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Northlands Festival 2001

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Click Here For Pictures of the 2000 Festival

Swanson Gallery, Thurso

Ian Scott Exhibition

The Vent

"Northern Sea, Northern Sky"

Northlands Festival 2001 Writing Competition

 Adult Shortlist
Winner:  Kirk Saunders "View from the point"  Second Ian Giles "Northern Page"  Third Alison Chin "Welding: North Sea Oil Fields"
Also Shortlisted:
Isabel Rogers  "Moving North"
Greg Dawson Allen  "Anna Moiresdan's Saga"
Kathleen Irvine  "The Loss of the E16"
Linda Gillard  "Reunion - Plocropol, Isle of Harris"
Nina Curle  "Winter Storm"
R.M. Membury  "The North Sea"
Kirk Saunders  "Sea Cliff"  &  "Grey Day"
Anita Hanggi  "Magic Sea"


View from the Point
The terns have returned
to Sgeir an Eitach as every Summer
I watch them
dagger the air between me and Morvern

Ben has his head in a rabbit hole
hopelessly hopeful and so I wait
for time to turn, bright mornings
come leaping from the dark

Water rising, the skin of the sea
is twitching for a storm
my collie is a dream dog
in the closing night
hurtling toward me when I call

Kirk Saunders


Northern Page
Grey reflecting grey
ink black horizon divides
pages of sea and sky
where gulls write flight paths
a creel boat underlines
with a straight line to port

Ian Giles


Welding: North Sea Oil Fields
Metal burns through leather
stretched across the strength
of hands annealed by flame.
Acetylene fumes furrow a brow
moulded in protecting mask.
Steel toe'd and scaffold-sure
amidst the maze of decks & pipes,
creating unity from butt to butt,
the art of fusion, purge of purity,
forge a new and strict geometry
solemn in a northern sky…
where geese meet, depart
and stream together.

geometry of rig and geese
gloss of steel and feather
rigid, fluid, static, fly……

Alison Chin


Moving North

I moved in the short summertime,
A patchwork-prejudice heavy quilt
Warming southern friends' farewell guilt,
But found the saltpanned season rejoicing
In its concentration. Night, short-changed
And spendthrift, blew a wolf's-howl through the dark.
It ranged the hills for an escape,
Harried home by three a.m. sunrise.

Huskies, I was told, darkly. New neighbours.
Noisy. I practised an also-new neighbour smile,
Retreating to my open hill, where butterflies
Made ripe grasses sparkle in a complex
Heat-haze choreography.

By midnight an indigo ooze had soaked
Westwards: potent, tempting hungry bats
To fly and fill their bellies against an unseen racing sun.
Loosed again, that alien cry, so mournful,
Flooded the glen in sorrow, dreaming of a world
Of crisp white ice and frozen speed; she sang
To make her siblings bleed and long
For home, where snow cuts clean through memory.

Who in prison has not cried, pleading with starlight
For a share of night's comfort - soft matt ink
To draw away your knotted pain and tie it
On the world's far side, baked dry
By someone else's noon?
I listened as we turned - helpless - in space
Until dawn's first claw fingered the horizon,
Scrambling round the planet once again.

Isabel Rogers

Anna Moiresdan's Saga
A dawn sky sliced a serrated edge across the Pentland sea
when Anna asked her husband why he's never at home,
where the money goes,
and what she must do to douse the fire in his belly
and kindle the fire in his heart. Even demanded
to know why the centre of the bed
is now always cold and clean.

Some questions should never be asked.

But, was it the whisky in him
or the wanting in her, to know
where he was going befor the day began?

Whether he was meant to hear or not
the question remained unanswered, instead
croached and emptied his throat over harbour flags
in a chorus of grunts and curses from other fishermen
looking through half-shut eyes at idle sail-cloth.

Together the village rowed out on a voyage that morning.

Aegir and Ran stretched in beds of dragon-ship staves
and their 9 daughters galloped as waves
unbridled and unfettered from Hlesey's shores.

Men's lines were cast for cod. Ran cast her net for gold
and drowning men
tightly clutched at torn wood
embraced by 9 white maidens stealing husbands from wives
and manhood from boys.

