Walking The John Muir Way

Morven Gregor, 2013

a walk


a hike


Hannah Devereux, 2014

This an informal record of our walk along the John Muir Way, planting pairs of trees whose species are defined by the initial and end letters of a poem-motto, composed after a phrase drawn from Muir’s writings.

The contributions are by myself, Alec Finlay, the poets – Gerry Loose (GL) and Andrew Schelling (AS) – and photographer Hannah Devereux, along with those who join them for some or all of the way, including Morven Gregor (MG), Luke Allan, Ken Cockburn, and Colin Will.

A free booklet outlining the project is available if you send an A5 SAE to the address at the foot of this blog-post; you can also collect one at the readings in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

i.m. Martin Lucas

wish (for Martin), Hannah Devereux, 2014

The walk is dedicated to the memory of our friend, the poet and publisher Martin Lucas, whose death was announced shortly before we set off. Martin shared his love of haiku and renga with many people in these islands, and his loss is being marked by poets around the world – as here, in a tribute by Tito, Kyoto. He was as fond a figure to friends in the birding community.

   now that you've gone
   the rose
   that you planted
   in the window-box
   has flowered at last

  ML, Moonrock, 2002


Luke Allan, 2014

The seeds that Gerry and Morven collected in the Autumn are being carried in a hollowed-out hardback copy of Muir’s The Mountains of California

Andrew smuggled apple pips on the plane, hidden inside his gloves, a homage to Muir's 'lost years', managing orchards in the Alhambra Valley



seed assembly, Morven Gregor, 2014

Our first task was to decide whether the order of planting should follow our walking, east–west, or travel in the direction of reading, west-east. The Way can be walked in either direction, but language, in the west, grows towards the sunrise. Therefore the poem reads:

   from the apples
   of Helensburgh

   to the Scots Pines
   of Dunbar


Hannah Devereux, 2014

We tried to characterise the weather of April in Scotland for our American friends, suggesting rainsnowsun, or, perhaps, a day of sunrainagain, all the while maintaining an air of calm. We look forward to seeing what gear they bring.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Gerry and Morven trialled a westerly arm of the Way, up the old Coffin Road and over the moor to Ben Bowie, where the markers went missing and the route had to be improvised. Much like climbing a wet ladder, says the poet.

   butterbur and
   a woodpigeon so fat
   I thought it was two


   sheep affect flora
   in the same way
   as glaciers & lava



Alice Ladenburg, 2014

The first contribution to the walk is this new photographic portrait, from a series by Alice Landenburg, made alongside a Scots Pine in the Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Muir was a great believer in hand- and head-stands as an aid to perception of the landscape.

a new law:



We begin with an informal Come-All-Ye in Dunbar, on Wednesday 16th April, organized by Colin Will, where we share a few poems with local writers. 



Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day One (Dunbar to Dirleton)

A double-breakfast day. Bolstered for the way with hot-cross buns, muesli, fresh fruit and coffee at John Muir House. 


the community buns
bear crosses
as if to mark
an Easter journey


Hannah Devereux, 2014

There would be other breakfasts, but none so pastoral.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

We head out into a billowy day in the East, applying the weather-test: hoods up, waterproofs on, zips down, hats on, hats off. Call it “changeable”. 

The poets have got their pointy fingers out.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

A ladybird sheltering under burdock, early primroses, a patch of butterbur; the swallows and martins just in; by the strand at Belhaven a determined skylark calls down at us through the wind.

Biel Water, Hannah Devereux, 2014

The first bridge, the first island: conversation pieces.

this is where we start
Skittery Burn


Bass Rock, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Colin, is it true that the Bass rock is white from gannets, or from guano? Well, that would be both now, wouldn't it Eck. 

Scots pine, Hedderwick Hill, Hannah Devereux, 2014

The first seed planted: a Scots Pine, in Hedderwick Hill Woods.

   we could have planted
   an oar here
   but we stitched
   the land
   a palimpest
   an ecology of utterance
   place of heather


   our walk begins
   full moon invisible


North Berwick Law, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Baldrick's wellEast Linton

   6th c. period St Baldrick of Bass
   built his church by a spring, why?
   used the water for baptism?

   children have gone down that lane for centuries
   in search of ferrys? Toadstools?
   gannet, chaffinch, woodpigeon or pippet?

