Sagas of the Inner Hebrides: Dunoon to Ayrshire and Kilwinning

Prevalent dreamscape shroud the welkin of my mind, ebbing and flowing in and out of the great sleep. Low tide. Mergansers, ravens and ducks croon and caw in the Clyde abroad my windowpane. Another beautiful day in Dunoon, my last here however. Knowing this time to be fleeting, a trek was planned for North Ayrshire with three other tree planters aside myself. We would hit the Irish law trail, drive down to Kilwinning at the dusk water for caving in Elf-haim, and climb the small cliff on the way back in Gorouck at the Granny Kempock Stone.

We set off after a hearty Scottish breakfast and packed onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Gorouck, then made our way down the west coast road to Ayrshire, getting sidetracked along the way at the Vikingar museum in Largs. This is where the battle of Largs was fought between the Norsemen and the Scots, a mock up Viking ship stood outside with several Viking statues covered in hedge plants and shrubbery. Continuing on to the Muirhead reservoir, and encamping our vehicle at a dairy, we trekked through the farmland on which the trails are set. In Scotland, you have the right to roam on any farmland, which is highly appreciated given the amount of hiking paths, fortresses, menhir, cultic sites, cairns, burial tombs, barrows and the like are across these highlands. Not a tuft of wind to sweep over the sheeps wool, nor a drop of rain to disturb the skies, gold rays penetrated over the peatlands, and we began to ascend. On the climb, two black holes stared back at me, a sheep skull covered in tall grass and moss with a horn attached. A land gift. I took the skull and held it aloft to his mortal companions. Reaching the first summit of Howe’s Craig, coming afoot to a round cairn overlooking the shire likely Bronze or Iron Age, a proud moment ensued as the stare of towering fells in the distance across the firth grew bleakly against azure air. Following on then down a blazed trail, passing another cairn, this one modern, built in honor of a nineteenth century man, buried here on the crest. Skirting the ridge to a larger cairn, we stopped and the others rolled their cigarettes, smoky dusk filled the immediate air around their face, and we stared abroad, as the wind picked up in a slurry. Hands chilled turning numb, hair flitting wildly, we made the descent of the second summit. A fog roiled along the upper reaches of the other hills and it became hard to discern where the other two summits lay in directional course. On the way down, I found two more sheep skulls, one of which had small white mushrooms growing on its slimy surface. A lichen and moss covered waterfall bedecked the innards of peat, clear spring water rushing back to the sea, as were we.

Resuming the wanderlust southwards towards Kilwinning, becoming disorientated on the way in the labyrinth of country back roads. Winding tarmac gave way to dirt, windfarms leading to crofts, larch plantations neighboring cemeteries, and alas crossing a bridge mooring the dusk water river, the trailhead for the Cleaves Coves was found. Almost by blind chance, as there were no markers, I was going off strictly geographical judgement, like peering down on the wayfaring vessel from above with the birds. Traipsing through the narrow Pine plantation rows, towards the waterfall, I sunk my cleated boots into the roots and soil and scaled down into a ravine, and was then alerted by another planter of one of the three cave mouths immediately behind our steps. A narrow by arched roof passage bearing resemblance of the yoni. Now, the caves were once known as the Elfhame o’ the Blair, cognate with the Norse Alf-heim, and on Samhain, the elves would ride out of the cove depths on mice sized horses, yellow hair tied back in knotwork. Under toadstools they drank wine. Hemlock poison slothed over their arrows, shot by bows made from ribs of unbabtised babies, who were buried in secret glens and shaws. I did NOT see any of these elves to my dismay, but the stoney caverns are a frequent haunt of cave spiders, bats, moths, and foxes, of only their ghosts could I detect. Traversing the innards of the caves, we crawled through the passageways with dim candlelight, trying not to be skullfucked by the now low roofs. The tunnels are washed out and have been left with two astonishing high ceiling courts, which bled sunlight into its keep. Remnants of stalactites and stalagmites which were newly forming from older damaged ones hung and grew on ever surface, and mineral stones gave the walls the colors of crystal lungs. Reaching now a pillar of stone in where a pummeling of flood would have carved its circular passage around it, the cave paths proved to be an artistic maze under the known world. There we sat, tobacco again filled the empty space with a musky incense. I offered of my stag skull to the cave sprites, and impromptu overtones were sung in the moist cavities. A silence thereafter, and we pried some of the impenetrable exits of the cave, perhaps the recluse of the spiders and mice. Emerging to a forest filled with the aromas of woodsmoke from a homestead nearby, the sun only now began its setting course, and with a light mist, creating that ethereal ‘not there’ horizon that so often occurs in these parts.

Taking leave from the country and fording back to the coast in awe of the experience, another hour on and we came to the ferry ports, leaving the car and making a small walk up a cliff overlooking the town, we were quickly met with the Granny Kempock stone, mythically believe to be an old altar to Baal, and bound up with witchraft, the latter of which is not written on the plaque. More modernly remembered for it’s seafarers importance as they would circle the obelisk ‘singing weird songs’ to ensure a good sail.

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6 thoughts on “Sagas of the Inner Hebrides: Dunoon to Ayrshire and Kilwinning

  1. Indeed, caves are powerful. An indigenous rite of passage – especially if a youth demonstrated ‘magic’ potential – was to be taken to certain caves. Access to one particular cave meant climbing down a dangerous ravine to the opening, then crawling into unknown depths on hands and kness and through some parts snake-sliding on belly for many metres, until finally making it to a cavernous underground cathedral. Very basic fire stick the only lighting, while it lasted.
    No food, fasted state. Darker than dark. Indeterminate period of time. The Spirits make themselves known. Very known.
    The youth emerges as a man – a magic man.
    Yes, caves have special qualities.

    • Such as I would imagine the depths of the ocean. Cryptic and unfamiliar places where the instinct is so far harkened back to ensure the survival, awe in purest forms. Odin bore through the mountain to obtain the mead. The qualities of light and sound seem to be far removed from the above ground kind. These grottoes are for the sitting out, and communion with Them.

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