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Summer Walkers Take Their Tales on the Road

John O'Groat Journal (Thurso, Scotland, UK) , May 16, 2007


This summer, the north-west of Sutherland will see its past come to life through the evocative re-creation of what was once an eagerly-awaited annual fixture on the calendar for many townships and communities.

As a result of collaboration between the Mackay Country Group and Comunn Eachdraidh Asainte, the summer walkers will once more take to the roads, stopping at their traditional campsites, making music, telling stories and meeting friends old and new.

The summer walkers trip will begin at Altnaharra on Saturday, May 19, and take in Syre, Apigill, Torrisdale, Braetongue, Melness, Hope, Foulin, Keoldale, Kinlochbervie and Achfary, before pitching up at Stoer on Friday, June 15. On the way, the travellers, together with guest musicians and other artists, will host ceilidhs, open-house evenings, schools' fčisean and other activities with a focus on life and work on the road.

At the reins of the horse-drawn cart will be Essie Stewart, a member of one of the last of the Sutherland travelling families.

"This trip is a one-off," said Essie. "This is the only chance we will get to do this again and so it is very special. It will certainly stir up memories for me and, I'm sure, many stories as well.

"It could be a very hard life in bad weather but I have good memories of our times in the north-west – the people, the landscape and the nights in the tent with music and stories.

"My family was always welcomed in each township we visited and for generations we were part of the north-west community.

"It is a lovely thing to be able to return to those communities on horse and cart once again – to revisit old friends and places and to make new memories and stories."

A consummate storyteller herself, many of Essie's tales were passed down to her by her grandfather, Ailidh Dall (Blind Sandy), a master raconteur whose spellbinding tales by the smoky light of a campfire at dusk were recorded by renowned folklorist and collector Hamish Henderson for the University of Edinburgh's School of Scottish Studies.

This time round, the music, stories and poems, together with the matchless scenery of the route and all the emotional highs and lows of the journey, will be filmed by BBC Scotland, whose cameras will accompany the travellers.

Subjects Covered: education, personal storytelling

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