Research Note 9: Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum

The latest research visits (April & May 2022) have been on the trail of a particular series of photographs by Dr Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983) that are part of the IF Grant Photographic Collection. I moved from one digital archive, am baile to two physical archives- Edinburgh Central Library which holds the photographic collection itself and Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, which is the embodiment and repository for IF Grant’s wider work as the founder of Am Fasgadh.

IF Grant described Am Fasgadh as ‘a pioneering attempt to create a Highland variant of the well-known folk museums of Scandinavia’. [1] She originally organised an exhibition in Inverness in 1930, in the hope that someone upon seeing the history and the material culture of different areas of the Highlands and islands, would create such a museum. Whilst the exhibition, lasting 7 weeks and receiving ‘close on 20,000 visitors’ [2] proved popular, no one came forward. IF Grant then went on to tour over Scotland to collect and buy artefacts, which she subsequently housed in three iterations of Am Fasgadh (‘The Shelter’). Grant saw Am Fasgadh as ‘providing a shelter for homely Highland things’ [3] in Iona (established 1935), Laggan and Kingussie. Following gifting her collection and museum to the four Scottish Universities [4] in 1954, Am Fasgadh was taken over by Highland Region in 1975.

The IF Grant Collection online at am baile and held at Edinburgh Central Library brings together IF Grant’s own photographs with the work of other photographers that she purchased, including Margaret Fay Shaw and Violet Banks. All the photographs depict different aspects of Highland life. Shaw’s photographs augment a gap in the collection on South Uist; whilst Banks’ works are of the ‘Last remaining inhabited thatched cottage’ in Eigg and a white thatched cottage in Sconser, Skye.

Grant’s own photographs, (attributed to her in the IF Grant Collection), depict a keen interest in different building styles and variations of thatched cottages across Scotland. Whilst there are examples from the larger islands of Lewis, Mull, Skye, and Arran, Grant also photographed buildings in Colonsay, Ulva and Lismore. She took examples across the north of Scotland in Thurso and Durness, around to north west, in Mallaig and Morar. Intriguingly, there is also a sub section of Grant’s photographs which are of ruinous cottages, which on one emotive level illustrate that this way of life was fast disappearing. Grant notes the cause in the early 1930s as ‘the Scottish Board of Agriculture was carrying a housing drive. Every steamer I travelled in appeared to be loaded with piles of window frames, sanitary equipment, etc… one began to wonder if any cottage of the traditional style would be left’. [5]

My research day at Highland Folk Museum, concentrating on IF Grant’s own photography, has proved to be three-fold – seeing the volume of photography that Grant commissioned from other photographers, mostly relating to Am Fasgadh; the subsequent usage of that photography to disseminate the existence of the museum further afield; and, some context relating to her own photography series of the cottages. Firstly, Grant worked with different photographers as well as postcard publishers Valentines and JB White, to document artefacts, interiors and exteriors of the three iterations of Am Fasgadh. She then utilised this documentation for spreading the word of the museum, in particular as saleable composite image postcards for museum visitors. A number of the photographs also illustrate articles on the museum in Scots Magazine and The Listener. Names that crop up repeatedly in her photograph album captions are Glasgow photographer John Mackay, who took photographs of the objects such as stools, chairs and farming implements, on mostly stark white backgrounds; and Donald B MacCulloch, whose address stamped on the back of one loose photograph in an album places him in Aviemore. In amongst another archival box, several visitors mailed IF Grant photographs of their day at the museum, which illustrates cameras were very much everyday objects used by the general population.

Cover of photograph album, with IF Grant’s handwritten index Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)

In the photograph albums held in Am Fasgadh, Grant’s own captions provide a good level of detail relating to the authorship of photographs of the museum interiors and exteriors. An example is ‘Large photograph by D.B. MacCulloch’. However, on the pages there are also smaller, unattributed photographs of the museum. One option would be to surmise she did not note when a photograph is one of hers, but it is difficult to be sure of her authorship when she worked with numerous photographers. In Box 6, there are two foolscap sheets of paper, which are the only visual reference to the series of thatched cottages held at Edinburgh Central Library. There are 6 photographs affixed across the two sheets, with captions relating to object and place, in IF Grant’s handwriting. ‘1. A ruined cottage in Inverness-shire’ shows the pared back gable, stripped of thatch. It sits on the page next to ‘2. A very primitive cottage in Barra with hearth in the middle of the room’. The photograph captions do not state the author, however the image of the Barra interior, is definitely one of Margaret Fay Shaw’s. The Edinburgh Central Library holds larger reprints of this image, correctly attributed to Shaw. On the second foolscap page, the photograph with caption ‘5. Lewis houses’, reverts back to likely being taken by Grant. In this example, is the blurring of authorship down to IF Grant’s larger role of collector? Did she see her own photography as part of a larger collection, alongside other photographers’ work?

