Sunday, 10 June 2007
Betsy Whyte was born into a family of travellers who roamed the Scottish countryside between the wars. The summers were the best times, out on the open road, while the winters were spent in houses, pining for the first sign of spring - the yellow on the broom. Betsy Whyte's vivid description of a childhood on the road amidst a misunderstood people is a rich evocation of a vanishing world.
The story open in the Highlands as the twentieth century begins. The gypsy wife of wild drunkard Rory Stewart dies giving birth to their second son. Many years pass, and Rory and his sons are rootless travellers on the roads of Scotland. One night, during a winter storm, they
save another traveller family from freezing to death in a blizzard. Bruar Stewart and one of the girls he rescues, the hot-blooded and beautiful Megan, fall in love. But the First World War is declared, tearing their lives apart. Bruar is reported missing in action, an Megan sets off on a
long and perilous journey to find him...
An epic tale of love and loyalty by the author of the spellbinding autobiographical trilogy, Jessie's Journey.
In the first two books of her autibiography, Jessie's Journey and Tales from the Tent, Jess Smith told the story of her wandering years on the road with the last of Scotland's travellers, hawkers and gypsies. This third volume in the trilogy is Jess's at-times painful farewell to the travelling lifestyle which she loved.
Settling down to 'scaldy' (non-traveller) existence - marriage, kids and domesticity in a small council house - was never going to be easy for her. But though there were some tears, laughter is never far away. We move from a story of the car with no floor to a medical emergency, from the tall tales of her husband Dave's duck-hunt to his seafaring experiences, and from a chilling seance to a startling experiment with peroxide hair-colouring. There are more memories of Jess's early years on the road with her family in the old, blue bus.
Through it all are scattered wondeful gems from Jess's treasury of traditional tales - what the Loch Ness Monster really is, the strange fate of Blind Harry, and the ominous appearances of shapeshifters and werewolves. Handing on the tales told to her as she grew up, Jess reminds us that though most travellers have gone from the roads, their approach to life, understanding of nature and precious cultural legacy lives on, no matter how times may change.
In Tales from the Tent, Jess Smith - Scottish traveller, hawker, gypsy, 'gan-about' and storyteller - continues the unforgettable story of her life on the road. Unable to adjust to settled life working in a factory after leaving school, she finds herself drawn once again to the wild countryside of Scotland.
Having grown up on the road in an old blue bus with her parents and seven sisters, Jessie now joins her family in caravans, stopping to rest in campsites and lay-bys as they follow work around the country - berry-picking, hay-stacking, ragging, fortune-telling and hawking. Making the most of their freedom, Jessie and her family continue the traditional way of life that is disappearing before their eyes, wandering the roads and byways, sharing tales and living on the edge of 'acceptable' society.
Intertwined with the story of Jessie's loveable but infuriating family, incorrigible friends, first loves and first losses are her 'tales from the tent', a collection of folklore from the traveller's world. As Jessie travels through Scotland's silver-birch woods, along the salty shores of the west coast and over the border into England, she tells intriguing tales of romance, mythical beasts, dreams, ghostly apparitions and strange encounters.
Jessie's Journey, the first book in Jess Smith's autobiographical trilogy, is an unforgettable account of a way of life that has all but vanished. It is the story of Jessie, her seven sisters and their unconventional childhood roaming the country in an old blue Bedford bus. In this moving, honest and heart-warming memoir, Jess describes her life among an extraordinary people and their never-ending sruggle to survive as free travellers.
Jessie's parents lacked material wealth, but they clung to 'the richness that comes from freedom, a traveller's freedom'. Living as they did on the edge of "respectable" society, prejudice was never far away, but their world was brimming with laughter, love and adventure. Earning their living hay-stacking, beachcombing, ragging, midden-raking, berry-picking, fortune-telling and hawking, Jessie and her family travelled the length and breadth of Scotland and beyond.
Reflecting on the friendships, feuds, trials and tribulations of her boisterous family, Jess recalls a magical childhood, surrounded by the sea spray, birch woods and wild places of a Scotland few of us will ever know.
Considering the history of these organisations, their members and influence in their respective locations, they note the changing nature of Scottish culture as it flourishes amongst international diversity. Written as a series of specially conducted interviews with each chapter, a new location and new organisation "Wherever the Saltire Flies" investigates many and varied personalities.