The mourners mourned for 9 days over empty graves
whilst the women mullached and claiked
about the island bride
who left the silver coin outside her stocking
on the May morning of marriage because it was not her way.

Only when Anna stood between the salt water
of tears and tide,
on the days of growling sky and lan'sea
in the eem alone she could pray in peace
with all the innocence
of an unbeliever in old wives tales.

The 9 daughters of Ran smelt ale brewing,
lifted their veils and slipped naked from white robes/

By the flame of corpse-candles and lamp light
the widows wished for the safe passage of ghosts to the funeral feast.

Greg Dawson Allen

The Loss of the E16
Said the boy, 'Mother, tell me of my hero father.'

Three times the breaking surf rattled the grey stones on Ackergill's shore. At length the words came.

'Viking blood surged through his veins. For nine and twenty years his forebears called him to venture on these impatient waves.'

The salt wind banshees shrieked about the Tower, rasping its ancient stones.

'He knew his dynasty, he knew his destiny. When the Great War came, the waiting time was ended. He would battle on these surging seas.'
'An earl and a warrior, he sailed from Northumbria, scornful of death. Thirty-one men, like the oarsmen of old, guided with stealth their fighting ship, a great steel sea monster, creeping towards the enemy.'

Salt spray spat in their faces and the high winds tore the words from their mouths.

'Tell me of his long ship, Mother. Did it creak and roll and pitch among the surging waves?'

'Vast and unlovely, periscope for figurehead, it creaked and rolled and pitched and dived beneath the surging waves. Deep down to where all is black and silent. Dangers are unseen, and unseen they be ever more dangerous.'

Ice-hard rain flung from the vast grey sky, harled Ackergill's narrow windows white.

'Did he fear his enemy, Mother?'

'His only fear was their victory. He knew we shall all die; that the only thing that does not die is the reputation we leave behind.'

Bent-backed rowans stripped bare by the wind strained over the dykes; shaking, grief-stricken.

'How did his end come, Mother?'
'Calamitous, sudden and furious. Fire amid water. Furnace hot and glacier cold. Deafening explosion and absolute silence. An instant that lasted a thousand years. Then down, down, down to the bottom of the ocean, a place of bitter cold and unending night, to their eternal rest.'

Circling sea birds wailed, inconsolable in the darkening sky.

'Did he think of us, Mother, as he sank beneath the sea?'
'He thought of the Northlands bullied by the elements, he thought of its people spirited and free. His heart ached for his son never to be seen.'

Blue-black clouds streamed across an indifferent blood-red moon.

'And what of me, Mother? What is my destiny?'
'If Freya calls, you will answer. The sorrow of it may cripple me but I shall live and die proud of my hero son.'

Unnoticed, the dark form of a seal rolled from a nearby rock and vanished beneath the glossy black canopy of ocean.

Kathleen Irvine

Reunion - Plocropol, Isle of Harris
Sleeping with the sea
on the sea
rising and falling with the waves
carried far out into the darkness
sheltered in the braod hollow of his back

I am wrecked
ship-wrecked, shattered
clinging, battered
to a spar
my hand clasping the hull of his ribs as they
rise and fall
with the surge of the sea
the swell of his breath

The sea snarls hungry at my door
beyond the slap and spatter of wind-flung spray
a gale groans at my window.

The sea rolls him over, belly-up
an arm flails
heavy, like a piece of timber
pinning me against the mattress
I surface
take his bony hand
dead-weight heavy
touch rough fingertips scoured by mountainsides
knuckles hard and smooth as pebbles
my aching head pillowed on the indolent, undulating muscle of his arm

A sigh
a sussuration of seething foam as the waves retreat
A muffled rhythmic thud
my blood?
his heart?
both perhaps
in unison

I am safe
for one night at least
safe, moored to this man.

Linda Gillard

Winter Storm
windswept seascape;
grey tongues of waves lash out
at stubborn rocky shores unmoved
by rage.

