UNITED OR UNTIED?

history, no vote, referendum, Scotland, Scottish Independence, Yes Vote
“We could be on the brink of the end of the United Kingdom as we know it”, said Emily Maitlis of the BBC recently.
On Friday morning, the United Kingdom will feel the full impact of its recent separation. Irrespective of whether Scotland gains independence from the 78th largest sovereign state in the World or not, the great divide has already taken place through the litany of impassioned opinion, and relationships will never be the same again.
Like most divorces, it’s the sparring  that cuts the deepest: the angry words, the apportionment of blame, the accusations, the fury and the sulking. When bad relationships come to a head, the parties seldom kiss and make up. Instead it’s down to the divorce lawyer to initiate proceedings and attempt to negotiate a mutually beneficial financial settlement that won’t put one or the other party out of pocket.
As for Scotland, the imminent referendum has split the nation into two almost equal camps: Yes and No. Choosing one or the other should, prima facie, be a simple task but the forensic debate that has accompanied that single question has led to further enquiry on a subject where there is little precedent upon which to offer informed answers. Politicians and supporters from either camp, therefore, have resorted to the usual dirty tactics of the slanging match and opinion, not facts, has provided the bases for serious discussion.
The romantic ideology of a subdued and conquered nation rising up against its oppressors to the rallying call of freedom can be highly persuasive. Heroes like William Wallace and Robert the Bruce have been resurrected from their graves in aid of the Yes cause only to be met with the boos and jeers of the opposing forces  telling them that the people of Scotland should not dwell on the past but look instead to the future.
But it is the past that moulds and shapes the individuals we are today and even historical events can form the foundation for emotive argument. Maggie Thatcher’s axe came down on the Scots in the ’80s with as much force as Edward I’s infamous hammer did in the 13th century. The Iron Lady even violated the Act of Union by using Scotland as a testing ground for the poll tax a year before it was inflicted on the rest of the United Kingdom. Westminster commended her efforts by bestowing upon her the highest order of Knighthood. The Scots still hate her.
Tony Blair led his kingdoms into a war which the majority of Scots (as well as the rest of the UK) did not condone. David Cameron’s misguided refusal to include a Devo Max option in the referendum has been taken as evidence that Westminster either underestimated the sheer force of Scottish sentiment or had little care for it.
History has become that proverbial elephant of Scottish pride: the one that may forgive, but refuses to forget.
Scotland will decide tomorrow whether it secedes from, or remains in, a three-hundred year union. Whatever the decision, the strength of national identity, which has been rippling on the surface of Scottish opinion for centuries, has now become a significant tidal force.
Like many other countries across the world, we are on the brink of the end of a unity as we know it, whether Scotland becomes independent or not. Globalisation and the call for national identity has ensured the tide’s been receding for centuries around the shores of bold Britannia. Those mighty waves crashing against her proud flotillas of war and conquest now cause little more than a tiny splash against a plastic bathtub bobbing in the midst of an ever-widening ocean of disappointment and discontent for some.
Yes or no. A nation will decide. My only hope is that, whatever the outcome, we have a final chance to leave the bitterness behind and look forward to a harmonious future with our closest neighbours.

I’ll leave you with a note from fellow author Mary Smith:

Something to share and invite others to do for the next few days. Share a Scottish love song and make this a week of love and celebration, whatever way you are voting. There are folk for whom this has been an anxious time, and there are folk, like those in Catalonia, who are banned from this kind of democratic decision. Whether you are voting yes or no, share a song, celebrate your vote, and let’s show the world we can respect one another. Something to share and invite others to do for the next few days. Share a Scottish love song and make this a week of love and celebration, whatever way you are voting. There are folk for whom this has been an anxious time, and there are folk, like those in Catalonia, who are banned from this kind of democratic decision. Whether you are voting yes or no, share a song, celebrate your vote, and let’s show the world we can respect one another. http
://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMmtBgMaF5I#t=264

Here’s mine from twa local lassies:

Emily Smith, The Silver Tassie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHgC49wuZ9Q
Mary Barclay, Blackbird: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOC5bYie888 

Call of the wild

Assynt, Canisp, countryside, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, geology, hill walking, Monroes, mountains, Scotland, Scottish Highlands, Suilven, Sutherland, tourism, travel, VisitScotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 

Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

I HAVE indulged in an illicit love affair with north west Scotland for decades.
Every year, when family and friends are taking planes to far-off sunny climes, living lavish temporary all-inclusive lifestyles on a tropical beach, the solitary voice of the cold wilderness calls me to return.
In response, I pack the tent or, more lately, the camper van, and head north to reunite with my soul.
There is nowhere in the world like the north-west Highlands of Scotland, where deer and eagles are more profuse than people; where humankind has learned to endure rather than prosper; and where contemporary society is a condition that other people are forced to live with.