In Box 5, commissioned Aviemore photographer Donald B MacCulloch appears again, this time writing an article ‘Am Fasgadh: The Iona Museum’, for Scots Magazine and Scottish Country Life. MacCulloch states, ’She [IF Grant] has also formed a remarkable collection of old thatch cottages, and of various domestic activities carried on throughout the North Country and islands’ (P.48). This is the first external appraisal of the series as part of a collection.

Furthermore, the inclusion of these photographs in the exhibition catalogue for the ‘Highland Exhibition Inverness’ 1930, pre-dates this series to Grant’s subsequent establishing of Am Fasgadh’s first iteration in 1935. The introduction essay on P30 notes:

There will be a collection of portfolios [in the exhibition] for those who care to spend more time … there will be a large collection of photographs of old Highland cottages and of familiar work scenes.

The last entry in the catalogue reads: ‘Portfolio of Photography of life in the Highlands, lent by Miss IF Grant, Balnespick.’ Grant saw this particular portfolio’s purpose as one which augmented the exhibition, for those interested in the subject.

It is not unusual to traverse ground between archives to understand better the motivations and aims that each of the women photographers and filmmakers from early 20th Century in Scotland had for their work. The path between Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum is no different. In a photocopied bibliography of Dr IF Grant’s written work, held at Am Fasgadh, it is noted ‘”Random recollections of the distribution of Local Types of Cottages”, typescript, 17pp, deposited with Edinburgh City Libraries, a companion piece to IF Grant Collection of photographs (1965)’. I shall look forward to returning to Edinburgh Central Library to learn more about this portfolio of images, and, hopefully, to shed more light on the photography she authored.

With thanks to Helen Pickles, Highland Folk Museum and Iain Duffus, Edinburgh Central Library

Am Fasgadh entrance Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)


[1] P.11, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[2] From Report of the Joint Honorary Secretaries to The Executive Committee of the Highland Exhibition 1930, typescript, (Accessions no: 2:1985), Am Fasgadh

[3] P.191, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[4] P.10, Hugh Cheape, introduction, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[5] P.30, Ibid.

Decommissioned Life Cycles: Cleaning

Limpet 500, Wave Power Station, (2000-2012) Isle of Islay

The components required for renewable energy have their own finite, often short, life cycles. Limpet 500 was Europe’s first experimental wave chamber and the world’s first commercial wave power device, connecting to the UK national grid. It was designed by Wavegen and Queens University Belfast. Nine years after its decommissioning, the remaining concrete structure could be viewed as contemporary archaeology. On the Autumn equinox 2021, at age 50, I cleaned in front of Limpet 500, using heather from the Mull of Oa.

Produced as a double sided A5 card, edition of 100 (2021)

Photograph: Alastair S. Macdonald


Overlaps: Island Post Office

Post and Telegraph Office, Eriskay, South Uist. Photographer and year unknown

I was invited by Shalmali Shetty to write a short piece for her publication this cloud may burst (2020), which was submitted as part of her GSA MLitt in Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art). Shetty invited four researchers and artists – Debi Banerjee, Sean Patrick Campbell, Katri Heinämäki and myself – to reflect on ideas of loss and preservation of memory around their use of archival material in their work. The publication has an overview A memorial to memories by Shetty.

For my contribution, Overlaps: Island Post Office, I look at one post and telegraph office, on the Hebridean island of Eriskay. In the course of researching early twentieth century women photographers in Scotland, I began to notice periodic overlaps of subject matter, locations or even people in their photographs.  From trawling their archives, I saw that Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1896-1985) and American photographer and folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) had separately photographed the same post and telegraph office. The writing begins with the photographs made by these two women, then tracks this particular example of the island post office to the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow.

Post Office and Tower, The Clachan, Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938. Valentines and Son Limited (Dundee and London)

this cloud may burst can be purchased from Good Press retailing at £10.

With thanks to Shalmali Shetty for the invitation to contribute. Images below from Good Press listing.

The State of Education

St James’, 1895, Green St, The Calton, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Audio reading of text here (6 mins) Photographic index of schools here

The first thing I noticed on returning to Glasgow’s east end, after four months away for lockdown, was the extent to which nature had taken over the streets and a number of the buildings. High weeds were growing profusely along curbs and pavements. The old derelict meat market’s security gates on Bellgrove Street had been prised open, to reveal an abundance of greenery within.

