN SHUIBHNE WALK 2013, GLASGOW
The Walking Library was commissioned by Alec Finlay and The Bothy Project to create a library for the Bothan Shuibhne (Sweeney’s Bothy), a shelter to be built somewhere on the Isle of Eigg by 2014. Creating a walking library for this bothy prompted specific questions:
What book would you carry to Bothan Shuibhne – wherever you imagine it to be – for both the journey and your arrival? What book would provide you with shelter? Of solitude or companionship? To guide or get lost with? With spines upturned they too shelter worlds. Books as bricks, sometimes as heavy. Leaves that shade. Windows, hearths and thresholds to other times and places.
Though this walk didn’t actually take us to Bothan Shuibhne, it was for it. We gathered and carried hand-picked books for a library for the Bothy. We invited walkers to bring a book for the Walking Library rucksacks and to join us on our walk which took place over two days (14-15 June 2013). On Day 1 we walked from Carbeth to Milngavie; on Day 2 from Milngavie to the Walled Garden – another sort of respite – in Glasgow.
Here is the full story of our Bothan Shuibhne walk.
The Bothan Shuibhne Walking Library
Over the course of the 14th and 15th June 2013, the Bothan Shuibhne Walking Library walked its own course, from the Carbeth Huts (G63) to the Walled Garden (G4). Our path connected a constellation of desires and politics bound up with ways and rights – and right(er) ways – of dwelling, from the community owned island of Eigg (which has installed the world’s first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid), to the Carbeth Huts, a community company that fought and won a long battle to ensure the stewardship of an off-grid hutting environment, to the Walled Garden, an artist-run venture transforming an abandoned industrial space on the outskirts of the city centre of Glasgow into a multi-purpose, outdoor performance space.
Though our walk did not carry us to the Bothan Shuibhne on Eigg, we made it with that destination in mind, inviting people to walk with us, and to donate a book to the Walking Library which will, in turn, be donated to the Bothan Shuibhne.
Riprap by Gary Snyder
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.
14th June: Carbeth Huts to Milngavie
We start our walk by sitting down. In the Carbeth Community Hut we eat still-warm scones baked by Morven, utterly unearned and all the more delicious for it.
A specially ordered map from the Walking Library for the Bothan Shuibhne is unfolded before us, the Isle of Eigg/Eilan Eige splashed in the centre, an anchor in a sea of blue.
Alec’s finger marks the place of the Bothy, sheltered below Bidein nan Tighearna (trans. The Finger of The Lord). And scattered around this shelter, evocative, figurative and metaphorical word-images that belie the flat surface of the catographer’s method: Cnoc Smeòrdail (Butterdale Hill); Cleadale (The Cliff Pasture); Sidhean na Cailleach (The Fairy Mound of The Hag); Allt Bidein nan Tighearna (The Burn of The Finger of The Lord); Druim na Sgroth (Ridge of The Sward); Howlin (Stony Place); Tràigh a’ Bhìgeil (Strand of the Chirping); Sròn Laimhrige (The Anchorage); Cachlaibh nam Marbhaidh (Gateway of the Dead); A ‘Chuagach (The Awkward Place) http://alecfinlayblog.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Sweeney%27s%20Eigg%3A%20A%20Guide
This is a lived land which makes it a storied place – and before we set off, Alec tells a story of a cave on Eigg providing the peripatetic Sweeney with temporary shelter. He also shares the beginnings of an epic poem he is writing about Sweeney, one that will, in its own time, take up a space in the library.
Gerry donates a book of poetry to Walking Library, though that description – a book of poetry – does a disservice to the collaborative project, From Kyoto to Carbeth: poems and plants from the hills, which brought together poetry, botany, photos (Morven’s), ceramics, calligraphy, translation and walking. This is truly a multi-authored artwork with walking at its centre. The poems in From Kyoto to Carbeth were written by Gerry in response to a plant selected each month by Takaya Fujii from Hill 88, a hill in Kyoto that he has walked daily for years. Gerry’s poems serve to tread a careful path connecting Carbeth with Kyoto – and adding another point in our own constellation in the process.
Setting us on our way, Gerry shares June:
so simple really then
we complicate it
a flower a white canticle
& an old poet finds it
Fitting to wear in his hat
to approach the barrier of the
says they’re becoming
realised beings too
little by little ground
We ask those who donate a book to The Walking Library to write on a library card the prompt behind their choice. Gerry writes: For walking, for collaboration, for plants, for tasking, for huts, for starting points.
