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Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting

Browser review: A modern pilgrim in the Scottish isles

For centuries the rugged and romantic Hebrides in Scotland have attracted all sorts – saints and sinners, artists, seekers after privacy and isolation or just the plain adventurous. For a long time the islands have been Madeleine Bunting’s “Never Never Land” and here she recounts several trips, from Holy Isle and Jura up to Lewis and out to St Kilda. What interests her greatly is the sense of identity with place. The British “half belong in many places and at the same time do not wholly belong in any”, she writes. This can make them “curious and tolerant and familiar with multiple identities” but also “insecure and self-aggrandising”. Her own background is part English, Irish, Scottish and Jewish. The concept of belonging can be abstract and complex and in the course of this lively, insightful, highly readable travelogue, she blends history, geography, literature and nature writing as she ranges over Iona’s monastic contribution to learning, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Clearances, the decline of Gaelic and much more. A modern pilgrim, one of her overriding interests is politics and especially how future Britishness must be open to a sense of multiple identities.

Brian Maye