Tureen Street, 1876, Green St, Calton, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Green Street is a stone’s throw away from Bellgrove Street. It is book-ended by two vacant Glasgow Public School Board buildings- Tureen Street and St James’. Buddleia was reclaiming both, spilling out over the guttering, and in the case of St James’, sprouting profusely over the front elevation. Bushes were forming their own High Line park around the roof of Tureen Street. These became the first School Board of Glasgow buildings that I visited over late July until 30 September 2020. I resolved to make a series of walks during Phase 3 of Scotland’s Route Map, to the remaining- by my calculations- thirty-one schools across the city. [1]

Springburn Public School, 1875, Gourlay Street, Springburn, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow built seventy-five schools over the period 1874-1916. Such a profusion of schools was due to The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made schooling free and compulsory for five to thirteen year olds and transferred control of those schools from church to state. Until that point 40% of the school population had not received any education. The new schools were to accommodate an estimated 35000 children. [2]

Parkhead Public School, 1879, Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools were particularly prevalent in number near the big industrial works and foundries, where workforces lived, such as St Rollox Chemical Works (St Rollox Public School and Rosemount Public School in Royston) Parkhead Forge (Parkhead Public School and Newlands Public School only have one main road separating them) and Saracen Foundry, Possilpark (Springburn Public School and Elmvale Public School in close proximity).

Strathclyde Public School, 1904, Carstairs Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow’s large building programme involved commissioning (all male) architects including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, David Thomson, Honeyman and Keppie, H.E. Clifford and McWhannell & Rogerson. Earlier buildings are yellow sandstone, whilst later are red sandstone. Architectural innovations included separate entrances, staircases and playgrounds for boys and girls. The words ‘Boys’, ‘Girls’ and often ‘Infants’ are carved over entrances, on gate posts and, in the case of Golfhill, spelt out in the wrought ironwork of the gate. On the majority of the buildings the school names and ‘School Board of Glasgow’ have been relief carved in the stone. Some of the bolder architectural aesthetics, in particular Mackintosh’s Martyrs’ and Scotland Street, influenced other schools, such as the window details of St Rollox.

Golfhill Public School, 1903, Circus Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools over the ensuing century or more since their construction, have had different fates. Town planning had either cleared some or run motorways near to many- the curve of the M8 at Washington Street; the A803 behind Martyrs’ in Townhead, then again by Springburn Public School and Elmvale Primary.

Washington Street Public School, 1890, Washington Street, Anderston, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The remaining School Board of Glasgow buildings fall into four different categories: those which were demolished; those currently vacant; those that have had change of use into community or business centres, Council-run social services, residential flats or museums; and those which have remained as schools. Of the second category, Haghill, stands out in all its dereliction. Stranded in the middle of a square of tenements in the East End, the pink-purple willow herb was high around the perimeter, as the yellow ragwort grew through the cracks in the playground.

Haghill Public School, 1904, Marwick Street/Walter Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Eight of the Public Schools remain primary schools – Alexandra Parade (1897), Garnetbank (1905), Saint Denis’ Primary School (Dennistoun Public School, 1883), Dunard Street Primary School (1900), Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary (1906), Al Khalil College (Abbotsford Public School, 1879), Royston Primary School (St Rollox Public School, 1906) and Elmvale Primary School (1901). Brightly coloured hippo, whale and pencil bins populated playgrounds. Chalk grafitti at child height circumnavigated the wall at Elmvale. A blue hula hoop had been successfully thrown to hook over a short pipe on the wall at Royston Primary School. Bunting, messages of hope and Covid-safe banners were instigated on walls and railings to welcome back pupils.

St Rollox Public School, 1906, Royston Road, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary School was the final school on my list to photograph. It was named after the Chairman of the School Board of Glasgow (he was Chair 1885-1903). This was the only building I caught inhabited as during much of the period, schools had remained closed from point of lockdown, 23rd March, to all but the children of key workers, until 11th August 2020. Teachers were outside doing a socially distanced drill in the playground.

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson School, 1906, Coplaw Street, Southside Central ward, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow buildings to the east, west, north and south of Glasgow are now comforting sentinels on any traverse across the city. My memory of the view from the train window, as it leaves Glasgow and cuts through Springburn has always been of high rises. Now, I realise, Elmvale Primary School has always been part of that picture.

See images of all of the remaining Schools here.


