>> The Callanish Stones
The Falkirk Wheel <<
Scotland can be rightly proud of its engineers and, indeed, the Scottish bridge-builder has already been lauded in Week Six. This week’s pairing brings together ambitious engineering projects both ancient and modern, each a marvel of their age and a draw for tourists seeking to be amazed by human endeavour. The Callanish Stones, sometimes dubbed ‘the Scottish Stonehenge’, were erected nearly 5000 years ago on the Hebridean island of Lewis by unknowable Neolithic architects. Several dozen stones are arranged roughly in a Celtic cross formation, with some of the stones nearly five metres tall and weighing over five tons. Like Stonehenge, it is thought to have been a primitive solar calendar. The Falkirk Wheel is similarly jaw-dropping in its ambition and execution, but obviously benefits from 21st Century technology. Commissioned as solution to the problem of lifting boats between the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal (some 24 metres), it was opened in 2002, enabling all Scotland’s major waterways to be connected for the first time since the 1930s. Both projects were designed to solve practical problems and both draw crowds of tourists, but they are products of ingenious and determined Scots engineers separated by five millennia.
The Callanish Stones
by Nikki Robson
July. Summer on the island
muffles in scarves.
swap cocoon of car
for hilly slither. Pilgrim-trail
with sodden strangers,
step in time to the cadence of rain.
White-trainered Americans patter: there isn’t a bus,
Earl, I can’t believe there isn’t a bus.
Even taped seams leak. Cold
as Lewisian gneiss, circle
the circle of Neolithic ritual.
Reach out, for Callanish grants
what Stonehenge forbids:
it feels like wet stone.
On the downhill squelch,
the final syllable’s a sneeze.
I buy a fridge magnet.
The Falkirk Wheel
by Anne Connolly
A Scottish engineering feat, a hefty plan to build
a flight of locks, buckle West to East across
the belly of the land, float the wealth of coal
and lubricate commercial flow and time.
Maybe ease the bickering of clique and clan.
Those stair-locks worked their tricks till rolling stock
and well-laid bitumen ensured a derelict decline.
And then up reared the wheel!
Unique in all the world. A pair of
giant birds who dip to peck the sky.
Two mighty gondolas that ladle up
a motley broth of craft and crew
and global curiousity. Low to high
and back again raised in a slow spin.
All hung on the balance-hook
of Archimedes’ genius for weight,
displacement, symmetry. And grace.
A liquid asset that the East could not
deny despite their worst misgivings.
Baggy bums that scrounge
about the Clyde are bound
to boat across, disembark a while
invade the Royal Mile. Cowp
the Watson’s cox and crew in passing.
Nor could the West maintain
their sweeping slogans of derision.
Snooty city, toffs terrain, never
cooked a haggis plain but had to
season it with affectation.
They’ll chock-a-lock this smart
Millennial hinge, cock their pinkies
high, and only drink champagne.
All bolony! Ancient stir-the-pot distain
so wheesht your false exaggerated claims.
I ‘ve seen weans bright with excitement
burled up smoothly to the sky. Below them
picnics beckon on the grass and tourists
crane their every inch to see, perhaps,
the nearby Kelpies rooted to their necks
in myth and metalled on the map of history.
Neigh and neigh or maybe Aye at the flick
of a tempered mane. A democratic pair
of thoroughbreds who hail the clever link,
the flush of accolades that greet their neighbour.
Newly-wed canals. Forth and Clyde with Union
scheduled in law as Ancient Monuments!
The Kelpies, oh so young and gleaming, dream
of stagnant couplings undone and new liasons.
Unbridled. Running free as uisge beatha.
Uisge beatha – Water of life/Whisky
Nikki Robson is from Northern Ireland and now lives in Scotland. She holds an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study from the University of Dundee. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in print and online including Acumen, Under the Radar, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Elbow Room and Obsessed with Pipework.
Anne Connolly is an Irish poet living and working in Scotland. She was the Makar for the Federation of Writers (Scotland) 2013-2014. Her work features on the Corbenic Poetry Path in the Camphill Community near Dunkeld. A first collection Love-in-a-mist was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2011 and she has also published two pamphlets, Downside Up (Calder Wood Press) and Not Entirely Beautiful (Stewed Rhubarb). A second full collection A Ravel of Yarns was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2015.