Blog for Waterstones April 2022

I am often asked what my favourite places in the Outer Hebrides are. Each time I stumble over the answer then berate myself for being unclear and inarticulate, feeling as if I have never quite given the answer that question deserves. Thinking now, I can see why it’s hard to answer: places hold value for me on many levels other than physical beauty, and each potential ‘favourite place’ is closely wrapped up in my feelings at the moment I was there, the company I was in, the thought patterns or conversation patterns flowing, the weather and the time of day.

A list of my favourite places might include: the deck of a CalMac ferry on a dolphin day; exposed oyster beds at Eoligarry where I left a tiny glass bead left for Mum; inside the horse box at Tangasdale machair with coffee coming up on the camping stove and rain coming down in torrents; Barra’s Traigh Mòr and the man with a rake whose words showed me a whole new perspective on sustainability; Morag’s floor in South Uist covered with our camping mats. I could go on and on, recalling the safe route across the tidal sands between North Uist and Benbecula; Baile a’ Mhanaich with the fluff-ball baby oyster catchers, the smell of chips coming through open windows; drams at sunset on the tidal island of Vallay; sheltering out of the wind in marram-grass dunes on the Udal peninsula. Berneray and a spoken map to the ‘fairy milk holes’; the hostel in Leverburgh and its vigorous hoover; the beehive dwellings and the camping spot at Kinloch Resort where a sea eagle and a dark night came to visit. 

Every one of these places could be my favourite, and all are inseparable from their connection to time and memory, people, and to two ponies.

There is one more place in this very long and fluid list that I am very attached to, and that is the horizon. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit writes that blue is the colour of distance, or ‘the colour of where you are not’. The horizons in the Outer Hebrides, whether of hills or islands or sea, houses or wind turbines, are blue-hued places my heart and mind reach out to rest within. 

Books, too, intermingle with my favourite memory-places in the Outer Hebrides. In Alastair McIntosh’s Poacher’s Pilgrimage, his erudite, visceral and spiritual relationship with the Outer Isles gripped me; my copy is well-worn having travelled through the islands with us. Books that I read in the time since the journey documented in Marram, that continue to add layers of depth and meaning to places in the Outer Hebrides, are David Gange’s deeply engaging Frayed Atlantic Edge and The Changing Outer Hebrides by Frank Rennie, both of which bring together the natural and human history of place. 

As someone preoccupied with belonging, dislocation and unbelonging, reading about place, and connection to place, is fascinating to me. As someone without deep roots in any one place, I find my own ways of putting out tap roots. Reading is one of them; walking with ponies is another.