We start to walk.
Sun, hills, huts, well-kept gardens, late-blooming spring flowers, a day out of the office, a spring in the step, an amazement in the voice (“these huts, this place, that view…”)
We invite our library walkers to stop wherever they feel a place offers shelter (real or metaphorical), or where there is a resonance between the book they have donated and the land we walk through. When we stop, we read.
Gerry, Morven and the community of hutters certainly get shelter from their huts, but their recently acquired status as community landowners seems to offer shelter for the huts in turn, protecting them for future generations of hutters. With the Campsie hills reclining gloriously ahead of us, Dumgoyne basking most prominently, we ask Gerry to read another of his poems, this one to the huts.
And a little later on, as we reach a tarmacked road, and pass by an abandoned, crumbling cottage (still a shelter of sorts), Misha reads from her donation to the library, Thomas A Clarke’s The Path to the Sea:
calm was expected
but not this clear space
of blue between clouds
rare as a latin inscription
above the door of the ruin
of a black house
Gerry and Morven, who have been traversing these paths for over 15 years, are priceless walking encyclopaedias – there, the strand of old beech trees, here, the Rowan tree, there the flowers of the pig nut, the Elderflower, blooming late and not quite ready for the recipes of fried fritters and fizzy wines we discuss as we walk. The landscape becomes a bounteous larder – everything tried and tested as source of sustenance (sloe gin, beech liquor). Apologies to Muir, who took offence with the perception of nature as provider for human consumption, but there is a certain pleasure and satisfaction in these different times of tasting and ingesting the landscape as one moves with it – ‘going back to the raw’, as Alec described Sweeney and his survival on wild foods in his launch of our walk. There is a feast here for the eyes as well; we are surrounded by colour. A carpet of bluebells defies the month. The yellow of the wild iris, the fleur de lis of the marsh begins to show.
We gather around the Craigallian Fire memorial [http://www.craigallianfire.org.uk/], eating more fresh scones.
The memorial pays testimony to a fire that gathered the unemployed seeking solace and community outdoors during the Depression of 1930s. Katie reads from Journeys of Simplicity, revealing how lightly Thomas Merton trod the earth, living his last years as a hermit. We ponder the irony of his death from electric shock – a death both remarkably ordinary and extra-ordinary.
Our walking is slow, pondering, luxurious, gleaning. Morven pauses beside a gentle stream, dipping into Gary Snyder; Katie extracts from Thoreau’s goadingingly inspirational essay, Walking; we observe the difference between broom and or as if we carried them with us.
Misha and Gerry deliver a duet of Snyder’s Riprap, this combination suggesting that the poem was intended to be rapped by two – the rip to the rap, stone to stone as the cobble path emerged.
Having crossed the border between Craigallian estate and Mugdock Park, Luke spots a perfect shelter in the roots of an upturned tree, selecting by chance and bringing to life a dramatic scene from Trevor Joyce’s Courts of Air and Earth, becoming Sweeney fleeing, flying from danger.
In a shelter of trees, where a thrush seems to beckon us along the path, Misha returns to Clark, this time to a tale of shape shifting:
once I was a deer
stepping under trees
my form always broken
by lights and shadows
then I was a wildcat
leaping up and away
from the traces of my own
rigour and ferocity
Heading towards Milngavie, following the Allander river, we pass by the rickety un-sheltering of the Milngavie Wanderers – a lookalike lean-to or misplaced bus-shelter in a terminal state of collapse. (Here, Dee shares the contents of Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond).
In contrast to the Wanderers’ leaning-to, a bit further along there’s the curiously placed stone-built – four walls, a window and a roof. Despite the solidity, it’s forlorn and shelters little but blue dog-shit bags. Gerry declines the shelter it offers, preferring to read perched on its roof.
The remains of another shelter, this one more fitting with its surrounds, peeks from the trees – a decomposing minimal tree-house. And further yet, Morven tucks herself into the perfect embrace of wicker-like branches, reaching out again for Snyder.
