Seasons on Harris: A Year in Scotland's Outer Hebrides

Overview

The Outer Hebrides of Scotland epitomize the evocative beauty and remoteness of island life. The most dramatic of all the Hebrides is Harris, a tiny island formed from the oldest rocks on earth, a breathtaking landscape of soaring mountains, wild lunarlike moors, and vast Caribbean-hued beaches. This is where local crofters weave the legendary Harris Tweed—a hardy cloth reflecting the strength, durability, and integrity of the life there.

In Seasons on Harris, David Yeadon, "one...

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Overview

The Outer Hebrides of Scotland epitomize the evocative beauty and remoteness of island life. The most dramatic of all the Hebrides is Harris, a tiny island formed from the oldest rocks on earth, a breathtaking landscape of soaring mountains, wild lunarlike moors, and vast Caribbean-hued beaches. This is where local crofters weave the legendary Harris Tweed—a hardy cloth reflecting the strength, durability, and integrity of the life there.

In Seasons on Harris, David Yeadon, "one of our best travel writers" (The Bloomsbury Review), captures, through elegant words and line drawings, life on Harris—the people, their folkways and humor, and their centuries-old Norse and Celtic traditions of crofting and fishing. Here Gaelic is still spoken in its purest form, music and poetry ceilidh evenings flourish in the local pubs, and Sabbath Sundays are observed with Calvinistic strictness. Yeadon's book makes us care deeply about these proud islanders, their folklore, their history, their challenges, and the imperiled future of their traditional island life and beloved tweed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Employing a similar formula to that of his last book, Seasons in Basilicata, Yeadon recounts the year-2004, arranged by season-he spent with his wife, Anne, on Harris, a small island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland famous for its remote beauty and home-loomed tweed. With a weave of islanders' loquacious stories and rural gossip into an overview of Hebridean history and the couple's own adventures exploring the area, this memoir is perfect for anyone considering a trip to the Outer Hebrides or tracing their ancestors back to its craggy coasts. Fans of the famous Harris Tweed will also find lots of tidbits about the history and current state of this ancient textile and the craft that creates it, and anyone interested in age-old customs waning in the world's hinterlands will find the island's contradictions poignant. At times, the book feels like that familiar traveler's sensation of having arrived home to find that the panoramic snapshot excitedly clicked in an exuberant moment of discovery is just a bit too small or personal. Yet, Yeadon hits high notes recounting history-laden conversations with locals who all have the Gaelic gift of gab, creating an altogether enjoyable read full of unique and likable people. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Yeadon (Seasons in Basilicata) delivers on his promise that "Harris is an island that never bores." His reputation as a keen observer of the life and culture of some of the world's most obscure communities is reaffirmed with the contents of this delightful travel journal. Like Vivaldi creating a hypnotic composition, Yeadon takes the reader through four seasons of daily life-and strife-among the local residents of Harris, an island in the Outer Hebrides of northwest Scotland and a place as old as the planet itself. On the verge of losing the old traditions of crofting (small-plot farming) and the weaving that produces the famous Harris tweed, these Hebridians nevertheless reveal themselves as sturdy folk with determination enough to weather any storm. Is the island about to die off as the younger generation leaves for greener pastures? Is the strength and hope of the elder residents enough to sustain the cherished culture and folkways that define this far-flung Scottish island? This enjoyable chronicle, strengthened by an important note of concern about the direction of growth and prosperity in the 21st century, is recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Richard Dickey, Library of Congress Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Yeadon (Seasons in Basilicata, 2004, etc.) chronicles a garrulous, well-spent year on the Scottish island where the famous tweed is woven. Harris was tailor-made for Yeadon, a writer whose affinities have always veered toward wild, remote and wracked landscapes. "So what is the lure?" he asks. "Try silence, wilderness, solitude, dramatic soul-nurturing scenery, and a sense of coming home to something bold, basic, and honest." Silence there may have been, but there is also lots of good talking in these pages. Yeadon can sing the glories of Harris tweed's look and feel, but he wouldn't have known about fixing lichen-colored dyestuff to the wool with fermented urine unless he talked to the weaver. He wouldn't be able to explain the art of poaching unless he spoke to the poacher, or the nature of lobstering the treacherous channel called the Minch unless he shared the fisherman's boat, or the chinks appearing in the island's strict observance of the Sabbath unless he was hoisting a wee dram on the very Sunday. Yeadon's poetic prose sings the beauty of tiny dark lochans, wild glens and corries, the call of a corncrake, a song by a peat fire. And he displays a formidable talent for describing scenery, of which Harris possesses a fantastic array, from Caribbean-blue waters to lunar moorlands, and for capturing a quality of light, from pearl to lemon-silver, that would make Parisians envious. From his chats with people who live on the isles-crofters or painters, shopkeepers or boat-builders, fishing guides or writers-emerges the hopeful sense that Harris will not lose its distinctiveness, that it will remain a place central to its own existence, with its stories and whiskey, fitful weather,standing stones and cottage-based tweed industry. All the plights and possibilities of traditional life, viewed through an exquisitely sensitive wide-angle lens. (39 line drawings)
Associated Press
“A delightful book.”
Bloomsbury Review
“Yeadon is one of our best travel writers.”
Washington Post
“It’s a pleasure to travel with him.”
Albany Times Union
“A warm welcome to a balcony view of Aliano.”
Associated Press Staff
“A delightful book.”
Kathy Balog
“Yeadon leaves you pleasantly stuffed, slightly intoxicated and feeling warmer for the company.”
June Sawyers
“Wonderful account”
Ann Geracimos
“This is a true traveler…who can make the most innocent encounter a memorable experience.”
Dolores Derrickson
“One of the best travel writers in the world.”
Pamela Paul
“Leave it to Yeadon to choose one of the country’s most overlooked provinces.”
Paul Carbray
“Delightful, with the odd twist to eerie.”
David Citino
“A compelling book...that comes close to re-creating the place and the man.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060741815
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/3/2006
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David Yeadon is the author of Seasons in Basilicata and the bestselling National Geographic Guide to the World's Secret Places. He has written, illustrated, and designed more than twenty books about traveling around the world. He lives with his wife, Anne, in Mohegan Lake, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Seasons on Harris

