Winter Words Festival: Ian Bradley


Winter Words Festival 2023

Thursday 9 February



Ian Bradley has written over 40 books and is well-known as a broadcaster, journalist and lecturer. He is also a Church of Scotland minister and a respected academic.  Ian takes us on an intriguing journey along some of the ‘coffin roads’ along which bodies were carried for burial to discover and explore the distinctive traditions, beliefs and practices around dying, death and mourning in the communities which created and used them.

Ian argues that aspects of the distinctive West Highland and Hebridean way of death may have something helpful and important to offer to us today.

‘A fascinating snapshot into place and culture.’ Fife Herald

The Highlands and islands of Scotland are crisscrossed by coffin roads – ancient tracks along which bodies were carried on their way to burial in remote graveyards. In this book, Ian Bradley journeys these ancient ways, which often pass through wild and spectacular scenery, to explore Hebridean and West Highland attitudes to dying, death and the afterlife.

Graphic first-hand accounts of funeral practices reveal such customs as the three-day wake, the singing of the death croon and the keen or lament, as well as premonitions and omens of death experienced by those gifted with second sight. At a time when we are becoming more open about death, this book offers much that is relevant as well as consoling.


After graduating from Oxford with a first class degree and a doctorate in modern history Ian Bradley worked in the BBC and as a staff writer on The Times, to which he still regularly contributes, before going to St Andrews to train for the Church of Scotland ministry. On ordination, he was appointed Head of Religious Broadcasting at BBC Scotland. He subsequently taught church history and practical theology at Aberdeen University and then at St Andrews University where he also served as honorary Church of Scotland chaplain for twenty years and served as associate minister in the main parish church.

He retired at the end of 2017 as Principal of St Mary’s College and is now Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at St Andrews University. He continues to be active as a minister and regularly preaches and takes services. He is the author of more than 40 books which range in their subject matter over social, cultural and political history, theology, biography and music. Recent titles include Argyll: The Making of a Spiritual LandscapeArthur Sullivan: A Life of Divine EmollientHealth, Hedonism and Hypochondria: The Hidden History of Spas; and The Fife Pilgrim Way: In the Footsteps of Monks, Miners and MartyrsThe Coffin Roads is the second in a trilogy of books about aspects of death, dying and the afterlife.

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Thursday 09 Feb 2023
Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Pitlochry. United Kingdom