Wild sky,
the sea's slate twin,
whose knif-sharp winds shape and
serve to enhance the winter's stark

Nina Curle

The North Sea
She will whisper softly
when you smile
and bathe in the reflected sun
that darts off her back.
But smile too much and take ease
at your peril
She will beat you down
until you gain respect.
She'll sing like a banshee
above the wind
and spit salty tears in your face.
She'll heave her great body
to create the swell,
as fear threatens to spew forth
from the reckless mouths
of those who demand a life out there.
To those who beg and come
with masts bowed,
vessels opened up for sacrifice,
she'll let you flow along her pumping veins
her rhythm fore and aft
will gently remind - you go at her grace.
No-one rules her though she toys
with the moon
and also lets him toy with her emotions
before blotting him out in another monthly fury.
Then she'll turn to the wind to mop her brow
while giving birth to another maelstrom.
Oil fed fires serve as rubies
in her necklace to the north,
belted at the firth
she wears the land with pride.
Only those tied to the sea
even tenuously, know the deep beauty within.
No matter how far inland, you think
you've escaped her
she'll catch you unawares,
smells, sounds will tug at your umbilical
and every now and again she'll reel you
back in.

R.M. Membury

Sea Cliff
Feet study
The subtleties of stone to swing
My centre on a mica flake

Ocean and cliff
Sing in close harmony
Breakers erode
Rock and my resolve

If I did not move now
I never would but bones lock
Against the stone
Heartbeat of the cliff
Become my own

Kirk Saunders

Grey Day
Sky and shore
melt into the haar
and cries of unseen gulls
fade until the only sound
is the sussuration of the tide

Then round a headland
like a trumpet blast the huge
intrusion of the Calmac ferry
flouncing up the Firth of Lorne
like a courtesan in a nunnery.

Kirk Saunders

Magic Sea
Far North
Beyond the lighthouse
There is a patch of Magic Sea.
I know, because one day
It turned into a shirt for me,
And mischievous waves close by
Suddenly displayed the colours
Of your smile.

Anita Hanggi

12-18 Shortlist

Winner:  Ruth Cameron  "Waiting For Captain Corelli"  Second Abigail M Hughes  "Windy Caithness"  Joint Third Iain Jones  "My County"  & Kai Henderson "Northern Sea, Northern Sky"

Also Shortlisted:
Gail Mackintosh  "Whispers"
Ross Garner  "Northern Sea, Northern Sky"
Graham Shepherd  "Northern Sea, Northern Sky"
Deborah Cumming  "Stormy Caithness"
Natalie Hodgson  "Northern Sea, Northern Sky"
Alison Gray  "Northern Sea, Northern Sky"
Amy Todd  "Where Sky and Water Meet"


Waiting for Captain Corelli

I sat on the beach,
my eyes closed,
waiting for Captain Corelli
The sun was warm for September,
but the water of the North Atlantic was cold up to my ankles,
and Taransay looked brown on the horizon.

Ruth Cameron


Windy Caithness

The wind whistles through the swaying leaves
Of many trees and shrubs.
All the birds who sat within,
Now fly away dumbfounded.

The gust shakes lamp-posts,
And steals people's hats.
Angry gates and doors slam
And kites dance in the sky.

The beach is a playground
for Wind and his friends,
He pushes the waves,
To tickle the sands.

He scatters the grass seeds
That grow on the dunes
And they play there all day
While Wind whistles his tunes.

Abigail M Hughes


My County

Cold, cloudy Caithness, is my County
I love its hills and its sea
So rough and grey
Crashing against the rugged shore.

Wet, Windy Wick, it's my town
Falling apart before my eyes
Wick Project trying to help
But Thurso gets it all.

Super, scoring Scorries, are my team
They're not doing all that well
Like the birds they are called after
They scavenge help where they can

Iain Jones


Northern Sea, Northern Sky

Two grey walls, encircling the world,
Struggling to hold it together.
The mix of shades that hits the eye,
Can almost be seen as one.
The contrast of rocks, brutal and firm,
To the soft and soothing clouds that pass us by,
That lead us to see these walls meet
At the edge of the earth, a boundary that we cannot pass.
A dagger cuts a slit through the sky
And its blade of light pierces the calm
As a welcomed beacon, rare but true.
But sadly it fades away, in the constantly changing
World of grey, as its beauty reaches the mind,
Confusing and misleading.
The ocean is dead, but yet seems so alive
Showing birds how to fly and others how to crawl.
These creatures are part of the sound that surrounds,
Frantically darting from white to black,
Relentlessly moving like the walls
That encircle the world.
One feels out of place, an intruder
Upon a painting meant to be undisturbed,
But is open for all who wish to gaze at it.
In self-defence, the hammer of nature slams down,
Sentencing its unwanted guests, to a violent display
Of wind and water. Like giants, these two show us
How mere and weak we are,
Contrary of how powerful and strong
We imagine ourselves to be.
Controlled by these barriers, that have their own minds,
And show us how to be.
For if not for them, our abode would be lost,
yet theirs would be free from our envious eyes,
These two walls, that encircle the world.

