The circle of peat

Distant summers
Forgotten breezes
Rains long since flowed to sea
The autumns of years

Green growth
Long grass
First yellow
Now brown

Moss capturing moisture
Deepening below
Cracks open in drought
Disappear in wet seasons

The memory of years
cut with the spade
dried over weeks
as the sun rises high

Stacked by the house
prepared for winter
to release warmth
when the cold wind blows

Smelling of springtime
smoke drifts away
the cycle completes
the circle of peat


Empty windows look out on the yellowed grass
Panes blown out in a forgotten gale
Tiles disappearing from the roof
But no one is caring

The ocean thunders onto distant cliffs
A moving wreath around the western coast
An army of white riders incessantly
assail the crumbling fortress that is shore

Sagging poles carry rusting wire
No longer delineating the patch
of infertile, poor, unsustaining ground
where once cattle and sheep grazed

The door has gone, a void beyond
Another frame behind, also unshuttered
Countless rocks from the empire of
sonte, yet choked with rocks the ground remains

Walls stand up, bewildered now that
the roof has vanished, perhaps
a beam remains, collapsed into
the ruin below

A squall blows in, the scene darkens
no shelter here, in the old dwelling
an echo of years gone by
left as an in memoriam

Fled the yoke of the man in the castle
his cruel minions who cared not
to improve the lives of those
he was in charge of caring for

A distant gun echoes, multiplying the life it took
by countless millions, including
those who answered the call
from the humble abodes out here

Now crumbling slowly, remembering
the golden days of long sunshine and warmth
laughter, singing, merry-making
love, kinship and bonds

Some crossed the seas for better lives
Never to return to the humble home
Looking down to the shoreline below
Remembering all who departed

Home is the island

Distant shapes on the eastern horizon
The mainland hills, rarely well defined
Far-off mountains beckoning
Sometimes speaking of winter's cold

Alluring to some, in search of great riches
Seeking a better life beyond their range
The lights of the big city
Moving fast, gaining the high life

Dashing up the social ladder
The comforts of a well-filled purse
Poverty, though, is not just monetary
And fair-weather does not filter your friends

But even when all seems so good
One thing though is missing
It'll always be there, on the western horizon
With the lighthouse beaming its call at dusk

As the ferry leaves Loch Broom behind
And Sutherland's mountains recede in the distance
Tiumpan and Arnish winking their welcome
As the boat glides towards the pier

Familiar faces and familiar buildings
The quiet streets in the dim streetlamps' light
The dark roads beyond town but comforting
Home at last, and here to stay


Overhead in the sky beating down
the sun radiates its immeasurable heat
absorbed by the waters of this world
gradually warming - east to west

Cloudless skies show countless suns
at an inconceivable distance
reaching there would be
after the end of this planet

Rising from the surface of the ocean
evaporated water, using
some of the sun's heat to escape
higher up into the sky

Reverting back to liquid
releasing the energy again
Towering nearly a dozen miles up
A shard of lightning leaves a trail of thunder

As our world turns, so do the storms
Winds being to blow, higher
The eye up above espies
the signal given - formation alert

The heat from the water now channels
right to the top of the clouds
which have cooled in sharp contrast
Turbulence rises, a storm is born

Dark clouds arrive
over the tropical horizon
Limpid heat blown away
in amazing fury

Rain lashes horizontally
Trees bend if not snap
Hunker down, seek shelter
It's over!

Not so
A calm of an hour
Distant roaring amidst
the deceptive sunshine

Opposing winds resume
their path of destruction
until it has passed
leaving but wreckage

The balance is restored
Heat is transferred to the pole of the earth
Through the winds of the cyclone
The safety valve has worked - equilibrium rules

A wet day

Hueless grey drapes across the skies
Uniform in colour, or lack of it
The sun, wan and without warmth,
peeps through the veil a final time

A single drop falls on the ground
followed by countless more
the window soon is streaming
if there was light, the wet road would shine

Darkness comes in well before
the sun heads towards dusk
Lights come on, although it's daytime
Cheerless gloom slowly moves up from the east

The yellow glare of the street lanterns
is softened by the glow of light
reflected by the falling rain
closed out by drawn curtains

A fire dully flickers in the hearth
born of sunshine from when the earth was young
chases the chill of a rainy day
away out and up the chimney

