Have you ever found yourself wandering in a place where you feel as if you are walking a fine line between this world and another? I ask because it is a feeling I often have when walking among the ancient oaks and between the moss-covered boulders of Ariundle Oakwood. I don’t know what it is about the place, but I feel that I am never too far away from the mystical realm inhabited by the faeries that gives the nearby village of Strontian or Sròn an t-Sìthein (nose of the fairy hill) its name. In my mind, it is one of the “thin places” that can be found here on the Peninsula.
The concept of “thin places” has been woven into the tapestry of Celtic folklore and spirituality for centuries, being used to describe places where the boundary between the physical world and a mystical, historical or spiritual world is believed to be exceptionally thin, thus facilitating a sense of connection between the two.
In thin places, you might feel a sense of awe and heightened awareness of being in the presence of something greater than yourself and, as such, they are often characterised by an otherworldly atmosphere, where the ordinary and the extraordinary intermingle. This is certainly something I can say about Ariundle Oakwood, a place where each ancient tree and each moss-covered boulder seems to harbour mystical beings waiting to be unveiled.
When you stand in a thin place you may instead find your imagination ignited by thoughts of what has been before you. This historical imagination can transport you to a different era, picturing scenes from the past as if they were unfolding right before your eyes. Camas nan Geall is a place where I get this feeling.
This “Bay of the Strangers” is a fascinating place because it contains evidence of human presence that covers a period of several millennia of human history. This ranges from a Neolithic chambered cairn to deserted clearance dwellings and includes a number of things in-between. The chambered cairn in the centre of the bay may seem quite innocuous, but when you stand next to it and consider that people buried their dead there some 5000-6000 years before, you cannot help but feel a sense of what has gone before.
Perhaps more poignant though, are the ruins of Torr na Mòine up on the slopes of Ben Hiant which was the settlement that was the home to the people of Camas Nan Geall before they were forcibly evicted in the 18th century so that the land could be used for a sheep farm. It’s hard to comprehend the hardship and trauma that these people suffered from being suddenly cleared from their ancestral lands by the landowner for primarily economic reasons.
Finally, the Old Parish Church in Kilchoan is a place where I feel that there is a thin veil between our physical world and the spiritual world. It is a hauntingly peaceful place that seems to compel you to tread carefully and with due deference to ground that has played host to a place of worship from some 700 years.
Giving Kilchoan its name, this Church of St Comghan must have been incredibly important to the local community as a place where they could come together not only to worship but to also seek fellowship and support. Indeed, a walk around the graveyard that surrounds the church to look at gravestones that date from as far back as the 14th century and as recent as the 1990’s, pays testament to just how long this “thin place” has provided spiritual succour to the community.
There are many other places on the Peninsula to which I have felt a sense of the mystical, historical or spiritual and this most likely stems from my photography encouraging me to slow down and take time to get a real sense of a place before I ever think of pressing the shutter button. However, you don’t need a camera to experience the profound ways in which certain locations can inspire feelings of connectivity to a different realm. You can just slow down, look, listen and feel when you next find yourself in a place that you sense you might be connected to.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.