A trip to Scotland in May to visit a friend conveniently overlapped with the Boswell Book Festival, held at the stately Dumfries House in rural Ayrshire. People’s life stories past and present are at the heart of the festival, named for Scottish biographer, James Boswell.
With a great selection of author readings and interviews on offer, one of the highlights of the book festival for me was meeting author Clare Hunter, presenting her new book Threads of Life, A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle. From the political propaganda of the Bayeux Tapestry and WWI soldiers with PTSD, to the maps sewn by schoolgirls in the New World, the stories stretch from medieval France to contemporary Mexico. It is an eloquent chronicle of identity, protest, memory, power and politics told through the stories of men and women, over centuries and across continents, who have used the language of sewing to make their voices heard, even in the most desperate of circumstances. I sat in on author T.M. Devine’s discussion of his book The Scottish Clearances, A History of the Dispossessed, a riveting study of the forces that separated thousands of Scots from their land, resulting in a large migration to North America.
After the book festival ended we set out on a road trip. Our first stop was the new V&A Museum in Dundee, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Located on the waterfront, his design was inspired by the eastern cliff edges of Scotland. The Oak Room in the Scottish Design Galleries, is a painstakingly reassembled interior that Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms in Glasgow—a worthy pilgrimage for Mackintosh fans. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow also has an impressive collection of his work.
We continued on through the spectacularly scenic Highlands, spending a night at Killiehuntley Farmhouse & Cottage, then were on to the Isle of Skye. We toured around Skye, and dropped in to hear a friend’s band play in the Bèo Festival, a Gaelic music festival held in the beautiful gardens of Armadale Castle. I’ve visited some remote locales, but Skye felt like the far edges of the earth. Maybe it was due to the fact that I’d been immersed in reading about Scottish history for months, but I often had the sense of being transported back in time on this journey—the entire trip was extraordinary. With a landscape of stunning natural beauty, and a long history of literature and the book arts, I proudly claim my bit of Scottish heritage.