To describe the Outer Hebrides as remote is somewhat of an understatement. Even today it can take the best part of a day to get to, but once you are there you have reached not only some of the oldest parts of our planet, but also the epicentre of one of our country’s ancient cultures. This edgeland is the very periphery of our landscape and faces the full brunt of everything that the Atlantic can throw at it; even the summer can have five days of gales a month. This tough, uncompromising landscape shapes the place and the people that inhabit it.
People belong to places, rather than place belong to people
These islands have attracted a variety of people over the millennia. There were those who sought religious solitude on Iona and whilst there created the works of art that are the Book of Kells. Jura’s simple way of life gave George Orwell the space that he needed to create the dystopian horror that is 1984. The traditional way of life on the islands is formed as much by the landscape as it is by the language, and these tough, resilient people took those qualities with them as they left the islands either by choice or enforced by landowners. It is to this landscape that Bunting returns to countless times over six years, immersing herself into it, teasing out stories of the people and history and letting the place soak into her.
‘I couldn’t conceive of living on this land without getting my hands dirty. It keeps me connected with the place.’
This is another really well written book by Bunting, she has managed to capture the very essence of the Outer Hebrides as she travels around and crosses the straits between the islands including a boat trip heads out to the Strait of Corryvreckan, the place where Orwell nearly drowned and is the location of one of the world’s most powerful whirlpools. Well worth reading.