Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Day of Access: Taynish

The third in this Autumn's program of Day of Access events is a partnership between Taynish NNR and Carr Gomm (Oban). 

The woods at Taynish are one of the largest deciduous, oak woodlands in Scotland. Oak, birch, and alder host a rich flora of mosses and liverworts, lichens and ferns.

When we first discussed the project with Heather, a warden at Taynish, she sent me this photograph taken from the highest point in the reserve, Bàrr Mor, a ridge whose name translates as Big Crest. Although the hill is relatively low it offers a panoramic view. In particular, it gives an impression of islands dotted among, or broken off, peninsulas, so characteristic of this passage of landscape. You can see another photo here.


Like the islands and lochs it overlooks, Bàrr Mor ridge follows the SW–NE fault line that defines the region, as if so many fingers were dipping into the sea. 

In preparation for the event I mapped the geological lines of the land and sea lochs it defines, but re-envisaging the geography using a circle, or conspectus. This is a poetic form that I devised a decade ago, as a localist version of the visual poem. 

Conspectus arose from a frustration that my disability, ME, prevented me walking over and through hilly landscapes. I loved to be in wild places, but my experience of them was bittersweet. Walks triggered relapses and episodes of pain. Although Day of Access supports all kind of disability and limit, the projects originates in these experiences of chronic fatigue and relapse.

I found myself, sat on a hillock, an OS map in my hand, knowing I couldn't walk any further, trying to find a new way to belong in the landscape. I began to identify the various summits that surrounded me, picking them out by name. Although I was experiencing distance, altitude, and inaccessibility, from a static viewpoint, I could feel an imaginative connection to the landscape. 

my mind goes

as far as my eyes

let it


my eyes go

as far as my mind

lets them


my legs don’t go

far but I have

eyes and a mind

Later, on a tour of Scotland called the road north – including visits to Luing, Dunadd, Kilmartin, and Achnabrek, in this region – I made a compass rubber stamp and began to plot the names – the image above shows a conspectus from Tarskavaig, on Skye. From these sketches of hills and islands, which lotted them as dots and names, there came the idea of a conspectus.

These ideas were confirmed when we visited duns and Neolithic sites. We kept finding – or imagining – alignments, and it was as if the small knowes and hillocks such sites occupy – notably Dunadd and St Fillans Hill – embodied an analysis of landscape. Rather than mountain culture being defined by climbing to the highest point, we found these tumps and mounds offered themselves as a kind of found architecture. The views, and these experience of alignment, defined the conspectus as part of a forgotten cultural tradition in which belonging was defined differently.

This conspectus is an example from a series made for the Isle of Skye, commissioned by Emma Nicolson, for Atlas Arts. It notates the view from one of Scotland's most famous myths-poetic landmarks, Dun Scaitch, on Skye.

on conspectus


conspectus are visual poems composed 

from the names of hills


the define a circular view 

from a single location




conspectus renew the poetics of viewing




conspectus gather names 

so that we can collect their meanings




conspectus help to produce an awareness 

of past, present, and future ecologies




conspectus offer the possibility 

of beginning to know where we are




conspectus is a single point connecting

to a broad field of hills and mountains




the conspectus is a place to gaze 

at the landscape; a viewpoint 

where the terrain opens itself 

to the viewer; where the eye threads 

in and out of the circle of hills; 

where place-names may suggest 

a narrative




circling birds are one of

nature’s conspectus




conspectus are a product 

of disability poetics, but

they benefit everyone



In the conspectus for Bàrr Mor, I added the names of the islands in grey, as they embody the poetics of this landscape. They remind me of Celtic monks in beehive huts and the perilous crossing of Corryvreckan in I know Where I'm Going.

The size of the hill names don’t represent their actual heights, rather they give an impression of how they appear from the viewpoint itself. While a conspectus has the appearance of an objective map, it’s really a subjective notation of what the eyes sees. As such it only works from a single outlook. It's an encouragement to sit for a while and consider where you are, read the names, and reflect on the geology, ecology, and poetry of a place.



This isn't a landscape of mountains, apart from the stacked names are stacked on Jura. Although the Taynish hills are low, they still offer a way to feel where have entered time and space, stood on the crest of Bàrr Mor.

After the event we'll add some more images of the landscape.

Place-name translations
Cnoc Leis, Pen Knock
Cnoc an t-Samlaidh, ?

Eilean Dubh, Dark Isle

Bàrr na h-Iolaire, Eagle’s Tor

Isle of Jura, Deer Isle


the hills of Jura


Beinn Bhreac, Speckled Ben

Beinn Breac, Speckled Ben

Beinn an Òir, The Gold Ben

Beinn a’ Chaolais, The Narrows Ben

Glas Bheinn, Greenish Ben

Dubh Bheinn, Dark Ben



Dùn Mòr, Big Hill-fort

Islay, In-two Island
Beinn Bheigier, The Vicar’s Ben

Bàrr Thormaid, Thormaid’s Top

Druim Buidhe, Yellowish Ridge
Isle of Danna, Dane’s Island
Taynish Island, High Headland Island

Eilean Loain, Pack-of-hounds Isle

Cnoc na Mòine, The Bog Knock
Cruach Lusach, Herbaceous Stack
An Stùchd, The Pinnacle

Thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund, Lapidus Scotland, and Paths for All, for making this event possible.

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