Hannah Devereux, 2014

    thorny gorse smells
    of sweet bitter almond the clock tower
    potato leek soup crisps tea fruit cake

Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Gerry looking through the Essential Burns

   Creeley edited it –
   "See what he chose"
   Traprain is a law


Corinthians, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Houston Mill

   a broken willow branch
   & her blue eyes
   walk with us
   our time collapsed
   our vanities
   the Way
   a route from here to there


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Two (Dirleton Castle to Edinburgh)

This walk is via the bird sanctuary at Aberlady, Cockenzie Power Station and two harbours. 

   this morning's yaffle
   laughs at us
   and the doocot


There’s a sneaky shortcut in Musselburgh; after all, John Muir kept his common-sense and he was not above hitching a ride in a wagon to rest his weary legs.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

These coastal paths are crenelated with defences, from glider traps and concrete blocks stranded in pinewoods, to ruined keeps.

   North Woods

   this is the way of it
   war after war
   deer scut
   northern woods
   grow slowly
   round coastal concrete
   defence blocks


AS, Hannah Devereux, 2014

We see the ruins come closer through the far-off eyes of our American friends. 

GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

We head into the sun all day long, because it is there. The sun-block stayed safe and cool where it was packed, in Hanna’s rucksack, so the last smile is left on Gerry’s face, which turns a ruddy shade. 

He is our Thoreau, seeing the world with the same clarity of mind, pointing, in so many of the walk photographs, to some flower of interest which, as if nodding to a pal on the street, he offers its name.


   visions of a land
   denuded of history
   leaving only parted lips
   for miners
   for shepherds
   pollen for bees


AS, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Andrew’s poetic credo is bioregionalism and the lore of locality. Writing does its best work within a watershed. Poets do well to know the names of rivers and the whereabouts of their sources, the equilibrium of woodland, varieties of lichen, cloud formations, the habits of the mountain lion. Putting his poetics in our terms, he is our Jen on Shetland, Gerry and Morven at the Carbeth hut, Alice Oswald’s drift down the Dart, Gerry Cambridge’s bird poems, the Kathleen Jamie of Findings and the alpine poet-gardening of G. F. Dutton.

Andrew means us to bring back the wolf. Some stewards and landowners are thinking of that for Scotland, with beavers – bears too?

He thinks, perhaps, our poets do bioregionalism better than theirs. I’m not so sure. He’s the one who lives in a cabin at 8,000 feet.

For these nine days he is adjusting to our ways.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Back in Colorado, Andrew helped to assemble a coalition against a gigantic Christo and Marie-Claude 6.7 mile long wrapping project across the Arkansas River, 2 years in the making, and using 2400 concrete bollards. “Now is the time to recognize that art can be resoundingly Imperialist. It can be as invasive as commerce, industry, mining, tourism, or military adventure.” Schelling’s counter-proposal: a poetry reading.

The National Geographic monumentalism of Christo’s US plan twins with the mock Neolithic lawns and knot gardens of Capability Jencks, and the open-cast mines they finesse. How strange it is to hear such a paucity of ecology described as eco-art, or hear of such schemes as “growing out of place, people and landscape”, as if words could be taped on with gaffer tape, and their meanings would endure such category errors.

Muir is asking us, does art have to be BIG? Our proposal for Gretna: a poetry reading.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

On this walk we share a belief in poetry as a deceletory art. 

A poem can transform a canyon, or characterize a mountain, without the need for tons of coloured fabric. 

A poem can become part of a Way.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

It’s the question we formed that now confronts us, as a culture: how can we slow down; how can we use less; how can we find the means to still the cravings that rage within us. 

Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Cregg’s Wood

   what’s the manifest
   of timber
   leaves and light
   what’s manifest 
   in timber
   cruck and book
   and cradlecradle

hazel, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Today the bioregional poet is planting a poem into the landscape.

The H of hazel.

The poem that we are planting is a mesostic, an abridgement of language, interchanging seeds and letters. 

As poets we’re fond of the poetics of organic forms of growth, seed syllables, A’s and H’s that make arches, U’s and V’s that rise and fall as waves. The arches of letters and flourishing curves of ligatures are of less importance on this trip than the punctuation marks of seeds , . , .

