The Coffin Roads
Journeys to the West
by Ian Bradley
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a thoughtful walk through memories of long-held Highland burial customs
Scotland on Sunday
A fascinating snapshot into place and culture
The Coffin Roads explores the history of these haunting roads that wind their way through the lonely glens towards the seas, and how the old beliefs and customs around death could help us cope with dying and grief more than the modern, more sanitised approach
Bradley brings each route to life with not just a first-hand account of accompanying the burial parties, but well-researched insights drawn from historical accounts of journeys
Life and Work
An excellent new book... shows the importance of landscape in shaping the life of a nation
Vivien Martin, BBC Radio 4
This is a well-written, thought-provoking and interesting book that we would recommend to anyone wishing to broaden their understanding of the culture of the western Highlands and the Hebrides
‘a wide-ranging, meticulous study [with] detailed scholarship and depth of deduction and contemplation’
St Andrews in Focus
The extraordinary traditions around the coffin roads can help us to recapture the patterns of dealing with death which we have lost in our times
About the Book
'Coffin roads' along which bodies were carried for burial are a marked feature of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands and islands – many are now popular walking and cycling routes. This book journeys along eight coffin roads to discover and explore the distinctive traditions, beliefs and practices around dying, death and mourning in the communities which created and used them.
The result is a fascinating snapshot into place and culture. After more than a century when death was very much a taboo subject, this book argues that aspects of the distinctive West Highland and Hebridean way of death and approach to dying and mourning may have something helpful and important to offer to us today.
Routes covered in this book are:
The Kilmartin Valley – the archetypal coffin road in this ritual landscape of the dead.
The Street of the Dead on Iona – perhaps the best known coffin road in Scotland.
Kilearnadil Graveyard, Jura – a perfect example of a Hebridean graveyard.
The coffin road through Morvern to Keil Church, Lochaline - among the best defined and most evocative coffin roads today.
The Green Isle, Loch Shiel, Ardnamurchan - the oldest continuously used burial place anywhere in Europe.
The coffin road on Eigg – with its distinctive ‘piper’s cairn’ where the coffin of Donald MacQuarrie, the 'Great Piper of Eigg', was rested.
The coffin road from Traigh Losgaintir to Loch Stocinis on Harris - popular with walkers and taken as the title for a best-selling thriller by Peter May.
The coffin road on Barra – A detailed study of burial practices on Barra in the early 1950s provides a fascinating record of Hebridean attitudes to dying, death and mourning.
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