A lone trail
angles up by the stream
up into the mountains

Leading nowhere
ending nowhere
except by the shore
of the lonely loch

It carries those
who come for sport
to carry back meat
what once was a stag

It carries others
who fish upon the loch
by the montains

The long water
born of streams
sourced high in the hills
stretching to near RĂ²ineabhal

Finally to cascade
down to the sea
near the old circle
of standing stones

But Langabhat
At the heart of the island
crowned by the mighty Harris hills
continues to hold me captive

Footsteps in the snow

A thin layer of snow
greets the first light
of the winter morning
dawning late in pink hues

A line of footsteps lead
from the blackhouse
down the slope
and to the water

A swirl of smoke
writes in the pale
northern sky
telling a story

For no footsteps
have yet returned
for several days
the sea has been empty

A stack of peat
dwindling over months
more carried to the fire
as it softly crackles its tale

Over the hilltop
the smoke drifts
looking down the sealoch
where no movement is seen

Only some driftwood
out by the headland
nothing on the slow swell
is that a sail in the water?

None knows what befell
the boat at the headland
except the fire glowing dully
and the smoke

Gently drifting
over the scene of loss
A wreath


The whistle blows
the chorus reaches a crescendo
The steamer slowly backs
away from the quay

Faces quickly lost from sight
on the quay to those aboard
on board to those ashore
The last farewell's been said

As the town disappears from sight
Some will not see it again
A thought at the back
of the mind of all

Even longer ago
Departing hardly voluntarily
Forced by hands of gold
to abandon the land of heather

The certainty was even greater
As were the distances
for deportation
after the clearance

But whether for war
for compulsion
or to seek a better life
The yearning back remains

Dodging the torpedo of the enemy
Espying the shoreline of a distant land
or the smoking stacks of cities
The image remains alive

So when victory is sounded
And the opportunity appears
for the journey back northwest
To once more greet what's home

The old harbour
The empty moorland
The hills rising behind the croft
You're home


Slowly the clocktower
chimes out the hours
But hours do not count
when you go with the tide

What's hidden at high water
lies exposed 6 hours later
Irrespective of the hands
on a timepiece

Where barrels once stacked
and fish were packed up
Cars are now left
by those crossing the sea

Only a statue reminds
of the hard hard workers
As the water rises below
and falls twice a day

A curtain of rain
hides the lighthouse from view
As much as the future
is obscure to us all

Saturday morning

Stripes painted on the ceiling of the skye
Stripes made of grass
now withered
for winter

A steady breeze from the east
paints lines on the water
making for the west
an anomalous run

The last leaves
heroically clinging
to the bushes
lining the road

We have the best weather
with a reputation for the worst
Quite good for late November
Winter, though, is nigh


The deepening cold
stretches its thin fingers
south from the land of fire
past the islands of sheep

Breathing its chill winds
over the ancient rocks
of the heathery isle
a snow flake drifts

More of them follow
swirling calmly
in the lights of the
town and beyond

The lighthouse blinks
but its beam now lost
As the wind slowly rises
a blizzard comes in

Dawn breaks
and the sun rises late
showing a blanket of white
stretching far, far south


I know it well
that reef
standing proud
at low tide

Sheltering the bay
overlooked by the graveyard
overlooked by the lighthouse
well-marked for mariners

That night, 50 years ago
darkness hid the reef
from the eyes of the
boatman venturing forth

Into the teeth of a rising gale
which drove his craft
aground on the reef
within sight and sound

of those ashore who would
but could not help
The wind rose so high
The waves rose even higher

Rags ablaze signalled SOS
A ceaseless scream
awoke all around
but the boatman

He came ashore
his life left him in the sea
His companions still safe aboard
As tide, wind and waves fell

A beautiful morn
Sea twinkling innocently
But the wreck of the Maimie
Still high up on Sgeir Mhor


Photo: Happy were the folk
in the village under the cliff
tending their kyne
leading their lives

The girl was following the path
when the lad came out
he spoke sweetly
and she was soon in thralls

Love is blind
so she did not espy
his strange attire
or misshapen feet

He took her to the
distant loch
high in the mountains
behind the cliff

When she was missed
her kinfolk came looking
only to find her body
in the water

Hoofprints led away
from a circle of seaweed
None dared follow
the kelpie and his prey
Happy were the folk
in the village under the cliff
tending their kyne
leading their lives

