Still another step closer to closing the laziness gap, as we arrive at last in early December.
The hills have frozen silver. The ends of the long grasses are weighted by crystals, like a field of the most delicate glass. It's a magical landscape, and I'm out in it for no real reason other than the desire to be so. I have the car, I have the camera, I have a book so that I may pull in at some scenic viewpoint and use it as the background to my reading, I have music, I have the crystalline beauty of the world outside, but for all that I'm lacking in inspiration. The middle winter night is already nigh, there are perhaps two hours of daylight remaining; too short to undertake a big adventure yet still too long to simply hang around. What can I do? Today nothing seems to feel right, nothing is suggesting itself.
My Mary Chain sojourns south of the border have shown me something, and that is that I should not prescribe life too carefully. At home lies a big pile of books and I had thought to work through them in the order in which they fall, a set order, one after the next. So too with my podcasts and even music on my ipod. The eternal playlist, weeks long, all very methodical, all very ordered. If some new enthusiasm presents itself, it just has to wait at the back of the queue, scheduled for attention in 2024. The joy of short-term irrational mania is here absent, the sudden enthusiasm, the joy of possibility and the here and now. Excluded, prohibited. I need to rethink.
Just as I'm pondering this, driving uninspired through the middle of the farm out at Rawburn, a sudden flash grabs hold of me. The broch. Edin's Hall. I haven't been there for a while, I think maybe I'd like to go now. Right now. Is there enough time? Probably, maybe. But an organic desire is upon me, better to follow it in joy than to remain standing in cold machine logic.
I have searched all strings from n to n+10 and Edin's Hall is not among them.
Manual over-ride. Proceed to Edin's Hall immediately.
I go a new way, from the Abbey St Bathans side. The trail leads down through woodland, down a long descent of wooden steps and across a stile into a sheltered stream valley where the water rolls lazily among crooked trees. The valley climbs back up on the other side where it emerges onto open moorland with outcrops of trees under a stretched-out sky. The trail leads on through brown ferns frozen at their tips as I rise up the valley looking down on the trees above the river and the banks containing the ancient copper mines at Elba, where it flows through a crop of solid rock and forms a waterfall where in Septembertime the salmon can be found leaping. As I say all this in my head I think that it's all starting to sound a little Tolkienesque, which is the second time I've used that word recently, the other being in relation to my desire when on Mull to undertake a journey into the blank mountain ranges. There is something in the sense of journey as set out by Tolkien and in the use of specific (self)named geography that is starting to appeal to me. I read The Hobbit when I was about 20 and thought it was ok, then I started out reading The Lord Of The Rings when the films came out. I only got as far as the meeting with Tom Bombadil, who I found annoying, and abandoned it in frustration, insisting to anyone who would listen that it was badly written. Naturally nowadays I consider any opinion held at age 20 to be highly suspect at best.
I enter Edin's Hall almost through the back door, the opposite approach to the one I have used on all previous visits. From this direction you get a different sense of it, passing through a gap in considerable earthworks before the stones of the broch become visible. These earthworks are undeniably similar in feel to those at Wrunklaw, where I wandered alone on the hillside in the fog, and present the picture that this site was more than a broch. Or not even a broch, because the more you look at it, the more it seems that it simply can't be. Yes, it is built like one on the lower levels, thick walls and smaller chambers within the walls. But where are the stones that would have fallen from it to bring it down to its current level? They are nowhere; even allowing for the usual removal for stone dykes and buildings, there is not enough here to suggest it ever rose up as a broch. Even the official information board ventures this far, presenting a drawing in which the upper stages are thatched. There were other structures here too, very obvious hut circles are dotted around and enclosed by these same earthworks, more of a village or settlement. And then there is the brooding presence of the Cockburnlaw hill fort above, always distant and watchful. It's not known if the sites were used by the same people or at the same time. It seems ridiculous that both would be in use concurrently, but then I think of the old castle on the Bass Rock sitting facing off against Tantallon Castle on the mainland coast, the lights of their respective halls almost meeting in the water between them. Besides, if this were a broch, I think to myself triumphantly, a real, proper, genuine broch, then those little chambers in the walls would not all contain dead ends, but stairs to lead to the upper levels! I think this as I enter into the last of them, and come face to face with just such a set of stone steps leading up. Well. This is going to need some thought.
I sit down in the chamber of the doorway. It's not like I'm about to solve the ancient mysteries on my own here today simply by the power of being here, but I set up the camera on the frozen circle of grass that lies in the centre and retreat quickly back to be photographed by it. I think maybe this is how I'd like people to remember me, should they choose to remember me at all, sitting among ancient stone, pondering the unanswerable mysteries and meanings of time and space, with no hope of ever knowing the answers.
Darkness is threatening, and the frozen trail must be traversed once again. I'd like more time here of course, but Edin's Hall is not going anywhere. Perhaps in summer I shall sleep here for a night. When you have slept in a place then you more properly belong in it. Sleep confers a strange possession; have you ever felt that?
My playlist-appointed music is just not going to fit with my present surroundings and frame of mind, so it's time for manual over-ride again. I need something suitably majestic, some black metal, grand, isolationist, misanthropic yet rooted in the natural world. American band Schrei Aus Stein, taking their name from a Werner Herzog film (which translates as Scream Of Stone), the track 'Dawn' from their 3rd full-length, 'Cervin'.
I had never listened to the track before this day, which isn't surprising when you consider that I have a lot of obscure black metal on there, I chance upon it for no other reason than that the cover art appears to suit my mood. Later at home I would find it reviewed on Encyclopaedia Metallum under the banner 'The distant, the charming and the surreal' in brilliantly wandering black metal English.
"A progression from the vague into the concrete and over into the sphere of the surreal. It is therefore a rather mixed thing, whose conceptual arrangement leaves the listener confused about the general direction of the performance as well as on how to classify “Schrei aus Stein”. The aspect of a “target audience” is difficult as well in this regard."
It's me. I'm the target audience. People on icy hillsides in December running their hands over ancient stone.
"The instruments are the focal element here, while the lyrics are nothing but a nice attachment and in some respect it all sounds like they are not particularly mandatory or even important. A noise facet, a short disruption of the flow, something that disturbs the performance of the instruments, this is the level to which the vocals have been brought to on Cervin."
I certainly can't disagree with our reviewer, 'oneyoudontknow', especially when he concludes
"Like the chasms in a mountainous area also here the listener is rather guided through the various realms, while it never feels like a switch in concept is likely to happen. All feels coherent and somewhat pleasant, nothing out of proportion. How it leads on is generally visible, but to actually take the trip is nevertheless rather pleasant."
Back across the frozen fernlands, through the valley of the stream, into the woodlands and up the wooden stairway. I almost cast this off in favour of sitting in a car; life is a beautiful thing when lived.