Kai Henderson



I sit staring at the screen,
Fingers poised above the keys,
Mind grasping for the words
Watching as inspiration flees.

The I close my eyes and ears,
To the normal boring screen,
And open my mind and heart,
To the whispers of the sea.

Hold my breath as the waves come in,
Let it out as the waves retreat,
Can taste the salt on every crest,
and feel soft sand beneath my feet.

Open my eyes to this other scene,
The sky wrapped in a night-time cloak,
and watch the sea's dark fingers creep,
up the sides of the moon afloat.

The wind begins to whip and grasp,
Dragging my thoughts across the waves,
Dipping into the dark green troughs,
Giving me glimpses of watery graves.

A glitter on the cloth of green,
A reflection of a diamond star,
We come upon a shore unseen,
My thoughts now scattered wide and far.

Here the waves don't crawl or lap,
Whites horses writhing in the froth,
Here white hooves crash on the rocks,
And boiling sea reveals her wroth.

Above the thundering, crashing sea,
The glowering sky begins to growl,
And in answer to this challenge,
A darkening bank of clouds unfurl.

There are shafts of lightning slicing down,
And out rolls the thunder to growl at the sea,
But these pictures are drifting, floating away,
And left in this darkness there is only me.

I open my eyes,
At the still blank screen
And listen,
As the whispers fade into a dream

Gail Mackintosh

Northern Sea, Northern Sky

The sea is a dangerous place, every fisherman knows that. And it is with one of those fishermen that our story begins. His name was Andrew MacDonald, and he was the bravest of his breed. At times too brave, for one night in December 1956, a storm was brewing.
Andrew knew it was coming, he could always tell when they were to come, but he was afraid of nothing nature could throw at him.
His crew thought differently though. They would not go out that night, their lives would be spared…
Andrew held his hood in place as he darted about the ship, making sure everything was fixed to the floor. Alone, and at sea, he was having the time of his life.
The pouring rain bounced off the deck, filling the air with what sounded like drums. Andrew ran through this and into the cabin, pulling his hood down as he did so.
It was only 3:30, and yet the sky was already darker than the darkest night.
Andrew gasped as a streak of lightning illuminated the sky. He watched in amazement as it dance across the clouds, its fiery fingers reaching off into infinity.
He shook his head to clear it, this was no time for staring at the sky. Pulling up his hood, he made too haul the fish in, but he never made it.
The ship stopped suddenly as it hit a rock. At the same instant a massive wave crashed onto the deck and threw the fisherman backwards and down into the gloomy deep…

Hamish MacDonald watched the northern lights through blurred eyes. Tears streamed down his face and he found himself unable to look at anyone else.
A comforting hand landed on his shoulder.
"This is the place?"
Hamish nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Thank-you, Captain," he said, picking up the buoy. On its side was written the words, In memory of Andrew MacDonald, who died doing what he did best. He tossed it overboard, then threw the weight at the other end in as well. "Goodbye Father…" he whispered.
"How old were you when he died?" asked the Captain.
"Eight" Hamish whispered.
The Captain nodded, stroking his beard thoughtfully, "Twenty-eight years ago, then?"
Hamish nodded.
"Best be getting back."
Again, Hamish nodded.

Yvonne MacDonald stood on the deck of the ship, leaning against the ship's cabin. "Have you found it?" she asked, as the diver climbed up the ladder back on to the ship.
He nodded and passed the brass plate to her.
Yvonne brushed the seaweed off it and held it up to the light. "The MacDonald" she whispered, reading the words on the plate.
"Not much left of the boat itself, I'm afraid…"
Yvonne looked at the man, then at the buoy, bobbing up and down on the waves beside the boat. "That's ok…this is all I wanted."
The diver nodded and started to take off his diving gear as gentle drops of rain started to bounce quickly off the deck…

Ross Garner

Northern Sea, Northern Sky

In Caithness you could hear the rough blue sea
hitting the rocks.

