Thursday, July 8, 2010

coffin roads and wool shrouds

Bereft of our long-planned but necessarily postponed 'drove' through the Cairngorms, a small group of us spent a couple of days exploring the southerly section of our intended journey between Glen Brerachan, near Kirkmichael, and Blair Atholl. An old road stretches though here, a 'short-cut' through the hills, a by-pass of Pitlochry. The road, that climbs north over a pass and then drops to the beautiful 'Shinagag' meadow, has been in use for centuries, connecting sizable hill communities that were once strung through the glen. The life that once clamoured there now haunts the wayside in quiet, low, piles of stone and the choruses of sheep.

It was also a coffin road, for corpses carried to St Bride's church in Old Blair (pictured below) over ten or fifteen miles in what must have often been difficult conditions. One testimony to this remains in stone. A funeral party, forced back by bad weather, had to bury the corpse by the side of the road at the nearest point to the church, a good four miles short. The grave remains as a lonely marker.

Walking with my old friend and wool artist, Yuli Somme (above), added a special dimension to this sense of the past, and of the rituals associated with death. One of her creative enterprises is making felt shrouds for natural burials. Thinking 'outside the box', the Bellacouche shroud is designed in the shape of a leaf, evoking the changing seasons of life, its surface embroidered with oak or willow. It's used instead of a coffin, in either a woodland burial ground or traditional churchyard. Our walk through a landscape littered with discarded wool fleece, was occasionally halted by phone calls from relatives planning funerals, celebrating lives of loved ones by choosing this gentle form of carriage.

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