By Alan McKirdy, John Gordon, Roger Crofts
Three eminent geologists introduce and trace the country's development, unravelling and explaining what is seen now in the landscape and why it came to be the way it is. They show readers exactly where they can find evidence of these natural changes in the country's landscape on the ground in different parts of Scotland. The Geology of Scotland is an essential book for anyone who is interested in the natural world around them and who wishes to develop a good knowledge about the original formation of their country. It is accessible and beautifully presented, contains a huge amount of detailed information told in clear, comprehensible language and is enhanced throughout with specially commissioned illustrations, diagrams and photographs.
By Katharine Stewart
THE HIGHLAND FREE PRESS, 16 March 2007
`the grande dame of mainland Highland literature'
Dundee Courier,23 March 2007
"But when 92-year-old Katharine Stewart decided to write her latest in a long line of books on Highland culture, she made a conscious effort to explore the contribution of WOMEN to Highland history, charting the development and preservation of the yarns, myths and songs that contributed to the development of Gaelic civilisation, and the impact women specifically have had on Highland history through the ages."
Scottish Review of Books,13 May 2007
`an uncomplicated look at history, the kind of take on historical continuity that reassures and comforts, rather than disturbs or unsettles.'
`her over-riding argument - that women of the Highlands contributed just as much to the culture of the region as well as to its survival as its menfolk did - is hard to refute.'
Ian Campbell Thomson relives his time as a young farmworker on a Stirlingshire farm after the Second World War.
It is a touching coming-of-age tale: we see the author make new friends and romances while finding his own way in a changing world. He describes the passing of age-old country ways, as technology begins to replace traditional farming methods.
The book is dedicated to Donald and Blossom, the magnificent pair of Clydesdale horses with which he ploughed, until the sad day when they were replaced by a smart Fordson tractor. Of those early times he writes: ` I often wondered how far I walked in a day behind the plough. My guess was somewhere between 12 and 15 miles...the words "the ploughman homeward wends his weary way" just about sums up the end of the day trudge back to the farm, with darkness closing in and the stable work to be done.'
Peopled with memorable characters including the hard-working `boss', and the wise Aunt Kit, this is a unique tribute, full of humour and nostalgia
to a disappearing culture.
By Sheila Stewart
Belle Stewart (nee MacGregor) was born in 1906 in a bow tent on the banks of the river Tay, into a travelling family of tinkers and pearlfishers. When she was seven months old, Belle's father died, and the family was no longer able to travel full-time. They settled in Blairgowrie, scraping a living picking fruit and potatoes. Growing up, Belle was surrounded by stories and songs that had been passed down over centuries through the generations of Scottish travellers. She continued learning, singing and writing songs as she travelled around Scotland and Ireland with her piper husband Alec Stewart, who she married in 1925. Perhaps her best known song, "The Berryfields o' Blair", spread amongst the travellers and was collected by Hamish Henderson in the 1950s. He managed to track down Belle as the writer of the song and so began to record the songs and stories of her family.
The 'Stewarts o' Blair', as they were known, became stars of the folk scene, performing in concerts all over Europe and the United States. Belle's performances were compelling. Dazzling audiences with her warmth and elegance, she was awarded a BEM by the queen for her contribution to folk music. She died in 1997. In "Queen of the Heather", Sheila Stewart tells the moving story of her mother's life and career. Interspersed with the Stewarts' songs and stories told in Perthshire cant, this biography is an insightful and personal tribute to one of Scotland's most renowned folk singers, as well as to the rich culture of the travelling people.
Monday, 4 June 2007
Isolation Shepherd - by Iain R. Thomson
In August 1956, a young shepherd, his wife, two-year-old daughter and ten-day-old son sat huddled in a small boat on Loch Monar in Ross-shire as a storm raged around them. They were bound for a tiny, remote cottage at the western end of the loch which was to be their home for the next four years. "Isolation Shepherd" is the moving story of those years. More than simply a sensitive and richly detailed account of the shepherd's life through the season, Iain Thomson's book also vividly captures the splendour of one of Scotland's most awesome landscapes, and depicts the numerous incidents that shaped the family's life there before the area was flooded as part of a huge hydro-electric project.
Tales and Travels of a School Inspector - by Wilson John
John Wilson was an Inspector of Schools during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. His career in education spanned 50 years, during which time he inspected many schools in the Highlands and Islands, including Jura, Islay, Orkney, Argyll, Heisker and Iona. First published in 1928, the personal account of his experiences is both compassionate and humorous, providing a valuable insight into the social and educational conditions in the Gaelic Highlands and Islands following the 1872 Education Act.
