Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday - Sea Room

This book is the one I am rereading at the moment, three islands just off the larger island of Lewis, to be crossed to on The Minches sea.  Adam Nicholson's family have owned these islands for a while, he has now  in fact  passed them on to his son.  First of all Nicholson is a damned good writer, he pulls you in with his stories  of those who have lived here before.
Archaeology wise they are fascinating, and have been surveyed by the archaeologist Patrick Foster, who works in Prague, his pdf file can be found here. and also a lot of further fascinating evidence about the natural life, and photographs of the island.
Robert Macfarlane has also been to the islands for a couple of days which he has written about in his book 'The Old Ways' and some intriguing  words for the sea roads that sailors take when they sail the seven oceans....

"In old English the hwael-weg (the whale's way) the swan-rad (the swan's way); in Norse the veger, in Gaelic rathad mara or astar mara.  In English the ocean roads, the sea lanes."

We think of these rather beautiful and bleak places as lonely and uninhabited but of course over the centuries this is far from true, there are bronze age cairns and house settlements, later on there is evidence of a summer use of these islands as the cattle were brought over to graze and shieling huts can be found on the pasture grounds.  Macfarlane also records something that Nicholson writes about, how in fact there is an exuberance of life there, especially in the natural world (and the only black rat colony in the world!).

"The hub for millions of bird and animal lives, as dynamic as any trading floor, a theatre of competition and enrichment.  They are the centre of their own universe, the organising node in a web of connections, both human and natural, which extends first to the surrounding seas, then to the shores on all sides and beyond that, along the seaways that stretch for thousands of miles along the margins of the Atlantic and on into the heartlands of Europe"  Nicholson quote.

Nicholson tells a tale not exactly of ghosts but of a 'presence';  Now this presence might be the old hermit/monk who lived on the island somewhere after the 6th century, his 'pillow of stone' was found atop a grave, on the stone was engraved a cross and it became Nicholson's constant companion in his boat when he crossed the Minches.  The pillow bit of course refers to the fact that the hermit rested his head on the stone at night, not very comfortable but a closeness to  his god.  
The story goes that when Nicholson arrived with his terrier dog and went to sleep in the old house on the island, he woke up in the middle of night, black night, no sodium lights from a town here, pitch black to find his dog staring at a corner of the room shivering and petrified, Nicholson also felt something, so they both huddled shivering beneath the sleeping bag till the first lights of dawn drew a pattern across the floor, his two sons had also experienced something similar.

Nicholson goes on to quote Jung here on the manifestations we think we see and it provokes an interesting discussion....

if ghosts are said to be 'nothing but projections of your own unconscious thoughts and fears on to the outside world, no intellectual acrobatics are needed to turn that sentence around and describe your own fears as ghosts that have taken up residence in you'

Nicholson sees that there is a holiness or sanctity within the natural world, and within the islands, it is the connectivity we see, the sacred is revealed in the natural world and that which touches the human soul.  Ghosts belong to ourselves we create them through the medium of the stories that run through our heads and that of course is how the multifarious religious cults are brought into being to make order in our  beautiful and chaotic natural world.

cc.Tony Kinghorn
Looking from Garbh Eilean to Eilean an Taighe on the right with Eilean Mhuire in the distance. - This photograph is taken using a 'fisheye' or ultra-wide-angle lens and is not representative of what an observer would see on the ground


  1. On a day like today, Thelma, with the atrocities in France, we need to look at such beauty and serenity and realise that it does still exist in our world.

  2. Yes echoing myself 'our beautiful and chaotic natural world'; we must learn to live with a violence that is seemingly only perpetuated by humanity. A terrible tragedy many lives wrecked by the actions of one suicidal maniac...