An Eye on the Hebrides

an illustrated journey by Mairi Hedderwick published by Canongate Publishing in 1989, £9.99 [available from The Celtic House, Bowmore]. Many parents and children will be familiar with Mairi Hedderwick children’s books featuring Katie Morag but I was interested in her 195 day journey through 40 islands along the West Coast of Scotland. She undertook this journey alone in 1988, driving a sometimes unreliable camper van, starting in Arran and ending in Lewis. Mairi is firstly an artist who captures in her sketches the magic of all the islands, the landscapes shimmer on the pages and you can smell the sea and the scent of the flowers. She also listens and records the snatches of conversation which brings the human element alive and highlights the vibrant and changing life here. When Mairi visited Islay in April it was 'burnished with brilliant sun, but with a bitter, bitter wind'. Mairi begins to put her finger on what keeps people living on the islands and keeps visitors returning year after year. However as I was reading I began to feel nostalgic, although only written 20 years ago so much has changed and we could all have a view if the change is always for the better. Mairi travelled in the days before the widespread use of the mobile phone, computers, buying on the internet to name but a few technological developments. There have also been changes in the demography of the islands, the employment prospects, agricultural changes and travel opportunities and the changes have taken place very quickly. Mairi asks at the end of her book which is worst being left on the pier or going away on the ferry. For me it would be going away on the ferry and not returning. After reading this book I look forward to meeting Mairi in September when she travels from her home on Coll to speak at the Book Festival held here on Islay. Hope you will be able to join in September us to talk about Katie Morag and also the magic of the islands.

This story was published with kind permission from the Ileach local newspaper.

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