A Year in Scotland's Outer Hebrides
By David Yeadon

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 David Yeadon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060741813

Chapter One

Learning the Land

First we had to find an island home. A good place to live.

"I'm still not exactly sure what it was about Clisham Cottage in the village of Ardhasaig on the west coast of Harris, four miles or so north of Tarbert, that made us impulsively pick up the phone in New York and call the MacAskill family, owners of the place.

In front of us on my studio table we had this colorful brochure of self-catering cottages on the island, each with a photograph and listing of key features. The initial entry for Clisham Cottage read: "A superbly appointed cottage in a beautiful coastal position overshadowed by dramatic mountains."

Appealing, of course, but so were the other fifty or so offering such enticements as "Short drive from the cleanest beaches in Europe; a truly secluded traditional Hebridean retreat; thatched black house-style cottage in breathtaking scenery; a delightful water's edge escape . . ."

We couldn't even remember the village of Ardhasaig from our first visit. Of course, "village" is more of a legal than aesthetic term here. On the islands they tend to be rather straggly, croft-by-croft affairs with none of the cozy cohesion of English equivalents.

Anyway, wecalled, lured by some indefinable enticement ghosting behind the brief lines in the brochure.

"Hello, good afternoon. This is Dondy MacAskill speakin'. How may I help ye, please?"

Lovely female voice. Mellow, young, musical, and with an enticing Scottish lilt that possessed the mellifluousness of a Robbie Burns poem coupled with the freshness of ocean breezes. Well--that's perhaps overdoing it a bit. But it was certainly a very friendly voice.