Our path fittingly carries us to Milngavie library (some swans nesting on the pond to its front – a shelter for cygnets). This seems an appropriate spot to pause our Bothan Shuibhne Walking Library. Ending where we began, but shifted into another pace and place by the space in between (in distance, about five miles, in clock time, about five hours, in thoughts, words, scenes and seens, beyond measure) Gerry provides us a temporary book end – July:
on the hill behind my hut, Dumgoyne’s the other side
a helicopter the size of a lightning blue damselfly
perhaps Coenagion puella, methodical, back & forth
a pollinator in reverse spraying what will not grow next spring
to ripple the spine or widen the eye here
in recalling the hill behind your house
imagination perhaps recalls fragrance of the plant ryoubu
that the nursery man calls Clethra barbinervis – it smells of privet
growing in humid heat above beyond twisting with the path
round shrines there
the clatter of the helicopter echoes across
the glen; teacher of silence the unmoving hinds know
of watching waiting listening
15th June: Milngavie Train Station to the Walled Garden
The glorious sun of yesterday has given way to the downpour of today. It’s beyond dreich. Our spirits are not to be dampened though. On the station platform a small gathering of walkers congregate – joining us are Katie, Luke, Simon, Keith, Ruby, Rachel, Doug, Harry, Lila and a couple of dogs – Tally and Sally – who can teach us a thing or two about the weather of weather (it’s all just weather). Making good use of the platform’s shelter, we unpack the contents of our Walking Library, unfold our special map of Eigg, and Dee shares a bit from The Wild Places – a handy, short biography of the mythical Sweeney provided by Robert MacFarlane that sets the scene for us (in Alec’s absence).
… an Irish saga, thought to have been written in the fourteenth century, called Buile Suibhne – which translated variously as Sweeney Astray, and Sweeney, Peregrine. It told of an Ulster King, Sweeney, who so offended a Christian priest that a curse was put on him. The curse declared that Sweeney would be transformed into ‘a creature of the air’, and could live only in the wild places of Ireland and western Scotland. Like a wandering bird – a peregrine – he would have to shun human company, and to seek out remoteness wherever it could be found.
When the priest’s curse fell upon Sweeney, the poem said, he became ‘revolted’ by the thought of ‘known places’, and he ‘dreamed strange migrations’. Thus began his long period of wandering.
Our own wandering seems very far from Sweeney’s, not least because it is filled with companionship, but also because our first steps are through a busy car park of a large multinational shopping centre. But soon we are alongside the Allander River. The route we walk is less a path than a waterway, splash, splash, splash. A line of umbrellas stretch skywards – in flight?
Tally and Sally are blissful, running on and then back and on and then back, tails wagging. The grasses and flowers are happily drenched too, drinking it up. It’s remarkable that we are so close to the town centre of Milngavie, but already in the middle of green fields.
Our first shelter, a road bridge, is quite a while in coming. When we reach it, we again make good use of the respite it provides – a trusty shelter for our books, which are the only things that remain dry. Misha shares a bit of Thomas Clark, Katie a bit about Thoreau, whilst Simon tells us about the author of his donated book, Bruno Schulz – a Polish-Jewish writer killed by a Gestapo officer in 1942. Simon’s appreciation for Schulz comes not just from his writing, but from Theatre de Complicite’s Street of Crocodiles, a short story which Simon reads from, with well timed actions:
He seemed to have a dozen hands and twenty senses. His brittle attention wandered to a hundred places at once. No point in space was free from his suspicions. He leaned over to pierce the wire at some place and then, with a sudden jump backward, he pounced at another like a cat on its prey and, missing, became confused. “I am sorry,” he would say, addressing himself unexpectedly to the astonished onlooker. “I am sorry, I am concerned with that section of space which you are filling. Couldn’t you move a little to one side for a minute?” And he quickly made some lightning measurements, agile and nimble as a canary twitching efficiently under the impulses of its sympathetic system.
Leaving the shelter of the bridge, it seems that the skies have dried out a bit. The cowparslip stretches almost to the height of Harry – whose yellow hat transforms him into a bobbing sunflower.
A collection of Lapwing’s play in a field next to us (thanks for the identification Keith), whilst a kestrel hovers in the field across the river (a relative of the Peregrine, surely? An old railway bridge signals the beginning of another stage of the journey, as we cross a main road and part company with the Allander River and join the Kelvin. A strand of silver birch trees lines our path. Misha spots and shares some wild Sorrel – sharply lemon in taste (would Sweeney have appreciated this bitterness?). We think those are swallows darting for flies just above the water’s surface, but Keith corrects us – Martins. (“Pine Martins”, Dee says, without thinking, getting her birds and her animals – or her birds and her trees – confused – maybe a bit of Sweeney’s shape shifting is at work here.)
