Last September we undertook a tour of Scottish islands.

John has relatives who live on Arran, so over the years, we have visited it many times.   Arran is a very lovely  island, and just as with a beautiful woman it is difficult to define exactly what makes one woman beautiful and another merely attractive, so I have never been able to identify just what about Arran makes it so beautiful.   Perhaps it is that it has a great variety of scenery, and is often described as ‘Scotland in miniature’.    It has some standing stones at its centre, and is of a reasonable size.      Driving right round it would take about 3 hours.   It has 6 or 7 golf courses, several small towns, some nice places to eat, a distillery…   all you need on a Scottish island really.   Sitting in the Clyde estuary it is accessible.    It is warmed by the Gulf Stream and palms can grow on it.   Allegedly it is where Robert the Bruce met the spider.   There do not appear to be any remaining  indiginous people.   I have never met anyone with more than three generations associated with it, and so far as I know it has no accent peculiar to itself.

North was the song of our journey, for after Arran we made our way, for the third time, to Orkney.   This is a group of many islands, hunkered down in the fearsome Pentland Firth against the perpetual Atlantic gales.   It does not feel in the least like a Hebridean island, and belongs to the Scandinavian/Viking tradition.   It is beautiful in a bleak and stark way, with few hills (apart from on Hoy) and hardly any trees.   It has one of the loveliest and largest stone circles of the British Isles, (photograph courtesy of John) consisting  of very tall stones, which stand in a landscape virtually unaltered since  they were heaved into their places.   It has brochs, chambered tombs, stone age villages, a recent amazing archeological find of what they think is a large ‘temple complex’ which turns the presumed history of Neolithic peoples in Britain on its head, wonderful beaches, great bird life, renaissance ruins, and a tremendous second world war history.   It has a harsh and guttural accent and fine people, who have never been especially interested in tourism.

To me, the size of islands is very important.   My maternal family came from the island of Lewis, but island life has NEVER appealed to me.   In illustration of my phobia – we visited Gigha, a very small island.    We had a meal in the evening in one of its only two restaurants, called I think The Shack, or the Boat Shed and right beside the pier.    (Very nice too, good wine list and excellent waiter who combined all the many skills of that difficult job and pitched his role between formality and friendliness absolutely spot on).   However, next day, three different people, none of whom so far as we could recall had been in the restaurant with us, enquired if we had enjoyed our meal.  We fled the island in horror.

I recall that our tour guide in Iceland – a unique and lovely island – described his native land as ‘the second largest island in Europe.’    ‘Who are the largest?’, I enquired in all innocence.    “Why you are, of course,” he replied in surprise.  ‘Great Britain is the largest island in Europe.’

Ah, I thought.    He is surprised I don’t know that.   What he doesn’t realise is that although we know we are islanders, and are proud of our maritime skills, we don’t actually think of ourselves as ‘an island in Europe.’    We think we are the centre of the universe, glorious Albion, the isles of the blessed, this sceptred isle, God’s own chosen darlings, whae’s like us?    Largest island in Europe doesn’t even begin to describe how we see ourselves.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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