The High Tongue: A Series of Cairngorms Lyrics

As the largest area of high ground in the UK and like a small island of the arctic in the heart of Scotland, the Cairngorm mountains have long been a draw for explorers. Historically, these were ancient cattle thieves finding places to hide their bounty, or drovers making tracks to the great Trysts. Gradually, the mountains drew adventurers seeking exploits of physical daring: the pony trekkers, walkers, climbers, skiers, runners and now swimmers.

Somewhere in time, the exploring found its way into words. Early people told stories and wrote ballads; later ones penned diaries. None of those forms has stopped, but new ways of writing about these mountains keep emerging, from books to blogs to back-of-an-envelope notes. There is no end to the exploring of the Cairngorms, in body and in words, and no limit to the kinds of people who will find a path here and a new pattern of language to tell the tale.

In 2019, Cairngorms National Park Writer in Residence, Merryn Glover, developed the Cairngorms Lyric, a short poetic form inspired by Japanese Haiku and the American Sentence. While loose in structure, the lyric’s three rules mean it must be composed of fifteen words, include an element of nature from the Cairngorms, and use at least one non-English word. It can have a title, which can include or be in addition to the wordcount.

Why fifteen words? The national park was established in 2003; it includes 5 local authorities; carries water to 5 iconic rivers; and has 5 of the 6 highest mountains in Britain.

5 x 3 = 15.

The High Tongue
A series of Cairngorms Lyrics on the Gaelic names of the Cairngorms mountains

Ben MacDuie – Beinn MacDuibh
The Mountain of the Son of Duff

High King of Thunder
Old Grey Man
Chief of the Range
Head of the Clan


Cairn Gorm – An Càrn Gorm
The Blue Mountain

Rainbow height:

bog                 brown
red                  deer
snow               white
dog                 violet
moss              green


Cairn Toul – Càrn an t-Sabhail
The Barn Shaped Mountain

Storehouse of stone

Boulders shouldering like beasts
in this dark byre

Hail drumming the watershed


Ben Vuirich – Beinn a’ Bhùirich
Mountain of the Roaring

Once the haunt of wolves
           howling at night

  now just their ghosts
                          in failing light


Carn Ealer – Carn an Fhidhleir
Mountain of the Fiddler

She plays the rock
with the bow of the wind
for the stars to dance


Braeriach – Am Bràigh Riabhach
The Brindled Upland

freckled speckled wind rippled
    shape shifting fallen sky
dark     light     shadow    bright
            land up high


Beinn a’ Bhuird
The Mountain of the Table

Giants gather in clouds of black
for a bite and a blether,
bit of craic.


Coire an t-Sneachda – Coirie an t-Sneachdaidh
Corrie of the Snow

Bowl of white light
black rock           wind run             ice hold
hollow of the mountain’s hand


Ben A’an – Beinn Athfhinn
Mountain of the River A’an

in a cleft of silence
hidden loch      secret river
      name breathed out
              like a sigh


Am Monadh Ruadh – The Red Mountains

Range of russet hills
forged in fire at first sunrise
old rust rock
glowing still

The High Tongue, Glover uses the Cairngorms Lyric to explore the meanings of the Gaelic names of ten mountains in the area. Many of the place names across the Park arise from Gaelic and are rich with history, culture and ecology. But both the language and the landscape are threatened. Few native speakers remain in the Cairngorms and many of the natural features that the names conjure are now missing. The poems, therefore, use a contemporary form to explore the deep time of mountains, the lost time of a particular culture and environment, but also a future time of reclamation.

The High Tongue series was originally published in Shared Stories: A Year in the Cairngorms, an anthology of community writing that emerged from Glover’s workshops and an open call during her residency with the Cairngorms National Park. The works reflect the range and distinctiveness of relationships people hold with the nature of the UK’s largest National Park.

Creator’s biography

Raised in South Asia and Australia, Merryn Glover now calls Scotland home. Her second novel, Of Stone and Sky, won Bookmark Festival Book of the Year and is long-listed for the Highland Book Prize. Also a Guardian Country Diarist, her current project is The Hidden Fires: A Cairngorms Journey with Nan Shepherd

Find her at