postcards from the western fringe 8- beaches bikes and peat fires…


Emily and I cycled to the beautiful Bosta beach.

There is a recreated Iron Age house there, and white sands, and clear blue green sea.

It was so lovely, we took Michaela and Will in the evening.

Some photos…

Postcards from the western fringe 7- fishing for souls…


Had a lovely day today- touring the north of the island with Emily. The weather was mixed, but we even sat on a beach for a while today, before the wind and rain drove us back to the car.

Talking of wind- there was a tornado in Stornoway last night! The school that Will and Michaela are doing classes in as part of the Feis was damaged.

This afternoon we really enjoyed meeting up with Gayle Findlay for a cuppa. She moved up here from Bristol about a year ago, and has a great blog recording some of the transition.

One subject that is hard to escape – both as a visitor to Lewis, and for incomers- is the central importance of a particular kind of rigid faith to just about everything that happens here. It seems to shape the very landscape, or perhaps is a response to the savage environment.

The dominance of the Free Church of Scotland with its severe, Calvinistic and (at least to outsiders) legalistic approach to the life of faith has been the driving force for communities here for much of the last 100 years. The church casts a shadow that I confess (as an outsider) I find oppressive.

In saying this, I do not mean to be offensive to fellow Christians. Their context and journey is so very different from mine. I have been stirred by stories of transformation during the Hebridean revival. It is a story that has been retold to inspire us to eagerly chase after revival. Check out this American video-

I once heard revival described as being like a volcano- all fire, smoke and hot flowing lava. Soon the smoke and fire lessens, but the lava still flows, even if the outer core crusts hard over. Eventually however, the crust is all that is left. It is from this solid rock that the walls of churches are built from.

I took two photographs today that kind of summed things up for me. The first was this one-


In these parts, Children are not allowed to play on the Sabbath. Or not openly anyway.

I note the the Free Church youth magazine is called- Free.

The other photo was this one…



There was a river next to this graveyard, but the irony of the fishers for the souls of the dead needing a permit from the kirk made me chuckle.

Particularly as such frivolous practices were not to be indulged in on Sundays.

postcards from the western fringe 6- An Clisham…


Today Emily and I climbed An Clisham, the highest mountain in the Western Isles, at 799 metres above sea level.

We almost did not go, as the wind and rain were rattling the windows this morning. However, it cleared up long enough for us to give it a go- but it was a VERY windy climb. We had to be very careful- taking small staggering steps for much of the last third of the climb.

Despite my recent post (Postcard 4) I was very grateful for the sketchy footpath to guide us stumbling down through the crags and bogs. Serves me right for over egging the argument I think…

I was messing around with some of the images on Picasa and put together this (not very creative!) you tube clip…

Postcards from the western fringe 4- footpaths…


I took this walk out along the coast towards Bosta.

It was lovely. Wind coming in from the sea, sun shining through scudding clouds.

And I started thinking about footpaths. And theology.

It started with a boggy patch- you know the sort- a lush patch of green that looks all firm and supportive, but turns out to be a cunning thin skin over a foul boot sucking bog. Such things always remind me of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian wending his way on the journey of life, until he leaves the path again, and falls into the slough of despond.

It seemed to me that this way of understanding the walk of faith weighed on me for years. It is based on a view that God has proscribed paths for all of us, and should we step to the left or the right of it then well betide us. The best we could hope for, like Bunyan’s Christian, is to stumble back out of the wilderness back onto the golden path…


Now paths are useful things, as long as

  • You know where you are going
  • The destination is the object of the journey
  • Others have been there before and marked the journey well

But what I found in my spiritual journeying was that the linear, proscribed paths I grew up with became no journey at all. What Bunyan’s followers handed down to me was a spirituality that mapped and measured the life out of each step. A Spirituality that had all the signposts, but had lost all the adventure. That became fixated on the destination, not the joy in the moment, and the companionship of the road.

Walking the mountains of Scotland, as opposed to England, means contending with a much wilder country. The few footpaths are faint, and easily confused with animal tracks. Making your way over rough land is hard work. But these landscapes are no mere backdrop to be drawn past the journey- they are the very place were we encounter the quickening that comes from being tested, inspired and humbled by real wilderness.