The girl was following the path

when the lad came out
he spoke sweetly
and she was soon in thralls

Love is blind
so she did not espy
his strange attire
or misshapen feet

He took her to the
distant loch
high in the mountains
behind the cliff

When she was missed
her kinfolk came looking
only to find her body
in the water

Hoofprints led away
from a circle of seaweed
None dared follow
the kelpie and his prey


whichever way you look
a distant light

Piercing the curtains
that are drawn
over our little town
November gloom

Blows impatiently
Ruffling the sea
in the direction of its force

the light of day
Barely started
Streetlights still - or already - on

Late November dusk

As daylight fades
from the east
Towers of clouds
line the far horizon

A sliver of moon
plays hide and seek
with shreds of
remnant cloud

The sun slowly heads
southwest towards its
colourful bed
set amidst distant cloud

The first gusts of
nighttime winds
shake droplets from
bare branches

Faint streetlights
illuminate and reflect
darkened streets
where few venture forth


Down the long beach
we ran
In the summer
of endless sun

Innocence shone down
in the benign
light of evening
when darkness never came

The islands winked
at us from near
and from further away
cloudcapped to the north

Nothing could change
as the sun smiled
setting in the west
of autumn

The exhileration of
a fierce November gale
bound us together on
that boundless strand

Softly fell the
white snow of winter
as our footsteps
trailed us home

The light faded
that winter
when events far away
came to touch us here

As the crown of clouds
settled over the Clisham
a dark form rolled
in the surf on the beach

One of many to wash up
lost in the war
far out at sea
to the menace from the deep

We found him
No mark or name
His last resting place
by the timeless chapel

't Was also where
the lesson was learned
as our innocence drifted
away on the outgoing tide


A line of four hills
on the southern horizon
The endless sea
stretching out north

The old land falls
from the cliff edge
to its ruins
the sea toys with the stack below

A single line of houses
along the edge of the loch
another line marching
on the opposing skyline

The moorland waters drain off
to rest for a while
in the shallow waters
before merging with the ocean

Ever moving
never still
motion born
of long dead storms

Trains of white riders
charging the shore
A bullying wind
batters the cowering homesteads

Stretching uphill
to end at the church
views opening out
west along the coast

Like so many places
in these old islands
it's given up its people
to seek riches abroad

Or pledge fielty unto death
For a distant king
The village awaits
The return of the departed

Whether in this life
or in the one beyond
At the setting of the sun
Or at the Breaking of the Day

Pentland Road

A ribbon of black
threads across
the trackless moor
hugging contours

Distant hills
looming either side
blue pieces of glass
reflecting the high sky

Dark blankets roll away
in green, yellow, brown
and black to the horizon
waiting to be cut for fuel

The road forks
where rocky hillocks crop out
angling down along the riverbank
and coming to end at the pierhead


Golden rays caress the sky
languid clouds
slowly moving east
an ever-changing mosaic

A cooling breeze
gently touches
the hilltop, slowly turning
brown as autumn progresses

Greens of leaves
makes way for the
grey of denuded

Greens of grasses
turn yellow then
fade into the
background of blackened heath

The wind reminisces
as the sun bids us good night
angling its rays ever higher
airbrushing the sky pink

Slowly, colour fades
from the skye, the hills
the sea
Night has fallen


Low tide
The bar stretches
across the entrance to the basin
a rapid outflow the sole break

An old engine
now just a lump of rust
with a few floats

Dirty mud with stones
empty shells
gulls squawking

A squirt of water
other inhabited shells
try not to stand out

Six hours later
Only water
All else aforementioned?
Under 17 feet of water


Along the water's edge
Stepping on tall legs
Looking for
a meal





Lazily, the heron
flies off to its
in the treetops

Autumn day

Rivers running down the glass
Distorting the view outside
A rapid patter of drops
and an impatient buffeting by wind

Visibility quite poor
but there isn't much to see
today is an autumnal day
as chill makes way for mild

Darkness falls near four fifteen
and daylight's getting very short
Six weeks left till solstice day
and we'll hunker down some more

Bowed down into the wind
Minimising time outside
warmed by a cosy fire
ignoring mother nature's ill temper

Remembrance Sunday

They gather round
under clearing skies
remembering those
gone on ahead

Through war and strife
the trumpet sounds
and all fall silent
to contemplate

The sun comes out
and the trumpet calls
A new day dawns

The wreaths remain
We will remember
Their today
For our tomorrow

Lewis War Memorial

Twenty-three plaques
More than fiteen hundred names
Standing in a circle
Below a prominent tower

Looking out over the town
Over the Minch
which they all had to cross
but never to return

Looking out over the island
At the villages near and far
From where they flocked
Eagerly but with hidden trepidation

In a circle near the top
their names are remembered
Parish by parish
In each World War

On land, in France or Mesopotamia
Out at sea, in the Atlantic or in the Mediterranean
In the skies over Britain and Europe
or even further from home