Up on the sky the stormy black clouds
move away from the town.

Down on the ground the dark green grass
is swaying back and forth.

At night the black scary sky comes
to haunt the daylight.

After rain the first colour of the rainbow
comes up on the sky.

When travelling to another place in the car
Looking out you can see the thick muddy
parks and fields.

Graham Shepherd

Stormy Caithness

Under the grey clouds
of the dark, wet sky,
the cold sea crashing and
lashing at the rocks.

Clawing at the beach
with dark, bubbly water
wind whistling and beating hard
making waves and white horses.

Fishing ships being swayed
and pushed by the current,
Hills, a village and animals
Huddling close for warmth and shelter.

The cliffs stand high
looking down to the stormy sea
which slowly creeps up
with lashing waves.

Deborah Cumming

Northern Sea, Northern Sky

Snow sprinkled mountains
Brought to life by the sunset skies,
Rule over their kingdom of forests and farms
Blankets of golden buttercups rest on open fields
The world is still, except for the bickering birds.

Ferocious waves hurl themselves at craggy rocks.
Foam and froth is catapulted into the crisp sea air
Like debris from a white hot volcano
Sea birds scream and swoop in the kaleidoscope skies
Calling to the heavens.

The beach is hushed
A never ending whisper
Of the shores stroking the shingle
Soothes the cliff tops
Into a slumber.

Natalie Hodgson

Northern Sea, Northern Sky

The white crisp sea
Bubbled along the sandy beach
Frothing and swaying in the midnight moon

The moon shimmered on the cool, calm sea
Leaving a layer of silver on the water's surface

The wind blew and the water bobbed up and down
As if it were dancing.

Alison Gray

Where Sky and Water Meet

The Night was dark, with a high wind. A young man watched alone on the cliffs.

Oblivious of the cold he scanned the skies, his eyes eager. Blue eyes, they were. Deeply shadowed. But with a light in them: one star reflected there in the clear, dark blueness. Eyes formed to gaze at the stars, discover the wonders of the night sky, marvel at the beauty of the heavens.

He had come to see the stars, but little he saw of them, for clouds were racing across the sky and the air around him was heavy with mist. At length the bitter wind had its effect, and, drawing his cloak more tightly around him, he prepared to depart.

The sea was wild that night: roaring and wailing as it clawed the cliffs like a great beast. And as he turned something caught his eye. Was there someone there, on the rocks, clinging just out of reach of the huge, pounding waves?

He ran closer. And he saw that there was, indeed: it was a girl on the spray-drenched rocks, with long hair that blew about her as she clung. And he shouted to her, loud and clear over the wind he shouted, but she answered never a word, only stretched out her arms to him as though pleading for help.

He ran faster. How had she come there, stranded on the rocks in the middle of the night? Why didn't she answer?

He drew closer. He saw her face upturned to him, pale in the darkness, her hair billowing out around her. Then something gripped him suddenly, and he stared. Could it be? Could it be a sea maiden?

Yes, it was. It was one of the sea people of whom he had heard stories told. She must be trapped on the rocks and afraid to dive into the turbulent waters lest she be caught up and dashed to pieces against the cliff.

They were mute, these people, they could not speak with human voices. They spoke with their eyes, his old grandmother had once said, and that statement had puzzled him sorely as a small boy. How could anyone speak with their eyes?

But the waves were groping higher with every passing moment. He scrambled down the steep slope and made his way in the darkness over the wet, slippery rocks. He reached her at last, and, lifting her in his strong arms, made his way back with slow and careful steps, battered though he was by the rough wind and the stinging salt spray.

They reached at last the safety of higher ground, and he released her. He saw her clearly now for the first time. She had the dreaming green eyes of the sea-people: deep and wild and restless they were. But softer, now, as she thanked him for saving her in the only way she could: with a smile.

And suddenly he understood what his grandmother had meant.