For each of us, whatever here is is an act of imagination, or its lack. Whether it’s the news or a prod towards prophecy, the walking poets have come to tell you:

   a seed, certainly
   and a hazel
   maybe   someday


Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Peffer Bank

   in irony
   seeds itself
   at the gate
   of the 
   Big House


Aberlady, Hannah Devereux, 2014


   26,000 pink-footed geese
   were counted –
   who by?


Alec Finlay, 2014




GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Cockenzie & Port Seton

   east harbour
   creel boats & fishers 12
   pleasure boats 0

   west harbour
   creelers & fishing boats 6
   pleasure craft 0

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Three (Leith to Cramond)

gean, Hannah Devereux, 2014

A short walk for the third day, from Alec’s house to take tea and talk books at the Scottish Poetry Library, and a quick tour of the Mushroom Trust garden. We endorse the selfless stance of those who give to this charitable cause, for they have chosen to remain nameless.Then it’s downhill to Cramond.

Luke Allan, 2014

We're hosted by our old pal, the poet Ken Cockburn, at his monthly writing spot, the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle, known as 'castle garden of water to beyond'.
GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Paddling, planting, poem-labelling and readings ensue. The sap from the pine is melting and the small pool is cooling hot feet.

 KC, Luke Allan, 2014

Then Ken reads ‘Forth’, because it was written in Dunbar, for the Northlight Festival. He plays on a line from Muir’s A Boyhood in Scotland: "we loved to watch the passing ships and make guesses as to the ports they had come from.”

   a coracle of willow and skins beneath a changeable sky

   a Roman flotilla edging north to Ultima Thule
   a Viking longship breaking open the honied south

   a Genoese galley blockading the castle

   the Great Michael floating the woods of Fife

   Sir Patrick Spens sailing the king’s guid scrip

   the widowed queen’s fleet arriving in thick mist

   the brig Covenant of Dysart bound for the Carolinas

   the clipper Isabella bringing tea into Leith

   a herring-laden zulu tacking for Fisherrow

   a U-boat periscope scanning the waves

   the crude oil tanker Seadancer flying a flag of convenience


Afterwards we sit in a circle and share some poems, and Hanna gives us a song blending blackbirds and cuckoos. Gerry invites us to follow the Japanese custom of blossom toasting. Whisky, not pink gin.

  Hannah Devereux, Luke Allan, 2014

   two gardens

   (I) morning

   two bay leaves
   stolen from
   the Mushroom
   Trust garden

   (II) evening

   in the Castle Garden
   of Water To Beyond
   Talisker under
   cherry blossom


GL, Castle Garden of Water to Beyond, Luke Allan, 2014

    Castle Garden of Water Beyond

   the night sky
   is studded
   women are singing
   a last song stolen from time
   what is the ground
   of making
   of proving 


HD, Castle Garden of Water to Beyond, Luke Allan, 2014



poem AF, photo LA, 2014

  AS & HD, Luke Allan, 2014

Day Four (Cramond to Boness)

Along the Frith from Cramond, this, the fourth day, is a weary one, and lengthened by the loss of Hannah, who took the wrong way for half an hour amid the metropolis of Boness, with its holiday convention of bikers. Andrew happily found her. A heavy plant was helped across the road.

AS & MG, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Ballad of Hannah

   from Peggy's Mill til Cramond Brig
   we walked a stragglin line
   long I sat at Cramond Brig
   thinking of blude red wine
   half an hour, half an hour
   Hannah has lost her way
   half an hour, half an hour
   two more have gone astray


Hannah Devereux, 2014

planting what seed, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Planting becomes the cadence of the walk; the seeds our common task.



(AF, after John Muir)

The Firth, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Rather then getting to such-and-such in time for tea and a bath, there’s always a discussion to be had, and a choice to be made, of where to give the next seed, and the next letter of the poem, a home. The poets keep half an eye on the right setting: is this suitable soil? Is there moisture here? Are these companionable species for our tree to be among in the years to come?

