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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, April 18, 2004
    Land Lines
     
    "It requires great love of it deeply to read the configuration of a land," wrote Scots poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

    Such love develops instincts which enable writers to tune into what's behind the landscape. The authors of Land Lines, a project of The Scottish Literary Tour Company Ltd, suggest that "The spirit of place is everywhere in Scotland."

    The viewpoint near Bemersyde in the Borders known as Scott's view, for instance, is a truly haunted place. It's a fine view in any case, over the fields and woods and the winding River Tweed to the strange, unexpected Eildon Hills, but there's an extra dimension if you know two things. Just here Sir Walter Scott, out riding, was accustomed to stop and look at his favourite view; and, after his death, as his funeral procession passed this way, his own horse, drawing the hearse, paused for some minutes - out of habit? out of respect for his master? - at the accustomed spot.

    Land Lines is a journey by word and photograph, through the natural, human and spiritual landscape of Scotland. It's rich in expression, and it starts, of course, with the mountains which perhaps most define that land to outsiders looking on: insiders can relate to them far more intensely, like Nan Shepherd in the Cairngorms:

    So there I lie on the plateau, under me the central core of fire from which was thrust this grumbling grinding mass of plutonic rock, over me blue air, and between me the fire of the rock and the fire of the sun, scree, soil and water, moss, grass, flower and tree, insect, bird and beast, wind, rain and snow - the total mountain. Slowly I have found my way in. If I had other senses, there are other things I should know.

    This, of course, sets my senses spinning. And I recall the famous lines of that great Scouse poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (ok then, Welsh, but he was a priest here for a while):

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
    frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
    May who ne'er hung there.


    I am enjoying reading Land Lines. Thanks Sylvia & Mike.