Amy Todd

Under 12 Shortlist
Winner:  Gina Membury "Northern Skies"  Second Fergus McGribben  "Northern Sky Poem"  Third Julie Calder  "Sea Shells"
Robert Spence  "Northern Sky"
Sean Buchan  "The Northern Sky"
Kimberley Smith  "Selling Sea Shells"
John Ross  "Northern Sky"
Ailsa Cowie  "Winter's Night"
Stacey Sutherland  "Blue Sea"  & "Dark Sky"


Northern Skies

I fly these northern skies alone,
screeching for the lost souls
the sea has stolen from the land
My wings alone sketch across
these grey skies.
Are they grey with troubles of their own?
Drifting down to a quiet shore,
I feast on an oyster.
I dream of when I will
see my friends dining,
off an oil platform's waste,
served out on the waves.
A flutter of wings in the distance
catches my eye.
I don't think,
I'll be lonely anymore
Together we will pain the skies
looking for a northern crag.

Gina S. Membury


Northern Sky Poem

Clouds floating by,
Moving about in the sky,
Taking form of a sheep,
Far away from Bo Peep,
Wolves chasing fast,
Sheep running trying to last,
Wolves showing their claws,
In the sky there are no laws,
Then it starts to rain,
Everything still and plain,
A gush of wind
And a wolf grinned
And moving on,
They were gone.

Fergus McGribben


Sea Shells

Near the sea lies a little shiny bottle
With a note in it
The note says
"She sells sea shells by the sea shore."
Is it this shore?
I don't know
I'll check anyway
Seaweed, shells, bottles everywhere
No "she" selling "sea shells"
What "sea shells" does "she sell"?
Oh well
I never saw "she" selling "sea shells" on THIS "sea shore"
I better go

Julie Calder


Northern Sky

High up
bigger than anything
far away,
they are different shapes of cloud.
A snowman round and fat
a lion ready to pounce
a flock of sheep moving fast
a tractor as big as can be
a mighty blow of wind
a strong blow
a cold blow
All is gone
never to be seen again.

Robert Spence

The Northern Sky

The northern sky, so sweet and divine
I do so wish, it was mine,
It may not be very honest,
But it can keep a promise,
There are all the shapes,
One or two dressed up in capes,
All the clouds, fluffy and white,
The winds fairly good, to fly a kite,
The northern sky, so sweet and divine,
I do so wish, it was mine…

Sean Buchan

Selling Sea Shells

On the beach lay a bottle
Full of glitter and glow
Out of the bottle came a message
Saying "sea shells, sea shells on the sea shore"
Where are the sea shells being sold?

You're on the wrong shore
She selling sea shells is further north
On the sea shell shore
Washed up on the beach
The sea shells lie

So if you want sea shells
You better sail
She sells, she shells on the shore
Where we've never seen sea shells before.

Kimberley Smith

Northern Sky

I'm out at night to watch the sky
I don't know why I watch the sky
I'm in my room to watch the sunset
I don't know how to draw a sunset
I see the pretty patterns in the sky
I don't know how to draw the sky
This lovely sunset is nearly over
I wish this sunset was never over
And now it's gone.

John Ross

Winter's Night

A dark cold winter's
night up very high

The very big sky
different shapes in
the clouds
and dragons

Star glitter little diamonds
in the dark sky.

Ailsa Cowie

Blue Sea

Sea is calm, sea is rough
Do stars fall from the sky above?
Mermaids lying in the sea
Looking up above,
Tiny little fall from the bright sky like
A snowwhite dove.
Dolphins swimming in the calm sea
Before the storm starts
Deep and cold waves start
With herring in parts.
On the beach starfish lie
Looking up at the falling sky
When night falls the tide comes in
The starfish wash away and come back another day.

Stacey Sutherland

Dark Sky

In the black sky far away
more stars are coming every day.
High in the sky clouds are moving
Shaped like sheep running through the fields.

Weather is changing every day
Sun, cloud and rain is here today.
When everything is silent the sky
turns to black
up comes the moon and out
come the stars.

High in the sky the sun looks
down on us.
It keeps us warm until the moon
comes up.

The moon chases the sun and
the sun chases the moon in
a constant flow.

Stacey Sutherland