gaia-love, storytelling

Beinn Dòbhrainn (Ben Dorain)

My favourite part of the West Highland Way has always been the section between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy. I’ve walked that track a few times, and retraced it countless times in my mind. I don’t know why I love it so much, there is nothing, no feature of the route, I can consciously point to and say “That is the reason”.

Beinn Dòbhrain from the Way

There is just an atmosphere there, something about the place, or my state of mind as I walk, that gives me peace.

It occurred to me, looking through my photos of last week’s walk, that it could have something to do with the presence of Beinn Dòbhrainn (pictured) beside the track.

From the Way, Beinn Dòbhrain (‘hill of the otters’ – ‘Ben Dorain’ in english), presents a conical or pyramid-like shape. The face it shows to walkers is rough and scree-covered but there is something about the light there – a brightness, a sparkle.

I’m not the only person to feel something here. Gaelic poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre (known as Donnchadh Bàn nan Òrain or “Fair Duncan of the Songs”) loved this hill so much he composed his most well known poem about it – “Moladh Beinn Dòbhrainn” (The Praise of Ben Dorain). The poem is very long but here is a translated extract:

Praise of Ben Dorain (extract)

4. Siubhal

Luxuriant mountain
sprouting and knolled
more healthy and cloudless
than all hills in the world.

How long my obsession!
My song and my passion!
She’s the first in the nation
for grace and for beauty.

Her gifts are so many,
her fruits are so bonny,
and rarer than any
her bushes and leafage

in flawless green raiment
as bright as the diamond
your blooms in agreement
like elegant music.

The cock with his vital
and rapid recital,
colourful, brutal,
among the small birds.

The buck small and nimble
quick on the green
neat as a thimble –
a clever machine!

Bright-hooved in the weather,
as light as a feather,
among moorland and heather
exploring the corrie
he saunters forever
through bracken and story

along by each river
on the height of each hillock
playful and vivid
eel-like, elusive.

When he’s startled to motion
he’s as swift as your vision
with speed and precision
he speeds through each forest
without seeming exertion
he’s nearest, then furthest!

In the autumn-hued landscape
he skips in his gallop
each second brown hillock
as he’s greeting his sweetheart.

His small doe is dwelling
with the fawns in a corrie:
sullen and snarling
she guards them with fury:
sharp ear cocked for hearing,
quick eye ever peering,
she relies on the veering
quick tricks of her motion.

Though Caoilt and Cuchulain
are expert and nimble
and every battalion
King George can assemble

if the flash and the bullet
would leave her unsullied
no man on this planet
would catch her or find her:
just like the minute and brilliant cinder.

White-tailed and lightning-like
though hunting dogs can frighten her –
steep though the height to her
you’ll not see her blunder.
Haughty and spritely she’s
a head-tossing wonder!

sharp-eyed, disdainful,
restless and wary,
her home is the corrie
along with her neighbours.


from New Collected Poems, by Iain Crichton Smith (Carcanet, 2011) Reproduced by permission of Carcanet Press. translated by Iain Crichton Smith

source: Scottish Poetry Library

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