How stories hide inside books

By Roz Skinner

The owner of Gilleasbuig Ferguson Rare Books has come to the belief that books contain at least two stories: the one on the printed page and a different, unexpected one.

Gilleasbuig has discovered countless newspaper clippings, engravings, interesting inscriptions and notes concealed in the pages of his various books! 

He says: “I sell a lot of books by Charles Darwin and the scribbled notes by scientists who have challenged his views give a window into the thoughts of people who died many years ago.”

Located next door to Skeabost Country House Hotel, Gilleasbuig operates out of a book-crammed shop in his garden.  The shelves are loaded with Gaelic and Scottish interest books, natural history, music, poetry and place-names, as well as fiction and non-fiction titles – making it a book lover's paradise.

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Uncovering the geology of Skye…at book festival

Fresh from producing a new book on the vivid geology of the Isle of Skye, environmental geologist and author Alan McKirdy will be a guest speaker at the Skye Book Festival at 3pm on September 1.
Alan’s aim with Skye: Landscapes in Stone is to make it easier for people without a professional background in geology to understand how the landscape came to look like it is today and to put natural events like earthquakes and volcanoes in context.  And what a dynamic context – during the lifetime of the Earth, Scotland has spent more time in the southern hemisphere than in the north, and more time separated from England than linked to it.
This 48-page work from publishers Birlinn is the first of Alan’s brand-new series on Scotland's geology and landscapes.  Also put on sale in August was the companion volume, Arran: Landscapes in Stone.  Coming next are ones on Cairngorm and Edinburgh, with the Western Isles; and Lochaber and Glencoe to follow not long after.
Before retiring about four years ago, Alan was Head of Knowledge and Information Management at Scottish Natural Heritage.  He worked in SNH and its predecessor, the Nature Conservancy Council, in England and Scotland for around 30 years.
Among a range of other written works, Alan is the co-author of Land of Mountain and Flood with Roger Crofts and John Gordon; and of Set in Stone: The Geology and Landscapes of Scotland, both published by Birlinn.  The first was written in spare time while still working; now Alan, who graduated in geology from Aberdeen University, has the time to try to complete a project which he has had in mind for decades; making accurate geological knowledge accessible in an understandable form to anyone who is interested.
Skye's geological history involves some of the most ancient rocks on the planet; a grandstand view as the Highlands of Scotland were formed over 400 million years ago and the development, around 60-65 million years ago, of one of the mightiest volcanoes ever to blow its top.
Finally, the rocks were shaped into the familiar hills and glens of today by the passage of ice as the Ice Ages gripped the land from two million years ago to around 11,000 years ago.
This book provides key information about the formation of the island and the on-going processes of natural landscape evolution that continue to leave their mark on these spectacular vistas.  As an example, parts of Scotland have their ancient rocks on the surface, not because later layers have been eroded, but because they were never beneath a sea, as sedimentary rocks are laid down on seabeds.  One exception is rock created from the sand of ancient deserts, which created the characteristic colour of the stone used in Edinburgh tenement buildings.
On Skye, the Quiraing with its extraordinary shapes and permanent landslip is a product first of the volcanic activity 60 million years ago, and then the activity of glaciers and ice caps.  The end of the last ice age 11,000 years ago left it unstable with the escarpment trying to establish an equilibrium.
To know more, you can visit the Skye Book Festival at 3pm on Thursday September 1






Skye architects join St Kilda centre project



Skye-based architects Dualchas, along with Norwegian partners, have been selected to provide the design master plan for the proposed Ionad Hiort/St Kilda Centre in Uig on the Isle of Lewis.

The appointment, which is funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is another major step towards delivery of a world- class facility which will also act as a global exemplar for “remote access” to UNESCO World Heritage sites. 


The selection of Dualchas, based at Duisdale Beag on Sleat,  and their partners, Reuilf Ramstad Architects of Oslo, complements the recent announcement that the London-based consultancy firm Metaphor has been given the remit of advising on the contents of the centre.   A third consultancy, still to be awarded, will work on the business case. 

