Called ‘A chronicle of life in a unique island community’, BBC ALBA’s upcoming Chì Mì’n Tìr / From Harris with Love airs on Monday 16th September for a scant 30 minutes – 20.30-21.00. The good news is that it’s a six-part series, so there will be five more half hours on the way.
The series takes viewers on a enchanting journey of what life is like for the people of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, charting eight months in the lives of the islanders, with each weekly programme following the stories of some of the most engaging characters in this community.
Chì Mì’n Tìr / From Harris with Love focuses mostly on North Harris, an area of rugged beauty and spectacular scenery with the occasional trip to South Harris, best known for the stunning beaches on the west coast and the rocky landscape of the Bays of Harris in the east.
You cannot go there, you cannot lift a camera to the place without being held in a force field of magic and tears.
Ten years ago, the people of North Harris were successful in taking ownership of the land they live on and the North Harris Trust was formed to run the estate on behalf of the community. At over 60,000 acres, it is one of the largest community owned estates in Scotland.
Harris has a population of about 2,000, of which around 700 live in the villages of North Harris. It’s a close-knit community where people know each other well.
Their individual and communal experiences are lived out in a place so strong, so enduring, so beautiful it makes you cry – in some strange fusion of love, longing and mourning, not one of which is really explicable.
Some of the characters whose stories feature in the series include:
- Poacher turned gamekeeper Sammy Macleod, who is now responsible for fishing permits on the Laxdale lochs near Tarbert;
- Kate Langley and her family who moved to the tiny village of Rhenigidale from Birmingham three years ago;
- Moreen Maclennan who is in 5th year at Sir E Scott school, where she and the other girls in the senior choir are preparing to take part at the Royal National Mod;
- Veteran shepherd Alasdair Macdonald;
- Asian shop-keeper Akram as he holds a pre-Christmas sale at the Skye Gathering Hall in Portree
- Eagle enthusiast Robin Reid who is building a new eco-house in the Bays of Harris;
- Alec Morrison who runs Tarbert Stores, one of Harris’s oldest and most unusual shops.
The series also offers insights into a day in the life of a deer stalker as the crew go out on the hills to join the Deer Stalking Club of Harris, a unique club which was established to enable local people to engage in this county pursuit.
Later in the series, a visit to Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, owned by businessman Ian Scarr-Hall, who joined forces with the community of North Harris in an historic partnership – provides further detail on the community take-over of the land which, at the same time, saw Ian Scarr-Hall purchase the castle and the fishing rights.
Chì Mì’n Tìr / From Harris with Love starts on Monday 16th September at 20.30 and runs at the same time on each consecutive Monday throughout the six-part series.
It presents aspects of the conundrum of places like Harris that one can only explain by coming back again and again like a terrier to the question of why their kind of beauty makes you cry.
‘Love’ is the easiest to account for, with love of place and the power of that love something deep that most of us know from our own experience.
‘Longing’ is more difficult. Is it the longing to be there oneself; to be informed by its spirit; to know its largeness; to ‘see it all right’, to protect it somehow … and how much more?
‘Mourning’ – why would one identify a sense of mourning in oneself at the sight of a place so lovely? Is it a shared mourning with those who, over the years, have had to leave? Is it mourning for a place people struggle to stay in today and largely do so by trading the prospect of the careers and standards of living that are the currency of other places? Is it mourning for ourselves, for our own impermanence in the face of the life beyond time one gets close to in a place like this? Who knows.
Whatever causes the response almost all of us have to places like Harris – and in Argyll and the Isles every one of us is lucky enough to live cheek by jowl with more of the same – living without the positive experience of ‘otherness’ would leave all of our lives thinner and more confined.
If nothing else, the expansiveness of places like this, in what they are and in what they stand for to each of us individually, keeps us tuned in to the life that is always more than we can manage. ‘Arriving’ is never an option. The best we can do is travel hopefully.
Photographs accompanying this article are by courtesy of BBC ALBA.