But closest to home
Within view of the tower now
The two hundred who drowned
at Holm Point, as 1919 started

Twenty-three plaques
More than fifteen hundred names
Remembered by theirs
Remembered by us all

Calum Zachary

Hey, where are you?
Need a word, real quick
You and I, well, what do you say?
Be together for good

But listen, we're poor
Can't get any land
Your folks have so little
splitting it would leave even less

Don't get me wrong, though
I'll be yours alright
We are as one
And will always be

Look, come look, who's that?
He's here for the money
What my dad hasn't got
Hasn't had for so long

Hey, where are you?
Got some news, bad and good
We've got to leave the island
Dad's been turned off his land

Come with me tonight
Nothing left here for us
We'll start a new life together
Take our chance, wherever

They were to meet on the pierhead
To start afresh somewhere
The moon set early though
and darkness shrouded all

He could not find his lady
She could not find her man
He therefore went to America
without his love by his side

His name was Calum Zachary
A name living on in song
echoing his loss
across the waves and years

To Canada

The man walked down the road
his knapsack slung over his shoulder
although he had gained some land
he had lost his neighbours

There had been only one way out
to Canada
Cutting down trees
building the Pacific railway

Gratitude had led to this separation
for the man left his family behind
sending back money
that he had earned over there

His neighbours were behind with the rent
And as he had saved the proprietor's life
The reward was a piece of land
taken off his neighbours' croft

The man did not ask for a reward
even less for more land
however useful
And certainly not at the expense of his neighbour

So he walked down the road
His family staring after him
As he disappeared in the distance
Never to return

9 November

Light fills the room
refracted by hundreds of
finely cut crystals
hanging from the chandelier

A fire demurely crackles
in the hearth
filling the room
with warmth and comfort

A waltz gently plays
and couples glide
in tender embrace
along the polished floor

Darkness rules outside
as does the November chill
wafting along city centre streets
with marked windows

Light flares up rudely
as a bonfire shoots tongues
of fire into the night sky
illuminating the scene

Light flares up further
refracted by thousands
of crystals scattered
along streets of darkness

Gaping mouths where windows were
Glass pulverised into countless crystals
Fire spreads
consuming the culture

Books are burned
their writers were deemed unfit
for the country whose Leader
sought to exterminate

The millions of fragments
of broken glass, of crystal
scatter the light of the fire
burning the synagogues

Soon the worshippers
will follow the fate of their temple
The light of the fire
overshadows the continent

Dying into dull embers
the dancers fade into shadows
as the light goes out over Europe
on Kristallnacht


Now derelict on the shore of Loch Reasort
Little Luachair stands
Years back a carpenter came
over the hills from Bowglass

After job's end he was left
with some planks
which he carried back
below the frowning cliffs

A sound of hammerblows
echoed below the face
of stern Stulaval
Regular and slow

Turning around
the carpenter espied
and nobody

But the tapping
Soon he descended
over the hills into Vigadale

Reached home but
his hearth was cold
and nobody around
except his wife, no longer alive

The carpenter hammered
his wife's coffin
An echo of the hammerblows
Below cold Stulaval

In spring

I met you on the rising road
that sunny afternoon in April
Innocent eyes looking up
as I looked down

The dark mountains loomed
over the deep waters
under the rays of the
springtime sun

A first spring with
gentle winds from
the distant seas
carrying aloft the shadows

Their calls mocked
at what they had taken
not caring, in fact
relishing and enjoying

She was expiring
as I approached
only a step or two
from the roadside edge

You did not know
but looked at me to explain
what was beyond your days
and was to befall you too

The sun shone through
the pink ears of the young lamb
The ewe was breathing its last
after being blinded by crows

A dreich day

Light fades over the islands
Grey to greyer still
not a ray of
sunshine to be had today

The drizzle hides
what isn't that far off
the breeze shakes
the now bare branches

From sun-soaked seas
to the northern Hebrides
a final hint of distant
summer wafts our way

Soon the edge of mild
will move away east
leaving us with crisp
and once more chill

A grain of hail
a splash of wet snow
winter draws near
dark at half four

Look north for the
merry dancers
a moving green
curtain down from the pole

Even further north
beyond the land of fire
no sunshine at all
on solstice day

The Pabbay boat

Row boys, row!
We're going out again
The sail will help us on our way
Out to the fishing grounds

Look, there goes another boat
They too are venturing forth
Can't be too bad a day
If we're all out here just now

Ominous grey clouds
scudding on the rising wind
soon touching galeforce
soon right up to stormforce

