The Isle of Gigha lies a couple of miles off the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula. It is aligned parallel with the peninsula, and is just over six miles long by much less wide. Its harbours, fertility and strategic location have, throughout recorded history and beyond, made it an attractive stopping off place for travellers, whether they be traders, saints or invaders. Yet despite its proximity to the Scottish mainland, Gigha can seem oddly remote and is much less well known outside Scotland, and within it, than most Scottish islands. Perhaps this is because the Kintyre peninsula is itself rather cut off from the rest of the mainland, or perhaps it is because once motorists are established on the main road, the A83, heading south towards distant Campbeltown there is a disinclination to turn off and explore.
To our chagrin, we have to admit that Gigha is one of the (fairly small, and diminishing) number of significant places in Scotland we have never visited ourselves, and we only cover it on Undiscovered Scotland thanks to the loan of photos taken by a friend. We therefore approached this new edition of "The Way it Was: A History of Gigha" by Catherine Czerkawska with particular interest. This lyrical and beautifully written book has served to whet our appetite further. It has certainly ensured that we will be visiting ourselves, sooner rather than later, and we suspect that this is a book that will have a similar impact on others. The author does not seek to conceal her own enthusiasm for an island she was introduced to by her husband, and this enthusiasm suffuses every part of the book. That is a large part of what makes it such a pleasure to read.
A book with the words "a history of..." in the title might lead potential readers to expect something scholarly and dry. Catherine Czerkawska's lovely book is anything but. It certainly succeeds as a history, but above all else it succeeds in telling the "story" of the island and its people. The style and approach are gentle and at times personal, and brought to mind Seton Gordon's wonderful "Highways and Byways..." books from the 1930s. His books were always as much to do with the history as the geography of the places he was visiting, while Catherine Czerkawska tells us as much about the remarkably complex geography of this small island as she does about its history: for the two are intimately entwined. En route we find out about Gigha's prehistoric settlers, about the Celts, the Vikings, the Lords of the Isles and we are told a more recent story which saw islanders' fates and fortunes heavily dependent on the whims and varying levels of interest and spending power of a succession of absentee owners. And then in 2002 Gigha was the subject of the largest community buyout in British history, a process that has brought with it challenges as well as many opportunities and a much more secure future. Read the book. Visit the island. We've now done one and intend to do the other!