Zeph Daily 76

Morning Zephyrs! Julie again. Today’s challenge – interpret this road sign!

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My assumption when I came across it was that it must surely mean “Watch out for over-excited joyously leaping pigs”; however, it is in fact, a homemade sign meaning “Watch out – free range pigs!” The sign lives on a road in the north of the isle of Raasay. If you are a regular follower of ZephDaily, you may remember Raasay as the site of my mum’s unfortunate otter-spotting trip. It’s a small Scottish island, just off the Isle of Skye. For those of you who like maps, here is one so you can visualise where it is… You’re welcome!

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You may remember, I went there for my summer holidays in 2012. It’s an interesting place – I love small islands with a strong cultural identity and beautiful landscape, and this one fit the bill perfectly. There were deserted sandy beaches and some with cobbled shores, it was warm enough to swim in the sea, there was wildlife aplenty to spot (otters, basking shark, lots of birds), and we stayed in a cottage with a tennis court, table tennis table, and a drum kit in an outhouse! It was an excellent holiday! And, as I always do on holidays, I picked up one or two new stories to tell…

Up in the north of the island, there’s a ruined castle – Brochel Castle. It was built in the early sixteenth century by Calum, first Chief of the MacLeod clan, as a stronghold from which to defend his newly acquired island. Occupation of the castle ceased in 1671 and it drifted into ruin.

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In the mid-twentieth century, another Calum MacLeod (this one Glasgow-born but Raasay-heritage) lived with his wife and daughter in the north-east corner of Raasay, beyond Brochel Castle in the small settlement of Arnish (meaning ‘eagle headland’). As well as being a crofter, he worked as a part-time postman for the north of the island and was Local Assistant Keeper of Rona lighthouse. (Here’s another map, Map Fans!)

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In her early years, Calum’s daughter, Julia, was educated at home by her mother – then later, when more families moved to the area, at school, where her mother was employed as teacher and the number of pupils in the whole school once reached the heady heights of four!

But when she reached the age of twelve, legislation stated she had to finish her education at a specialised secondary school. There was no secondary school on Raasay, so she had to pack up her things and leave the small, Gaelic-speaking island she called home to attend Portree High School on the neighbouring island of Skye, as a boarder.

Getting home to Arnish was almost impossible; there was no daily ferry service, nor was one provided on a Friday evening and Monday morning. And when she did get back – during school holidays – that north-east tip of the island was only connected to the rest of it by a footpath, meaning travel was hard. One winter, in heavy snowfall, she and her schoolmates had to shelter from a blizzard several miles from home; it was three hours before Calum found them.

Calum never forgave the situation which he felt was enforced on his family by the state, effectively causing his twelve-year-old daughter to leave home. Along with his fellow residents, he campaigned for their narrow footpath to be turned into a road, improving access – but after several decades of no progress, he watched the population in the north of the island slowly dwindle away, as their way of life became less tenable. So, he took matters into his own hands…

Armed with a copy of Thomas Aitken’s manual ‘Road Making & Maintenance: A Practical Treatise for Engineers, Surveyors and Others’ (London, 1900 – it cost him half a crown), he set out with a shovel, a pick and a wheelbarrow and began to build the road himself. For ten years – working in his spare time between crofting, delivering post, and running the lighthouse – he worked, constructing one-and-three-quarter miles of road between Brochel Castle and Arnish. Several years after its completion, the local council finally adopted and surfaced it – by which time, Calum and his wife Lexie were the last remaining inhabitants of Arnish…

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It’s a beautiful and bittersweet story. All that effort and finally the north-east of the island was connected and accessible to the rest; but the population fell anyway, and Julia never returned to live on the island. But – I think Calum and his road-building have something we can learn from…

In many ways, faith is more like building a road than reaching a destination. If we feel comfortable that we know, that we have learned and experienced all that we need to about God, then that isn’t because there isn’t more to know, learn and experience – it’s because we’ve stopped seeking it out, we’ve stopped moving, we’ve stopped building the road. If we sit and wait for someone else to build it for us, it will never happen – we have to make the road by walking, by stepping out into uncomfortable territory, challenging what we think we know about God and stepping into whole new worlds of deeper understanding. If we don’t have more questions than answers, we are limiting so much of what God has out there for us.

Are there areas where you have stopped stepping into new territory with God, where you are no longer making the road as you go? Are there ways of thinking or understanding your faith that feel a bit too comfortable and static? Ask God to show you the places where you need a little challenge…

Here’s a song, about roads that go nowhere and faith and stepping out into the unknown – listen and sit with whatever God has said to you…

By the way – there are still people living in the north-east of Raasay, using Calum’s road to access their homes. The pig sign is at the end of it. So his building it was not in vain…

Go Zephyrs, no-hopers, you jokers and rogues – and make the road by walking as you do… May your days be whatever you need them to be!

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