Clap Hands for the Singing Molecatcher: Scenes from a Scottish Childhood - by Roderick Grant
Laughter, tragedy and dramatic incident thread their way through the life of a growing boy and the lives of the people he observes. Roderick Grant's book is not merely one of nostalgic recall. It is a richly evocative memoir of a time and place when horses still drew ploughs and children walked seven miles or more each day to reach their school; and where shepherd and gamekeeper, farmer and labourer, forester, railway worker, teacher, laird and minister, and their families, were all part of a community, close-knit in its isolation from the changing post-war world.
The Pearl-fishers - by Robin Jenkins
When the beautiful pearl-fisher, Effie Williamson, arrives in a rural Scottish village, with her grandparents and siblings, the residents react in many different ways, from hospitable warmth to outright rejection, exacerbated when the religious, gentle Gavin Hamilton takes the family into his home, the Old Manse. A difficult love blossoms gradually between Effie and Gavin under the scrutiny of the watchful locals.
The Summer Walkers is the name the crofters of Scotland's north-west Highlands gave the Travelling People - the itinerant tinsmiths, horse-dealers, hawkers and pearl fishers who made their living 'on the road'. They are not gypsies, but are indigenous Gaelic-speaking Scots, who, to this day, remain heirs of a vital and ancient culture. The Summer Walkers documents an archetypal and vanishing way of life.
The story of modern Britain began 300 years ago, with the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland in 1707. In this fresh and challenging look at the origins of the United Kingdom, the first full study for four decades, Michael Fry traces the fault-lines of the present time right back to the treaty drawn up between the ruling classes of Scotland and England three centuries ago. In many previous histories this has been interpreted as mere dictation by England, which Scotland accepted for the economic gains it was supposed to bring.
Fry rejects the idea that the economy was of overwhelming importance and shows how Scots were able to exploit English ignorance of and indifference to their country, as evident now as then, to steer the settlement in their own favour. That left the future of Scotland, England and Britain open, not closed. The full implications are only being worked out in our own time. While focusing on the few years which led up to the Union, Fry's reassessment casts its net wider than existing interpretations. He includes the political history of England as well as of Scotland, all set against the backdrop of war in Europe and the emergence of imperialism. He compares the fate of the Scots with that of other small nations.
By a close, comparative reading of the evidence he manages to reconstruct the human as well as the political story, in the voices of the people where they can still be discerned, in plots and conspiracies long lost from view, in reports from battlefields and in the impassioned debates of the Scots Parliament as the nation steeled itself for the loss of independence which, even so, it would not allow to become irrevocable.
Today we are as far away from the First World War as the Edwardians were from the Battle of Waterloo, but it casts a shadow over Scottish life that was never produced by the wars against Napoleon. The country and its people were changed forever by the events of 1914-1918. Once the workshop of the empire and an important source of manpower for the colonies, after the war, Scotland became something of an industrial and financial backwater. Emigration increased as morale slumped in the face of economic stagnation and decline. The country had paid a disproportionately high price in casualties, a result of the larger numbers of volunteers and the use of Scottish battalions as shock troops in the fighting on the Western Front and Gallipoli - young men whom the novelist Ian Hay called 'the vanished generation [who] left behind them something which neither time can efface nor posterity belittle.'
There was a sudden crisis of national self-confidence, leading one commentator to suggest in 1927 that 'the Scots are a dying race.' Royle examines related themes such as the overwhelming response to the call for volunteers and the subsequent high rate of fatalities, the performance of Scottish military formations in 1915 and 1916, the militarisation of the Scottish homeland, the resistance to war in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, the boom in the heavy industries and the strengthening of women's role in society following on from wartime employment.
In "A Strange and Wild Place", Sandra MacPherson recorded her extraordinary life as a Highland chieftain's wife on Glentruim estate, weaving her own story with tales of infamous Macphersons of old. In her latest book, she broadens her horizons to include the whole of Badenoch and Strathspey, introducing a multitude of old and new tales from the area, as well as providing more personal recollections of her experiences there.
In addition to stories featuring members of her own MacPherson clan, she also includes tales of love, battle, adventure, intrigue, danger and dark secrets, as well as chilling accounts of witchcraft, the supernatural and the unexplained. Together, these stories paint a vivid picture of this very special corner of the Highlands - not only of its richly varied landscape made up of farmland, forest and stark, imposing mountains, but also of the people who have lived and loved there through the centuries, and of the changes over time that have inevitably affected and continue to mould their lives.More about this book
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