A warning of winter

The last leaves gently float down from the trees
Their dried out husks rustle along the ground
in the cold autumn wind, gathering up
in sheltered corners

Proud stand the clouds, with their white crowns
Robes of white and grey flowing
Rain? No, hail and snow, bitterly cold
The north wind carries a deep bite

Slush in secluded corners from
forgotten hailstones, which have omitted
to melt and will freeze
after the setting of the wan sun

A ribbon of black slopes gradually up
angling over the broad shoulders
of the dark grey mountains
No slush here, just a layer of snow

Go carefully, follow the tracks
if not already filled in by new snow
Here where it's high up, winter has come
But it's yet shy of the seashore

Up by the tops, wearing a trial bonnet
of unwashed white
the winds howl unimpeded
shouting an early warning

Come morning, autumn will have returned
No whites, just dark greens, browns and greys
But for how long?
Until winter truly comes.

The bridge to Bosta

Two planks across the rowing boat
A motor car perched precariously
The ferryman rows ponderously
Across the narrow strait with fast flowing water

To work she came, the new nurse for Bernera
Only just on the island an urgent call came
To the house by little Tobson
A young lad lay drowned, claimed by the sea

To no avail did she work to bring him to life
The spirit of life was long gone
A sadness enveloped that house
Close by the double beach

Four times they have tried now
Ever foiled by the tidal currents
Will it work this time round
To drive the bridge’s pillars into the seabed?

The bridge is in place, its engineer proud
The ferryman’s out of a job
Cross the narrows to the Tir Mor
With dry feet and no fear of water

The bridge engineer took the nurse as his wife
And took her far far away
Over the bridge to Tir Mor
And beyond the shores of this land

Never would she reside there again
However much she yearned to one day
Cast her gaze over the wild beach at Bosta
And once more call it home

From the Southern Cross to North Star
Was her last journey beyond this life
The road ended at Bosta
Where now her spirit remains

In memory of Peggy Macleod, 1927-1989

Tir Mor is the local name for the area of “mainland” Lewis south of the Bernera Bridge, containing the villages of Lundale, Crulivig and Earshader.


Deep blue seas hurrying through
a narrow channel to the next island
None left there as permanent residents
Only the markers to those gone before

The village in the sand was stirred
by violent winds from the present age
what did it look like, they wanted to know
only guesswork

Yielding an edifice that's stood
the test of time, but failed the one of modernity
Above the sands and past the river
None now live there, others come admiring

A dark storm looms from the northwest
The islands fade in the squalls of winter
Reappearing in blinding clearances
in a white wreath of flying foam

From small to larger the people were moved
To the township southeast, round the minister's manse
Further southeast more ancient a temple
Not to the sun but for observing the moon

Long gone have the people who erected the stones
Long gone are those driven away
At the whim of a minion, not caring
but for his master's pocket

Only the beach now remains
With the islands beyond
And the memory of those gone before
At Bosta

Foggy morning

Wreathing in white and not a sound
Except the intermittent blaring horn
Damp and dank, hiding all
Visibility nil, humidity high

Light increases from the dawn
A wading bird's warbling call
The steady chugging of an engine
But not a thing in sight

The eastern horizon turns golden
The sun arises, and in scorn
rips a tear in the pale white blanket
showing a nearby hillside, part exposed

Slowly, steadily the tears increase
As familiar landmarks reappear
A ship closing in to dock
The quayside with its bollards too

Last to reemerge for distance
The monument on the hilltop yonder
Whilst the lighthouse in bemusement
Watches over the dissipating cloud

Quickly now the wisps disperse
Hiding in the moorland's folds
But even there the sun will come
Victorious into a golden day

The promise

As colour fades from the evening sky
A promise of renewal the next day
Whether sunny, cloudy, rain or snow
Colour will return another morn

The last leaf drifts down to earth
Nuts litter the woodland ground
A promise of renewal the next year
Life will return another day

Winter cold approaches from the north
As daylight hours diminish by the day
Soon white will dominate the land
Accentuating what colour is left

As snow blankets the sleeping soil
And fierce winds strafe the land
Green curtains flow in the distant north
And stars are seen for longer than the sun

