a fool’s mind by Alec Finlay

Gutter_15_Cover_artwork_FINAL_HIres.270a fool’s mind was published in Gutter 15 (Autumn 2016).  Alec Finlay (1966- ), poet and artist, has published over thirty books and blogs at alecfinlay.com


I could scatter

the clouds over

Monadh Ruadh


blow the thistle-

down off Tom



shine every last leaf

on the birches of

Coire nan Craobh-bheithe


pluck you a flake

of sharp flint

from Blar-nan-Saighead


plait you the tale

of a crepuscular tiger

in Fluich Adagan


look away if you

get a rise out

of Clach a’ Bhodaich


wrap the stone

with new wool

by Allt nan Cuigeal


warm the White Calf

in the snows

of The Brown Cow


gather the rose

from the fold

of Allt Fileachaidh


carry you safe

over the Water



find where hazel grow

by the fleet-water

of Allt Challa


but mending a fool’s

mind’s something

I cannot do


Alec Finlay

The place-names are all from The Cairngorms: Tom Chluaran, the hillock of the thistles, on the lower slopes of Sròn Dubh, the black snout. Coire nan Craobh- bheithe, the corrie of the birches, west of Lochnagar. Blar-nan-Saighead, (now Blar- nan-Saighde on OS maps), the arrows moss, in Glen Feshie. Fluich-adagan (correct spelling Fliuch-adagan), the wetted rush-stooks, also in Glen Feshie. Clach a’ Bhodaich, the stone of the old man, or, more earthily, the old-man’s pintle, a ruined farm named for the crag above it, which have may been associated with fairies, spectres, or warlocks. Allt nan Cuigeal is the distaff burn, which flows into the Pollagach Burn. Distaffs are wood spindles for winding wool onto, though Peter Drummond notes that Edward Dwelly gives the Gaelic guigeal as a distaff hand-rock, in his Dictionary. The Brown Cow’s White Calf is a long-lasting snow wreath in the corrie of Brown Cow Hill. Allt Fileachaidh is the pleat burn, or burn of the fold, possibly referring to the bending corrie beneath Creag na Slabhraidh, the little rocky hill of a chain, in upper Glen Muick. The Water Splash is where the road crosses Allt a’ Mhadaidh-allaidh, the wolf burn, in Glen Lui. Allt Challa, the fleet burn, is named for its fast flowing water, or the Gaelic caltainn, hazel tree, or, relating it to the house, Invercauld; Macdonald suggests Invercauld is the confluence of the narrow part of the strath, from Inver Caoil. The Allt Challa rises on Craig Leek, the rockslab crag, and flows to the Dee.

Bibliography: William Alexander: The Place-Names of Aberdeenshire; Peter Drummond: email to AF; Richard Perry: In the High Grampian; Andrew Schelling: Love and The Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual & Erotic Longing; Adam Watson: The Place Names of Upper Deeside

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