Categories 21st Century Media Practice, Adventures, Art

Poets Project- Isle of Raasay.

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This was a holistic accelerated learning experience, to be able to connect with the land on a research level, emotional level through art and explore technical skills and apply them has been such an experience that has sincerly made me want to explore this further in my own creative practice and career.   I have never been to a place that has left me feeling like a part of me was left there and I am missing it. To have the sound of your hand being removed from your pocket that was so loud that my senses and ears had forgotten to scale the volume and I listened to the silence. We had to experience him, we had to listen to him.

The landscape was simply epic, surrounded by the Caledonian Mountains we scaled the Isle of Rassey upon foot and with the help of a minibus to get to our locations. We were there to document and connect with the island. We had previously been introduced to the poem “Hallaig” by Sorley Maclean.

“Time, the deer, is in Hallaig Wood

There’s a board nailed across the window
I looked through to see the west
And my love is a birch forever
By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst

Between Inver and Milk Hollow,
somewhere around Baile-chuirn,
A flickering birch, a hazel,
A trim, straight sapling rowan.

In Screapadal, where my people
Hail from, the seed and breed
Of Hector Mor and Norman
By the banks of the stream are a wood.”

( S.Maclean)

 Full Poem


The history of the island is one of displacement, ownership and control. Even though what we experienced was perfect weather, I can only imagine the challenges that one would maybe face during a harsh winter, when living in a small stone cottage, with no water, electricity or flooring on the side of a mountain in the Scottish Isle of Skye & Raasay. Land-ownerships, slavery and mans relationship with the land was what we, were there to learn about, experience and how we could relate it to ourselves with our time here.

Raineys Wall and Callums Road were a couple of places we would focus on one which enable people to connect and the other, which was a place of separation and displacement for the local population.

George Rainey was sold the island by Jon MacLeod the chief of the MacLeods of Raasay in 1846. From this half of the Raasays population was moved for land clearance, which Rainey introduced between the years of 1852-1854. 12 townships were relocated which came to a total of 94 families, with a large majority being forced to colonies overseas.  One of the townships was Hallaig, this place lies on the eastern side of Raasay and is overlooked by the highest hill, named in Gaelic as Dun Cana

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The land is epic and the lushness of the green slips, fold in and over, memories that have now just left a mere shadow when viewing from a drone, you can see the reminants of settlements. Its the ghosts of these shadows that Sorely Maclean spoke about in the Hallaig. It’s the untold stories of generations who have passed. Sorely Maclean wrote about these people 100 years after the last settlement had left. The island settlements are just the left over tangible skeletons, which in many respects have a sadness to them, it is like someone has forgotten them. There was a beautiful eeriness to the whole place and this mystery of people and placement was intern so intwinde with the landscape. A loss of identity, being and sense of grounding was missing due to Rainy wanting the land. He relocated the population to a side of the island that couldn’t be farmed, as the land was barren. He did this by creating a divide on Rassey with a wall, Rainey’s Wall.

The difference in the flora and funa was quite contrasting. One one side there was lushness, bushess and grass. On the other only the harder sturdy plants could survive, such as the moss, heather and thistles. When I sat and began to film in macro I started to realise that the wild flowers were managing to survive, and these included a Scottish Orchid and wild heathers.

I wanted for my poets project, to reflect that flora and fauna in the land with macro. My technique with macro is to also use macro equipment, which consisted of an iphone 5 and a macro lens attachment. I wanted the film to reflect the barrenness of the land, with the small pockets of colour and hope. Constraints and control, being representational of Raineys wall is in the form of the blue twin that is lead through the hay, the harshness through the thornes and the beauty of community through flora. I wanted the sound to reflect a journey, to have a continuous sense of rhythm even if you are unsure of where it lies in the soundscape.

Displacement from Beck Stewart on Vimeo.

Displacement through sound was important to the piece. Without sound, the film lacked emotion and tempo. My technique with the sound, was to look at the cuts and time where certain sounds would be placed within a certain meaning. All the sounds were recorded while location, I was limited to the sound in many respects as I had failed to copy over the rest of my groups. Many of the sounds I had recorded incorporated mostly wind and the water stream. However, they were all taken from the first day when we walked with the poets. I feel that this was important to incorporate was the pace and experience of that particular walk as were crossing into the poem.

I hope that my film reflects displacement, exploring and has a sadness to it, that expresses some of what Sorely Maclean was saying in the poem of the “Halliag”. The poem is a journey not only of the people but also the person experiencing the journey of Sorely Maclean, the people are so engrained and dependent on the land that one cannot survive without the other.

From Fearns Burn to the raised beach
Showing clear in the shrouded hills
There are only girls congregating,
Endlessly walking along

Back through the gloaming to Hallaig
Through the vivid speechless air,
Pouring down the steep slopes,
Their laughter misting my ear

And their beauty a glaze on my heart.
Then as the kyles go dim
And the sun sets behind Dun Cana
Love’s loaded gun will take aim.

It will bring down the lightheaded deer
As he sniffs the grass round the wallsteads
And his eye will freeze: while I live,
His blood won’t be traced in the woods.


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