Monday, March 18, 2024

The Corncrake and the Croft: A 1977 film about North Uist

I loved the Outer Hebrides. When I was there in the summer of 2008, the colours of the sea and sand rivalled the Caribbean and the drowned landscape made it feel like, in the words of the Runrig song, the end of the world.

While I was there, I read Finlay J. Macdonald's three books about his boyhood on Harris in the 1930s. I remembered these from the 1980s, when his readings of them had been popular with Radio 4 listeners.

MacDonald is the narrator of this leisurely film from 1977 about crofting on the neighbouring island of North Uist. I could listen to him all day.

It seems incredible now, but the cry of the corncrake was the sound of the English summer too, less than a century ago. I believe it is now threatened with extinction even on the Outer Hebrides.

And the peewit or lapwing was so common in Shropshire that when the children in Malcolm Saville's first book Mystery at Witchend formed a secret society, they found it natural to adopt the bird's call as their secret signal to one another. I have never seen one there.

MacDonald died in 1987, but when I reached the visitor centre at Culloden later on that holiday, it was still his voice narrating its film about the battle.

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