A Hebridean Overture- telling stories and discovering new ones

A Hebridean Overture- telling stories and discovering new ones

It is always fun to show visitors your own country, and this spring I had the delightful task of helping guests understand and appreciate our cultural heritage through work as a history lecturer and guide on an expedition cruise ship in Scotland and Ireland.

It was interesting to travel through regions covered in the COAST project. On Iona I used the app to find the exact location for ‘Blackbird and Robin’, a sweet story about how the artist carved these birds into the cloisters after they visited him at lunch every day. The guests enjoyed hearing about the Norwegian sailor who donated timber as a way of making amends for multiple Viking attacks on the abbey- a story I learned through COAST.

At Staffa the swell was too big to allow us to search for the initials supposedly left by the crew of a German submarine deep within Fingal’s cave!

As the voyage progressed I was struck by the weight of history in these islands. Our itinerary included some world-famous sites, including Skellig Michael, the Calanais Stones, Mousa Broch and Skara Brae. However we also encountered a wealth of archaeological and historical sites of which very little is known. For example, landing on the tiny Pabaigh Mòr, an island off the west coast of Lewis which is uninhabited today, I consulted Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland’s inventory, to discover over thirty sites of interest, from Neolithic standing stones to more modern dykes and shielings. Some are barely documented and most have yet to be fully investigated, but show there is a multitude of stories there waiting to be told.

The COAST project has published almost 400 stories- this voyage reminded me of the infinite others yet to be uncovered.

Dr Katie Murray, COAST Project Officer, Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research – UHI West Highland