Our intention is to stop for lunch at a community garden en route towards Maryhill Park but when we finally arrive its huge, tall gates are locked, barring our entry (no hospitality here today). Hungry and more than half way through the walk, we decide to park ourselves on the wrong side of the gates, eating overdue picnics and sharing some readings. Harry’s donation to the Bothy is Rebecca Solnit’s wonderfully evocative A Field Guide to Getting Lost. He reads from the section called ‘The Blue of Distance’:
For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, the color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from the here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. “Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.
Misha offers an echo back from Clark
before the day begins
or when the business of the day
is over there are intervals
densities of blue or grey
when you stand on the brink of a different possibility.
Did Sweeney have to consider his possibilities, daily, reading the skies for blues and greys before turning this way or that?
Our own journey is mapped, with hospitality promised at its ending, calling us onwards. We are off again, following the river as far as we can, and then forced to leave it for a while, crossing through an almost deserted Maryhill Park (save for the contemporary chain gang of men doing community service – trimming the path’s edges). The route drops us on to Maryhill Road, and from there, back to the Kelvin. This is the third stage of our journey, a section that carries us closer to the West End of the City. Underneath a viaduct, there’s a readymade shelter of stage and auditorium. Luke takes his place, borrowing Lila’s donation: Ted Kooser’s Winter Mourning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison, a beautiful collection of poems written by Kooser as he took daily morning walks during his recovery from cancer, writing those up in postcard poems sent to his friend Jim.
Luke selected a postcard randomly. Here, now, Dee selects one written on her birthday.
Clear and cool.
I have been sitting here resting
after my morning stroll, and the sun
in its soft yellow work gloves
has come in through the window
and is feeling around on the opposite wall,
looking for me, having seen me
cheerfully walking along the road
just as it rose, having followed me home
to see what I have to be happy about.
A moment’s quiet allows Keith to offer a remembered story, one that has stayed with him, powerful in its message. This donating of something sheltered in memory and heart carries a value different to those stories donated on paper. Conjuring T.E.Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Keith recounts that Lawrence was guided around an old desert-palace, where each crumbling room was imbued with a different, intoxicating smell. In the first room, jasmine. In the next, violet. In another, rose. And so on. Until they came to the last room, which the guides told Lawrence was the sweetest of them all. And in this room was – nothing – or everything – the desert air itself. (Apologies to Keith for the paucity of our re-telling.) What will the space – the sense – of the Bothy be like? Where will its value reside?
Soon, we reach another split in the path, taking the fork that leads us to the Forth and Clyde Canal – our walk today has followed three sources of water (Allander, Kelvin, and Forth and Clyde Canal). We are not walking on water though, and on the home stretch our feet are beginning to carry the impression of distance covered underfoot. (We can neither swim nor fly to where we need to be.)
At the canal’s side, we are joined by Simon’s partner, Wendy. It’s an odd sensation to be walking on high – and the view over Glasgow is one worth walking for. The canal towpath leads us on to a basin of water beside Partick Thistle’s football grounds. Fishermen are making the most of the overcast weather – weather for casting. A large landed pike is hauled from a bag by Tilly. (Thanks again, Keith.)
Hidden in the trees on the opposite side of the river are a huddle of doocots (dovecots) – shelters for homing pigeons. There’s one on our side too, so we pause. Wendy reads a dizzying extract from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis:
We feel an affinity with a certain thinker because
we agree with him; or because he shows us what
we were already thinking; or because he shows
us in a more articulate form what we were already
thinking; or because he shows us what we were
on the point of thinking; or what we would sooner
or later have thought [….]
The canal path carries us towards the gentrified Speirs Wharf, old warehouses now trendy flats. But before we reach those, a steep set of steps directs us to the utterly unexpected magic of the Walled Garden. And just as we arrive, the rain drops welcome us and drench us again in the watery world that has been our continuous companion over head, under foot, along side and soaking in and out of our pores.
Here at the journey’s end, we find shelter in an urban bothy; Bobby Nevin’s transformation of a shipping container into the coziest of refuges that any weary traveller would envy. A beer keg transformed into wood stove heats the kettle and warms our chilled bones. Decadent cakes made by Bakery 47 revive us (the Brownies fittingly wrapped in gold paper, bullions of gold). Ale brewed at the nearby Glue Factory refreshes us. Just outside a pizza oven disguised as a pile of tires topped by giant fruits (another of Bobby’s designs) is getting stoked up to prepare a further feast.
Meanwhile, we unpack our Walking Library rucksacks and pull out the donated books that will comprise the library for Sweeney’s Bothy – for now, here, a browsing library. We unfold the map of Eigg again and pin it to the wall.