The Bridge, Hannah Devereux, 2014

The walk leads between moments, themselves poetic in the way they cluster time into a wee rite: the seeds gently fingered into the earth. It is as if the seed itself had drenched us in a brief shower of reality, making the surrounding leaves glisten and the grass along the edge of the path quicken.

   we leave a world
   just like the world

   we found
   only a little different


Heavy Plant, Hannah Devereux, 2014

As for poems, they can only hope to prove that the fittingness of words has no more, or less, importance than the rightness of a planting.

   watching butterflies
   on the mossy knoll
   eating falafel


Sparrowhawk, mottled and russet
stoops forty feet from us
   lifts off the meadow
      clasping a mouse

     "And read thy lot in yon celestial sign"


Hopetoun House, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Five (Boness to Castlecary)
"Only sequoias are slow enough"
– Ezra Pound, ‘Canto LXXXVII’

The fifth day begins at Boness and features a picnic at Callendar Park, where the collection of sequoias are big, and familiar for Andrew. 

Hannah Devereux, 2014



(AF, after John Muir)

From now on, as well as seeds, the walk is punctuated with portions of Simnel cake baked by Morven. The ratio of weight carried on your back to sugar energy gained is a finely balanced affair.

After lunch Luke joins the party, walking barefoot, very much the young philosopher. 

Along the Canal to the Big Wheel in Falkirk, gasping for a cup of tea, the poets arrived as the wee cafe closed its doors.

Avon Viaduct, Hannah Devereux, 2014

The highlight of the day are the arch windows that look back to Rome.


   the eye’s 
   reverie and rest
   each limb
   of each tree 
   underlit in
   evening in 
   luminous energy

Falkirk, Luke Allan, 2014

AS, Luke Allan, 2014

HD, AS, AF, Morven Gregor, Falkirk, Luke Allan, 2014

AS, Morven Gregor, AF, GL, HD, Callendar House, Luke Allan, 2014

The gentle Avon, whose name is held in common with rivers across these isles and Europe, whose source is the Indo-European root, or, er, that which flows.

River Avon, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   by Fisher's Brae
   six mills to grind
   and volt the wind

   by Gilston Burn
   six seeds to sow and sough
   and sing a gale


planting blackthorn, Hannah Devereux, 2014

planting blackthorn, Hannah Devereux, 2014


   right there 
   a high wind
   hover folds
   herself to earth
   a vole is pierced
   is claimed


Day Six (Castlecary to Lennoxtown)

Finally some relief to the terrain; no longer just flat the trail follows the old wall and goes over Bar Hill, where a sequoia was planted in the rain.

   Bar Hill

   the stride 
   is longer
   in the long grass
   we ride the world
   we tumble it
   with our tread
   caress of our feet


AS & GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

At Croy Gerry introduced the walkers to tattie scone roll (with brown sauce), steak pie and bridies - Scottish folk cuisine at its finest ¬– eaten sitting at an old kerbstone on the Way.

Hannah Devereux, 2014 

The Antonine Wall her is best preserved in it earthwork, straight up Croy Hill. The fort here once held a garrison of 450. That fort had replaced a Neolithic fortlet, once held by the Damnonii people. Just over the crest is a Bronze age fort. Both command fine views over miles of countryside.

If Antoninus's Wall survives

2000 years in fragments

            then thrive little sequoia


            these Scots outlast empires

                        redwoods outlast empires

                                    some have stood 

                                                since Roman times


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Names and the eras they command. As with the windflower turbines on the Braes o’ Doune. Or the trees, named for Douglas and Menzies. They do not know their names, or genus. 

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Names are our desire.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

I once spent an afternoon skating around the ice on Goose Pond happily thinking it was Walden Pond. One name brought me to another.

The poem we have buried along the way may germinate in some your minds, un-earthing an imagination of the trees locations in years to come – as much as the stones of the Mile Castles are known to persist, lodged in dykes and walls, or in the way that a grassy bank comes to delineate a hill fort, whose existence we are pointed toward by someone in the know.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Not every seed will grow from out the dark. Even if the first pine takes, it is lodged in a wood of pines. But now you know where the poem is: along the Way. 

