My great interest and excitement as this year opens up is to travel to Gometra, an island in the Staffa archipelago, just off Ulva, to the west of Mull. Owned and farmed by Roc Sandford it is one of those rare places off the beaten sea-roads and other tracks holding on to community as tenuously as once, not so long ago, the Erne, now commonly to be seen there, struggled but failed to survive human predation. I shall set out from Oban in late May with my journal and fishing gear, my basic food supplies, my survival kit, my bivvy bag, and all the rest. There is almost nothing on Gometra one could class as a modern convenience, I am pleased to think. With luck I will cross paths with James Macdonald Lockhart as he goes to add more fieldwork towards the completion of his now nearly-finished book on raptors. And I will coincide with Mr Sandford, who used to farm on Dartmoor, but found it too tame there. He descends from generations of connection with Gometra. A piece by him on the island will appear in Archipelago 9 next winter.
Last year as readers might remember I explored Lewis and Harris. The year before that I travelled to Raasay via Barra, the Uists and Skye. My 304-line poem of that journey ‘By Ferry, Foot, and Fate: A Tour in the Hebrides’ forms part of a new collection, Winter Moorings, published in February by Carcanet.
Here are two extracts, I hope will whet your appetite . . .
Art itself must have begun as nature.
Come in here. Take time. Take shelter.
Wait with only the wren for company
Under the green and dripping canopy.
Stand still. Gaze patiently. Acclimatise.
Absorb the world itself before your eyes.
Feel the weight of history on her knees:
The foursquare ruin, the silver-birch trees
All past child-bearing. And hidden somewhere,
Stock still with timeless stare, the deer.
Not outer but inner turned inside out,
Evicted, cleared into a green thought
As poignant as ever the poet dreamed
Of those girls. But now time the ferry claimed
Me away to the road, where the long climb
To Clachan rose, as if to kingdom come.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Meanwhile, my video software installed,
I replay my voyage, my hard disk filled
With the poetry of departure and arrival
To keep me on course and an even keel
As November closes down and winter
Raids in its wake, storming the harbour,
And with its aftermath of winnowed light
Redeems the moment and redeems the heart.
What is this solace we all crave, the loss
That cannot speak its name? No Paradise
On Earth. No Heaven. No Good Society
But that rode roughshod over some body
Of ‘others’ time and truth will bring to light
And in whose cause again stand up and fight.
Yet still we must hold fast and try to keep
Our heads above water – however steep,
However high it climbs, by peak and trough,
To drag us down – we must keep faith
In something like an island community
That knows the spring will come, and the ferry.