[1] There are other school boards in Glasgow such as Govan School Board (schools including Hillhead Public School) and Maryhill Board.

[2] The School Board of Glasgow 1873-1919, James M. Roxburgh, University of London Press Ltd, 1971

State of Education: Index of remaining School Board of Glasgow Schools, Sept 2020

1895, ST JAMES’, ARCHITECTS: Thomson & Sandilands STATUS: Currently vacant but earmarked to become Glasgow’s fourth Gaelic Primary School.

St James’, 1895, Green St, Calton, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1876, TUREEN STREET, ARCHITECT: John Honeyman, James Jackson Craig, Macwhannell & Rogerson, Ninian Macwhannell, James Lymburn Cowan STATUS: Vacant

Tureen Street, 1876, Green St, Calton, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1875, THOMSON STREET, ARCHITECT: James Thomson of Baird & Thomson STATUS: Residential flats

Thomson Street Public School, 1875, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1883, DENNISTOUN PUBLIC SCHOOL, ARCHITECTS: James Salmon & Son STATUS: Saint Denis’ Primary School

Dennistoun Public School. 1883, Meadowpark Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, ALEXANDRA PARADE, ARCHITECTS: McWhannell & Rogerson STATUS: Alexandra Parade Primary School

Alexandra Parade Public School, 1897, Armadale Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1890, KERR STREET, ARCHITECT: John Gordon STATUS: Dornoch Business Centre

Calton (Kerr Street) Public School, 1890, Kerr St, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1902, HAGHILL, ARCHITECT: Andrew Lindsay Miller STATUS: Vacant, owned by Spectrum Properties

Haghill Public School, 1904, Marwick Street/Walter Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1903, GOLFHILL, ARCHITECT: Alexander Nisbet Paterson STATUS: Vacant, owned by Spectrum Properties

Golfhill Public School, 1903, Circus Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1875, SPRINGBURN, ARCHITECT: David Thomson STATUS: Vacant

Springburn Public School, 1875, Gourlay Street, Springburn, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1901, ELMVALE, ARCHITECT: H.E. Clifford STATUS: Elmvale Primary

Elmvale Public School, 1901, Hawthorn Street, Possilpark, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, ST ROLLOX, ARCHITECT: D. McNaughtan STATUS: Royston Primary School

St Rollox Public School, 1906, Royston Road, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, ROSEMOUNT, ARCHITECT: JB Wilson STATUS: Millburn Centre

Rosemount Public School, 1897, Millburn Street, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1904, STRATHCLYDE, ARCHITECT: John McKissack STATUS: Strathclyde Business Centre

Strathclyde Public School, 1904, Carstairs Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1878, PARKHEAD, ARCHITECT: Hugh McClure STATUS: The Old School House

Parkhead Public School, 1879, Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1895, NEWLANDS, ARCHITECT: Andrew Balfour STATUS: Glasgow Addiction Services

Newlands Public School, 1895, Springfield Road, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1895, HAYFIELD, ARCHITECT: John H Hamilton STATUS: Hayfield Support Services With Deaf People

Hayfield Public School, 1905, Old Rutherglen Road, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1894, ADELPHI TERRACE, ARCHITECT: Thomas Lennox Watson STATUS: Currently being renovated by Urban Office.

Adelphi Terrace Public School, 1894, Florence Street, Gorbals, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1879, ABBOTSFORD, ARCHITECTS: H & D Barclay STATUS: Al Khalil College

Abbotsford Public School, 1879, Abbotsford Place, Laurieston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, SCOTLAND STREET, ARCHITECT: CRM Mackintosh STATUS: Museum of School Education

Scotland Street Public School, 1906, Scotland Street, Kingston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, SIR JOHN NEILSON CUTHBERTSON, ARCHITECT: James Miller STATUS: Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary School

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson School, 1906, Coplaw Street, Southside Central ward, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, MARTYRS, ARCHITECTS: Honeyman & Keppie STATUS: Glasgow Social Work Leaving Care Services

Martyrs’ Public School, 1897, Parson Street, Townhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1905, GARNETBANK, ARCHITECT: Thomas L Watson STATUS: Garnetbank Primary School

Garnetbank Public School, 1905, Renfrew Street, Garnethill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1878, GARNETHILL, ARCHITECT: William F MacGibbon STATUS: Residential flats

Garnethill Public School, 1878, Buccleuch Street, Garnethill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg


Washington Street Public School, 1890, Washington Street, Anderston, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1877, OVERNEWTON, ARCHITECT: J Burnet STATUS: Currently under development to become residential flats

