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Issue 32 - Keeping in touch

Scotland Magazine Issue 32
April 2007

 

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Keeping in touch

Sally Toms learns a thing or two from Scotland Magazine's readers

One of the things I like best about Scotland is it’s ability to surprise you. After several years of visiting the country, writing about it and talking about it, there’s always something new to discover.

A case in point: for this year’s Icons of Scotland awards we emailed a selection of readers asking for their nominations.

It’s a sad fact we rarely hear from our readers (such is the nature of publishing) but the response to our email was surprising. Many people were delighted to share their Scottish experiences, and responded with all kinds of anecdotes, stories and suggestions for possible Icons around the country.

Our readers have tramped the length and breadth of the country, and know it pretty well. The emails we received felt like an education.

One particular email was from a gentleman who raved about the island of Staffa, a place I was aware of but never fully appreciated how fantastic it is. So I did a bit of research.

The tiny island, just west of Mull, became a popular tourist destination thanks to Mendellsohn’s Hebridean overture, and played host to a veritable Who’s Who of 19th century figures: Keats, Wordsworth, JM Turner, Sir Walter Scott, even Queen Victoria was blown away by its dramatic landscape.

It’s most famous landmark of course is Fingal’s Cave, but that’s not the half of it. Imagine hundreds of wooden pencils squashed together, hexagonal steps of all different heights and sizes pointing this way and that, and you’ve got a pretty good picture.

Giants Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, gets a lot of publicity for doing the same thing. But Staffa keeps quiet about it with traditional Scottish reticence.

Legend has it that the two places were once linked. Once upon a time there lived an Irish giant named Fionn MacCool (Fingal is a misappropriation of the name by the poet James Macpherson).

Fionn didn’t get on very well with his Scottish neighbour, another giant called Benandonner. The two giants would shout and jeer at each other across the Irish sea until, one day, Fionn built a causeway linking Scotland and Ireland so they could fight it out once and for all. Tired after his labours, Fionn fell asleep but Benandonner couldn’t wait and came stomping across the causeway to bash seven bells out of Fionn.

Fionn’s wife saw the giant coming and quickly threw a blanket over her husband to disguise him. When Benandonner arrived she said something like ‘sshh don’t wake the baby.’ Benandonner took one look at the size of the sleeping ‘infant’ and balked at the idea of fighting someone who could father such an enormous child.

He hot-tailed it back to Scotland before you could say fe fi fo fum, tearing up the causeway as he went so as not to be followed. All that remains is the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and of course, Staffa.

The other explanation of course, is that these unique rock formations were created as a result of a volcanic eruption which occurred about 60 million years ago. But if you prefer to believe that then you’re dead inside. Or a geologist, in which case that’s okay.

There were many more emails praising Scotland’s other hidden gems. They were an absolute pleasure to read.

Sometimes it can feel a bit like we’re locked away in our ivory tower here at Scotland Magazine. I love getting feedback from our readers. This magazine is not about us telling you what we love about Scotland, it’s about us trying to tap into what you love about it. So do keep in touch.