Friday, July 23, 2010

My new book - a dry stone dyke tells its story

My second pocket book is out this week, with a stony cover to chime visually with ‘Whiter than White’, and inside pages illustrated with line drawings. ‘The Beat of Heart Stones’ celebrates a Highland Perthshire landmark - an extraordinary dry-stone dyke that climbs two miles in a straight line towards the summit of Schiehallion. I find it hard to claim it as either fiction or non-fiction, but a walker who falls into step with the wall gets to hear its story.

Dry stone walling dates back at least three and a half millennia, to the village of Skara Brae in Orkney, and the Iron Age brochs of northern and western Scotland. The Perthshire dyke probably dates from the early nineteenth century and marks a very old boundary line. My eye has always been drawn up the dyke from the road under Schiehallion’s northern side. It has a monumental place in the landscape, striking upwards over steep and undulating ground. Eventually I walked its length, and began to think about the artistry of the people who built it, and what it might have witnessed in two centuries of standing there. That’s when I started to ‘hear’ the voice of the wall! More about the project can be found by clicking on the ‘dyke’ label.

‘The Beat of Heart Stones’ by Linda Cracknell, best foot books,
ISBN 978-0-9562453-1-1, £4. Available from The Aberfeldy Watermill, some other local outlets, and direct from my website for £4 inc p&p.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Books, Borders, Bikes

The 'Books, Borders, Bikes' festival running for the first time at the gorgeous Traquair House in the Borders on 14th and 15th August is getting me excited. It brings together so many of my passions: land, walking, cycling and international exchange. I've been invited to appear with Raja Shehadeh, whose writings, particularly about walking, identity and land issues ('Palestinian Walks') I've long admired, and his insightful piece on walking in the Scottish Highlands appeared in 'A Wilder Vein' which I edited last year.

The organising body, 'Beyond Borders', is 'an international art consortium dedicated to showcasing the work of writers, intellectuals, artists and filmmakers who come from small nations around the world. Beyond Borders aims to offer a platform for artists from similar smaller nations to explore common themes and experiences, especially in relation to those nations and peoples who are or have been caught up in conflict.' And they are working with Scottish PEN, hence my involvement at Traquair.

You can find the programme here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

coffin roads and wool shrouds

Bereft of our long-planned but necessarily postponed 'drove' through the Cairngorms, a small group of us spent a couple of days exploring the southerly section of our intended journey between Glen Brerachan, near Kirkmichael, and Blair Atholl. An old road stretches though here, a 'short-cut' through the hills, a by-pass of Pitlochry. The road, that climbs north over a pass and then drops to the beautiful 'Shinagag' meadow, has been in use for centuries, connecting sizable hill communities that were once strung through the glen. The life that once clamoured there now haunts the wayside in quiet, low, piles of stone and the choruses of sheep.

It was also a coffin road, for corpses carried to St Bride's church in Old Blair (pictured below) over ten or fifteen miles in what must have often been difficult conditions. One testimony to this remains in stone. A funeral party, forced back by bad weather, had to bury the corpse by the side of the road at the nearest point to the church, a good four miles short. The grave remains as a lonely marker.

Walking with my old friend and wool artist, Yuli Somme (above), added a special dimension to this sense of the past, and of the rituals associated with death. One of her creative enterprises is making felt shrouds for natural burials. Thinking 'outside the box', the Bellacouche shroud is designed in the shape of a leaf, evoking the changing seasons of life, its surface embroidered with oak or willow. It's used instead of a coffin, in either a woodland burial ground or traditional churchyard. Our walk through a landscape littered with discarded wool fleece, was occasionally halted by phone calls from relatives planning funerals, celebrating lives of loved ones by choosing this gentle form of carriage.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Drove activities cancelled

Just in case any readers were intending to join us drovers along the route next week, I'm afraid to say that because of some sad circumstances, the journey has had to be postponed.

More news will follow in due course.