Overnewton Public School, 1877, Lumsden Street, Yorkhill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1888, KELVINHAUGH, ARCHITECT: Frank Burnet STATUS: Kelvingrove College

Kelvinhaugh Public School, 1888, Gilbert/Teviot Street, Anderston/City/Yorkhill, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1900, DUNARD STREET ARCHITECT: H B W Steele & Balfour STATUS: Dunard Primary School

Dunard Street Public School, 1900, Dunard Street, Maryhill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1890, NAPIERSHALL STREET, ARCHITECT: Robert Alexander Bryden STATUS: Multicultural Centre

Napiershall Street Public School, 1890, Napiershall St, Hillhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1882, WOODSIDE, ARCHITECT: Robert Dalglish STATUS: Scotland Trades Union Congress / The Stand Comedy Club

Woodside Public School, 1882, Woodlands Road, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1915, SHAKESPEARE STREET, ARCHITECT: Ninian Macwhannell STATUS: ‘North Kelvin Apartments’, Residential flats

Shakespeare Street Public School, 1915, Maryhill, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1901, WILLOWBANK, ARCHITECT: Alexander Petrie STATUS: Residential flats

Willowbank Public School, 1901, Willowbank Street, West End, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

For details of architects, see and Dictionary of Scottish Architects

Beyond: Interview with an ultra-marathon runner (1999)

The following are extracts from a conversation with William Sichel, an ultra-marathon runner. William was British 100km Champion, British No.1 at the 24 hour event and in 2000 was World No.1 for 24 hours (road) with 153.29 miles set at Basel, Switzerland on 13/14 May 2000.

Ultra marathon race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra marathon race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Initially I wanted to speak to William as there was a paradox between the sport he competed in and where he lived – the Orkney island of Sanday which measures 21 km length wise and between 1 and 9 km width wise. For this reason alone he was the ideal person to discuss the meaning of limits with. Moreover I wanted to investigate the implications of running to infinity. As the interview progressed, I understood William had the capacity to ‘handle distance’ because he consistently translated the unknown into facts and figures. By using this method the vague expanse of infinity can be pinned down; concentrated into human scale.

This interview took place in the lounge of a Kirkwall B&B, 24 February 1999.

JB: I was looking at the dictionary definition for ultra and it states that ‘it is an attempt to pass beyond the limits of the known’. I wanted to speak to you about your ultra marathon running. In this sport you are definitely passing beyond these limits. You are almost running to infinity. First of all, could we talk a bit about the distances that are involved? I know there are 100 km races and 24 hour runs.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

WS: You are right, ultra does mean beyond the limits. In athletic terms, any distance… well let’s put it this way: A marathon is a set distance, its 26.2 miles, 42.1km. An ultra marathon or ultra-distance race is a race beyond that distance, but obviously in order to organise this sport on a world-wide basis there are two distances that have been accepted as more or less standard distances. One of them is 100km which is 62.2 miles. Then the other one is the 24 hours race which is as far as you can run in 24 hours.

JB: A bit of and obvious question but can a runner become lost on a long distance route?

WS: Well normally the runners don’t have to navigate. We don’t have Global Positioning Devices or anything like that as the terrain we pass over isn’t terribly wild in that sense. There are markers and marshals out on the course too. The only one I can think of is the West Highland Way competition- 93 miles that takes about 20 hours. There you have to be careful. You can go off route. They try to have markers but in this case you do have to navigate.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: I had imagined that the routes of these races would be like starting at one point and then just running out completely as far as you can go…

WS: In reality the 100 km races are either point to point or quite often like laps around towns. Courses vary according to what country hosts them. 24 hour races are always held on loops – either on an ordinary running track or…

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: Was that like the one in France?

WS: That was a road loop, 10 miles around a town. They count the laps then measure when you stop, because obviously, especially with 24 hour running it is very important that a careful check is kept on the distances because otherwise all sorts of disputes can occur. Someone says they have run a silly amount and no-one has counted the laps properly. It’s highly regulated so that performances are compared properly. So that’s how it is organised.

JB: When did you make the choice to compete at such a distance? Were you doing marathon running or distance running?

