Reinigeadal, Harris

So many years ago it was, a child
Tramped up from East Loch Tarbert’s rocky shore
Across the peat hags underneath the wild
And dismal sky that overhung the moor.

No road could lead him thence, a mere track
Between the heather clumps, it weaved its way
Through crumbling gneiss, the acid bistre-black
And clotted earth its peaty overlay.

And though remote a little school was there
Some three miles distant from the nearest road,
Too late, it closed before, as all elsewhere,
They reaped the blessings that a road bestowed.

For then across the open moor abloom
With gorse it ran, hard-core laid down and sealed,
A hostel, no plush inn for those for whom
Upon a whim the “spartan” life appealed.

Their isolation over, though for some
The road had ended rather more than this;
Our senses sharpened in detachment from
The mass, so much in aggregate we miss.

Those few would say a price too much to pay,
Such highways to salvation they disdain,
Inured to penury and pain as they,
To constant mist and constant driving rain.

The hermit life can bring us some degree
Of inner peace with independence, hence,
Resourcefulness and self-sufficiency
With self-reliance and resilience.

We find out who we are and need to be
If we’re alone or nearly on our own,
We learn to cope outside our colony
And how to live without a mobile phone.

How hard sometimes in such a hostile land,
No company, forsaken by our kind,
In storm-force wind and sleet, to understand
Just what is with intelligence designed?

And then we must believe this life to be
A proving ground, though still the Western Isles
With much that seems inimical, agree
They’re happier than we despite their trials.

For they are closer to the land and sea,
Less trammelled by association with
Their fellow man’s complexities, and free
To dwell on past times, ancestry and myth.

To sense the land anew each day they touch
It with a stranger’s hand, see with the eyes
Of children microcosms, letting such
Creations bring us wonder and surprise.

In minute intricacies we can find
Within a feather, leaf or powdered wing
Of butterfly or moth the mastermind
Behind the life and soul of everything.

As children may with wonderment acquire
Of astronomical extremities
In counting grains of sand at Luskentyre
A tiny hint of their immensities.

And closer to the numinous are we
Atop a Harris hill than ever he
In any Harris kirk on bended knee
On any sabbath day can ever be.

A dismal sky still overhangs the moor
Today where years ago it was that he
Tramped up from East Loch Tarbert’s rocky shore
Across the peat hags from a cold grey sea.


Kinlochresort, Harris

The distance nearly eight miles from the south
Across the bleak and trackless Harris moor,
Much easier from Loch Resort’s broad mouth
By boat from its remote Atlantic shore.
The settlement abandoned long ago,
Yet there an old man and his dog we saw,
He standing motionless, his head below
The ancient lichened lintel of his door.

He stood in reverie. And there we sat
Apart, no tritely spoken words that might
Invade his solitude, his habitat
And one-time home. It somehow seemed not right
In that quiet sequestered place to breach
The silence with banalities of speech.


Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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10 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Nicely done! I suggest only one small fix.

    In the penultimate line of the Kinlochresort sonnet, the word “quiet” is badly placed, and interferes with proper scansion. You need instead a monosyllable, or a disyllabic iamb. Or else you could rearrange the wording in this manner:

    /In that sequestered, quiet place to breach/

    Do this, and the problem disappears.

    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you for your comment and suggested amendment. In using the word “quiet” I was hoping that it would just be elided into one syllable in the reading, almost but not quite quite. I would not have written “sequestered quiet place” as you have suggested because the natural order of adjectives would tell me “quiet sequestered”. I know why I say big red nose and not red big nose (quality trumps quantity in this instance) but I don’t know why “quiet sequestered” unless it is simply, and you will know far better than I, that the more characteristic or descriptive adjective seems more useful closer to the noun it qualifies. But then I can’t expect you to know which of two near synonymous adjectives I would prefer to stress! I had toyed with “calm sequestered ” but the two words really WOULD have been almost tautologous, so in the end I sacrificed prosodic precision for accuracy in purport. I can well see the point you are making, and that line DID give me more trouble than any other. The Achilles’ heel of the poem I think!

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Peter, it appears that you have gone from restoring paintings to making new ones. I came away with a clear picture of that windswept isle in the outer Hebrides — bleak on the outside but rich and rewarding on the inside. Scotland is one of the few countries in the world to which I yearn to travel, and for a few moments I was transported there. Thank you. In a few places I had trouble with the syntax, but I was able to figure out, without too much effort, the antecedents to clauses and the subjects of some rather complex sentences.

    • Peter Hartley

      Dear CBA, Many thanks indeed for your comments and I’m glad to hear that my little effort really has transported you (in a manner of speaking) to the UK’s Western Isles. Surely a poet can’t hope for better than that from his reader! The Hebrides are among my favourite places on earth despite the rain and the midges, and if you travel before mid-June or after September you will avoid the latter. And by the way, I was very much transported by your remarks, particularly the first sentence!

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Peter, Oh, joy! For I have just planned out a trip to Harris (and the other outer islands including two nights on Barra), Skye, Mull, Iona, and Staffa, for this coming June. This will be my fifth visit to Scotland, but my first to the Hebrides. Your poem captures some of the essence of the area I hope to glimpse during what will be an all-too-brief visit.

    The image of the old man standing in what seems to have been his old, and now abandoned home at the head of Loch Reasort/Resort was particularly striking. I note that there are no roads there, an area accessible only by water or by foot. You are blessed to have been to such a place, now an isolated ruin and nearly forgotten, where few others will ever take the time or make the effort to visit. Thank you for capturing your memories so vividly in these two poems and for sharing them with us.

    • Peter Hartley

      Dear James, thank you for the very kind remarks about my little poems. They relate to my very first visit to the Western Isles, as a schoolboy in 1971, when all I was interested in was getting to the highest points of everything and trying to find the remotest places I could, using OS maps. And I don’t think there’s anywhere in the UK more remote than Kinlochresort (or Luachair as it was also known). I hope you have a great time in the Hebrides: South Harris is the emptiest bit and Barra is the whole Outer Isles in miniature. Hope you have a calm sea for Staffa and you’re able to get ashore.

  4. David Watt

    Peter, although some of my ancestors came from Islay in the Inner Hebrides, I have yet to visit Scotland. However, I can feel a strong sense of place imbued by the narrative, and the balladlike, predominantly ABAB rhyme scheme of these poems, particularly in “Reinigeadal, Harris”.

    • Peter Hartley

      David, Thank you for your kind response. I’m glad you feel “a strong sense of place”. That is exactly what I wanted to come across, and when you do get to Scotland I hope you will visit Harris in the Outer Isles and see it as I did all those years ago, and I hope you will keep going back as I have. But in July and August don’t forget the midge repellent!

  5. David Hollywood

    Marvelous atmospheric imagery of landscapes that still in so many ways belong to a removed and somewhat unaffected environment, and which consequently hold the tone for what we romantically yearn. The Western Isles of Scotland where the mountains look as though the heather and grass was swept pure that morning, and the West North Western regions of Ireland which also still maintains that style of integrity; protected by too much rain and bog lands and consequent lack of facility. Many thanks.

    • Peter Hartley

      And many thanks to you too for that insight, and especially for the first sentence. Reinigeadal is not the same place it was fifty years ago of course, having long had easy road access to the sizeable town of Stornoway, but South Harris and the Uists still have their remoteness, and when a ferry boat lands at Lochmaddy it gives the distinct impression that the island population has almost doubled.


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