What is it about islands…?

Just what is it about islands that authors, playwrights and poets are drawn to use them as settings for their works? Especially crime writers? I wrote an article on this very topic, which is now in The Island Review.

If you haven’t come across The Island Review before, it’s an online magazine which is: ‘dedicated to great writing and visual art that comes from, is inspired by, celebrates or seeks to understand the extraordinary appeal of islands, as places and as metaphors.’

So if you like books, enjoy crime stories, are intrigued by islands and wonder what William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Peter May and Enid Blyton have in common? Then read on, Macduff!:  ‘A distant isle, where darkest deeds are done’

Bute’s West Island Way

iScot magazine have a special free download offer this month. Among many other interesting items, it contains an article I’ve written about the wonderful West Island Way walking trail on the island of Bute. https://pocketmags.com/iscot-magazine

You can also read about Robert Burns, the remote but beautiful Applecross Peninsula, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, current affairs, whisky, the dreaded midge, Meal Makers (help for the elderly) and much more.

And if you love the great outdoors here’s a new website devoted to Argyll: http://www.wildaboutargyll.co.uk/  Watch the short film and see how many of these places you have already been to – and then visit the rest!

There’s something for everyone in Scotland!

Steps on the Road to Recovery

The journey on the road to recovery from illness can take different paths

If you know Bute, you’ll know the long, steep, twisting road that’s very appropriately called the Serpentine. It’s a favourite challenge with cycling enthusiasts, who test their mettle tackling the 13 hairpin bends to get to the top. Today we’re sitting in a flat halfway up this precipitous road with a spectacular view right over Rothesay Bay and beyond. From here we can see the Calmac ferry making its final turn to berth at the pier, bringing both residents and visitors to this popular island in the Firth of Clyde. With its gleaming white superstructure and red and black funnels, emblazoned with the company’s insignia, the ferry is a vivid and welcome sight – no matter how often you may have seen it before.

We’re here for a few days holiday – though rest and recuperation would be a more accurate description. My husband almost lost his life a short while ago and even though he’s recovering well, and so very grateful to be alive, it still takes time to come to terms with an event that could have changed our lives forever.

Karen Latto of PrintPoint, with author Richard Smith

Karen Latto of Print Point, with author Richard Smith

It felt like more than a coincidence when we discovered that Print Point, the island’s fine bookshop, was hosting a visit from eminent gynaecological surgeon and cancer specialist J Richard Smith. Richard’s new book – The Journey – is an account of the author’s own brush with ‘the reality of mortality’, as well as examining the physical and psychological challenges faced by recovering patients. You might think that recovery from a life-threatening illness, or accident, would leave you ready to carry on with life as before, but in fact, he told us, people often fall into one of two categories. There are  those who recover and have a heightened sense of being given a second chance and endeavour to live each day to the full. But, sadly, there are others who find themselves sinking into a state of dread, so anxious are they that the illness might recur that they become unable to live life meaningfully, and become prisoners of their own fears.

The road to recovery can be a long one, but can also be a joyous one

The road to recovery can be a long one, but can also be a joyous one

Like most people, I’d heard it said that, if you fall off a horse you should get back on one again as soon as possible before you find yourself too scared to do so. But I hadn’t thought of this in connection with major illnesses and accidents.

I do now.

Unbidden and unwelcome comes the thought that if it could happen once it could happen again. And how do you deal with that?

Richard Smith’s book suggests one way. With his many years experience working with patients who are at their most vulnerable, physically as well as psychologically, The Journey (subtitled Spirituality, Pilgrimage and Chant) maps Richard’s own ‘pilgrimage’, his journeys of discovery. He writes of the road he has travelled towards physical and spiritual wellbeing; “of the challenges and wonders of pilgrim paths to ancient sites such as Jerusalem, Assisi, Iona, Patmos and Mount Athos… The Journey is a book about being whole and is for anyone on the pathway to physical healing after illness, or seeking greater spiritual fulfillment.”

Old Man's Beard lichen tells of a healthy environment in nature

Old Man’s Beard lichen tells of a healthy environment in nature – exercise and being outdoors helps us feel healthier too!

Right now we feel such gratitude that we’ve been given that second chance and are learning to overcome the fears that inevitably accompany it. I hope the path we chose is the one where we continue to live life with relish and make the most of each day as it comes.

Reading Richard’s book, being back on Bute, having the support of friends; these all contribute to the ongoing process of recovery. And I’m grateful for all of them.

The Journey by J Richard Smith

“Discover Bute”: a lasting legacy?

Rothesay's largest ever visitor?

Rothesay’s largest ever visitor?

Over a period of four years from 2008 to 2012 the people of Bute took part in a wonderful project that brought the island’s rural landscape to the fore. Through the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme (DBLPS), and under the able guidance of its coordinator Bridget Paterson, a huge range of projects flourished and were enjoyed by thousands of people. There was the unforgettable first outing of the Big Man Walking, the restoration of hedgerows and woodland, the creation of new walks across the island, the discovery of artifacts more than 4,000-years-old in the Bronze Age Barrow at Scalpsie, the building of new bird hides at Ettrick Bay and Loch Quien, the repairing of dry stone walls, dozens of school visits, an abundance of related training courses and an unprecedented participation of volunteers – islanders and visitors alike.  It was wonderful!

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute - a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute – a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

At the same time there was a community forest buy-out at the north end of the island, with Discover Bute again involved in the creation of new pathways and the building of new bridges to open up this area for all to enjoy.  There have even been brilliant bench-making courses for anyone who wanted to try their hand at that!

But what now? Could the momentum and involvement that was generated back then be continued?  The answer to that is undoubtedly – and thankfully! – ‘Yes’!

Much of the historical legacy of Discover Bute is now being carried forward by Paul Duffy, who was Discover Bute’s archaeological director. Through his new venture Brandanii Archaeology, Paul hopes to continue and expand the connection between the people of Bute and their island’s rich heritage.

While walkers, and those who’ve ever tackled Bute’s unique West Island Way, will be delighted to see that another group, the Bute Conservation Trust, have just set out their plans – and hopes – for the coming year.  It’s good to see that so much is being done to build on Discover Bute’s achievements, and that so many people are still willing to be involved and give up their time and energy to make Bute a great place to live in and visit.  Long may it continue!

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Scalpsie Bay – A Walk through Time

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

The Isle of Bute, although lying in the Firth of Clyde and close to the main centre of population in Scotland, is often called ‘The Undiscovered Isle’.  Many people think of it only in terms of the main town, Rothesay, once a thriving summer coastal resort, now rather run-down and tired.  But beyond the town lies beautiful countryside, magnificent bays and a wealth of history – just waiting to be discovered!

Scalpsie Bay, on the south-west of Bute, is home to a populous seal colony, as well as having magnificent views over to Arran.  It also holds thousands of years of history – from a Bronze Age barrow and Iron Age dun, to the water channels built by the 19th century engineer Robert Thom to power the islands then flourishing cotton mills and the “Russian Cottage” used during the Cold War to listen for possible Soviet submarines in the Firth of Clyde.  But there is much, much more to this beautiful bay than this, so go and discover it for yourself!

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010