I’m very fortunate to be hosted by The Island Dark Room as part of their Winter Residencies Programme, giving me focussed time and space for research and writing centred on Lewis. Today, I followed the single track road from Achmore northeast toward Stornoway, chasing the ghost of Lewis poet Iain Crichton Smith. The wind was up, the sort of wind that snatches a car door from your hands and makes the rafters moan, and the clouds were heavy with the threat of rain. I passed cold grey lochans alive with waves, and peatbanks signalled by plastic bags and upturned wheelbarrows strewn along their length, lonely shielings perched high on the moor.
I found the ghost of Crichton Smith at Bayble where he had lived with his widow mother, dreaming to leave but once left, never able to recapture it:
It’s the island that goes away, not we who leave it. Like an unbearable thought it sinks beyond assiduous reasoning light and wringing hands, or, as a flower roots deep into the ground, it works its darkness into the gay winds that blow about us in a later spirit. Iain Crichton Smith, ‘The Departing Island’ from Three Regional Voices, 1968, in Mathew McGuire (Ed.), Iain Crichton Smith, New Collected Poems, (1992, repr. Manchester, Carcanet Press, 2011), V 13-18, p.65