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

WS: I’ve had a very sporty life. I was heavily into table tennis in the ‘70s and when I retired from that in 1981 that’s just when the marathon boom was starting. I’d always done abit of running for personal fitness and was quite keen to have a go at the marathon running. I just went ahead and did a marathon with not much training and did a very fast time just straight off. I did 2 hrs 43 which is you know, quite a reasonable time. In 1982 we moved to Sanday… I wasn’t involved in any formal competitive athletics or running until 1992 when I got back into half marathons and marathons. It was someone at the shop where I got all of my running supplies by mail order who suggested the ultra marathon. He was asking about my training and about racing and did I recover quickly and I said yes, that I had raced 3 in 1993 and recovered well. He then asked me how far did I run on my training on the island and I said that quite often on a Sunday I would run about 20-25 miles, I enjoyed it. And he said, ‘Oh! Have you ever thought of ultra-marathon running?’ And I said, ‘No’ [laughs]. He said, ‘Well, it sounds like you might be quite good at it because you handle distances.’ He went on to explain all about the international set up – the Scottish championships, the British teams. To cut a long story short I came second on the TT course where the motor cycle race is on the Isle of Man and as soon as I crossed the line I thought, ‘I’m an ultra marathon runner!’


Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: How do you see the landscape because I was reading in ‘The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Extreme Sports’ that extreme athletes would see landscape differently from someone else. The example they gave was a mountaineer. If a mountaineer happens to be passing by mountains they will see them but at the same time be working out routes across them.

WS: With me it’s assessing what clothing I would wear that day. I have a wide range of outdoor clothing so I can train in quite bad weather.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: If you were a tourist though?

WS: As you say, where can I run today! When you go places you think it would be great to run up that landscape feature. You do look at it wondering how you can enjoy and get out into it.

JB: Because of the great distance you cover in these race routes, what do you find yourself thinking about?

WS: What I find is although some courses, I suppose the 100km courses like the one in Japan, were spectacularly scenic, in reality I find when you are running, you just do not see it. I might as well be running around that table top [points at B&B table] to be honest because in ultra running, I find the psychological side of it is of overwhelming importance. Obviously you’ve got to have the fitness, you’ve got to have done the training but after that, the mental side is enormous. What I find is I focus on various things. At the moment I’ve started working with a sports psychologist from the University of Sunderland and they teach you to focus on key words. You never say things like ‘I’m feeling bad now’. You would say, ‘I’ll be feeling stronger soon’, so it is all down to positive thinking. Focus on a positive word and use it like a mantra. And then you use things like visual imagery where… say for example, if you’re just running around a track for a long time you might think ‘I want to be running strongly’, so you start to visualise yourself running really strongly or you might liken yourself to an animal running. So this is all going on inside your head but in the meantime you are maintaining rhythm and relaxation. Obviously this is an enormous area for development. In a way your mind is the limiting factor after a certain point.


Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: People might find it strange that you live within the limits of a small island but then run these huge distances all over the world.

WS: Sanday’s not a bad island. There are several loops I can run. Some of the other smaller islands would be hopeless but here I have several loops – a 3 mile loop, a 6 mile loop, a 10 mile loop. So you can do a combination of laps. I think the other thing is that in Orkney, as you know, there is such a feeling of space. Because of the wide horizons you can see 25 miles each way…

JB: Yes, you live right near the edge as well.

WS: We do. I can just open my door and we’re looking out to Fair Isle. Even though I live on a small island there’s a tremendous feeling of space. You’re surrounded by the sea all right, but you’ve got these tremendously wide horizons. You don’t feel closed in at all. You don’t feel that you’re on a small island.

Hive Mind: Researchers of Early Twentieth Century Women Photographers and Filmmakers in Scotland

In 2019, I was invited by National Trust for Scotland archivist Fiona J Mackenzie to be involved in the #CannaTweet Conference ‘The Female (or Those Identifying as Female) Photographer in Scotland & Her Archives- Contribution and Connection’ [1], which gave me the opportunity to consider the field of researchers currently working on early twentieth century filmmakers and photographers in Scotland.

Shona Main is exploring the work of Shetland film-maker Jenny Gilbertson  (1902-1990), whose archive is held by Shetland Museum and Archive. Shona is a Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) supported practice-led candidate at University of Stirling and the Glasgow School of Art.

Dr Maya Darrell Hewins  is a filmmaker and film archivist with an interest in community-led archiving initiatives including Shetland Film Archive. This volunteer-run community led group collect, manage and make accessible moving image material about Shetland, including amateur film footage.

Caroline Douglas is a PhD candidate at Royal College of Art. Her project ‘Women in Early Scottish Photography’ has researched the women involved in the wider process of making early photography, focusing on those who were assistants and subjects as well as makers.

