Friday, December 16, 2011

Taking Time at Inverewe

Scotland has always been compelling to me. The other day I found 'Oasis of the North,' by Dawn MacLeod ( Hutchinson, London, 1958 ), which made me stop and go back to a pace slower than I have to go at now.

The author left a career as a successful Civil Servant in London to follow her heart, take a plunge and accept an offer by her adopted aunt, Mairi Sawyer, to help at Inverewe, the famous 50-acre garden established by her father, Osgood MacKenzie.
The writing is self-effacing, observant. Dawn MacLeod was a newcomer, and obviously prepared to pull up her sleeves. From page 66, I quote:
"I opened the gate and locked it again behind the car, and as we rounded a bend a little low house came into view - perched on a green bank with wooded braes at the back of it, and a stream rushing past a few feet from the front porch. Glimpses of rugged hill appeared at the top of the glen, and down to our left Loch Kernsary reflected the sky. Some blackface sheep nibbled peacefully along the grassy banks of the burn, and a field of oats stood up, tall but yet unripe, inside a high deer-fence."
I am enthralled, not only to enter a slower and more orderly age, with an authenticity and naturalness that have been vanishing, but to read a book whose pace is unstrained, from an open mind.
No-one writes like this any more.
Inverewe, begun in 1862, now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, having been gifted to it by Mairi Sawyer in the 1950s. I'm pleased to read that it contains many plants from the southern hemisphere, including eucalypts.
I can well understand how someone would chuck in their day job to be there, without knowing, exactly how things would turn out. Dawn MacLeod showed particular courage and faith in her inner feeling.
With grateful thanks to Hutchinson, to the author, and to the artist, William McLaren.


  1. You bring enthralled memories back. We have visited Inverewe. Fascinated me to see my familiar South African plants flourishing near a Scottish loch, bathed by the Gulf Stream and defying a latitude level with Canada's Labrador and Russia's St Petersburg!

  2. Hello Faisal:
    Dawn MacLeod has long been a favourite garden writer of ours and so we are particularly delighted that you have fallen across her, so to speak. She does, as you say, write in an unhurried manner where each word remains on the page to be savoured over and over. 'Design Your Own Garden' is another of her books which you may well enjoy.

    Sadly we have never got as far as Inverewe but do believe it to be wonderful. Now that is something which we could do together - such fun it would be!

    As an aside, we have a number of books with illustrations by William McLaren whose work we think is particularly appealing.

  3. Hello Jane and Lance,
    To wind your way across the Highlands, now that would be something! If I can find a way to do it, I will, and you would, of course, be the finest companions!
    I was hoping someone would know of Dawn MacLeod - often books like this, by someone of real integrity, just get lost...I'm delighted to come across them; the words are as real to me now as when they were written. I'm going to see if I can find her other book, so thankyou. ( I can;t believe you actually know about her ).
    William Mclaren is another I'll have to research - I love the simplicity and grace of his illustrations.
    Hello chilling snow - goodbye draining heat!

  4. Diana, hi. I was amazed too, that it could be done. I knew all about Cornwall, but not that anywhere in Scotland could be so warm or temperate.
    You have travelled widely, I take it? Lucky you! I wonder what your overall feeling about Scotland is...

  5. i can understand its an amazing very attractive book... for me all things Scotland are like this... i like the way you describe books.. i am awful at this. enjoy your reading : )

  6. I've been to Scotland a few times, Faisal, but never to Inverewe. Perhaps on my next trip. My friends own this place and it is very special: I try and get up there as much as possible but it is an awful long way from Sussex. If we fly to Inverness it is still a two hour drive to Lochinver. But I guess distances like that are but nothing in Australian terms. I will seek out 'Oasis of the North' - definitely my kind of book.

    I like your new header, incidentally. A very knowing, all-seeing self portrait. But then, of course, you are.


  7. Sihirli, hi. I'm sorry, your comment disappeared when I went to publish it. Thankyou anyway.

  8. Thankyou, Demi. Certainly books are a form of escape or travel to places I can't otherwise get to.

  9. Way too complimentary, Dave!
    Your friends' hotel looks ideal; I see it's in what's described as 'Europe's last wilderness.'
    I like the wildness of Scotland for one thing, the continuity of culture another.
    I don't know if you saw above, Dawn MacLeod also wrote 'Design Your Own Garden.'
    I confess that most of Australia I haven't seen - not being able to drive is certainly a contributing factor!
    Have a great weekend, Dave.

  10. It's a garden I have heard praised before, but I have yet to visit it.
    Perhaps it should finally go on my list.

  11. I have a thing about Scotland too - the wildness and remoteness of the islands. That book is very lovely, but be careful of idealizing the 1950s - I remember small mindedness, intolerance of difference, authoritarianism, stifling conformity - of course, that gave the impetus to the rebellious sixties.

  12. I enjoyed this blog..very interesting.
    Dawn mc loed was clever! got away from the city life.
    I love my garden and try to keep it simple , with shrubs and of course my roses,oleanders, and some other plants..i like
    I thank Jane and Lance Hattatt for sending me here..
    look forward to passing by again
    Best wishes for a blessed christmas

  13. AH the highlands..I be a Scot by birth and only in recent times did i realise my aboriginality for the place.

  14. Dawn has a scottie!
    if I dont get the chance
    just wanted to know I want you to have a lovely christmas xxx

  15. this is a book i'd like to read.

  16. Very quickly, before my computer dies again, thankyou everyone for your comments...I will reply as soon as I can!

  17. Inverewe is a very special garden. It can grow so many wonderful southern hemisphere plants as it benefits from the warming effects of the Gulf stream. I have visted several times and the only thing I object too are the midges. Ast time i went they were out in force taking a dive bomber formation to attack visitors!

  18. The fly in the ointment, Janet?! I hope I can get there myself one day.

  19. what a lovely book...and that garden sounds like a splendid place to visit!