Walking The John Muir Way

Morven Gregor, 2013

a walk


a hike


Hannah Devereux, 2014

This an informal record of our walk along the John Muir Way, planting pairs of trees whose species are defined by the initial and end letters of a poem-motto, composed after a phrase drawn from Muir’s writings.

AS, AF, CW, RE, Hannah Devereux, 2014

The contributions are by myself, Alec Finlay, the poets – Gerry Loose (GL) and Andrew Schelling (AS) – and photographer Hannah Devereux, along with those who join them for some or all of the way, including Rebecca Eland (RE), Morven Gregor (MG), Luke Allan, Ken Cockburn, and Colin Will.

A free booklet outlining the project is available if you send an A5 SAE to the address at the foot of this blog-post; you can also collect one at the readings in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

i.m. Martin Lucas

wish (for Martin), Hannah Devereux, 2014

The walk is dedicated to the memory of our friend, the poet and publisher Martin Lucas, whose death was announced shortly before we set off. Martin shared his love of haiku and renga with many people in these islands, and his loss is being marked by poets around the world – as here, in a tribute by Tito, Kyoto. He was as fond a figure to friends in the birding community.

   now that you've gone
   the rose
   that you planted
   in the window-box
   has flowered at last

  ML, Moonrock, 2002


Luke Allan, 2014

The seeds that Gerry and Morven collected in the Autumn are being carried in a hollowed-out hardback copy of Muir’s The Mountains of California

Andrew smuggled apple pips on the plane, hidden inside his gloves, a homage to Muir's 'lost years', managing orchards in the Alhambra Valley



seed assembly, Morven Gregor, 2014

Our first task was to decide whether the order of planting should follow our walking, east–west, or travel in the direction of reading, west-east. The Way can be walked in either direction, but language, in the west, grows towards the sunrise. Therefore the poem reads:

   from the apples
   of Helensburgh

   to the Scots Pines
   of Dunbar


Hannah Devereux, 2014

We tried to characterise the weather of April in Scotland for our American friends, suggesting rainsnowsun, or, perhaps, a day of sunrainagain, all the while maintaining an air of calm. We look forward to seeing what gear they bring.

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Gerry and Morven trialled a westerly arm of the Way, up the old Coffin Road and over the moor to Ben Bowie, where the markers went missing and the route had to be improvised. Much like climbing a wet ladder, says the poet.

   butterbur and
   a woodpigeon so fat
   I thought it was two


   sheep affect flora
   in the same way
   as glaciers & lava



Alice Ladenburg, 2014

The first contribution to the walk is this new photographic portrait, from a series by Alice Landenburg, made alongside a Scots Pine in the Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Muir was a great believer in hand- and head-stands as an aid to perception of the landscape.

a new law:



We begin with an informal Come-All-Ye in Dunbar, on Wednesday 16th April, organized by Colin Will, where we share a few poems with local writers. 



Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day One (Dunbar to Dirleton)

A double-breakfast day. Bolstered for the way with hot-cross buns, muesli, fresh fruit and coffee at John Muir House. 


the community buns
bear crosses
as if to mark
an Easter journey


Hannah Devereux, 2014There would be other breakfasts, but none so pastoral. 

We head out into a billowy day in the East, applying the weather-test: hoods up, waterproofs on, zips down, hats on, hats off. Call it "changeable." 

The poets have got their pointy fingers out.

A ladybird sheltering under burdock, early primroses, a patch of butterbur; the swallows and martins just in; by the strand at Belhaven a determined skylark calls down at us through the wind.






The first bridge, the first island: conversation pieces.

   this is where we start
   Skittery Burn


Bass Rock, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Colin, is it true that the Bass rock is white from gannets, or from guano? Well, that would be both now, wouldn't it Eck.

   we could have planted
   an oar here
   but we stitched
   the land
   a palimpest
   an ecology of utterance


   our walk begins
   full moon invisible


North Berwick Law, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Baldrick's wellEast Linton

   6th c. period St Baldrick of Bass
   built his church by a spring, why?
   used the water for baptism?

   children have gone down that lane for centuries
   in search of ferrys? Toadstools?
   gannet, chaffinch, woodpigeon or pippet?