Isabel Segui (University of Aberdeen) has researched filmmaker sisters Ruby Grierson (1904-1940) and Marion Grierson (1907-1998), examining how they are documented in the Grierson Collection University of Stirling Archives. This was funded by SGSAH. Her new website is

Rachel Pronger and Camilla Baier are ‘archive activists’. Their ‘Invisible Women’ project seeks to re-insert forgotten women filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s back into the story of film. This includes Kay Mander (1915-2013) and Evelyn Spice Cherry (1904-1990).

Sarah Neely (University of Glasgow), as well as her scholarship on Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), has also written on Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) who travelled to Greenland and the Arctic to make botanical films. Royal Scottish Geographic Society holds Hutchison’s archive.

Fiona J Mackenzie is Canna House National Trust for Scotland archivist. She has been re-interpreting Margaret Fay Shaw’s (1903-2004) images, films and words, telling the story of Shaw’s life and work. She builds on the lifework of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu.

I spoke about Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958). Banks travelled across the Hebrides in the 1920s. Her archive is at Historic Environment Scotland. M.E.M. Donaldson made many walks across the Highlands and Islands, using her photographs for her travel guides. The landscapes part of her archive is held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Read more about these two photographers here. [2]

Rachel Boyd, currently studying MLitt History of Photography at University St Andrews, was the second speaker at #CannaTweet Conference, exploring how Margaret Fay Shaw’s 1930s’ photographs of South Uist linked both to the land and the community, arguing that ‘Shaw’s portraits were faithfully attributed with Gaelic patronymics, situating them in their ancestral heritage, attributed not just by the character of the local landscape enveloping them or their farming implements – but in relation to each other.’

Follow on Twitter: @GaelicSinger, @shonamain @SarahRNeely @RachelPronger @camillabaier @rachelwboyd @isabelgui @caddydouglas @Maya_D_H @BrownriggJenny


[1] #CannaTweet Conference took place 14.5.19. A Tweet conference is a method to present a paper entirely on Twitter, across an agreed number of tweets per speaker.

[2]  Hugh Cheape has written on M.E.M. Donaldson in the excellent article ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006). Jennifer Morag Henderson is currently writing Donaldson’s biography.

Measuring European Union subsidy in Scotland, after William Blake’s ‘Europe: A Prophecy’

Referring to William Blake’s illustration Europe: A Prophecy (1793) showing the god Urizen measuring the limits of the material world with a set of dividers, I surveyed EU subsidy to Scotland at Eoropie beach, Isle of Lewis, Scotland on 29 March 2019, the first delayed date of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Card available; edition of 150.

‘Measuring European Union subsidy in Scotland, after William Blake’s Europe: A Prophecy‘, Jenny Brownrigg Photo: Alastair S. Macdonald

Photo: Elizabeth Shannon

Card reverse

Eoropie beach, 29 March 2019 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Eoropie beach, 29 March 2019 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Eoropie beach, 29 March 2019 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Research Note 5: Around North Ballachulish, M.E.M. Donaldson

Following on from my visit to Isle of Eigg, where I visually documented the places that M.E.M Donaldson (1876-1958) photographed, I am slowly visiting the other locations she mentioned or photographed in her travel guide ‘Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands’, (1921), published by Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley). I spent this past weekend in North Ballachulish, which lies five miles from the Corran ferry, which connects to Ardnamurchan. M.E.M. Donaldson would have taken the road through North Ballachulish numerous times, from her early visits to when she finally moved to Sanna Bay, at the tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsula in 1927. Indeed, in her travel guide she recalls,

When it was time for the car to start, even quicker sped the glorious journey down the shores of Loch Linnhe to Ballachulish, for all the way along, and increasingly, the scenery is a feast of good things; and whether it be the sea, the distant mountains, or the road itself, every prospect delights your heart’. (P. 269)

North Ballachulish. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

The church door to St Bride’s remained open during my days in North Ballachulish, for curious wayfarers but also, I suspect, for the swallows that were nesting in the rafters of the vestibule. Both Carnglas (also known as Rhuba Mor) and Clach a’ Charra sites are located on private farmland. Donaldson records that Carnglas was a secret outdoor location to take the sacrament; an example of worship in the 18th century when Catholicism was illegal in Scotland.  The ‘soldiers’ she refers to were the Jacobites. Donaldson also mentions earlier in the book that, ‘… in 1768 the Roman Catholic authorities… [built] a college at Buorblach, at the mouth of the Morar river. Here many a ‘heather priest’ was trained, until, in 1778, the college was transferred to Samalaman in Moidart.’ (P. 88). Another example of the ‘heather priests’ being secretly trained in Scotland is at Scalan Seminary, in the Braes of Glenlivet, Morayshire.


