Just back from Westray and a weekend with the writers, here is the photographic evidence.
I was working at the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness on Saturday, promoting a share offer for a local wind farm co-op. I spoke to a gentleman who attended your Lecture at Eden Court Theatre the night before and we had a good chat about your thoughts on community ownership and social enterprise. I couldn’t agree more that Scotland is a nation of social democrats that have an inherent mistrust of private investment. I also unfortunately agree that action against the current capitalist system and towards something more suitable to Scottish values will not be taken until the job queues start extending (something I fear is immanent).
I must admit both Ann Yule and Colin Feguson, pictured here, were superb hosts at the Neil Gunn Trust Lecture. Entering the Eden Court for this event at the Inverness Book Festival, I was nervous. Introduced by Ann and thanked by Colin, it was easy to enjoy the warm Highland welcome and I hope I suitably 'roused the rabble.' Thanks again to all, including the folks at Capstone.
I am off to speak to the posse of the University of the 3rd Age at Grantown on Spey on Tuesday 30 September. Looking forward to seeing some old friends, regular correspondents and meeting what sounds like a very lively group. I'll let you know how I get on.
I will be delivering the Neil Gunn Trust Lecture at the Inverness Book Festival at 7pm on Friday October 3 at the Eden Court in Inverness.
Last week was sublime and ridiculous. I leave it to you to decide which is which.
After Friday’s Riddoch Question’s prog I rushed out the door of Abertay to Edinburgh airport, a flight to Stornoway and a message about car hire which was the first truly relaxing thing I’d heard in days –the car is unlocked in the corner of the car-park and the key will be under the mat. And it was. I bumped down to Tabost, the Lewis crofting township near Balallan where Angus and Mary McDowall live – they’d invited me to open the Lochs Agricultural Show. First though I’d to use their computer to send a column to the Sunday Post – see me, see Lorraine Kelly? When she’s not there we’re like twins!
Next morning the household of sons, daughters and friends were enlisted to get stalls, tables, burgers, onions, buns and people up to the showsite. All I had to do was make myself heard over the classicly inaudible PA system and say something meaningful about windfarms and how to stop dissent stifling progress in community projects. Of course everyone locally is so polite, I still don’t know if I succeeded.
Far more importantly though I drew the winning raffle for a new car – and selected from the 13 thousand odd tickets, a non-driver courtesy of a bar in Stornoway. Well, good luck to him. After a bonzer feed at the Erisort Inn, it was back on the computer to write a Scotsman column (and you think I have weekends off!) and then, finally, with Sunday dawning blue and sunny and warm, it was off up the highest hill on the Hebrides, the Clisham itself.
Now unquestionably I’m not as young as I was, but although it’s only 800 metres high (and starts at 150m), it was a huge effort! The top steepest half of the hill is covered in large rocks, and you wobble on them at your peril especially when you’re up there alone and last (as usual) But what a view from the top and what a fabulous range of hills are tucked in between the Clisham and Scarp. I’ll be back!
I drove round to Uig where B&B maestros Elma and Angus Morrison had waited (two hours!) to have dinner with me. Next day it was a veritable pea-souper, but I was up at 7am to get the Seatrek boat to St Kilda. We set off into the swirling grey cloud, and didn’t leave it for four of the longest hours I’ve ever spent; cold, a bit bored and aware that the same journey awaited us on the return journey. Possibly my mood rather infected everything after that. St Kilda appeared suddenly out of the gloom – I’d been hoping to savour the approach, to get a sense of the overwhelming remoteness and loneliness of this Island on the Edge. But it was utterly invisible till the last minute – and the first thing I saw, bathed in dazzling sunshine, was a collection of ugly, square, concrete and corrugated iron army buildings and a giant transmitter on the hill. The delicate pattern of the islanders homes either side of the famous “street” was hard to focus on beside this modern jingoistic bric a brac of war. Maybe that’s my failing. The hills were covered with hundreds of cleats, like tiny black houses where some of the gannets, fulmars and other birds the islanders lived on were dried and stored. Amazing effort and ingenuity – beside the amazing ugliness of the MOD’s creations. Soay sheep were everywhere grazing – though we were shown the wall islanders had painstakingly created to keep the sheep out of their pastures. Seems a shame we can’t see how beautiful the machair or their crops might be without a thousand nibbling gnashers.
I have to be honest and say the journey back was an ordeal. Despite an apparent calm on land, there was a swell and tide behind the boat and a wind heading the opposite way. Result – choppy seas, lots of spray and four more cold hours in the featureless grey – interrupted by a fabulous glimpse of Stac Lee near Boreray a few miles from Kilda.
The crew and staff on the Uig boat were great – but eight hours with just three hours ashore is a big ask – and before you say it, I know it used to be even longer!
I flew off Lewis this morning – the plane was unaccountably late and left me with no time to collect my baggage in Edinburgh before running onto the next flight to London, where I recorded an edition of Radio 4’s Great Lives about the late David Ervine with several authorities on Ulster politics including Gerry Adams. Do I sound like I’m suggesting a callous terrorist had a great life? I hope not. Judge for yourself when the programme is played in August. More details soon. And by the way isn’t the lack of internet connection at Terminal Five so LAST CENTURY!!!!!
Whilst Lorraine is taking a break, I was standing in for her by writing her column over at the Sunday Post. I was in the Outer Hebrides opening a Games and enjoying the sunshine...more later.
A good friend of mine, Neil Nicholson, the North Uist thatcher, over at www.highland-thatcher.co.uk sent me a set of photographs. They illustrate the whole thatching process from start to finish. It is an amazing thing to see.
Off to Nairn next week, to their Book and Arts Festival where I will be talking about the book. Doubtless there will an opportunity for questions about a range of subjects. Delighted, as ever, to see everyone. For details and tickets, visit their website; www.nairnfestival.co.uk .