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Angus & Patricia Macdonald

the Hebrides An Aerial View of a Cultural Landscape

Foreword by J i m H u n t e r

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the Hebrides

Angus & Patricia An Aerial View of a Cultural Landscape Macdonald

Foreword by

Jim Hunter

The Hebrides of Scotland – around 500 diverse and fascinating islands – form a magnificent archipelago on the northwestern Atlantic fringe of Europe. In this book, Angus and Patricia Macdonald survey the cultural landscape of this dramatically beautiful, complex and historically conflicted area, by using the evidence of their stunning aerial photographs alongside written accounts, oral memoir, poetry and prose (in Gaelic and English), from the time of Columba to the present day. The book takes the reader on a journey, not simply to the islands, but also into the layers of natural and human history visible on the surface of the land, which reveal how the present-day landscape came to be as it is. Angus and Patricia Macdonald have collaborated for over twenty years on the record and interpretation of the history and current state of cultural landscapes, using aerial photography as the main tool.

ISBN: 978 1 84158 315 0 £30.00 hbk 250 x 246 mm 256pp September 2010

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Hebrides from the Air

For publicity and marketing enquiries please contact Jan Rutherford, Publicity & Marketing Director, Birlinn Ltd Tel: 0131 337 9724 Mobile: 07710 474308 Fax: 0131 623 1244 Email: jan.ppw@blueyonder.co.uk SALES MANAGER Bob Smith Email: bob@birlinn.co.uk Mobile: 07917 752713 SALES LIAISON MANAGER Helen Stanton Email: helen@birlinn.co.uk Tel: 0131 668 4371 SALES REPRESENTATION England and Wales Compass DSA Ltd 13 Progress Business Centre Whittle Parkway Slough SL1 6DQ Tel: 01628 559500 Fax: 01628 663876 Maureen Carrington Email: maureen@compass-dsa.co.uk Scotland Seol Ltd West Newington House 10 Newington Road Edinburgh EH9 1QS Tel: 0131 668 1456 Fax: 0131 668 4466 Email: info@seol.co.uk DISTRIBUTION BookSource 50 Cambuslang Road Glasgow G32 8NB Customer service/Orders Tel: 0845 370 0067 Fax: 0845 370 0068 Email: orders@booksource.net


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The Cuillin of Skye from overhead the Skye Bridge, with the jagged gabbro ridge of the Black Cuillin on the horizon towards the left, and the rounded granitic forms of the Red Cuillin towards the right.

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Hebrides from the Air


Chapter 8

thar truaighe, eu-dòchas, gamhlas, cuilbheart, thar ciont is truaillidheachd; gu furachair. gu treunmhor chithear an Cuilithionn ‘s e ‘g éirigh air taobh eile duilghe. beyond misery, despair, hatred, treachery, beyond guilt and defilement; watchful, heroic, the Cuillin is seen rising on the other side of sorrow. Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley MacLean: from ‘An Cuilithionn’ / ‘The Cuillin’ The Black Cuillin Ridge and Loch Coruisk, Skye, from above Loch Scavaig.

An t-Eilean Sgithaneach/the Isle of Skye An t-Eilean Sgithaneach/the Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Hebrides, other than Lewis and Harris combined. It also contains some of the most famous scenery in the archipelago, owing to its varied and dramatic geology. Except for a narrow strip in the southern peninsula of Sléite/Sleat it lies entirely to the north of the Moine Thrust but, despite this location, its geological structures are similar to those of Mull and the southern islands because they have resulted from similar types of igneous activity in the Palaeogene period, with subsequent erosion by water and ice. The landform features for which Skye is most renowned are the two very different mountain ranges known collectively as An Cuilithionn/the Cuillin, at its southern end:the Black, or Blue, Cuillin and the Red Cuillin. The Black Cuillin are Scotland’s equivalent of the Alps of continental Europe. Their peaks may not rise to equally high altitudes and their geomorphology may be different but they present