We welcome our walkers to leave reflections of the day in the Walking Library notebooks:
Walking companions are nameless, initially, like the suburban plants we pass by in Milgnavie. We huddle around an OS Map of Eigg and one of the dogs who will come with us (Sally, I find out in the last hour of the walk) peers over, quizzical. I sympathise – it’s a map of a place I’ve never been to before, and so detailed. Although I’m curious, what does this map mean to me now, at the beginning of the journey? It’s raining, hard, and gradually by shoes become wet. Better this way, rather than walking tentatively over puddles. Prefab homes give way to wilder paths and soon the hills are looming. As I relax into the pace and shape of the path I start conversations with my walking companions. Talks are about: forests as performance, high-tech donkeys, the value of smallness, physical theatre, the Shetland fisherman scandal, Glasgow University halls, and the askance glance of dogs, among other things. I’m paying more attention to words than the large landscape but I feel attentive to the small rocks and rivulets. Reaching the walled garden (the strong odour of smoke), we’re welcomed with food and warmth. A good day. Paths and people. (Lila)
Walking from outside the city starting in the rain, shared conversations, shared readings. Moving into the city families with fishing rods, a fish in a bag. A pigeon hut for racing pigeons with one sole occupant. The constant hum of the motorway, the deep blue of distance. (Harry)
As we began yesterday’s walk, we invite Gerry and Alec to read again to mark the end of our journey from Carbeth to the Walled Garden. Basking in the warmth of that company Sweeney disavowed, we stay awhile and are gifted with one final delight to the senses. The lyrical harmonies of Rob on guitar and Tim on stand up bass send us off to drift into the (again dry) summer evening and vanish into sleep. Here in the Walled Garden of delights we have experienced the most sumptuous of shelters, the pillow Sweeney longed for in his dreams.
Donations for the Bothan Shuibhne Walking Library
Eigg Bothan Shuibhne OS Map – “A map to read at leisure, to wonder about who has wandered here over the centuries before”.
From Kyoto to Carbeth (Gerry Loose) – “For walking, for collaboration, for plants, for tasking, for huts, for starting points”.
The Path to the Sea (Thomas A Clark) – “I imagine this volume of Clarke’s poetry describes similar landscapes, vegetation, animal life, states of mind that a Sweeney-like wanderer might encounter on Eigg. He writes of islands, blue skies and shape shifting.”
Walking (Henry David Thoreau) – “because it’s a passionate treatise – manifesto – of walking and Thoreau is such a Romantic at heart”.
Journeys of Simplicity: Travelling Light (Philip Harden) – “There’s some lessons to be learnt from those who travelled light. What do we need when we travel? What can/should/will we leave behind?”
You Are Not a Stranger Here (Adam Haslett) – “This collection of short stories is haunting. A fantastic way to end a walk – stories that will carry you in quiet solitude when you begin to walk once again”.
The Road to the North (Basho)
The Wild Places (Robert MacFarlane – on loan)
Courts of Air and Earth (Trevor Joyce) – “For its relation to the Sweeney myth. Joyce is one of the key translators of Sweeney. These translations are included here.”
Sweeney Astray (Seamus Heaney)
Ecology of Wisdom (Arne Naess) – “chosen for its insights on ‘deep ecology’ and the ethics of wildness. Relates to Sweeney’s Bothy’.
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (Gary Snyder)
The Poetics of Space (Gaston Bachelard) – “Because it talks of the ‘hut dream’”; “Classic writing on space and memory”.
The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories (Brunzo Schultz) – “This is a book of wonder and strangeness. Very human, often funny and miraculously brought to the stage by Theatre de Complicite in their adaptation. A glorious and moving experience and so good for a wet and cold evening the bothy.”
Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison (Ted Kooser) – “Jim Harrison is one of the ‘one-eyed’ poets my friend Ben introduced to me (the other one being Robert Creeley). I like the idea of literary friendships. For me this book was an introduction to Ted Kooser who wrote these poems up as an act of friendship, for Jim Harrison.”
Nineteen Eighty Four (George Orwell) – “George Orwell wrote 1984 in a very remote house called Barnhill which is on the north east tip of the isle of Jura. It’s interesting to know the context of how this book came to be as this copy might next get read in a far off place, or a wee bothy. In going away to escape the rushes of the city Orwell was able to write from a different view.”
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Lydia Davis) – “I felt an affinity”.
For information on The Bothy Project see http://www.thebothyproject.org/