tour diary

Sake on Skye, The Road North, photograph KC 2010

Alec and I have made two Scottish journeys in recent years: The Road North, inspired by the 17th century Japanese poet Basho, and Out of Books, inspired by Boswell and Johnson’s Tour to the Hebrides of 1773. In reality they weren’t single journeys, but a series of shorter road-trips with periods at home in-between; the car and the road network consequent upon it give us opportunities denied to our predecessors. For The Road North we wrote short, haiku-like poems while travelling, an extensive blog when we came home, and eventually a long narrative poem; for Out of Books we wrote pseudo-dictionary definitions and double one-word poems, and used forms suggested by the Greek and Latin classics Boswell and Johnson loved to quote. 

Ken Cockburn at Iveraray, photograph by Amy Todman

We’re interested in writing about the real without constraining our imagination, and we enjoy juxtaposing texts and places and seeing what comes out of the meeting. Our own writing practice has evolved to include writing (and often photographing) poems in situ, combining disparate material from two or more sources, and using writing from the past, and from elsewhere, to inform our approach to the present we encounter. We don’t work in quite the same way – I tend to walk, keep a journal and compose poems slowly, while Alec views, writes thematically and composes poems if not effortlessly then certainly fluently.

Inside Ossian's Cave, The Hermitage, photograph KC 2010 

The Perthshire Tour will, we anticipate, draw together strands from our past projects: an experience of place informed by literature, whether realistic, fictional or fantasised (we’re thinking of early tourists like Pennant and Gilpin, Scott’s novels, Macpherson’s Ossian…). Many of the places we’ll visit contain elements of fantasy, whether the classical temples at Taymouth Castle, the various sites with Ossianic and Fingalian place-names, or houses, gardens and other structures which are now lost, and can only be visited in the imagination.

James Turrell Skyspace, photograph KC 2010

We spent time in Perthshire for The Road North. Basho crosses the Shirakawa Barrier, essentially a checkpoint, beyond which lie the mountains; for us Shirakawa became the Highland line running right through Perthshire, “burns running south-east / allts running north-west”, as we put it in the long poem that emerged from the trip. We enjoyed our encounters with the past, whether recalling the 16th century makar Gavin Douglas at Dunkeld, or finding the date 1860 carved into beech-bark at Newton in the Sma’ Glen; and our encounters with the present, especially James Turrell’s Skyspace near Kinloch Rannoch. Some sites we discovered then we’ll revisit – The Hermitage, Acharn Falls, the lost garden at Dunira; but we're looking forward to new discoveries, whether the cultured landscapes of Taymouth Castle and Kenmore, or the wilder bounds of Glen Tilt.

Loch Tay house, photograph KC 2010

So we anticipate, though if we have learned anything it is that the anticipations we set out with tend quickly to be reshaped by our reading and travelling experiences.

Bridge at Bruar, photograph KC

Ken Cockburn
June 2016