Memory Maps

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is such a neat idea. I read about the concept of the memory map in our local weekly newspaper, the ‘West Highland Free Press’, last week.

West Highland Free Press logo
West Highland Free Press logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never heard of anything like it before. I’m so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with you and then I thought I’d give it a try – but using only words rather than words and drawing.

So what is a memory map? It’s a work of art primarily, but it can also be used to find your way around a place. Artist J Maizlish Mole recently produced one for Portree, the town where I live. To produce such a map, Mole spends time walking around a place such as a village or town. He’ll do it for hours and on several occasions. He’ll speak to locals and respond to landmarks and the landscape at a personal level. Then from memory he produces a, to scale, personally annotated map of his walks.  For example on the harbour section of the map of Portree, he has the note ‘helluva place for oil tanks’.

Portree (Photo credit: stevecadman)

Beside the main road into the town from the south he has noted at one point ‘many rabbits’. Other labels include, ‘extreme danger of sudden and violent death’ this is beside the cliffs; ‘grassy knoll’, scrubby knoll,’ huge supermarket,’ ‘graveyard spend eternity,’  ‘ghost trail’, ‘marvellous walk’, ‘scrubby clearing’, ‘boats to Raasay, Rona and round the bay’.

Skye coast
Skye coast (Photo credit: Paul Albertella)

Initially Mole had done only the map of Portree, Skye’s main town. But then Atlas Arts and Portree Area Community Trust commissioned another map – this time of the whole of Skye and its neighbouring island of Raasay. The maps will be displayed in the centre of Portree as public art – and print copies will be available from April. They will be Mole’s personal response to the experience of driving and walking round the islands. Emma Nicolson, director of Atlas Arts, was quoted in the West Highland free Press as saying that what Mole has created is a ‘love song to Skye’.

By coincidence, while I was out walking last Saturday, my mind wandered back nearly fifty years to my childhood street. As I walked I made a metal map of the area where I played, got shopping for my mum – or ‘got the messages’ as it was described in the local vernacular, and rode my bike.

Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882.
Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a typical Edinburgh tenement flat. There was me and my five wee sisters. It was a two bedroomed flat.  So we were outside a lot. There was no garden – but instead there was the drying green – where all the residents shared clothes drying space. Strictly speaking children weren’t allowed to play there. But of course we did. There were the ‘peever stones’ – that is a slabbed path where we played hopscotch. There was the ‘big wall’ which looked down to the ‘deep garden’ and from where, if you were brave enough to sit on top, you could see into Armstrong’s (the butcher) back shop and take in the gruesome sight of animal carcasses hanging on hooks. Then there was ‘over-the-wall’. This was a lower boundary wall that separated the drying green from the gardens at the back of the big Victorian houses in the next street. We would hop over ‘over-the-wall’ and play with the friendly – but definitely posher – private school kids.

English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery
English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Out front was a busy street. Across the road was the local cemetery. Or ‘hide- and- seek land’. Its gates were directly opposite our front door and we were small enough to slip through the bars. We knew all the paths, headstones and statues and it was the perfect place for hiding. Up from the cemetery was the swing park which contained ‘the tree where John fell and broke his arm’ and the ‘swing which hit wee Lizzie on the head’. On the route from park to home was the spot where ‘the collie dog bit me as I cycled past’.

On the same side of the street as our flat were – ‘the ivy wall’, the newsagent, from where I did my paper round, Armstrong the butcher’s and the mysterious Masonic hall. Down from there was the cobbler’s – this was the ‘place I cleared my throat loudly to get the attention of the cobbler when I went to collect my dad’s shoes and he couldn’t see me over the high counter because I was so wee’. And then it was the hairdresser – where I had my first hairdo for the primary school ‘qualie’ (leavers) dance. On the corner was the bakers shop and across from that the grocer and greengrocer, the sweetshop – ‘the place whose existence means I have a mouth full of fillings’ – and ‘where the dead people go’  i.e.the undertaker.

Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996
Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996 (Photo credit: alljengi)

At the top of the street was the lunatic asylum – yes it was still called that in the sixties – and this was the only forbidden territory where we actually respected our parents instructions and never ventured near. And close by to there was the city’s fever hospital – which I would label on my memory map as the ‘place where my wee sister nearly died of bronchitis and where me and my granny sat outside on a bench while my parents kept vigil at the bedside’.

One day I might try to draw all that childhood street stuff out on a map. Maybe it’s something you could try and/or blog about. What would be the labels on your memory map? And where would be its location in time and space?


Atlas Arts exists to facilitate innovative arts projects in Skye and Lochalsh. It offers a platform for projects that are not fixed by or to a gallery.

Portree Area Community Trust aims to stimulate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the Portree area in response to community-identified priorities.

I’m indebted to the report in February 1st 2013 edition of the West Highland Free Press for the information provided there that I have used in this post.

A Woman for All Seasons

An animation
Image via Wikipedia

Autumn is my favourite season. I don’t think you can beat a
cold, crisp, golden autumn day. Unfortunately, here in the Hebrides, it has
mainly been mild, soggy and grey. However, there have been other signs that
winter is approaching.

Geese In Flight
Image by Corey Leopold via Flickr

The migrant wild geese have been arriving from Canada and
Greenland. They arrive every year and seem to co-exist quite happily with their
native cousins. One skein was particularly noisy according to Skye naturalist,
Chris Mitchell, writing in our local paper, the West Highland Free Press. He
looked up on hearing the loud honking overhead and saw what he thought at first
was a young goose flying alongside the main group. Then he realised it was a
peregrine falcon chasing and harrying them. Must have been an incredible sight.

Northern lights over Kulusuk, Greenland
Image via Wikipedia

The Aurora Borealis was visible on a couple of clear nights
here at the beginning of October. This is apparently going to be a good winter
for Northern Lights spotting. It is an amazing spectacle and not one you can
see too often.

And the clocks have gone back. By December, it won’t be
light until nine a.m. this far north – and dusk will have fallen by three p.m.
The forecasters keep telling us that the snow is on its way – and there have
been flurries settling on the mountain tops. I’m all set – I think – I’ve got ice-grippers
for the soles of my boots, a lovely cosy new coat and a funky hat. The
emergency lights are charged, there are batteries for the radio and alternative
heating sources are primed.

At school, with Halloween over, the buzz is all about
Bonfire night, the Children-in-Need fundraiser – and, even (whisper it)

Venus reflected in the Pacific Ocean
Image via Wikipedia

I love the anticipation of it all. I like the dark – the
big, starry skies – Venus clearly visible as both night and morning star – and Jupiter
in the west as darkness falls. I like wrapping up warm for a visibly breathy
walk and then drawing the curtains and battening down. I love a snowy
landscape. And I love being at my desk writing as the wind and rain batter on
the window – no guilt that I should be gardening or out on a hike. Come to
think of it –  maybe winter’s my favourite.

But then after the Solstice, and as the days slowly eke out
again, I get excited about the arrival of spring – followed by those very long,
twenty hour days of summer daylight…

No – it’s true – my favourite season always seems to be the
one we’re in currently – in other words no favourite. It’s the existence of the
seasons that I enjoy. I can’t imagine living in the tropics and not
experiencing the chapters of the year and all of nature’s facets.

So – let it snow. I’m a woman for all seasons.