From the open ocean
Squalls of rain fly past
The islands loom up to the west
Now shrouded from sight

Row boys, row!
We've got to turn back
if we can
The sail has gone

Did you see the others?
Not for quite some time
Never mind, keep bailing
We may yet have a chance

Two days the storm lasted
nobody could put to sea
the herring was left uncaught
as the boats remained in port

The boat from Mingulay
weathered the storm to return
to their island
safe and well

Pabbay lost ALL
its menfolk
that May Day in 1897
all in one boat

Flat calm

Flat calm
Upside down
in the water

or original
Even the lighthouse
perhaps even the mountains far-off

Benign clouds
slowly move
on an unseen
but unfelt wind

A small boat
carves through
the mirror which
quickly resmoothes

Dusk slowly
overtakes and dulls
the reflections of

To be replaced
by the high moon
of nearing winter
Enoy the calm - while it lasts


The grey canopy
breaks to the southeast
A promise of sunshine
over the mainland hills

A gentle rain
falls over grey streets
calm and movementless
a Sunday morning

Worshippers proceed
to church in an orderly
fashion, quietly so
to beseech blessings

Whether He listens
is up to Him to decide
Most appear favoured
others are oblivious

Should we go somewhere
on the day of rest
None are disturbed
Peace has remained

Our link to the world
will sail in the afternoon
Another link takes to the air
But none are disturbed


Low sun
pale blue sky
bare branches
a cold wind

Dark green losing
colour to palest hue
Leaves gently
drift down

Demure yellow
before falling
Standing out
in final glory

Riches in berries
seeds being scattered
in the blanket of leaves
new life in waiting

Dark clouds speed in
the wind lifts its voice
the command is heeded
Leaves scatter

Distant hills don
their white caps
the sun now sets early
ice glazes what rain has wetted

The signal is raised
The window is open
For the voice of the North
To sing the final of the year

The clearance

Let's have some cuts
can't sustain all that lumber
I'm not here to provide
for those that can't help themselves

Back when Napoleon strode
the battlefields of Europe
we needed gunpowder
and only kelp would do

I had those natives
along the shoreline cutting
seaweed for me for
just a few bob

They didn't need much land
but now they're just sitting there
eating out of my pocket
leaving me out of pocket for all the meal

Going forth and multiplying
well, they can go on daddy's croft
divide, subdivide
and rule

I want my money out of them
Can't get it from anywhere else
Can't afford to be seen to be less rich
So they can't afford the rent?

Gone round the villages
Who's in arrears, off you go
We'll cancel what's owed
if you go to America

Here is the ship
you can take so much
leave the rest behind
including your relatives

Don't want to go, how dare you
Torch to the roof
Milk on the fire,
OK, we'll let you bury your dead

The statue stands grand
in the deserted glen
Green fields of grass
Rolling hills around

The statue stands grand
in the Canadian city
The achievements celebrated
of those boldly gone forth

Did they want to leave their
humble homesteads
where their forefathers
lived happily?

Achievements for sure
Many did great things
in the land of the prairie
But why not in their homeland?


Sun and moon
seasons' cycle
winter snow
round to autumn rain

Marked out in stones
high on the ridge top
two dozen others
not far away

Aligned to distant hills
obscuring the moon
when the nights
are not dark

One was interred
in the centre circle
where he is now, none know
but not there for sure

They come now from far-off lands
to visit the stones
celebrate the sunrise
at solstice, forgetting the moon

All is quiet
as the days shorten
winds batter the circle
impervious to what passes

They have seen many
pass by
never returning
They will remain

The old cemetery

A rusty gate
from the sandy dunes
A wall of stone
on all four sides

A rock-strewn hillside
The sea incessantly
speaks from the shore

no rocks
outside the walls
just flower-clad sands

Rolling away
in every direction
down to the ocean
their ancient roadway

Living from the bounty
of the ever-present sea
it would exact its price
giving change - wreckage on the shore

Living in penury
but happily
demure hamlets
strung out to the north

Poor ground prompted
a move inland for summer
gathering fuel
before the storms came

Unknown were the riches
in money and goods
Riches in happiness and
the strength of kinship

Only a rock
remains within walls
a mark of ending
to remember their days

Nine thousand you'll find
on that rock-strewn hillside
No carved tombstone
Just a rock


Village by the sand
hiding the ninety-one
pieces carved from ivory
brought in from across the sea

Men from the north
left them for us to guess
their play with the future
after they had gone from these shores

Leaving behind only names
for the villages along the shores
the hills, bays and inlets
no further trace was left

Except the ninety-one
in the sand by the village
along the bay that named a whole district
Were they chessmen?