Bothy in Drumbeg, looking
out to Eddrachillis Bay

When I was a child, I believed the Highlands began at Dumbarton Rock in the Clyde: the giant sentinel stone marking the gateway to the snow-powdered peaks of the Trossachs.
The further north I travel, however, the further the perspective of remoteness moves. The brooding mountains of Glencoe and sweeping Caledonian forests of Glen Garry no longer hold the same heart-thumping thrill.
The Highlands, for me, begins on the sun-bleached rocky shores of Loch Lochy: this is where I get that surge of excitement that I have actually reached that ‘somewhere’. It carries on through Ross and Cromarty and ends in the most spectacular landscapes in the United Kingdom and, to me, the world: Assynt – a magnificent wilderness of rock and water and one of the oldest places in the world.
The mountains in the picture – from left, Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beag – were squeezed out of the earth in, what geologists call, the Moine Thrust and some of the rocks that have carved this spectacular landscape are over 800 million years old.

Eight hundred million years ago, the world was just ocean and one big super-continent called Rodina. It was five hundred and fifty years later that the continent broke up, drifted apart and formed the world as we know it today.
Although Glaciation and warming have further sculpted the mountains around Planet Earth, the hard bedrock of Sutherland is as thrawn and inclement as its climate. This is a place that, over the millennia, has refused to be sullied. Although this land has been frequently studied, surveyed and explored, it remains unfathomable; its impact on the soul, immeasurable.

Freedom to roam

Argyll and Bute, Benderloch, highlands, Sailean Sligeanach, Scotland

WHILE the rest of the British Isles and a large part of Europe were blighted with inclement weather over the weekend, a little micro-climate of sunshine hung over the Oban area.
It just so happened that I was there to experience this rare summer weather in April, and without the midges, in this beautiful part of Argyll and Bute.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced the unique sensation of freedom and all its associated philosophies that the Scottish Highlands evokes, a trip to this corner of the world will change you forever.
In my haste to get away, I left my precious camera at home and was forced to revert to the rubbish one on my iPhone.
The long walk along a muddy path, clothed by woods and mountains, was well worth the effort as the end of it opened out into Sailean Sligeanach (pictured), a small inlet of the Lynne of Lorne close to Benderloch, where Highland cattle roam freely across the mudflats and the mountains of Lismore and Morvern frown from the horizon behind the sparkling blue sea.
Long may the memory linger.

Onwards and upwards

Auchencairn, Balcary Bay, Dumfries and Galloway, Inverie, Knoydart, lochaber, Scotland, Walking
Blogging, like my life at the moment, is a bit sporadic and driven by impulse.
That’s not too much of a bad thing though.
I have now finished my first novel, a contemporary fantasy set in London and Scotland called The Sleeping Warrior, and have sent it off to a publisher on a wing and a prayer.
I also suddenly decided to give up a lifetime of habitual cigarette smoking and have managed to go for two weeks without killing anyone or, at least, hurting them a lot.
I have almost quit and now it’s time to get fit and the great outdoors of Southern Scotland provide the perfect training ground for that marathon task of re-shaping a body and purging the lungs – even flesh and organs like mine.
My aim is to visit Inverie, a small village on Loch Nevis at the edge of Britain’s last wilderness – the Knoydart Peninsula – where the only way to get there is by a 20-minute boat ride from Mallaig; catapulting from an enormous mangonel from the mainland; or hoofing it for 16 miles from Kinloch Hourn over what the Gaels call na Garbh-Chrìochan (the Rough Bounds). The first option is for Jessies; the second may end in tears; and the third may well end like the second, but is probably less perilous.
Now I’m more of a Munro Flagger than a Bagger and, if I set off now, it would probably take me most of the year to tramp the path to Inverie, boots and weather willing, complaining bitterly all the way and demanding an emergency airlift by the local mountain rescue team after 50 paces.
So, like all great achievements, I must prepare both my spirit and body for it.
There are no Munroes in southern Scotland but there are plenty vertical ascents with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what angle you choose to tackle them.
There is also some beautiful scenery to keep the mind off the task, like Loch Mackie, Auchencairn, in the picture. Recently I hiked from Balcary to Rascarrel Bay. The walk takes you around the headland with some stunning sea views – including the wind farm in the Solway Firth. By the time I had staggered home to Balcary, chest heaving and lathering with sweat, I thought I must have covered at least 30 miles. I had completed 4.5 in total.
Think I’ve got a long way to go before I tackle 16 but I’m on the case at least.


