huts and visions, from the road north

This sequence is composed from field-notes on the culture of viewing, remnants from a book-length poem that records a journey through Scotland, guided by Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi, pairing Basho's temples with Neolithic sites, or contemporary temenos. Our journey, from Edo-Edinburgh to a view of Sado-St Kilda, guided us toward an understanding of viewing, from chambered cairns, most notably Bharpa Langais, North Uist, through folly viewing points, to contemporary secular constructions. The visits are detailed in the posts on the road north blog. Although we decided that this material did not, finally, belong in that journey narrative, I have preserved it here, as it bears on my ongoing research into shelters, huts, viewing platforms, follies and comparable constructions made, or proposed, by contemporary poets, architects, and artists.


these are Basho’s temples and our pairings
from the road north

Basho’s Shugen-komyoj
is our St Medana’s Chapel (9)

Basho’s Unganji Temple
is our Carbeth huts (10)

Basho’s Sue-no-Matsuyama temple
is our Chapel of Sand (24)

Basho’s Zuiganji
is our Jupiter Artland (28)

Basho’s mountain temple called Ryushakuji
is our Outlandia (34)

Basho’s Zenshoji
is our Stonypath, Little Sparta (47)

Basho’s Eiheiji. Dogenzenji’s temple
is our Bharpa Langais (49)


leaving behind papered rooms
and feather duvets,
looking for other manners
of seeing and feeling,
we exchanged our names,
pulling on Basho’s coat,
and Sora's thinsulate hat

we extended our reading
into sited writing,
tying tanzaku to
flutter and fade
in cursive glens,
and tasked ourselves
with the translation
of viewing into vision,
intuiting that superstition
should always be read

every culture flows on
enshrining vision
in eras of eyes

as we go further north
the text of the landscape
becomes speckled and undulating,
marked by dye-painted stones,
pockled rocks charts
rain runnelled cup-to-
ring-to-cup, clambering up
hilltop duns, fort-farms
and coastal beacons


…landslides and floods alter paths and cover markers
with earth, trees arisen generations gone… hard
to locate anything now, but that moment seeing
the thousand-year-old monument brought back 
sense of time past

– Basho (station 23)

sitting here, giving thought
to what can’t think,
giving speech
to what can’t speak,
we sip tea under
raised stones that set
the world in motion,
at Kintraw, Camusvrachan,
libating within the rings
of Kinnell and Temple Wood
aligning the cross-corners
of the quarter-days,
the rising or setting
of the sun or moon
living or dying
in their orbital incision,
grazing the mountain,
consecrating or fucking
the horizon
granting the volcanic
tumult of mountains
the accented outline
of a tradition


through the cloud
which must be allowed
to be broken,
we went on
through endless mountains
slipping the sight-lines
into place

one-by-on, the peaks
caught hold their names,
in the fringes
of harsh dear places
of ling, quartz,
colour-patched lichens
which, unawares,
are   ever   so   slowly
splintering & splitting open
Cambrian boulders

ethics and geology
aren’t for confusing –
rock’s rock: ergo inhuman,
despite the bitter rages
of those who perceive
unpeopled moors
as the only worthwhile things,
for being wild,
for all their lonely
no peak ever felt
such an apartheid
of the spirit


we sheltered among
Druidic groves
of oak, hazel and willow
at Sròn Daraich

saw the virtue
in accommodation,
proven by the sapling
rowan and ash
we found growing,
the rowan out of
the crook of a gean,
the ash out of
the crook of a rowan


we bent down low
to enter cells and caves 
where saints made recess,
and the ruined chapels 
of the Church’s
tenebrous lantern

as at Sand
which was bathed
in daily rains,
and which fulfilled
its name in sandbags,
its honeycomb stone,
held aloft by faith
and roofless devotion


‘that year for my birthday
nephew gave me a cave’ (1758)

we Scottified ourselves
in the cryptic grot
of the Duke’s hermitage,
where hired ascetics
validated worlds of wonder!
Ossianic awe! Exclamation!

we wondered at Acharn,
whose dark chamber
led us to out
on the final day
into summer’s opening


strange to see
all that was once in place
floating so loosely in space

after Rilke,Duino Elegies, 1’
in time the tradition
of caves and temples
fell from the grasp
of Church and Laird,
landing in the realm
of artists

for our eyes only,
they render perception
with the same thrill
as those old follies,
in secular temenos,
gateways, and huts,
minimal shelters,
close-roofed caverns,
and open-windowed forms

each design translating
our looking into
the immersion of vision
raising our eyes
to the temples
of Gaia’s skies 


and so, to us,
Basho’s mountain temple
called Ryushakuji
is the hut, Outlandia,
a stand  of spruce
cleared to make
a hut of larch
that overlooks Ben Nevis

a window with
surrounding walls
this hut scrapes
carousel clouds
a woodshed,
a crow’s nest 
atop a mast,
an odd-pod,
a frottage cottage,
a shoogle-shack
to give you vertigo
a place to look from,
a mountain home
that once belonged
to Han Shan

for all those
who take the path,
what lies before you
is silence,
what comes after you
is silence


by Uist's shore
the hut of shadows
is a whitewashed wall
that reveals the slow
flicker of the sea’s
everyday beauty

taking a great leap back
through 6,000 years
of human consciousness
into a darkness we recognize
from the chamber
at Bharpa Langais


at Kinloch-Rannoch
the sky-eye
is where we watched
dusk fade the sky's
many monochromes,
and felt our seeing
sink into space,
as the light
of that first star
drew us
into stellar time

then it dawns –
there’s no edge 
beyond perfection,
no seeing beyond
the hem of time


their names are these:

The Renga Platform
Outlandia, Glen Nevis
An Turas, Isle of Tiree
hut of shadows, North Uist
the woodland platform, Glasgow
sky-eye, Kinloch-Rannoch
The Bothy, Inshriach
Sweeney’s Bothy, Isle of Eigg
The Conch, Inverness
Yird Murn Starn, Galloway
the wild shelters of Kevin Langan


chronology of vision

chambered cairn

standing stone









secular temple

The Road North was composed in collaboration with Ken Cockburn. Angel’s Wing, Pleurocybella porrigens, mushrooms, picked on the walk to Outlandia. Archbishop Whately said that superstition should be read backwards. A tanzaku is a traditional Japanese poem-labels, a form we adapted on. In the 3rd station of Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi Sora symbolically changes his apparel.‘we give thought to what can’t think’, after Yoritomo. Hugh MacDiarmid refers to “lonely at-one-ment” in ‘Stony Limits’; later Hamish Henderson would criticize this “apartheid of the spirit”. The hermitage at Dunkeld was commissioned by James, 2nd Duke of Artholl; that at Acharn by John Campbell, 3rd Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, in the 1760s. William Wordsworth, described Ossian’s Hall as a 'world of wonder'Outlandia was conceived by London Fieldworks, designed by Malcolm Fraser, and built by Norman Clark. Basho visits the temple at Ryushakuji in station 34 of the Oku-no-hosomichi; Han Shan, 9th century Chinese hermit-poet, author of Cold Mountain poems. Hut of Shadows, Chris Drury’s camera obscura, North Uist. The sky-eye is the name we gave to James Turrell’s sky-space, Kinloch Rannoch.

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