The old well trodden spiritual paths are falling out of use. People no longer appear to believe the old signposts, nor are attracted by the destination.

Perhaps the analogy of faith as footpath to be mapped and trod is a poor one. It certainly lacks something for me.

Perhaps the useful analogy should be less focussed on destination, and more on encounter, adventure and dependence. Of moving outwards, looking for the traces of Jesus and listening for the whisper of the Spirit in the wind and the waves.


But in this wild country, we still need pioneers. We still need to connect with others who walk in the way…


Postcards from the western fringe 3- now and then…

Lewisian Gneiss is the oldest exposed rock in the British Isles.


2000 million years ago, massive forces twisted and melted this rocks into the crystalline shapes that became these islands.

It was another 1200 million years before multi cellular life forms crawled across the rocks.

Another 5oo million years passed, and along came the dinosaurs.

Mammals took another 430 million years.

And as for us, we humans- well we just got here yesterday. Well, around 6,000 years ago we found our way to these parts, and made a life on these rocks.

I took a walk today that kind of brought this home to me. We humans live lives as if we are important. As if we are significant. As if the world was made for us and owes us something.

But we walk in others footsteps… which like ours, are quickly fading…

Most of us have a folk memory of the scattering of people from these places during the clearances. All around the Highlands are the remains of old dwellings- the Blackhouses– built from the rock and earth, and slowly returning to the same.


People left these houses around the turn of the 19th Century. Those who stayed- those who did not sail away to Canada or Australia- moved with the modern times into ‘modern’ houses. With fireplaces, and windows and solid floors.

But there is a new and unfolding diaspora from these islands.

As much as Highland culture and communities are being celebrated- they are still fragile. Traditional industries of crofting and fishing are all but gone. Young people still leave if they want to get ahead.

Old people, who still hold the old times in their stories and their songs. They too will soon be gone…



Old gramaphone

Old gramaphone


Gaelic Bible, open on the Mantlepiece.

Postcards from the western fringe 2- big sisters rock!

So here we are, on Bernera, a little island connected to Lewis by a causeway. The last time we were here will was one year old, and took his first unaided steps on the ferry. Here he is as he was, and where we now are (if you see what I mean.)


We are staying in a holiday cottage with wide open windswept views in every direction. Funny thing is, when we checked out the guest book, we saw the name of some old friends from England, Mark and Joy Headley, who stayed here in 2006. Well I never…

Bernera has a lovely community feel about it- and they have a new play area for the kids near the community centre.

The first thing we did was cycle over there and Emily and Will (and mum and dad too) became monkeys for a while.

But faced with a rather scary pole slide thing, Will became a rather timid monkey. Step forward Big Sister…

(Click to enlarge.)

Tomorrow we go north, and west…


We will walk where the land mingles with the sea, and the horizon stretches on for ever.

We will swim, risking frostbite, and cycle into gales that will make forward progress unlikely. We will swat midges and shiver in small tents as the rain rolls in off the mountains.

We will make our own little adventures and cook over sparkling driftwood campfires.

We will make memories.

And be grateful.


Loving the enemy…

Been thinking again about love…

I was ‘bounced’ today by a particularly aggressive and difficult colleague. She had an issue with something I had done, which she perceived as somehow disrespectful towards her, and she very assertively diced and sliced me- with eloquent arrogance and sneering silences.

As usual, I did not cope well with the direct assault, and so bumbled my way to an apology (which I did not really mean, as I still do not know what I am supposed to have done wrong) and then threw in a few disjointed defensive positions of my own.

She put her sunglasses on and went on her icy way, leaving me grinding my teeth over what I should have said.

I had a lovely drive to Bute, listening to Test Match Special, but even hearing about Flintoff destroying the Australian’s did not drive away the cloud that hovered above the aerial of my car. A cloud of controlled ritualised aggression out there in the ether, just out of reach.


Ah… such is my condition. Despite my small and hopefully developing ability to be assertive, some situations still turn me to jelly. I wish I was tougher- a relisher of conflict as a resolver of problems and a way of defeating my enemies. A fast bowler pounding up a cloud on a flat wicket and humbling the emphemeral batsman before me…

Or sometimes I do.

Because no matter how my frailties weigh on me- no matter how unjust the day dawns. At the end of it all-

There is love.

But, Lord help me, I am not yet at that end…