Burns in brief – A humble tribute to Scotland’s beloved bard

poet, Robert Burns, Scotland

Burns sculpture in New Cumnock
 by the talented Kirti Mandir
WE HAIL him as Scotland’s favourite son, our National Poet, the People’s Poet, the Poet of Humanity, Robden of Solway Firth, the Bard of Ayrshire and in Scotland as simply The Bard.

In the mid 1700s, they called him the Poet Ploughman, and he quite liked that title, for it recognised him as something more than a peasant – he had recognition as a writer and an audience that wished to hear his words.

Times were harsh for the gardener’s son born in Alloway on 25 January 1759. Despite a brief appearance in mainstream education, his father had the foresight to educate him at home, teaching him maths, languages and English.

By his late teens Robert Burns was fluent in French, spoke Latin, studied philosophy, politics, geography, theology and the Bible. He was an accomplished mathematician and in later years added significantly to his impressive list of subjects.
Although he worked hard on the family farm, Burns was more a thinker than a labourer – an anachronism of his timeline. He therefore turned to the secular devotions of poetry, nature, drink and women: softening the harsh reality of a physical lifestyle.
A young Burns stumbled upon poetry when, at the tender age of 15, he met his first love of many, Nelly Kirkpatrick, who inspired him to write a song entitled O Once I lov’d a Bonnie Lass. Not one of his most erudite works, but one that released the raging floods of his imaginative genius that remained with him throughout his short life.
Women provided the stimulation for much of Burns’ genius and the stimulus for his desires. He managed to sire 12 children to countless lassies and twins to the curvaceous brunette who he later went on to marry.
Poor Jean Armour, she must have despaired at his philandering tendencies and his chronic adulterous behaviour, but her’s is another story.
Burns was a man of profound thought and an incurable romantic who saw the world around him as a blank canvass to paint his ardent ideals upon. Through countless lines, he turned the humble into heroes; small animals into socialist champions; blushing young lassies into pastoral pleasures; ploughed fields into stunning landscapes; and everyday objects into icons of national pride.
He often turned his obsessions towards the plight of the ordinary man and poignant political social comment that he wrote in the vernacular, often leading to a few raised eyebrows and some gasps of outrage by those members of society who found his satire a little too biting.
His first published works, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect: Kilmarnock Edition, saw the light of day on 31 July 1786.
With a growing movement towards romanticism in art and literature during that time, Edinburgh’s literati applauded him and an Edinburgh edition was published soon after. The work was considered to be one of the greatest poetical collections ever written. Its appeal was obvious not only to the educated, but importantly, to the common man, just like Burns himself.
With his new-found celebrity status, Burns moved to the city where he was swept around the circles of the important and the wealthy. No longer a lowly wordsmith he took it upon himself to go some way into preserving an important part of Scotland’s cultural heritage. To do this, he embarked on a few tours of Scotland, gathering up old Scottish folk songs and re-working them. Auld Lang Syne and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose are just two such songs that started life as fragments of unpublished lyrics before being given the golden Burns’ treatment.
His celebrity status didn’t last, however, and 18 months later he found himself actively seeking employment.
Burns moved to Ellisland Farm near Auldgirth where he wrote some 130 ~ about a quarter ~ of his songs and poems, and 230 of his 700 letters in the space of three years.
The hard soil of the Nith Valley proved too difficult to farm, however, and, almost completely broke, he took a job as an exciseman in Dumfries in 1789.
Burns moved into a first floor tenement flat in the town with his wife and family and spent most of his time at his favourite howff – the Globe Inn – where he would apparently share a few jars with his drouthie cronies before lumbering home to bed.
A lot of controversy and conflicting information surrounds the death of Robert Burns. It has been said that his dissolute lifestyle eventually came back to claim its tithe. Whether it was rheumatic fever, heart failure, pneumonia or indeed the consequences of too much secular excess, a chilly dip in the Solway Firth on his physician’s instructions didn’t do him any good and possibly finished him off.
Burns’ son Maxwell was born on 25 July 1796.
On that day 10,000 people lined the streets of Dumfries for the funeral of a man they had come to love for turning their lives into lines. 

