excerpt from 'The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot' pp. 203-205 (390 words)

excerpt from 'The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot' pp. 203-205 (390 words)

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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

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My grandfather’s funeral occurred in the modest church in the village of Tomintoul […] As we filed out of the church, the organist struck up with ‘The Road to the Isles’. It’s a well-known Scottish folk song of nineteenth-century music-hall origin – rife with pseudo-Gaelicisms and tinged with remembered Jacobitism – about dreamed-of western landscapes, the open road that leads to them and the foot-travel by which they will be reached. It plays with the walk west to the Hebrides as a walk in the direction of loss, a journey towards the setting sun. My mother’s mother had sung it to her, and she in turn had sung it to me as a lullaby and as a walking song, in her high voice.

A far croonin’ is pullin’ me away
As take I wi’ my cromack to the road.
The far Coolins are puttin’ love on me

As step I wi’ the sunlight for my load.

The organist duffed note after note, but the song was still recognizable, and the old words ran through my head in time to the music [...] People were bustling and talking, louder now, while the organist played boldly on. The hearse gleamed […] The bearers emerged, wheeling the coffin on its carriage. A whispered one, two three, heave and the coffin was off the carriage and into the back of the hearse […]

Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go
By heather tracks wi’ heaven in their wiles.
If it’s thinkin’ in your inner heart the braggart’s in my step,
You’ve never smelled the tangle o’ the Isles.

One of the coffin-bearers stepped into the middle of the road, and raised a flat hand to stop the traffic with all the authority vested in him by death and dark clothes. The cars slowed, stopped, began to back up into a queue. From inside the church the final verse of ‘The Road to the Isles’ drifted out.

The blue islands are pullin’ me away
Their laughter puts the leap upon the lame;
The blue islands from the Skerries to the Lewis
Wi’ heather honey taste upon each name.

[…] Sun glints on the dark road, the hearse creeps forwards, the undertaker makes my grandfather’s final walk for him, his journey marked by the beat of each carefully placed and lifted foot.

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excerpt from 'The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot' pp. 203-205 (390 words)


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