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In the ‘Vale of Awful Sound’

Woven Sound, by John Kennedy at the Falls of Falloch, north of Inverarnan at the inland end of Loch Lomond, is one of the four Scottish Scenic Routes installations whose designers were the winners of a pilot project in 2013.

With £1.5 million funding for the four from the Scottish Government, the challenge for each was to use objects to focus delight at strategic scenic places in Scotland’s first National Park.

Friday, 28th August, was a great day to see – and hear – Woven Sound, with the falls and the river swollen by plenty of recent rain, noisy and forceful.

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The main path from the Falls of Falloch car park goes directly through the pretty woodland to the falls and, as a fornal gravel path, is quite firm and dry.

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Choosing to turn down onto the lower path – soft and muddy but winding with the river back up to the falls – and caught in the magnetism of surging water, it was hard sometimes to distinguish between water and rock. The two elements seemed to merge, each taking on the apparent characteristics of the other.

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From this path, you come upon the falls  – you confront them – at a level of around a third of the way up. You feel the mist of it on your face – and the camera lens takes a succession of spray hits as well – as you can see in the bottom left corner of the image above.

You walk on to see the falls from higher up.

But where is the installation? It will be related to the falls so it can’t be far away. It must be further along the higher main path.

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A few strides on up the slope and there, almost disguised by the foliage, there it is – and it’s a cage.

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This cage does not imprison though. It is entirely open, made of woven twisted iron rods – a version of those used in reinforced concrete. This cage enables, people sized, it ushers you down its length to a corner where it bends away out of sight.

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When you round the corner, you see that the cage carries you to a safe balcony termination from where you can go eyeball to eyeball with the falls.

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Cut into the solid metal sheet of the guardian balcony are lines written by Dorothy Wordsworth when, from August–September 1803, she, her brother William and their friend Samuel Coleridge, on a six week, 663-mile journey through the Scottish Highlands, explored Glenfalloch.

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‘Being at a great height in the mountain, we sate down and heard, as if from the heart of the earth, the

sound of torrents ascending out of the long hollow glen. To the eye all was motionless, a perfect stillness.

The noise of waters did not appear to come this way or that, from any particular quarter; it was every

where almost, one might say, as if exhaled through the whole surface of the green earth. Glenfallach,

Coleridge has since told me, signifies the hidden vale but William says if we were to name it from our

recollections of that time, we should call it the Vale of Awful Sound.’

At this stage, William Wordsworth was 33, Dorothy 32 and Coleridge 31. The name they gave Glenfalloch – the Vale of Awful Sound – is, of course, the Vale of Awe-ful Sound.

The sense Dorothy expresses that the sound of the torrents in the glen comes from no specific source but from the earth itself seems accurate. In this place you are surrounded by the sound – it’s not necessarily aggressive, but it is strong, insistent and persuasive.

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Turning away from the falls and looking back into the cage of woven sound, you understand the privacy of the world it has created for you, out of sight to anyone on the way in.

Interestingly, everyone who came in and found someone at the falls end of it, apologised and backed away to the corner until those absorbing Woven Sound close up were ready to move away.

Note: For Argyll’s visit, in May 2015, to another of the four Scottish Scenic Routes’ installations – An Ceann Mor – at Inveruglas, on upper Loch Lomond, is recorded here – and has just been updated with some final photographs recording how the timber structure has weathered and been used in its first three months.

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