Burns died four days earlier, aged 37.
There is a star whose beaming ray
Is shed on ev’ry clime
It shines by night, It shines by day
And ne’er grows dim wi’ time
It rose up on the banks of Ayr
It shone on Doon’s clear stream
Two hundred years are gane and mair
Yet brighter grows its beam
THE STAR O’ROBBIE BURNS, Words by James Thomson
Brighter grows its beam.
Robert Burns has achieved immortality: his eternal lines have influenced a nation as well as important poets, writers, artists and politicians. They have travelled across the continents to stir the collective soul of men throughout the world: he is a symbol of freedom of speech and a champion of the common man.
Over two centuries on, his voice grows even stronger and his legacy brighter. Unlike the dwindling flame of the traditional skills of Scotland’s cultural heritage, Burns’ lessons are handed down through the generations and are perhaps even more relevant today than they were in his lifetime: the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
He has taught us that Scotland has never needed the heads of foreign monarchs or statesmen to call itself a nation; for the true power has always lain in the hearts of its people and the spirit of the ordinary man.
So raise your glasses and revel in his legacy: to the glorious memory of Scotland’s national bard – a poet, a lyricist, a lover, a father, a humanitarian, a revolutionary, a socialist icon, an 18thcentury rock and roller, but also just a man who had a way with words, for a’ that.

Time and place

Scotland, Time and place

As we are limited by the incessant ticking of the clock, so do most of us constrain our lives by location. In turn, it is the place where we live that provides or denies the opportunities by which to thrive.

The area known as Southern Scotland incorporates the counties of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. It is a land of dramatic hillsides, sweeping rivers, tumbling falls and long, sandy beaches. This part of the British Isles has had its fair share of historic drama and its border towns have been won and lost to vying conquerors for millennia. Robert Burns, the great Scottish Bard, lived and died here. King Robert the Bruce was born here and it is here where he committed one of Scottish history’s most famous criminal acts —the murder of the Red Comyn at the altar of Greyfriar’s Kirk in Dumfries. This region has many famous sons as well as a long, vibrant history.

Much of the scenery of Southern Scotland has remained unravaged by man mainly owing to the fact that outlanders know little about it. For those who are confused as to where Southern Scotland actually is situated, it is the place to the left and right of you as you drive up the M74 from Hadrian’s Wall to the Central Belt and the Highlands. For the more intrepid traveller, it is the area mainly to your right as you head towards Stranraer for the ferry to Ireland. Despite attempts by VisitScotland and the local councils to direct visitors to turn left or right off the motorway, this part of Scotland tends to be by-passed by most tourists travelling to Scotland.

It is not surprising to find that large industries, transport networks, the mass media, important educational establishments and government cash also tend to by-pass Southern Scotland on their way to the north. This area apparently boasts the lowest wages in the United Kingdom and possibly the least available jobs and business opportunities. There is a rampant drug culture, mass unemployment and all the associated socio-economic problems that come with hopelessness. A quiet, relatively cheap, housing market has led to an influx of retired couples from more prosperous areas of the UK seeking comfort and serenity during their final days. This has bumped the house prices up threefold over the past few years and many local first time buyers are finding it difficult if not impossible to compete with their richer adversaries. Most of the land belongs to a big business heritable duchy and affordable housing is becoming a privilege of a distant past.

Southern Scotland, however, is probably no worse off than many rural areas in the UK and is considerably better off than most other places in the world. People, in general, have a way of overcoming obstacles and the survival instinct inherent in all forms of life enables us to endure.

The plus factor is that this part of the world stimulates the senses of many artists and craftmakers; of musicians and writers; of ramblers and hermits, who all find inspiration and significance in the quiet serenity of the hills. This region fires the imagination with new ideas and provides the opportunity with which to nurture it and fulfil aspirations.

My preparations for glory in five years can therefore begin. I have established my time and inadvertently my place. I have the space within which to carry out my work and the bedrock upon which to build my dreams. All I need now is the energy to see them through.