But when winter's grasp seems fiercest
Unbreakable it would seem
Green tips pierce the frozen soil
And delicate blooms emerge

From underneath the warm white layer
The promise is fulfilled
And soon the winter cold takes flight
With light and colour restored

Eventually day and night equal in length
The snow retreats to the mountain tops
Life recurs, gambolling in play
As lambs fulfil the promise of life

The boat

Sailing the waters of the far northwest
Braving the elements, fair and foul
Guarding the lives of all on board
Bringing their livelihood safely to shore

Aided by motorpower, perhaps earlier sail
A net from the stern, or a line athwart
Hooks to catch mackerel
A creel for some crabs, or a lobster

Within sight of Suilven, Stac Polly or An Teallach
The Clisham a beacon, high up in Harris
Bowing for the blue men of Shiant
Or bucking in the Atlantic swell

Hastily brought in for that storm of a lifetime
Tethered on a mooring, in safety they thought
Found crashed on the boulders
When the storm had blown itself out

Many's a time I walked by on Goat Island
Ever more pieces went missing each time
Until only the bow remained on the strand
And finally only its soul, winging away to the Minch


The crescent moon rides
high in the sunset skies
cloudstreams far above
appear motionless

Reflected in the sea
not ruffled by movement
winking into the night
a reassurance from the lighthouse

A bird slowly glides past
looking for its last meal of the day
Nothing to be seen
darkness is nigh

Wisps of mist slowly drift by
gliding over the water
ghostly appearances
from the now faded day

The hunter now rises
chasing the bull
his two hounds faithful
close by to his east

As he moves to the west
will daybreak ensue
But what will that bring?
Only time will tell

The internees

It seemed like such a good idea
Sign up for the reserves
Already at sea most of the time
An old salt could learn new tricks

More out than in past Arnish
Down by the Shiants
Up near Rona
Sidle up to the Atlantic, unbeatable

Go on exercise every once in a while
Get a nice sum every year
A retainer for being ready
To drop all for king and country

Well, they shot that man way out yonder
And now the world's gone mad
I've got to go down to England
Train up for the real shooting stuff

What's this, I'm told, we're in a Division?
Not at sea but on land
Mr Churchill says so, he's our boss
Down to old Antwerp, halt Jerry Hun

Not in your wildest dreams, we're going back west
Where's that train, oh dear we've missed it
The CO says go north, boys
Let's take our luck, head up into Holland

So here we are in the land of the level
An old city, kind folk
They've got as little food as we get
Horsemeat is about the best we can expect

No fighting for us, we're interned
Some have escaped, back to Blighty they went
Others were let out to help with harvest at home
Came back, as they'd given their word

Hurray! war is over, peace for our time
But we haven't really fought, have we
Our kinsmen and friends fell valiantly
Whilst we chewed the cud in the Low Countries

No, won't mention this ever again

The proprietor

A cupola and statue
Not far from his castle
Looking out east over the harbour
A man who made his mark

Now a marker of Remembrance
then a token of wealth
ruthlessly accumulated
the seedbox of the poppy, and its dried sap

A war was fabricated
in the distant Orient
over the trade in this soporific
this analgesic - this addictive

The benefactor, so hailed by some
Made many an improvement
But selective who would enjoy it
If you were in arrears, off in the boat you went

Decided by his managers
wearing more than thirty hats at once
an impressive act of balancing
an abuse of powers never seen before or since

An arbitrary power of eviction
not always based in law
exercised by those in his stead
compassion and empathy were alien to them

A mixed view from the modern times
of what some term a drugs baron
Others, one who put the island into modern times
Money talks, even to this day

The mill

Moved by the wind or the flowing of water
Grinding of corn, after dark
A meeting place for many in days long ago
None of them left, but in ruins or display

The water still flows, but passes them by
even restored, their wheels stand still
Not now do the villagers need their grinding done here
Far off machines supply all that they need

Only approved would they be allowed
If not, their stones to be broken
What more, the distilling of spirits
The water of life, from the black pot

Suddenly illegal, well, who is to stop
The still by the stream
In the back of the house
Don't breathe one word

The storm

Dark grey and ominous, scudding by low
Sun breaking through, blinding brightness
Parallel lines streaking southwest
Pockmarking the water, running with tide

