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Norman MacCaig in Assynt

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Helen Needham | 14:43 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

Like many Scots, I was first introduced to the poetry of Norman MacCaig at school. It was a revelation to me that poetry could be so simple yet so meaningful. Poems like 'So Many Summers', 'Visiting Hour' and 'Assisi' became embedded in my consciousness. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I took on the task of producing a special programme to mark the centenary of his birth in 2010 for BBC Radio Scotland.

The remit was to use his poetry to explore his beloved Assynt in the North West Highlands. Although very much an Edinburgh man - he was born there and worked as a teacher for most of his adult life in the city - MacCaig spent every summer at Achmelvich, and then Inverkirkaig. Much of his poetry reflects his deep attachment to the particular landscape of this part of Scotland - the remarkable mountains, the glittering lochs and coral beaches like Achmelvich.

It was a dark and dreich afternoon earlier this week when Mark Stephen, writer, Andrew Greig and I went to Achmelvich to do some recording, but that didn't detract from its beauty.

Andrew Greig, Cathal Macleod and Mark Stephen at the Glen Loch

Andrew Greig, Cathal Macleod and Mark Stephen at the Glen Loch

Andrew explained to us that the Lewisian gneiss - the rock - at Achemelvich is amongst the most travelled part of the earth. It is astonishing to think too that this rock, which once lay at the South Pole, predates all life - there are no fossils because nothing existed. All these mind blowing thoughts influenced MacCaig's Assynt poetry, the contrast between the ancient mountains and rocks and his transience as a human being. But this didn't detract in any way from his emotional connection to Assynt, and his memories of fishing for trout on the lochs with good friends like AK MacLeod really kept him going during the winter months in Edinburgh. As the three of us stood by Loch na Gainmhich and gasped at the splendour of Quinag in the cloud, we were shaken by a bolt of lightening flashing incongruously amidst the thick cloud; it felt as if Norman MacCaig was speaking to us from somewhere he didn't believe in, a mischievous reminder of our tiny place in this ancient and momentous land.

View down the loch from the Kylesku road

View down the loch from the Kylesku road.

'Norman MacCaig in Assynt', a special edition of Out of Doors will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Saturday 6th November at 7.06 am and again on Sunday 7th November at 11.05. You can also view more photographs from Assynt.

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