At North Ballachulish you may see in the summer glorious fields starred with the white and gold of ox-eyes and corncockles, and framed with the vividly bright pink of the wild rose, furrows of meadow sweet beyond the sparkling waters of the loch, and everywhere the towering mountains stretching far up through Glencoe to the wild and lonely expanse of the moor at Rannoch, and to the head of Loch Leven.’ (P. 270)

North Ballachulish, loch side, Loch Linnhe. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Just about a mile short of North Ballachulish ferry, you pass at the foot of the craggy hillside the beautiful little church of S. Bride… I have been to the Three Hours’ Service on a wet Good Friday at S. Bride’s, and it has been a lesson to see the reverent intentness of a goodly congregation of Highlanders, mostly men, nearly all of whom were present throughout the devotion. (P. 271)

St Bride’s, North Ballachulish. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

St. Bride’s, North Ballachulish. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

At Onich… standing in a field by the shores of Loch Linnhe, is the noteworthy perforated standing stone called Clach a’ Charra, 6 feet 8 inches high and 3 feet 10 inches at its widest part. This, an irregularly-shaped monolith… has every appearance of having been obtained from the bed of some river which, aided by the action of stones, has worn part of the surface into a hollow and at two points into holes about 21/4 inches in diameter.’ (P. 269)

These Highlanders are in a true succession of their heroically enduring forefathers, who, despite relentless persecution, kept true to the faith of the church. For in a field near by the present Loch Leven Hotel is Carnglas, supposed to have been once the site of a Columban church, and here the forefathers of the present Faithful Remnant used to assemble secretly to receive the Blessed Sacrament. The officiating itinerant priest disguised himself in a grey suit, and a sentinel was posted on an eminence commanding the Fort William road, to give warning if any soldiers were approaching.’ (P.272)

Walking towards a photograph

This piece of writing lay incomplete, seeking its correct form, after its beginnings on my one-week residency at Sweeney’s Bothy, Isle of Eigg in November 2016. In December 2018, I was invited by The Bothy Project, the residency host, to speak about my research on early photographer M.E.M Donaldson, and the series of photographs she had made on Eigg. I completed this text to open the presentation, endeavouring to lead myself and the audience to the point that Donaldson takes a photograph at Laig Bay, of a woman who walks along the beach. I had experienced her photography as ‘a journey into’ a landscape, so ‘Walking towards a photograph’ echoes my aims for the residency, which were to locate the exact spots on the island, where Donaldson had taken her series of images, in order to understand more about her methods. A number of her photographs of Eigg illustrate her travel book ‘Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands’ [Published by Paisley: Alexander Gardner Ltd, 1920].


The sound shifts where there is something for the air to engage with,

Flowing through the dry, florescent leaves of a cottage copse,

or carried from source at Beinn Bhuide.

The dancing water follows the gravitational pull,

slicing under the tarmac of the main road to Cleadale,

to stalk the farm road down to Laig Bay.


Here stranded at the the farm road’s mouth

lies a Toyota jeep with half a registration plate L878,

A blue sticker on its pushed in side window declares– YES!

Last night’s rain follows a snaking tributary down a shallow gulley,

past a Castrol Oil drum, caught in the first curve.


Look up!

This juncture provides an excellent platform

To see Laig Farm in the distance,

nestled by foothills then the cliffs that

surround the top of the bay.

Continuing on, the track continues to dip,

And the sea disappears

As the vegetation grows high.


Black and red rosehips compete with brambles

that grow through and over the orange bracken,

reaching up to trace along the lowest tree branches,

then twist across the stream

which declares itself by sound only.


In fact, three different sounds of water can be heard:

Behind – the louder water from the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe;

Beside – the small stream now lost in yellow rushes

Ahead -the distant sea waves.


A singular fence post, with its wire haphazard and low to the ground,

halts to demarcate nothing.

A fat rainbow sprouts up to the left of the white church

With its green wooden window frames and door.


My wrists are cold.

I can feel the larger gray stones under my boots.

I and my shadow circumnavigate the larger puddles,

Avoiding the soaked heads of long grass.


The peat brown stream as it nears the beach, flows high and deep.

An inconsequential log fords it, to connect

With the small grassy verge, lined with sheep tracks,

That disperse into the low dunes.


The stream, now a tributary, reflects Rùm,

cutting the beach in two, to run into the sea.

Black brain coral lies beyond

these untrustworthy depths.


Instead, as I am not the protagonist,

I retreat to the rise before the beach,

to locate where she once stood,

as she observed the woman who walked along Laig Bay.