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Issue 94 - Editor's View: Visiting Ancient Sites

Scotland Magazine Issue 94
September 2017

 

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Editor's View: Visiting Ancient Sites

Christopher Coates on visiting Scotland's ancient sites

It's difficult to put into words, the feeling of being in a special place. Some may describe the experience as spiritual or, at the very least, as being viscerally aware that one is setting foot on hallowed ground. For me, visiting Scotland's ancient sites is equally awe-inspiring and, I must admit, unsettling. When stood before the standing stones at Callanish, for example, I can't help but wonder about the people that worked so hard to erect them. What were they like? What were their names? What were their hopes and fears? Why did they invest so much time and energy, of which we all have so precious little, on such a project?

Although the outcome is undoubtedly impressive and the endeavour itself monumental (mining many tonnes of Lewisian gneiss and then lugging it for miles is hardly the labour of a lazy afternoon), the mystery surrounding the true purpose of the stones reminds me of the ephemeral nature of mortal existence. Although the rocks themselves have survived the turbulent years from then to now, the meaning ascribed to them and the memory of the society that put them there has faded. One day, the stones too will be dust. Reflecting on this is a bittersweet experience: on the one hand we are reminded that the same will be true of ourselves and our own endeavours, while at the same time there is something joyous in hearing the call of our Neolithic ancestors reverberating down the eons. Although we can't decipher the meaning, we hear their call and, at the very least, they can tell us one thing: 'We lived. We died. We were here.'

Of course, anyone who has spent time travelling around Scotland will know that it's not just man-made wonders that inspire feelings of awe. In truth, it's the landscape that steals the show and the region of focus in this issue is no exception. The Outer Hebrides are islands of contrasts that are replete with breathtaking coastlines, mountainous glens, and empty moorland – there's much to enjoy for those who love the great outdoors.

Passionate naturalists will also not be disappointed, as Janice Hopper will tell you. She has visited the remote isles of St Kilda – a land that humans abandoned and nature reclaimed. Back on the mainland, Keith Fergus takes us on a tour of the dramatic North Coast 500, Scotland's answer to Route 66, and John Hannavy has discovered the impressive history of East Lothian. Continuing east, James Irvine Robertson takes us on a quick jaunt to Norway in a bid to learn more about the catastrophic Battle of Kringen, an event that saw many Scots die and rekindled Norwegian nationalism.

Focusing on the arts, Roddy Martine has met with two exceptionally talented individuals: Lesley Banks, a painter with a gusto for gongoozling, and Ryan Young, one of Scotland's leading fiddle players.