Death to the Haddingtonshire Rhymer


Butterdean Wood.

Stapled to a beech

Of seventy years growth

Is a poem

Typed and laminated

With a request




Which defies me

To take it down

For surely,


Will come along

Who enjoys shit poetry

More than tree trunks


It has stared me down

For several months

But now

As a shit poet myself

I can be bolder

Bad poetry is for its creators

Becomes good only by acclaim


The beech tree, song thrush

Grass of parnassus, wood rush

Badger, long tailed tit

Have no need of your shit

The best bit

of lit crit

I have ever done

Relieves the tree of its burden

And places it

In The Bin Provided

for the turds

Of insensitive visitors


So blank versers, rhymers

Concrete poets and haikuists

Iambic pentameter merchants

Follow the Country Code



‘And do not tell it to the trees

Because the trees dont need to know ‘


Does the Sublime have a Sense of humour?

Does the Sublime have a sense of humour?

Irreverence seems to have dropped out of our idea of nature with the arrival of the sublime. All those awesome views and stuff..

One of my regular journeys is up the West coast mainline crossing the Border and up past Beattock , where just before Crawford,  on the hills to the east is a shelter plantation shaped like an inverted penis.. or at least the standard teenage representation of one..

This can readily be tested when you point it out to to a representative teen , as they will begin sniggering- if they have not already clocked it.. I believe groups off them enliven interminable school bus trips by trying to get the first spot in. ( so to speak)..


After I had passed by a few times myself I moved from my initial belief that this was obviously a random accident – shelter belts often being long and pointy (for obvious reasons),  with a couple of knobbly bits at the end ( for less obvious ones- any ideas out there?) –  to the sense that we may be looking at some gigantic silvicultural  piece of graffiti which in years to come we may wish to preserve like the Cerne Abbas giant..

If you spend your winter living in a damp caravan in the middle of nowhere planting trees for minimum wage I think you earn the right to inscribe a giant coniferous penis on the Southern Uplands for posterity.

Do the Hills look less sublime with knob gags drawn on them?

Probably ..Faced with this question  on a visit to Cerne Giant and a glorious vista of the Paps of Jura I can remember a real dilemna over whether it was ok to snigger or not..

Irreverence is also inhibited by  other considerations – one it might somehow damage Nature, and that it might reduce my normal watchfulness and let it damage me. Both of These could be folky superstition or traces of the Awe of the Sublime. Or of the decay of practical connection to the Land (or Nature,  as I nearly said).

Irreverence is kind of engagement , albeit a rather twisted one. It is about demonstrating that we don’t want to take things too seriously , that we are a bit oppressed by what is expected of us , and we are trying to subvert that.

I saw some Airt in the Ingleby Gallery that seemed to fit this ( fittingly given its links to sly monumental joker Ian Hamilton Findlay) . Now, I confess to knowing nada about this guy, but he goes out into scenic places and creates explosions ,or puts incongruously shaped park benches in=won and has his wee-gee pals sit on them. Then takes high definition photos of them , very reminiscent of po-faced retro-sublimicist Thomas Joshua Cooper.. and then sells them at six hundred quid a pop.. Youve go to admire that chutzpah.. and yes LOL !

So onto my own walk of shame- acts of environmental irreverence (and I notice all of these involved a sense of agency in a social situation, and a sense of playfulness towards the formula)

1/ I ate many of the specimens I was supposed to identify on ecology field trips – leading to gaps in my knowledge of British vegetational communities. I saw it as an early protest against phytosociology..

2/ I removed all of the poems of the Haddingtonshire Rhymer from the trees of Butterdean Wood and placed them in the dog poop bin. And then wrote a poem about it.

3, I used a hollow oak tree in Butterdean Wood as a secret romantic post box – which worked less well as a romantic device because my intended amour couldnt find it and spent her afternoon wandering despondently in the mud.. Ardour dampening..

4.I leave small pointy piles of pebbles along boundary walls and pretend they are Andy Goldworthy installations ( but he may well do the same thing)

5. I make up exagerrated stories about our wildlife

The problem with irreverence though is when it leaves a permanent trace.. I suppose if I lived in Crawford I might get fed up opening my curtains each morning to a view of a 300m long penis..

But if did I suppose I could get some mates and a chainsaw and do something about it..




Many a hand has scaled the grand

old face of the plateau

Some belong to strangers;

And some to folk we know

The Meat Puppets, Plateau, from MeatPuppets2

Place and mind may interpenetrate until the nature of both is altered..

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

At a point on our diagonal journey up the ridge the underfoot changes, the heather tangle shrinks back and is replaced by a short sward – heath, moss, lichen, sprays of tiny plants and many, many stones. Like the litter of a giant lithological (rock) festival..

We are in the cloud and the strange hollow presence of the atmosphere has a room- like feel. Distant plover calls are like the murmurs of sleeping children. The plateaux denizens – leveret, ptarmigan, dotterel – crouch tight against intruders. It gives me pleasure that I can find them – but then I don’t see the many that will  have evaded me. My friend points out that our frozen hen ptarmigan has camoflague so exact it mimics the disruptive mosses that break up the grey- brown sward..  But she blinked and I saw the beadiness in her eye.

We drift in and out of pockets of humidity within the cloud. I expect sweaty, bulky looking guys in white towels to wander out of the screes. But this doesn’t happen.

We are here for a June jubilee – a jaunt back into the white world, a nostalgic reminder of previous interpenetrations – near death exhilaration on his part (on the cliffs to our left), workplace familiarity on mine (on the grouse moors to our right). It does get in your head though, this place. And it never leaves. Feels like you are back in your old room.

Not much appears to link Nan Shepherd, Doric feminist and doyen of phenomenological psychogeography  championed by Robert McFarlane), and The Meat Puppets, Arizonan cowpunk pioneers, progenitors of grunge ( championed by Kurt Cobain) , but they both have their plateaux and an agreement that they are clearly in A Place. Which may seem obvious but also feels really significant up here.

I am on the summit of Lochnagar where we wander between invisible featureless munros,  rolling up and down like downs, and  I am connecting my experience to near identical patches of land thirty miles north on the Cairngorm and twenty miles east to the Mounth. This I feel I would not do on other Scottish mountains – which after all are supposed to be individual enough to make us want to scale them. All. Seperately. And to memorize our ascents..

Nan’s writings about the Cairngorms have (often) a splendid vagueness about the where and when, contrasted with an exactness in describing the details of what she say and felt.

‘ There’s nothing on the top’ , as the Meat Puppets have it, on their plateau – which I am guessing is those Colorado Badlands that surround the Grand Canyon – or at least things are less spectacular than we might expect in the absence of  towering Mordor like summits. There is more opportunity to pay attention to detail then.

I find these things amongst the rocks. I am beginning to get used to papping flora and taking the pics back to the field guides. At home I confirm I have a trailing azalea , as described on Lochnagar by Professor Balfour in August 1847 (where it was growing beside a large snow patch)  and the fruticose mountain lichen Stereocaulon vesuvianum, named for its resemblence to volcanic smoke,  here erupting from a small piece of frost- shattered granite.

I also reflect on the glacier-squashed nature of this land . We are at the south edge of it – here because of a coincidence of height, but stretching northward with a carpet of similar plants, animals and vistas into the words tundra and north, which we can’t reach so easily on a quick day trip. I imagine it rolling forth – dissected, undulating, but for its resident flora and fauna contiguous and consistent to the melting white spaces around the Pole.  And then we nip off home for our tea.