Where to Stay in Scotland
While Riding a Bicycle

A couple of months ago the Scottish Poetry Library listed some of the half-remembered lines that people had asked it to trace, and that it had not yet traced. The first one on their was: ‘Thought Tammas (or Chalum?) to himself as he rowed from creel to creel, and Venus shook her hair across the Sound’. That’s an Orkney poet, I thought, maybe Robert Rendall, maybe George Mackay Brown.

Now that I am in Orkney I have looked it up. Not Robert Rendall, but very early GMB: it’s ‘Stars’, from Loaves and Fishes. I tracked it down on the morning of the Feast of the Epiphany, which turns out to be exactly the right day for this poem. George would approve.

Tae be wan o them Kings
That owre the desert rode
Trackan a muckle reid star,
The herald o God!

Tae swivel a crystal eye
Abune a mountain place
And light on an uncan star,
A tinker in space!

Thought Tammas, rowan his boat
Fae creel to creel aroond,
When Venus shook her hair
Owre the Soond.

Old Man of Hoy, from the early morning boat



Kathleen Holmes: Thank you for finding this – I began to think that I must have imagined this poem, but then, I knew that I couldn’t have made up the line, “When Venus shook her hair Owre the Soond.”

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