no less dramatic a view, as the shifting shadow-play of the island’s mercurial weather conceal and reveal them in different lights. Rarely are they without cloud cover. Mostly the cloud takes the dreich, grey form of stratocumulus, accompanied by steady rain, associated with the passing of warm weather fronts, components of the depressions that drag themselves across the northern parts of the British Isles from the Atlantic and that account for their damp, oceanic climate. Occasionally, when the area is favoured by the high atmospheric pressure associated with an anticyclone, the Cuillin bask in sunlight against a clear blue sky. They are seen at their most dramatic, however, in the clear but unstable atmosphere that follows the passage of a cold front; towering cumulus clouds then build rapidly to great altitudes, generating thunderstorms and torrential rain. In such conditions the mountains produce an atmosphere of gothic ‘gloom and glory’, sublime rather than beautiful, to the delight of frisson-seeking Romantic tourists – and an undoubted asset to the people whose job it is to continue to attract the expected sixteen million visitors a year to wet and windy Scotland from parts of the world that offer unending blue sky and sunshine. The Black Cuillin are the most northerly examples of Palaeogene volcanic formations in Britain. Their pinnacles and cliffs, which attract climbers worldwide, are the ice-shattered remains of granite cone-sheets intruded into gabbro – one type of igneous rock injected into another. Weathering by ice sheets has produced the familiar glacial erosion features, and frost action has produced the jagged angular appearance of the rock formations. The broken fragments have piled up around the bases of patricia and angus macdonald

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Sample text

Out of the Mists: the Skye Group


From: ‘An Cuilithionn’ / ‘The Cuillin’ Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley MacLean Ag éirigh air taobh eile duilge chithear barrachd na aon Chuilithionn, chithear Cuilithionn gorm an Eilean agus dà Chuilithionn eile, Chuilithionn na h-Albann aosda is Chuilithionn a’ chinne daonna, trianaid Chuilithinn a’ taomadh a h-onfhaidh sgurraich air an t-saoghal: trianaid Chuilithinn ag éirigh thar ànradh buan nan sléibhtean. ... Neor-thaing chithear an Cuilithionn ‘s e ‘géirigh air taobh eile duilghe; Cuilithionn liriceach nan saor, Cuilithionn aigeannach nan laoch, Cuilithionn na h-inntinne móire, Cuilithionn cridhe garbh na dórainn. ... Thar lochan fala clann nan daoine, thar breòiteachd blàir is strì an aonaich, thar bochdainn, caithimh, fiabhrais, àmhghair, thar anacothrom, eucoir, ainneart, ànraidh, thar truaighe, eu-dòchas, gamhlas, cuilbheart, thar ciont is truaillidheachd; gu furachair. gu treunmhor chithear an Cuilithionn ‘s e ‘g éirigh air taobh eile duilghe. Rising on the other side of sorrow, more than one Cuillin is seen: there is seen the blue Cuillin of the Island, and two other Cuillins: the Cuillin of ancient Scotland and the Cuillin of mankind; a Cuillin trinity pouring its surge of peaks on the world, a Cuillin trinity rising above the lasting misery of the hills. ... 6

Hebrides from the Air

Nevertheless the Cuillin is seen rising on the far side of agony, the lyric Cuillin of the free, the ardent Cuillin of the heroic, the Cuillin of the great mind, the Cuillin of the rugged heart of sorrow. ... Beyond the lochs of the blood of the children of men, beyond the frailty of plain and the labour of the mountain, beyond poverty, consumption, fever, agony, beyond hardship, wrong, tyranny, distress, beyond misery, despair, hatred, treachery, beyond guilt and defilement; watchful, heroic, the Cuillin is seen rising on the other side of sorrow.


The Cuillin of Skye from overhead the Skye Bridge, with the jagged gabbro ridge of the Black Cuillin on the horizon towards the left, and the rounded granitic forms of the Red Cuillin towards the right (repeated caption)

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Hebrides from the Air


The Hebrides