Hannah Devereux, 2014

    thorny gorse smells
    of sweet bitter almond the clock tower
    potato leek soup crisps tea fruit cake

Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Gerry looking through the Essential Burns
   Creeley edited it –
   "See what he chose"
   Traprain is a law


Corinthians, Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

   writing on waterproof paper
   from town to town
   the changing of the guards


Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Day Two

   this morning's yaffle
   laughs at us
   and the doocot


AS, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   perhaps in irony
   honesty seeds itself
   at the gate
   of the Big House


planting hazel

   this is the way of it 
   war after war 
   the North Woods 
   grows slowly 
   round coastal concrete 
   defence blocks

Hannah Devereux, 2014

AS, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   Cockenzie & Port Seton

   east harbour
   creel boats & fishers 12
   pleasure boats 0

GL, Hannah Devereux, 2014

   west harbour
   creelers & fishing boats 6
   pleasure craft 0

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014

Hannah Devereux, 2014


26,000 pink-footed geese
were counted –
who by?






this walk could exhaust you
if you read it too fast


this poem could exhaust you
if you walk it too fast


Day Three

Luke Allan, 2014

We're hosted by Ken Cockburn at the Japanese garden, Lauriston Castle, known as 'castle garden of water to beyond'. Paddling, planting, and poem-labelling ensue, and we invite our host to plant two blackthorn seeds, just beyond the walls.

 KC, Luke Allan, 2014

Afterwards we sit in a circle to share poems and a song. Ken reads us his ‘Forth’, written in Dunbar for Northlight. The poem plays on a line from Muir’s A Boyhood in Scotland: "we loved to watch the passing ships and make guesses as to the ports they had come from.”

   a coracle of willow and skins beneath a changeable sky

   a Roman flotilla edging north to Ultima Thule
   a Viking longship breaking open the honied south

   a Genoese galley blockading the castle

   the Great Michael floating the woods of Fife

   Sir Patrick Spens sailing the king’s guid scrip

   the widowed queen’s fleet arriving in thick mist

   the brig Covenant of Dysart bound for the Carolinas

   the clipper Isabella bringing tea into Leith

   a herring-laden zulu tacking for Fisherrow

   a U-boat periscope scanning the waves

   the crude oil tanker Seadancer flying a flag of convenience

 Hanna Tuulikki, Luke Allan, 2014

Gerry invited us to follow the custom of blossom toasting.

  Hannah Devereux, Luke Allan, 2014

  AS & HD, Luke Allan, 2014

   two gardens 

   two bay leaves 
   stolen from 
   the Mushroom 
   Trust garden 

   in the Castle Garden 
   of Water To Beyond 
   Talisker under 
   cherry blossom


GL, Castle Garden of Water to Beyond, Luke Allan, 2014

   the night sky
   is studded
   women are singing
   a last song

   what is the ground
   of making
   of proving 


HD, Castle Garden of Water to Beyond, Luke Allan, 2014



poem AF, photo LA, 2014

Day Four

   from Peggy's Mill til Cramond Brig
   we walked a stragglin line
   long I sat at Cramond Brig
   thinking of blude red wine
   half an hour, half an hour
   Hannah has lost her way
   half an hour, half an hour
   two more have gone astray


   Watching butterflies
   on the mossy knoll
   eating falafel


   Sparrowhawk, mottled and russet
   stoops forty feet from us
       lifts off the meadow
             clasping a mouse

            "And read thy lot in yon celestial sign"


   wind over the links
       which bridge over the canal?






(AF, after John Milton)

Day Five

Falkirk, Luke Allan, 2014

AS, Luke Allan, 2014

HD, AS, AF, RE, Morven Gregor, Falkirk, Luke Allan, 2014

RE, AS, Morven Gregor, AF, GL, HD, Callendar House, Luke Allan, 2014

AS, RE, GL, HD, Forth & Clyde Canal, Luke Allan, 2014

   by Fisher's Brae
   six mills to grind
   and volt the wind

   by Gilston Burn
   six seeds to sow and sough
   and sing a gale


Day Six

AS & GL planting oak at Kelvinhead 

   Bird migration
   people pilgrimage
   we, the inaugural walkers
   along the forth and clyde canal
   crow perforates an ale can
   with it's beak

   "than longen folk to goon on pilgrimage"


   planting yew
   I got stinging nettle
   so I was given
   a leaf of dock


   the nettle inspector
   is satisfied


Day Seven

   by the wind of Gerry's watch...


   the sign post has been turned
   it's rustic humour


   not by the wind of Gerry's watch...


   across from
   Glengoyne Distillery
   two just-born lambs
   flop on the meadow like
   rag dolls


Day Eight

poem & photo: AF, 2014

poem & photo: AF, 2014

Links & credits

For a free 4-page booklet outlining the project, send an A5 SAE to: Studio Alec Finlay, 53 Prince Regent Street, Edinburgh, EH6 4AR. Copies of these will also be available at the readings.

The John Muir Way  (Scottish Natural Heritage)
John Muir Festival 2014 (UZ Arts)
John Muir House Museum
Alec Finlay home page

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alec,

    This is fabulous and I'm so glad you've dedicated it to Martin. Martin was due to be walking the West Highland Way with fellow 1962-vintage haiku poet Matt Morden. Matt is walking the way on his own - he set out from Glasgow on Tuesday - as his own tribute to Martin.


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