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Riddoch on the Outer Hebrides Paperback – 1 Jul 2007
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'Congratulations on a thoughtful, timely and wonderfully contentious commentary on Scotland's dysfunctional relationship with 21st century Gaeldom. It is well informed, well observed, provocative, hard-headed, wrong-headed and inspired in equal measure and opens up a whole new level of engagement with 'the Gaelic issue'.' - Malcom Maclean, Gaelic Arts Agency.'Let's be proud of standing on the outer edge of a crazy mainstream world - When the centre collapses, the periphery becomes central.' - Alistair McIntosh.
"Riddoch on the Outer Hebrides" is a thought-provoking commentary based on broadcaster Lesley Riddoch's cycle journey through a beautiful island chain facing seismic cultural and economic change. Her experience is described in a typically affectionate but hard-hitting style; with humour, anecdote and a growing sympathy for islanders tired of living at the margins but fearful of closer contact with mainland Scotland.See all Product description
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"There is only one place where the bonds of the clan have any grip: where family loyalty still governs, and where Scotland has left its old values for an indefinite period in cold storage - it's the Gàidhealtachd." - Lesley Riddoch on the Western Isles (a.k.a. Outer Hebrides, a.k.a. Outer Isles, a.k.a. Innse Gall)
I devour travel essays. They represent either a revisiting of places I too have been as seen through another rambler's eyes, or a window on environs I shall, because of time and/or cost limitations, regretfully never observe. Most of these books have been by authors who've focused on nothing in particular but rather sensed and described a wide array of experiences along the path. Conversely, RIDDOCH ON THE OUTER HEBRIDES by Lesley Riddoch is a narrative of purposeful reporting.
Riddoch, a radio journalist in Scotland, herein travels the length of the Outer Hebrides, mostly by bicycle, from the island of Barra in the south to the Butt of Lewis - a headland - in the north, to report on the state of the Gaels and all things Gaelic: the traditional occupations (weaving, fishing, crofting), religion, music, and language - particularly language. Will she find a viable culture? Or, as an unidentified local puts it:
"People would never stand by and watch an animal dying slowly, yet they permit themselves to stand in the midst of their own culture as it draws its last, weak breaths. If Hebridean culture was a dog, I would take it to the back of the barn and put it out of its misery."
What the author discovers, and shares in an engaging and perceptive narrative, is a people - roughly 26,000 people - at a crossroads and possessing as much freedom as never before realized to choose the way forward - towards cultural vibrancy or cultural oblivion.
Personally, I've never made landfall on the Outer Hebrides; the closest I've come is the wildly beautiful, cloud and windswept Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides. I long to cross The Little Minch, though, as Lesley observes, the road traveled on the other side by the visiting outlander is often not an easy one.
RIDDOCH ON THE OUTER HEBRIDES is sprinkled with photos. And not just any photos, but COLOR photos! This in itself makes the book a standout among others of the travel genre that more oft than not sadly lack any visual component whatsoever. Each portion of her route is also delineated on a map. My only puzzled observation about this latter element is that, in the two sections ("Scalpay to Uig" and "Uig to Callanish") of her explorations that describe traveling to and from a place called Uig on the Isle of Lewis, Uig isn't identified as such on the relevant maps (9 and 10). Her editor, if she had one, stumbled.
Though Riddoch's focus on Gallic culture and societal affairs may have prevented her from seeing and describing other attributes and sights of the island chain which might be of interest to visitors, her book is a more than useful window on a far-flung place I shall likely never see. As such, it's a gift.
The book was hard to get into, meandering a lot and with little sense of a direction - in more ways than one. The pics are small and snapshot-ish.
If you like local radio then this book - which amounts to transcripts of local radio interviews - may be for you, though.
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