A walk to Dumgoyach


West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .


If you look North across the fields . . .


You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .


. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.


Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.


And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.


Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .


. . . these stones.



Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.


(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

in colour


I’ve been thinking a lot about colour of late, and about how closely one’s experience of colour is tied up with one’s experience of landscape. I had a conversation with Mel the other day — concerning the crazy hues of the lichens she’d seen in a particular West Highland location — and was reminded of another recent landscape encounter, and the incredible colours it involved. We enjoyed a fleeting visit to Lewis and Harris a few weeks ago (we will be back for a proper holiday later in the year – hurrah), and were lucky enough to visit the standing stones at Calanais. Stone circles are breathtaking spaces, of course, but among these stones at close quarters, what I was most struck by was their varying textures, shades and colours.


Human hands moved these stones into position more than four thousand years ago, but the rock from which they are formed is much, much older. This is some of the most ancient stuff in the world in fact — Lewisian Gneiss, more than three billion years old. For those of you who, like me, find geological time so mind-boggling that it is virtually meaningless, this rock has been around since before the earth cooled down and the mountain-wrapping work of continents began. Lewisian Gneiss is a metamorphic rock, with a foliated and coarsely granular character. And if you are wondering about my geological vocabulary, its partly from the GCSE I did many moons ago (thankyou, Mr Boardman), but mostly drawn from Hutton’s Arse , a book that I quite enjoyed — Malcolm Rider’s deeply dodgy politics notwithstanding. While I found his particular brand of localism offputting to say the least, he knows a hell of a lot about gneiss. Discussing some notable late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century geologists, Rider talks about how their accounts of the landscape of northern Scotland as monochrome and “sterile” really missed the point. The rock that at a distance seems to be a “familiar weathered grey” turns out at close quarters to be something else entirely:

“a closer look . . .shows that the gneiss has a fine banding on a centimetre scale, in greys, whites, and dark colours, beautifully picked out by a combination of ice smoothing and several thousand years of rain and weather. The climate of Scotland is very good at this.”
(Huttons Arse, p. 178)

Rider describes Lewisian gneiss as a “terrestrial mille feuille” and I remembered this when looking at the standing stones at Callanais.


I spent a long time looking at the intrusions of pink granite against the banded grey. And closer inspection of the stone revealed a shimmering mass of many colours: dark flecks of magnetite and mica, luminous quartz and feldspar. This is the composition of the rock itself — and then there are the hues of a changing climate — the stone folds weathered and darkened by wind and water; pale pin pricks of butter and pea-coloured lichen. Around the stones are purple and yellow and white wildflowers, and beyond them, the deep blue-green haze of the ground, lochans, and hills of Lewis.


The banded pinks and greys of the gneiss at Calanais have stayed with me, and I’ve been thinking about them more since I began reading Alice Starmore’s Book of Fairisle Knitting a few days ago. I’m still digesting the implications of Starmore (I lack the words right now) but all I can say is that the woman is a genius, and that her genius is bound up with the Lewisian landscape that surrounds her. There are many things to like about Starmore, but her eye for quotidian detail — for the beautiful and colourful in the ordinary — is really something else. The shades of this tam were inspired by those of a sprig of clover that had pushed its way through the cracks in a strip of tarmac. It just about kills me.

© Alice Starmore.


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