Here’s bestselling author, Bob Atkinson, on the quiet shadow that reveals a dark past to the Scottish Highlands.
Lighting the Darkness
I love looking at pictures of Earth taken from satellites. Those taken at night are particularly illuminating – if you’ll pardon the pun.
The great centres of population in Europe, North America, India, China and so on, are lit up like Christmas trees. But the darkness too has a story to tell. There are deserts where only the hardiest creatures can scratch a living. There are great forests, swamplands, mountain ranges, Arctic tundra.
Then there are those areas where the darkness is man-made.
Much of the northern half of Scotland lies black and empty. Here the landlords of the nineteenth century did their work well, leaving little but ruins and silence and an emptiness that tugs at the soul.
And the families, the descendants of the great clans who once inhabited these darkened glens; what of them? Well, their seed was scattered to the four corners of the Earth; to the towns and cities of the New World. To where the lights now shine brightly.
As many as twenty-five million Americans claim Scottish ancestry. Add to this five million Canadians; some two million Australians and New Zealanders. Half a million Northern Irish also trace Scottish roots.
It seems our greatest export has always been our people.
But there are signs that the tide might be turning. At the last count, over 400,000 English people had moved north to settle in Scotland. Many – though not all – have come to escape the rat race. Other accents can now be now heard in our towns and villages: Irish, Asian, West Indian; and of course Polish, experiencing their own diaspora.
The Isle of Skye, whose population had slumped to 7000 in 1971, has seen a 40% increase in forty years.
Here and there one even hears the odd American accent.
On a recent TV programme I followed the story of a wonderful lady by the name of Angela Scott. She was a New York attorney who visited Skye some 16 years ago and simply fell in love with the island.
Now she lives in a croft, grows vegetables and keeps chickens and sheep. She and her husband own a smokehouse, where they cure venison and salmon. It is said you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted her savoury smoked salmon cheesecake; based on a recipe brought to Scotland from Brooklyn.
Her products are sold across the U.K.
But Angela Scott and others like her are pinpricks of light in the darkness. Great swathes continue to lie empty.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Skye poet Mhairi Mhor, Mary Macdonald of the songs, predicted:
“the day will come when the sheep will be wheeled away and the glens will be tilled. The cold, ruined houses will be raised up by our kinsmen.”
Not in my lifetime, certainly, but perhaps one day people will be able to look at satellite images which show the dark Highland glens lit up once again, however faintly, with light and with life.
The Last Sunset is Bob’s historical thriller — or time travel Romance if you prefer — set in the Western Highlands in 1746 (and elsewhen!). His book has topped the bestseller charts on amazon.com and the eBook is on sale at Amazon and most other retailers until Thursday, June 27th. Follow this link for more information.