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"Visiting every part of Scotland" by Bill Taylor: Edinburgh meeting of 6 March 2018.

Bill Taylord

Bill Taylor

© Bill Taylor, 2018

People have different ways of relating to Scotland. Some bag Munros and Marilyns and Corbetts. Others may choose to visit all the distilleries or islands, indulge in geocaching or seek to swim in all the lochs.

For Bill his focus was to be able to claim that he had visited every one of the grid-squares into which the Ordnance Survey divides our country, and for this it was necessary to invent some ground-rules.

Bill decided that in each square he must come into contact with the land - it would not suffice to sail past or fly over the area. Squares must contain land that is inhabited or is attached to inhabited land, as defined by containing the residence of someone on the Voters' Roll. He ruled out use of GPS, and seeking places identifiable on the 1:50,000 OS map started off with the premise that there were 1080 needing to be visited.

Actually Bill had started the process many years before, by being born in Uddingston. A family move to Bothwell and travel to school gave him two more squares, holidays in his grandmother's home island of Colonsay began Hebridean 'love-affair'. A summer job from Aberdeen University on a Shetland fish farm widened his coverage still further, while his passion for climbing and his work in 1976 for the new Orkney Islands Council on its Local Plan took him still further. A flitboat landed him on Rum where he met John Love who was responsible for the highly successful reintroduction of the sea-eagle and encountered the Manx shearwaters as they searched for their burrows. A visit to Britain's highest cliff on St Kilda during which he witnessed the stacks of Stac an Armin and Stac Lee and the island of Boreray poked through a rare sea mist was an extracurricular necessity, and a calm day on Mingulay enabled him to view from a geo the stack to which crofters had moved sheep by rope in order that no area of grass should go ungrazed. Back in Shetland, on the Out Skerries,with Britain's smallest secondary school and encountered with the prosperous fishermen of Whalsay who once were said to have the highest proportion of Mercedes Benz cars in the country. A stark contrast was the 25-strong community of Foula where his plane had to make a second attempt at landing owing to sheep on the runway.


Bill Taylor at Mull-of-Oa

© Bill Taylor, 2018

In Angus, Bill discovered a little-known row of houses down on the shore at Ethie, and off Mull he found Frank Lockwood's Island named after an English barrister who took part in the trial of Oscar Wilde, surelyone of the few British places to have been named after a living person.

On Jura, a RIB trip bagged a remote square near the 'holiday' home of the Astor family that provided a holiday retreat for David Cameron when Prime Minister, and Bill had to venture to a tiny headland of 40x10m on the Mull of Oa, the southern extremity of Islay, and by public transport all the way from his Inverness home to a tiny area north of Bragar on Lewis in order to bag some of his last squares. A walk along the beach was necessitated at Ardeer in Ayrshire in order to avoid the former Nobel explosives works, but he was rewarded with sight of a mural illustrating "Chemical Burns" on the breakwater.

Automation of lighthouses completed twenty years ago had eased Bill's task, but he still ended up in some very marginal communities, few more so than the Shetland islands of Foula and Papa Stour. Ulva off Mull may be aided by a community buyout, and small islands will always prove a draw for niche tourism and for people determined to get away from it all : but Scotland lacks the investment in road tunnels seen in say the Faroes and Norway, and there is always the risk of conflict between locals who won't mix with anyone lacking a "granny in the graveyard" and incomers who, interpreting lack of communication to be indicative of lack of initiative, take it on themselves to reorganise the way things are done and thus inadvertently overstep the mark.


Bill Taylor at Bragar

© Bill Taylor, 2018

Bill reflected on the unfeeling way in which bureaucracy, in the past, regarded small communities when he crossed from Raasay, where an absentee landlord had cleared people to live on poor land beyond a wall, to meet the sole occupant the agent of the Danish owner nowadays on Rona.

This island had once been home to 450 people so was cluttered with the remains of old crofthouses. Calum Macleod of Torrin had been refused a metalled road for the last one and three quarter miles to his croft on Raasay so built it himself, and one of the first vehicles out on Calum's Road was the hearse bearing his wife's coffin. Readers of the Rough Guide for 2017 had called Scotland the most beautiful country in the world, and Bill's travels allowed him to concur.

Urged on to complete his coverage by the imminence of his 60th birthday, special beer was brewed for Bill's Last Square at Tarbat Ness in 2012 - but then he encountered the Proberts whose address 1 Auskerry, Auskerry Orkney yielded another square that had to be visited. Fortunately an extra one found on Rona had already been visited, and so the total rose to 1084. Bill's travels made possible by Scotland's Right to Roam legislation could not have been replicated in the other countries of the UK, but only once, on Lewis, did he feel uncomfortable in going about his mission. Of course it is Scotland's small size which made this attainable - the USA by comparison has 3142 counties - but he had also experienced the country's diversity of geology, natural heritage, history and culture as witnessed by the wealth of phenomena to be encountered. He illustrated this through 8 journeys of 100km radiating from Inverness.

The Great Polish Map of Scotland now being lovingly restored at Eddleston gives a unique perspective of the country, across which continuity but change are evident everywhere , with depopulation to be found not only on small islands but also in former Ayrshire mining communitie, and decline can be seen in our urban centres for example by contrasting a photo of busy Hamilton Cross a half-century ago with today's quiet struggling scene. There is a collective guilt over what happened on St Kilda which makes Scottish society want to prevent any repetition, but one can question the sense of trying to help some island communities in which the seeds of decline may have already been sown. The sense of freedom that drove Bill's mission was reminiscent of these final words in the Declaration of Arbroath: "it is in truth not for glory not riches nor honours that we are fighting but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up, but with life itself".

Report by John Yellowlees. Photographs by Bill Taylor.


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