AS planting oak, Hannah Devereux, 2014

planting oak, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Plantings and poems are matters of the living-changing face of language.

planting Scots Pine, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014


   when lucidity fails
   the green leaf
   becomes brown
   the brown leaf
   becomes blown
   earth as one


Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Bird migration
   people pilgrimage
   we, the inaugural walkers
   along the forth and clyde canal
   crow perforates an ale can
   with it's beak

   "than longen folk to goon on pilgrimage"


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

   the nettle inspector 
   is satisfied 


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Balloch Castle Country Park, Hannah Devereux, 2014

With Walden, the mile-castle and Neolithic d√Ľns in our thoughts, we chatted about the new bothy on Eigg, where Hannah has just been, and Gerry, Morven, Hanna and I are soon to go. As Dee Heddon has it in her blog [link], staying at Sweeney’s much of the day is taken up with the everyday tasks, lighting the fire for coffee, cutting fresh kindling, fetching the milk from the plant pot on the stoop, tending the stove, and doing the messages. Kathleen Jamie, another resident, fulfils the poet’s traditional job of just noticing things:

Sweeney’s Bothy, Alec Finlay, 2014

   from ‘star’, Atlantic Sonnets

   I'm waiting for the star to rise
perhaps a planet
   that tangles itself in the still leafless branches 
   of the sycamore 
   framed by the smallest window.


In a wee hut, on an island, the weather really matters, just as it did for the hikers, who were lucky enough to have less than the usual share of April rain.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Seven (Lennoxtown to Croftamie)

A gentle walk from Lennoxtown where a local person had turned the signpost round, leading to a mile-long walk in the wrong direction. We reach Carbeth happily and easily after that, greeted at the hut door by Morven and Larry (Butler) with Morven's soup and nettle bread and an array of cheeses.

Dunglass, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Rain and standing stones by Dumgoyach where we discover the wind, probably at Dunbar, has taken the wee packet of Douglas fir seeds. We did an "empty" planting, mark the spot, and Gerry promises to return with extra seeds – left as extra weight at the Carbeth hut – and sow in that precise spot. 

On to Glengoyne distillery, "the first of the Highland Scotches", in steadying rain, closed to the public, but the lads give us an impromptu tour anyway.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

We talk intermittently of YES, or NO, as everyone does with interested visitors in these epochal days. In their wee way the trees seem to relate to this historical moment, just thinking of the future they may see.

GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

And, if these trees can be planted, then the same question always follows: why not more?

GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

GL & AS, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   the sign post has been turned
   it's rustic humour


Hannah Devereux, 2014

   across from
   Glengoyne Distillery;
   two just-born lambs
   flop on the meadow like
   rag dolls


Hannah Devereux, 2014

(Just to let you know that the "missing" Douglas fir seeds were planted yesterday by Morven & me at the spot chosen – opposite the standing stones at Dumgoyach – with due ceremony in a fine smirr of rain for a good start. i)

Dumgoyach, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Standing Stones

   a letter to a lover
   of exile’s shadow
   or shadow’s unlifting
   of the long sorrow of land
   of the cuckoo
   of how love
   survives if we can


Dumgoyach, Hannah Devereux, 2014


   nothing is broken
   a buzzard mewls
   there are winds
   treeline covers
   the summit
   sky softly


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Coda: the hut

Hannah Devereux, 2014
Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Eight (Croftamie to Balloch)

On to Balloch with mackerel clouds over Loch Lomond. Ben Lomond and The Cobbler to the north. At Ledrisberg apple pips both Scottish and North American.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

What will emerge?

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Apples are all grafted so the "mother trees" have gotten unpredictable. "An apple branch, or sometimes a single apple...was the passport to the Celtic Otherworld."

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Croftamie to Balloch over the muir. Mostly pavement walking - an easy day. Picnic lunch in Balloch. Fine views from Loch Lomond level of the Bens in the distance, patchy snow still there.

Loch Lomond, Hannah Devereux, 2014

poem & photo: AF, 2014

poem & photo: AF, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Nine (Balloch to Helensburgh)

Links & credits

For a free 4-page booklet outlining the project, send an A5 SAE to: Studio Alec Finlay, 53 Prince Regent Street, Edinburgh, EH6 4AR. Copies of these will also be available at the readings.

The John Muir Way  (Scottish Natural Heritage)
John Muir Festival 2014 (UZ Arts)
John Muir House Museum
Alec Finlay home page


  1. Hi Alec,

    This is fabulous and I'm so glad you've dedicated it to Martin. Martin was due to be walking the West Highland Way with fellow 1962-vintage haiku poet Matt Morden. Matt is walking the way on his own - he set out from Glasgow on Tuesday - as his own tribute to Martin.


Leave a comment...