The instructions were simple. ‘You’re going to be the Cailleach’ said Dougie, ‘and dance to a piped lament on the moor.’
‘It will be dark then,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Very dark. And maybe raining’.
So that was it how it was when we set out on a moonless wet night: Jack (the Stag), Wilf (the Wolf), Dougie and I on 30 October to walk the track toward Corrour station. I will bring up the rear, Dougie said. Martha (the Cook) remained at the hostel to hold the hearth. I was left on the hillside with instructions to light the fire (rags soaked in citronella) and start the music (in a box hidden by the rock) and do my thing.
I don’t really know what I am going to do of course. I have a red velvet dress on and a furry cape and a large fashion hat I have wreathed in birch twigs and barn owl’s wings. A midge veil is covering my face – not that there are any midges at this time of year, though there are roving and rutting stags. One is out there. We have just seen him. He was massive and did not move away when Jack flashed his torch.
I have done some challenging gigs in my time, but this has to be the mother of all of them.
Carrying the Fire is a series of events created by artist and Dark Mountain curator Dougie Strang. So far there have been three, all set at Wiston Lodge on the Scottish borders. They have been small gatherings, for about 60 people, shaped in a similar way to the Uncivilisation Festivals – workshops, music, performance, discussion and of course a storytelling fire. This year’s was a departure. It was for a smaller group (20) built around the festival of Samhain and located deep in the heathery heart of Rannoch Moor. We would be based at a wooden hostel, once the boathouse of the shooting lodge, beside Loch Ossian (Osh-een) at the foot of Beinn a’ Bhric, the Cailleach’s mountain. The nearest road is 18 miles away.
You can read the rest of Charlotte’s review here: Dancing the Cailleach
Caroline Ross, a participant, wrote this about her experience of the event:
It was not a psychological or therapeutic setting, but a deeply connected almost mythic space. As I have only seen properly described in the words of Riddley Walker, or perhaps the books of Ursula K LeGuin, People are not the only people there. Land, rocks, mountains and lakes, beings and heroes of the past, forces and gods are at the fireside too…
…if you showed me a far-off society where Samhain was celebrated as we did at Carrying the Fire, I would go into exile from this country to live there with those good people and become part of that culture. Ceremony, gathering together and marking the passage of the year and of our lives are so lost in the wider human culture in Britain from which I am mostly alienated, and manage to evade by living moored beside a tiny island in the middle of a river.
My heart was at home over Samhain, and through unparalleled good fortune, I was at home both culturally and geographically. People are made refugees every day and must leave their hearths for uncertain futures. Even within this country, Britons are displaced from the beneficial aspects of their culture and nature, by the market, homelessness, delusion and a thousand other causes.
Many thank to all who came and were part of it. Photo credits to: Neil Harvey, Charlotte Du Cann, Sarah Thomas, Gavin MacGregor, Emily Bugden, Lianne Pipskyj, Caroline Ross, Wilf Richards.
For more information on the research that inspired the event, go here: fàd a’ chaorain.