High in the sky towering tall
Deep freeze above, chilly below
A puddle now forms, where the drain is blocked
The pavement is washed, by each passing motorist

Tide rising high, through sun and moon opposing
Wind rising too, the equinox past
Angry white riders, rearing up tall
Crashing in fury, augmented by wind

The watery road is closed, as the spume flies
Tied up by the pierhead, lights dimmed
Wind rising higher, beyond Beaufort's scale
Soon triple digits, even in imperial

Stones, pebbles, spray, clatter from shore
The walls resonate with the onslaught
Are they still safe, will they keep us

Fleeing the elements into the darkness
From which they will never emerge
Sweet and salt water combine
And swept off to oblivion, five they were

That was a bad one, thank heavens it's daylight
My roof's gone, the barn's a wreck
Trees down, power is off
That's nothing.
Where are the five?

Three dozen their number

Long reach the arms of the sea
North from the channel off the isle of the mists
High rise the mountains
As they impotently block passage

Reach to the sky in vertiginous heights
Grey in the clouds, grey the rocks strewn
Brown in heather tumbling down
to a narrow green strip by the water

Three dozen their number, now only two
A ruinous house, the outline of walls
The poorest of ground, in strips parallel
Draining the bogland for crops

Fishing the waters to feed the mouths
Rearing some cattle for milk at the hearth
Three dozen their number, now only two
Where the others go to?

Look for them northward, on divided land
demonstrating the asymptote
the more you divide, the lesser you get
until you're near nothing, in all possible respects

Another sea arm, do not breathe in
You won't fit in your strip of land
You'll be wider than that
Three dozen their number, now only two

Whilst thirty-four cram onto alien shores
And two come and go
Their land went to sheep
But even that was not enough

And the stag now roars his lust
Whilst being chased, shot and gutted - for fun

Three dozen townships teetering
on the edge of existence
on the edge of the sea
pushed to extinction for the greed of another

Napoleon's defeat heralded their demise
Peace took their livelihood
An end to subsistence
An end to life, more than through war

What have we now, in the derelict corner?
A rich man's playground
A rich man's money press
Soon churning out power.

Three dozen their number
Now only two

A walk in the moor

Overcast skies threatening rain
The long line of water dully reflects
the little hamlet on the far bank
Vehicles turn the distant corner
out of sight

The paved roadway dips then rises
Passes the gateway to lose its tarmac
The first lake looms up below
Rocks and debris litter the track

Floodwater impedes progress
Where's the road, where is the moor
Spaghnum between the wheelruts
A deep channel fails to drain from the edge

A fleece and some horns, a skull
In front of a second gate, abandon all hope
The rise ahead reveals a lake, another lake, another lake
Where can we pass - it's a narrow causeway

Distant hills reflect in the water
Doom-laden skies glower to the south
Battleship grey is the surface
A final gate, and now find your own way

Watch you step observe the plantlife
Here you can stand, there is a bottomless lake
Shrouded by virulently green watercress
Beware of the peathags, do not be hasty

One wrong move and you may not be found
Until the next spring - or next century
Feel safe on the heather, hug the contourline
Skirt the bulrushes, circle the lochan

The valley opens out, to the left lies the township
The mountains now close, blocking out the light
Guarding the homesteads, three dozen empty
Lining the shores, now home to the deer

The crossroads is reached, the light starts to fade
The fjord looms ahead, leading out to the sea
Complete, soundless silence
But in safety, back on the road

The far north

Looking out to sea, distant mountains looming
Rolling in from far away, long dark swells
Born of distant winds and currents
Immutable yet ever changing

A demure chapel, long since out of use
A place of devotion, for those no longer there
Once in summer, they would flock there
With their flock of beasts to tend

Rows of lowly houses strung out side by side
Strips of narrow land beyond
Stretching for a mile towards the shore
Where all ends on a precipitate cliff

Sand swirls on the currents
whether in the air or in the sea
Changing coastlines that impercetably crumble
Only the brick tower remains, a tall beacon

The ancient rocks, dating back to earth's beginning
Root the soil, thin and meagre
Where little grows, worthy of mention
Only a sea of flowers, next to the ever-moving sea

Journey's end's beyond the gate
A rock is all that will remain
As tangible reminder of
Those whose footsteps have long faded