Read more: Skye architects join St Kilda centre project

Knox: the story behind the film

"500 years ago, a man was born who would change the face of Scotland forever."  That is the dramatic introduction to the 2015 film "Knox", which is coming to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis on October 19 and Portree, Isle of Skye on October 20.
Presented by Scottish actor, Philip Todd, the film explores and celebrates the life of John Knox, the 16th century Protestant reformer.  Dramatic animations and interviews make for an engaging and interesting viewing experience, chronicling John Knox's transformation from Catholic priest to Protestant revolutionary.
Producer and director, Murdo Macleod, grew up with a fascination for John Knox.  "My dad had a portrait of him on the wall - it was part of my early childhood, so it made a big impression," he revealed.  "I didn't know much about him, though."  However, a recent Facebook post by one of Murdo's friends drew his attention to the fact that Knox's 500th anniversary was approaching.  "I thought this was something that should be celebrated," Murdo said.  "I checked to see if the BBC was commemorating it, and they weren't, so I wrote the script!  A team was put together, partly through my personal contacts, as I attended the film school, RSAMD, but I got to work with a few people I had never met before."
Do you have to be a John Knox aficionado to view the film?  Not necessarily!  Murdo meets many people who have never heard of John Knox.  "I say to them: 'What Luther was for Germany or Calvin was for Switzerland, John Knox was for Scotland.  The effects of his reformation and revolution are felt today.  Our film doesn't paint him as a saint - we show him as he was.  That can be an uplifting thought and everyone can draw inspiration from the boldness Knox had in standing up against a prevailing medieval world view."
Knox is the first feature filmed by Trinity Digital, founded by Murdo.  He explained: "Trinity Digital is a concept that allows churches to engage with film.  Film is the main medium of communication for the 21st century.  It shapes culture and world views.  I feel passionate that the church, as a complete body of Christians across the world, should be using film to tell others about the Gospel."
Like his interest in Knox, Murdo's love of film-making originated in his childhood.  At age eight, Murdo moved to the Isle of Skye.  "I was part of the Drama Group and we did shows in the Aros Centre," Murdo said, referencing Skye's cinema, theatre and art centre.  "That's where I caught the buzz.  I remember in my final year at Portree High School, I put together my first film.  Teachers lent me cameras for filming and I was allowed to stay long after everybody went home to work in the computer room.  The film I made was an absolute disaster, but the process was a huge learning curve.  If I hadn't done that, I probably wouldn't be in this situation now with my first feature released."
The Knox premiere took place on August 4 at John Knox House.  Murdo related: "It received a very positive response.  Given that it was largely our supporters and friends there, it would be difficult to get an objective view, but, on the whole, it was very positive and enthusiastic.  In other situations, people have said it was very professional, very engaging and feels more like they are watching a film than a documentary.  Since then, we have done other screenings in Glasgow, Belfast, Cornwall, Cambridge, Birmingham and Dundee."  And it doesn't stop there!  Talks are ongoing to broadcast Knox in North Africa, Romania and Bulgaria, with a translation into Arabic at the initial stages.  "We are also in talks to distribute it in China and it has passed clearance for distribution in North America, as well as the UK channel, UCB and channels in Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia," Murdo related, enthusiastically.  "It's going global!  Funding for the film came from all over the world, so this is appropriate.  It has been a global phenomenon from beginning to end."
To get a taster of the 1 hour and 18 minutes long film, you can view the trailer at  The screening of Knox in Stornoway will be hosted in connection with the Gambia Partnership, featuring an introduction by Rev. Dr. Iain D. Campbell.  Knox will come to an Lanntair on Monday October 19 at 6pm and the Aros Centre, Portree on October 20 at 7:30pm.

(Interview by Roz Skinner)

100 years…shared memories of a tragic loss

By Mike Briggs

As they huddled, shoulder-to-shoulder, in their sodden trenches outside the French town of Festubert on the night of May 17th 1915, the men from Portree would have found only one thing vaguely familiar: the weather. According to official reports the 17th was a day of heavy rain and low clouds.
But whereas at home on Skye the cloud might just lift to give a momentary glimpse of the distant, majestic Cuillins or the mystical, moody Quirang, here in the bloody battlefields of the Somme the only view would be one of mud, shell holes, barbed wire and the all too proximate ramparts of the German front line.
There would be no larks rising from these spring meadows. The friends from Portree had left all that behind when they marched out of the village in autumn 1914, expecting to teach the Kaiser a swift lesson and return to their crofts before the year was out.
Their hopes were cruelly shattered, most tellingly in the Battle of Festubert which, over ten days, would claim 16,000 lives, among them 11 men of the Portree Territorial Batallion - known locally as The Saturday Night Soldiers - who were part of the 4th Cameron Highlanders regiment.
Two months earlier, Private John Kennedy, who worked for MacBrayne’s Ferries, had been the first of the Portree men to fall, fatally injured at the battle of Neuve-Chapelle, a terrible strategic failure during which 11,000 troops were killed, wounded or missing.
After the war 104 names would eventually be engraved on the Portree memorial, but it was at Festubert that the German maxim guns cut the mightiest single swathe through this small, Gaelic-speaking community of just 1,000 souls.
Now, 100 years on, the sacrifice of these men is being honoured in a series of events where Festubert and the Great War in general are to be discussed, explored and commemorated.
On Friday 15th May there is a conference in Portree’s Aros Centre with contributions from local and national historians. Professor Ewen Cameron, Trevor Royle and Professor Marjory Harper were all scheduled to speak.
The event is being coordinated by the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre which will have a year-long exhibition called “An Cogadh Mór: Remembering the Great War in Skye and Lochalsh”.
On the evening of Saturday 16th May there is a musical tribute in Portree Community Centre with a theme similar to the “Shinty’s Heroes” show at last year’s the Blas Festival. Broadcaster and shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan will narrate between musical contributions from Gary Innes, Allan Henderson, Linda MacLeod and others.
Earlier on the same day the focus is on the links, as rivals on the playing field and comrades on the battlefield, between the shinty teams of Skye and Kingussie.
The Portree Camerons trained in Kingussie with their counterparts before spending six months in Bedford and finally going to France in February 1915.
Many in the Portree and Kingussie companies, who fought together at Festubert, were shinty players. The Kingussie team which won the Camanachd Cup months before the outbreak of hostilities lost six members and the village itself would lose about 60 men in all. Among those killed in May 1915 was Willie MacGillivray, captain of the famed 1914 cup-winning team.
Festubert also claimed Company Sergeant Major William Ross from Portree who was part of Skye’s MacTavish Cup team in 1898. Ross was a local postman and he lied about his age so he could go to war with his mates. He was about 46 when he died.

The war claimed about 19 shinty players from Skye and it would be more than 70 years before the island club won another major senior trophy, the Camanachd Cup, in 1990. The winning team included two of Billy Ross’s great grandsons and was managed by a third.
The shinty programme over the commemorative weekend includes matches between the Skye and Kingussie senior teams, Portree and Kingussie primary schools, and the Skye and Badenoch ladies’ teams. The Skye second team will play Forces shinty club Scots Camanachd.
On the Saturday evening there is a civic reception hosted by Highland Council and on Sunday 17th one of Scots Camanachd’s former players, Padre Hector MacKenzie from Kilmuir on Skye, leads a commemorative service including a remembrance parade in Somerled Square, Portree, led by British Legion members from Kingussie and Skye.