Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa

Travel from Home Inspiration

Colleen Batey|June 8, 2020|Blog Post

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How Archaeologist Colleen Batey Travels from Home

For the last 20 years, I have spent my summers working on expedition ships across the northern hemisphere. The rest of the year, until recently, was spent teaching at the University of Glasgow. I have taught at all levels and excavated widely in my 40 year career as an archaeologist of the Viking era. Being at home in isolation is not a natural state for me, although it is actually one which turns out to have several upsides.

On the assumption that all friends and family are keeping well, my mind is free to focus on other matters and in this, my constant companion at home in beautiful Argyll in Western Scotland is music. I find this acts as a kickstart to so many memories from my travels—whether it be a track once used as the background to a DVD made during one of our adventures, or one which simply reminds me  of friends on board and the places we shared together.

The most evocative music is surely Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture and Fingal’s Cave in particular, written in 1830 during his travels in the Western Isles—Staffa in this case—and evoking memories of the basaltic columns rising steeply from the ocean near Iona, off Mull. This is a majestic site and most certainly a mesmeric place, and the music is most certainly evocative of that location. I conjure up images of Zodiacs in the caves, breathless climbs to the top of the island, and scores of puffins peeping from their burrows. I can almost hear our geologist enthusing about the formation of the basaltic columns, and their links to the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland, expecting the arrival of the giant Finn striding through the inevitable mists!

My funniest memory, though, is most certainly the year we sailed around the island—allegedly to the strains of the Hebridean Overture through the ship’s loudspeaker system—but unfortunately it was not Fingal’s Cave or indeed anything close to that we heard. Who would have thought that Finlandia by Sibelius was a suitable substitute? Everyone noticed, of course, except the person in charge of the music!

So for now, such proxy reminders must suffice. While these are poor substitutes for our real adventures, this quiet time gives us chance to reflect on how lucky we all are, and will be again, to explore the wonders of our shores far and wide. It is the friendships we have gained, the experiences shared, and the memories revisited that will pull us through this, the strangest of times.

Colleen Batey