Friday 23 October 2009

Gavin Maxwell

I listen to Radio 4 regularly, especially when I am doing the ironing, which I was this morning. In fact, I prolonged the ironing and even tackled the king size bedding, in order to listen to the 2nd of two programmes about the author Gavin Maxwell, famous for Ring of Bright Water and his love of otters. He sounds to have been a very complex character, someone you rather trod on eggshells around, whose sexuality and personality had been affected by an illness whilst he was at boarding school, and someone who didn't gell well with reality.

This is a beautiful poem written by Katherine Raine, who loved Maxwell, but whose affections were rebuffed. It sounds very much to me like she could see the landscape around Camusfearna (Sandaig House) whilst she wrote it. I have linked to the website I found it on, and apologies if they subsequently discover her works are subject to copyright, as they know not.

THE WILDERNESS by Kathleen Raine

I came too late to the hills: they were swept bare
Winters before I was born of song and story,
Of spell or speech with power of oracle or invocation,

The great ash long dead by a roofless house, its branches rotten,

The voice of the crows an inarticulate cry,

And from the wells and springs the holy water ebbed away.
A child I ran in the wind on a withered moor

Crying out after those great presences who were not there,

Long lost in the forgetfulness of the forgotten.

Only the archaic forms themselves could tell!

In sacred speech of hoodie on gray stone, or hawk in air,

Of Eden where the lonely rowan bends over the dark pool.

Yet I have glimpsed the bright mountain behind the mountain,

Knowledge under the leaves, tasted the bitter berries red,

Drunk water cold and clear from an inexhaustible hidden fountain.

HERE is a link to a beautiful website about Maxwell, his life, his Scotland, and his final home on Eilean Ban. Whoever had the bright idea to build a gigantic causeway of a bridge right across the island had no soul whatsoever . . .

More of Kathleen Raine's poetry can be read HERE.

Many thanks to Shandchem on Creative Commons Search for the photograph of Tongue Bay, Sutherland.


  1. Beautiful words...they've created a vision in my head.

  2. Oh yes, I was listening to that too. I hadn't realised that Terry Nutkin was "adopted" by him and that Terry lost several fingers to gangrene after being bitten by an otter. Kath

  3. I`m sorry to have missed the radio programme. Very recently, an old school friend who now lives on Shetland recommended a biography of Gavin Maxwell to me. "The Saga of Ring of Bright Water" by Douglas Botting. A brilliant book apparently.

  4. It's been great catching up with your blog this week, BB, I love the picture of K, it looks like you had a great day out.
    I hope you get a good price for the stool and so love the colour of the nursing chair, you've done a great job on them.

    Take care hun :)

  5. Hullo BB, AKA 'fellow Fleetwood Mac fan'

    Nice poem, very fitting to the setting. I know the place well. Have even been across the cursed bridge but much preferred the old ferry. Much more romantic.

    Thanks so much for your nice comments on my post about the 43rd ya sassenach ye.

    I was in a rush but have gone back and sorted it out a bit and put a wee bit more info in so it makes more sense and reads better.

    Should learn to leave stuff in draft when I,m in a hurry!


  6. Yes - I too heard the programme. He was indeed a complex character and to some extent a sad one, I think. Kathleen Raine was not rebuffed all the time I don't think, I think they kept in touch - there is no doubt that he was the love of her life. Her poetry is beautiful and very much under rated in my opinion. Thanks for visiting me. I have put you on my bnlog list.
    Love the header by the way.

  7. Weaver of Grass: I want to listen to the first programme now, as I missed it. Terry Nutkin gave the impression that Maxwell was more comfortable in the company of teenage boys as they were more on his emotional level. Of course, you can read into that whatever you like (and people doubtless do).

    The photograph in my header is our beautiful river at the bottom of the hill . . .

    DW - I must request that biography through our travelling library. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Yarrow - glad you've caught up. The stool and chair will go to auction, hopefully catching the Christmas one locally.

    Kath - when Terry described was it Edal? crunching the bones in his fingers I felt quite sick . . .

    Al - ah you've been there. I'm sure it's a very USEFUL bridge, but hell's teeth, it b*ggers up the peace and quiet of that island no end!

    ER - glad you enjoyed it. I shall return and read more of her poetry - she writes as I aspire to!

  8. Thanks for reminding me of Kathleen Raine's poetry; I must find the one I liked best - it is many years since I last read it. Great book finds, too.