This is the last post on ‘landscape’ and ‘meaning’ for a bit, too much of a good thing and all that.

I wrote this last year, and this is possibly an opportune moment to post it.

All the agonizing we might do over this subject of ‘landscape’ overlooks a simple reality: light and landscape together are magical, and they move us. They can inspire us, subdue us, challenge us, even overwhelm us too.

And I would suggest it has always been so.

And I love the fact that stories that speak of landscape are always alive; as our perception of any place changes with the seasons, with time, with the weather and with our mood, so the stories evoked by our presence within those spaces continually evolves.

This is an attempt to give some sense of those endless tales…


Clava Cairns lie hidden in a fold of hillside behind my house.

“The site is an exceptionally well preserved group of prehistoric burial cairns that were built about 4,000 years ago. The Bronze Age cemetery complex is made up of passage graves, ring cairns, kerb cairn, standing stones and the remains of a chapel of unknown date. They are quite remarkable, and incredibly well preserved.

It was used in two periods. Around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can be seen today and there may once have been two more. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused. New burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’.

In the 1990’s a thorough survey of the upstanding remains revealed previously unnoticed connections between the colour and texture of the building materials, the architecture of the monuments and their known relationship with the rising and setting sun.”

Those are the words that the archaeologists use to describe this place. They are enlightening. But they are not light.

Light writes a different story.

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson
Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

Last night I visited, and watched as the low winter sun dipped towards the horizon.

At first shade cloaked the site. The colours muted, shadows absent.

Then slowly sunlight spilled round a cloud and angled through the surrounding woodland; the trees winterbare, their shadows rippling across the ground. And every bump and undulation came alive, their presence revealed by light and shaping shade.

Some stoneshadows ran straight and touched trees, their shadows in turn bending, quite curiously, around other smaller stones….to touch another tree, which itself issued a long complex frieze of shadow filigree fraying off to distance.

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson
Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

As the sun reached for the horizon, to pull itself towards night, the story that the light told about this landscape shifted and changed. A story read, in part, by those who built this place; but a tale not yet ended.

And as I watched, the shadowlines lengthened, longer and longer, and longer still, but always, before they reached their final chapter, to tell the story’s end, always….stopped.

By night.


To dance on only in the brightness of our imaginations.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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