"Hello--did you say 'Dondy'?" I kind of mumbled. "I don't think I've heard that name before . . ."

There was a warm chuckle at the other end. "Well, now--it's really Donalda . . . but everyone calls me Dondy. So, how can I help ye?"

"Ah--Donalda . . . that's a new one for me too."

Anne was sitting beside me, giving me one of those "so what's happening?" looks. She's much better focusing on the nub of things. I tend to get distracted by details. Left to my own devices, I'd possibly be prattling on for ages about the weather, or the latest world political scandals, or anything other than the original reason for the call.

"Yes?"

"Er . . . oh, I'm sorry. Listen, I was just calling about that cottage of yours--Clisham--and I wondered . . ."

With Anne prompting me by scribbling questions on the notepad by the phone, I finally managed to get a pretty comprehensive overview of what was on offer, cost, availability, and all those other vital details required for intelligent decision making.

Except I'd already made my decision. As soon as I heard Dondy's voice and name. Of course that's not quite the way I put it to Anne when I finally replaced the receiver. "Well," I began in a tone that I hoped suggested careful research and a rational approach to house selection, "I think generally it seems fine. There are three bedrooms . . ."

Anne watched me with that curiously bemused smile of hers that tells me she's way ahead of me and my ramblings.

"You like her, don't you?"

"Who?"

"This . . . person . . . on the other end of the phone."

"Donalda--well actually her name's Dondy--apparently that's what they call her. And . . . yes, well, she sounds nice . . . but that's not the point. She says the views there are fantastic--way across a loch and the Harris mountains . . . and . . ."

"And you've already decided you want it?"

"Why don't you let me finish? Dondy says her father owns a small shop right across the road and--"

"Sounds fine. Let's do it!"

"But darling, I still haven't finished--"

"It's okay," Anne said impatiently, "just book it!"

It's hopeless trying to deal with this kind of dialogue in a rational manner. My wife had already, as she invariably does, perceived the heart of the matter and made the only possible decision under the circumstances.

"Oh . . . okay. If you really think it'll be what you--"

Anne gave me that bemused smile again, along with a big hug, and went off to make a pot of tea.

And so Clisham Cottage was booked, sight unseen, but with all the intuitions intact. Well--my intuitions, at least. And all Anne's feminine intuitions about my intuitions . . . Ah, isn't marriage wonderful?

Clisham Cottage was perfect for us and our occasionally rather lazy dispositions. Anywhere else on the island we'd have to travel miles for staple groceries, newspapers, wine, or anything else necessary in the course of daily life. But here we had it all at the MacAskill store and gas station directly across the road, brimming with island delights as well as all those oh-so-British oddities: mushy peas, treacle sponges, Marmite and Bovril, HP Sauce, jars of Colman's delicious mint sauce for the Harris lamb we hoped to enjoy, a tempting array of British and Scottish cheeses, home-cured bacon, Branston pickle and pickled onions, kippers (smoked herring), and even tiny Christmas puddings slowly marinated in rum and brown sugar and ready to be served with golden custard and Devon clotted cream. Plus an array of all those seasonal game specialties too, such as local venison, grouse, partridge, salmon, and shellfish.

The cottage itself was perched on a bluff just below the road and contained three good-sized double bedrooms, two elegant bathrooms, and a large L-shaped living room/dining room/kitchen with a broad sweep of windows overlooking that vista we had hoped and prayed for out across the Atlantic (with our own local salmon farm) and that dramatically wild wall of the North Harris hills. A brief glimpse of the land immediately below the cottage suggested merely an overgrown slope rolling down to the loch of . . .

Continues...


Excerpted from Seasons on Harris by David Yeadon Copyright © 2006 by David Yeadon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted November 16, 2009

    Seasons on Harris by David Yeadon

    This book was captivating. I have spent time on Harris Isle and was entranced by the writing, the descriptions and the history. This is a book which would be a plus to any private library!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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