Our trip to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides was an overnight, so we stayed in Stornoway and it was such a lovely town. It has a harbour and a castle!
We stayed right on the water where the smaller boats dock.
One of my favourite things about Stornoway was the public art – all very water themed – and so here are a few samples:
After flying in from Inverness in the early afternoon, we went for a walk up to Lews Castle which sits on one side of the town where there is now a golf course (well, it is Scotland!). The castle has a wonderful bit of woodland still in its grounds and, while the castle itself isn’t that fascinating it does have an amazing gatehouse and possibly my favourite Scottish gargoyle!
The trip to Lewis was a highlight, among many, of this trip. We saw so much and the Callanish Stones are mind-boggling in their scope and beauty.
Have you ever stopped to think about the word ‘book’? It’s one of those words that has an interesting spread of meaning. We read a book. We book tickets. Police book you. You can have the book thrown at you. You can be bookish.
I’ve always liked the idea of the police booking people because it makes me picture people being pressed between the pages of a giant book! But that’s just me.
The word for book in many languages comes from words for bark or other plant matter written on, which makes perfect sense. What’s more interesting is that the other meanings in English (except bookish) related to the act of recording/listing things in a book, whether that is a patron’s seat number or the charges against you.
I’m still picturing human pressed flowers though.
Okay so I’m a Studio Ghibli fan. Any reader of Lamellae knows this, but I’ve only touched on why while talking about specific movies. I thought it was worth a post on it’s own.
Obviously there are many spec fic stories in their catalogue from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which is a 1986 science fiction, through to When Marnie was There, 2014 magic realism. But right from the start they also made stories without any spec fic elements, starting with Grave of the Fireflies in 1988 and most recently The Wind Rises in 2013.
They were proving that animation isn’t just for kids (an attitude that’s always bugged me) back in the Eighties. In fact, Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most beautiful and saddest films I’ve ever seen. To the point that, despite how much I like it, I don’t own a copy because I don’t ever want to put myself through that again!
Its writer/director, Isao Takahata, was also responsible for another heartbreaking film in 2013 – The Tale of Princess Kaguya – which is a traditional folktale told in an amazing visual style. He did Pom Poko in 1994 too, which I only discovered recently. I think his films look straight-on at loss and difficult issues and, while they don’t all have sad endings, they resolve in realistic ways.
Hayao Miyazaki who runs the studio and who has made the films you might have heard of like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle has a particularly whimsical sensibility, but his films aren’t all sweetness-and-light either with Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind tackling hard situations.
What the studio does remarkably well is strong female protagonists and they always have.
Nausicaa (considered their first film but technically made by another studio) was is from 1984 and, as I’ve said elsewhere, she is what a princess should be (self-sufficient, wise, brave and doesn’t need anyone to come save her). I was reminded of Nausicaa as I watched Arietty recently, which is Studio Ghibli’s 2010 take on The Borrowers. Arietty is the same kind of character, as is Fio – from the 1994 film Porco Rosso – who is an aeronautic engineer.
I love too that their films show friendships between boys and girls, as well as many different loving relationships. And I love that the landscape and environment is present in almost all their storytelling.
What I admire most of all though are the characters. There are always memorable and well-drawn (excuse the pun) characters and often more than one. The only movie in their catalogue I don’t think quite worked – Tales from Earthsea – suffered from not having this magic ingredient.
Speaking of admiration… as an animation geek it blows my mind that they still hand draw.
In a movie world so overwhelmed by American content, I personally enjoy seeing Japan either in setting or the details of the worlds they present. Definitely a reason I go back to My Neighbour Totoro (1988) despite the fact it’s aimed at quite a young audience, because there is a hefty dose of culture and rural lifestyle that makes me want to live in a house like that near a giant camphor tree!
Our very first ‘day trip’ from Inverness was actually an overnight stay on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Lewis is the northern part of Lewis and Harris, the biggest island in the British Isles after Ireland! So why go to Lewis? Standing stones, black houses, brochs and some amazing coastline.
We did a taxi tour on the second day on Lewis which covered an amazing amount of ground. This is what much of Lewis looks like and you’ll notice that, like the Orkneys, it’s a largely treeless landscape.
Our first stop was the Callanish Standing Stones, which were just amazing. The stones are in a cross shape, meeting in a circle around a hearth at the centre. This photo looks down one side of the cross with the circle in the middle of the shot.
I could post so many photos of this amazing site and the beautiful stones, but none of them capture it. Interestingly, there is a baby stone circle on the other side of the loch from the Callanish stones.
From there we went to one of two sets of blackhouses – traditional farmhouses – that we saw. These ones you could stay in (Gearrannan Blackhouse Village) and were largely restored/recreated houses.
Then we went on to Carloway Broch. Brochs are fortified houses which have a double stone wall that acts like a staircase between the different floors. This one happens to be fairly intact and beautifully situated.
This gives you a better sense of the internal structure of the broch. Those openings in the wall are doors!
One of the fascinating things about Lewis is all the signage puts the Gaelic first.
We stopped off at Dalmore Beach for a change of scenery and it was gorgeous.
Like on many of the islands around Scotland, sheep wander freely. The one in the pic above decided to stand in front of the car as we went to leave. It did not want to move!
The Arnol blackhouse – the second we saw – is in a more naked state than the others. Other than how smokey they’d be to live in and how closely you’d be living with your animals, the most striking thing was how dark they were.
A small side trip we did from the sights of Lewis was to visit a Harris Tweed weaver in his home studio. All over Lewis and Harris are individual weavers making this particular woolen cloth and it was cool to see an old mechanical loom in use!
We finished our tour by heading up to the Butt of Lewis, which is the north most point where there is a lighthouse. I didn’t find the lighthouse as interesting as the rocks! Crazy shapes.
When we flew back to Lewis, we had the one travel disruption of the trip – we got rerouted via Edinburgh which turned a 45 min flight into 2hrs! But it was nice to fly over Edinburgh (where we had started) and recognise the landmarks from the air as the sun was setting on the Firth of Forth.
I was having the most fascinating conversation with a writer friend the other day about how working on the dark parts of stories can affect your mood. She’d been working on a horror novel and I’d been editing a tough, angry emotional scene. Neither of us could do it without the emotion bleeding into us in the real world.
She’s made the decision to give the novel a rest, at least for a while, and I was incredibly happy to get to the end of my chapter and move on.
It got me thinking that this is why in my scratch drafts and even first drafts the emotion is often underdeveloped in those kind of scenes. It makes sense that I don’t dig deep on the first go round; I might put the draft down instead of pushing on.
It also got me thinking that if a quarter of what I was feeling, working on this particular scene, showed in my face as I was editing, then there’s a reason people haven’t been sitting next to me on the train recently!
I’ve now seen my 10 Studio Ghibli movies and it was such a treat! Pom Poko is still up there for being great storytelling, but I have added another new favourite: When Marnie was There. Unsurprisingly it’s another spec fic story, though subtly so and like the wonderful Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a British novel.
What Studio Ghibli has done across many of films is show uncomfortable realities and that’s what When Marnie was There does. In fact it pretty much opens with the protagonist telling us she hates herself and feels completely cut off from normal life, which in a child character is full-on.
That she finds real friendship and develops trust with a girl who – not really a spoiler – isn’t there, makes it heartbreaking when Marnie vanishes from her life. The lovely spec fic element of who/what Marnie actually is makes being put through the emotional wringer worthwhile.
I’m on a mission now to read the book to see whether I like it as much as this gorgeous animated movie.