Victorian visitors had shooting lodges – Scots had trips doon the watter.
Norwegian citizens had hytte – Scots had Butlins.
Why have locals in one of Europe's prime tourist destinations been elbowed off the land and exiled from nature for so long?
The late Paddy Bort was absolutely right. A few months after the European referendum in 2016, the Edinburgh University academic and Nordic Horizons stalwart predicted that Brexit would spark a renewed interest in Scotland’s small, successful wee neighbours.
Westminster has insisted that all British nations must leave together. But the Nordic countries and their devolved territories enjoy a veritable smorgasbord of relationships with the EU - doubtless there’s an arrangement in there that might suit Scotland too.
Would an independent Scotland need the support and shelter of full EU membership - or could the nation better stand at a distance or outside the EU altogether.
Cycling up the Hebrides in the summer of 2006, to record a 13-part series for BBC Radio Scotland called “On the Bike,” I had modest aims -- to stretch my legs and spend some time away from mobile phones, emails, and deadlines.
I experienced that - and so much more.
Hermetically sealed in a car the visitor moves too fast from A to B, and is underwhelmed at either end. No serendipity, no downhill descents into dodgy sheep-grids, no conversations at bus shelters, no skirling bagpipes wafting from island games. Above all no release from driving -- the normal daily habit that keeps curious minds in the vice-like grip of normal, everyday behaviour.
Instead, on the bike, I spent weeks in touch with two great natural phenomena. The sea, never more than a few miles distant. And the people, repositories of Scotland’s collective psyche.
I landed on Barra, in June, with my transit-driving companion Maxwell MacLeod. The plan was that the van would carry heavy editing equipment and extra bikes, while leap-frogging up the “Long Island” from Barra to the Butt of Lewis, I would interview folk with skills, insights and stories – the sort of people who fascinate but cannot be coaxed into a studio. So, the great and good are not featured in this book – but the characters who let me glimpse their fascinating Hebridean world are the reason I still head back every year.
Blossom is an account of Scotland at the grassroots through the stories of people I've had the good fortune to know - the most stubborn, talented and resilient people on the planet. They've had to be. Some have transformed their parts of Scotland. Some have tried and failed. But all have something in common - they know what it takes for Scotland to blossom.
Subscribe to my email list for occasional updates.