As a hill-walker and long-distance-trail walker, I’m familiar with interpreting landscape: “down there must be a large river” and so on. I find the idea of a watershed fascinating – the point at which streams flow and valleys begin on opposite sides, a few feet determining whether a raindrop will feed rivers going in one direction or another. The watershed can also be a metaphor, the point at which one worlds becomes another.

This poem was influenced by actually climbing to a watershed and down the other side in Torridon in the North-west of the Scottish Highlands, with elements from the ascent of Black Sail pass in the English Lake District.




Did you see, there where the cloud broke

Between the high grey ridges an angled cleft

Roughly in line with the uneven river

Which might be a pass? A great bird soared over it

Now nothing shows but cloud and the warning of rain.


The broken impatient river carved the way

We leave the many-angled rocks behind

And the last twisted tree, the last glimpse of a roof;

And the hidden ravens call in the grey mist.

With cunning and husbanded strength

We drag from the circle of sweat to the circle of icy wind

Recovering from a slip is hard

Recovering from the task impossible.


There is never a point where you can say “that’s it”

No throne or light or monument

Only the slope is inconsistent

The shattered smoothing rocks lie in no order

There is no river

These barren pools are the only water


And then the ghost of a trickle

A few thin fingers feeling

Trying to come together, the hiss and sparkle:

We have passed the watershed

We have seen the birth

Of a new river.

Somewhere there is a new land

But it is hidden and the mist rolls in.


There is no warning

No sign, no new music

Just the realisation and the standing still

The dropping, blocking hills

The unknown, long suspected

Alien valley ahead

But half-familiar, like a dream

The hidden end

You feel you ought to remember.


The descent from the murderous heights

To the soft valley is always more dangerous

Than the struggling up:

The sight of meadows and bushes can lead like a mirage

To the eggshell-crushing fall

And the way to the low glittering lake

May be many miles round.


But at least the first task of the explorer

Seems to have been fulfilled

To show what he wanted to explore

Was there at all.

America is found

Mars glows dully but more clear

In the dark waters, something moves after all

Down the strange valley our suspected

Alive waters fall.



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  1. Caddo Veil

     /  February 11, 2012

    This is quite gorgeous, Simon.

    • Many thanks, Caddo. It’s one of the poems I like best myself. Perhaps it falls off a bit in the last few lines. It’s closely related to things I experience as a walker in hill country.

  2. A few thin fingers feeling

    Trying to come together, the hiss and sparkle……..

    Beautiful words Simon….will come back to this one!

  3. Simon, this is a great poem so full of imagery of the landscape. I can almost see you walking along and taking notes in your mind and cretaive comparisons.

    • Many thanks, Christy! I don’t think when on the tops I was planning a poem, but I do remember thinking about why I was fascinated to reach the watershed.

  4. love this one. Great sound, great ideas, gorgeous images.

    • That’s real praise, Kate! Thanks. Perhaps the images are particularly sharp because such scenes are very much part of my experience, and even when I’m tired and struggling physically, such scenery for me brings heightened awareness.


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