The golden light of autumn
streams in from the west
puffballs of clouds
sometimes drops of rain

The lanterns of red fuchsia
gently sway in the cool breeze
cripsed leaves float from the sycamore
as autumn closes summer away

The watchers stand reflected
in the mirror of the sea
A beacon to the east
looking out for those seeking guidance

Soon the evenings will have no sun
Orion marching up the nighttime sky
Fierce winds blowing in the winter
Gentle snowflakes on cold solstice air

Your country needs YOU

Come and join us, your country needs you
The old country needs you, come on and go
The Hun is afoot, he'll crush us all
Don't, and you're a coward, here's your white feather

Jump on the train, here is a corner
Have a fag, we'll be in France soon
March down the cobbled roads, the guns are calling
Here is your trench and here is your mud

Go on your ship and join the navy
Oh, you're now a soldier and not a sailor
Missed the train out of Antwerp
Missed the rest of the war interned in Holland

Sailing the seven seas, curse those U-boats
Dodge the torpedoes, strafe the subs
Lest they strafe you or leave you to drown
Better still Jutland, and knock Jerry for six

No volunteers left, not wanting, or all dead?
Draft them in, the dodgers, the malingerers
Push them to Haig's mincers, never mind they be ill
Never mind the trauma, won't go? Shot at dawn.

Givency, Somme, Passchendaele, add some more names
The glory is mud, the terror, the death
Torn to pieces, ripped to smithereens
Over the top, boys, hang in the barbed wire

What's the point, nothing is shifting
Jerry's bled white and so are we
Strategy's to pot, what's that, intelligence?
Throw out some chlorine, damn the wind's turned right round

November eleventh, the eleventh hour
Guns fall silent, the shooting has stopped
The point of it all?
You tell me, I don't goddamn know

The bell tolls

The bell tolls
Hauntingly over the dark moving plain
Fast moving currents of air
and of water
Smash through the doors, flooding

The bell tolls
Its call answered from all corners, echoed
Driven ashore, the boat is stuck fast
The men taken off, on the edge
Taken to safety - the wind still howls

The bell tolls
An alarm call to all
The low tide at high tide level
The barriers stand, but what will hold
Force 12 at springtide flood

The bell tolls
Over torrents of water, flooding
Crumbling barriers, sweeping away all
Islands retaken, the sea reconquers
Lost for centuries, it reclaims within hours

The bell tolls
As dawn breaks, over a sea of death
Houses afloat, byres adrift
Roads washed away, the railway torn up
The tide has turned, but the water remains

The bells ring out their peal, joyously so
The barriers gleam white
Blocking river from the sea, deprived of its spoils
Peace for our time
Can we withstand?

The emigrant ship

Wide open ocean, headed southwest
Morning is breaking, all is set fair
Compass is pointing, but not the right way
From points in the east they have all come

Breakfast time comes, but the water is salt
A rock in the bottom, now a bottomless ship
Going back makes a right-angled turn
From east - now down

A new beginning from a stifling stranglehold
Young, old, and all, for reasons too old
A man and a cross, an onion-domed palace
Flocked to the northland, to now make the west

What's left is in boats, drifting northeast
Away from the new life, but for now still in life
Not all will reach salvation
As their coracles drift on the currents

A fishing boat here, another one there
Help is at hand, and terra firma beckons
An island and town, and a gravestone by a wall
All went for the new life, some do yet gain it

One boats drifts northeast, past the isle of the sheep
past the line of long sun, into the great cold
Never seen again in this life
Lessons were taught, but were they learned?



Frantic beat the hooves down the road to the coast
Low sweeps the beam of the lighthouse over the waves
High rises the swell to crash on the beasts
Not lit, not shown up, lurking under sea

High fly the rockets but two hours past midnight
Hidden from view, beyond the glance of the prism
Mistaken for feasting, but no less the opposite
There's only one rope and too many waves

Boyling on the rocks, beyond the reach of succour
Carried ashore, but bereft of all life
Spared years of carnage, taken at the step of the year
Dawn breaks cold and cruel, one up the mast

Lived at the shore, returned on the strand
Returned in death to the isle of their birth
The teapot stands cold, the bed unslept in
Two hundred and five, sixty not found.