The Coffin Roads: journeys to the West

Review by Hugh Cheape

Professor Ian Bradley has identified a network of routes extending for miles across our upland and island areas and radiating out from long-used burial grounds. The routes are marked by cairns where funerals, carrying the deceased from township to chosen place of interment, stopped for rest and refreshment. Cairns mark where people have lived and worked for centuries, bearing witness to how people experienced the landscape. ‘The placing of cairns… was a ritual charged with deep significance’ (p.3) and the depth of that significance is where this book goes, predicated on an understanding that death and burial were open and shared – rather than closed and ‘outsourced’ (p.156) – parts of everyday life. Coffin Roads is the second in a trilogy of books on aspects of death and the afterlife. Eight sites and districts are explored in a chronology from prehistory to the 20th century, including prominently Loch Shiel’s ‘Green Isle’, ‘the oldest graveyard in continuous use anywhere in Europe’ (p.19). There Leac-an-Aoig – ‘Skeleton grave’ (facing p.89) – is a known interment, and we have a tragic reminder of the disappearance St Finan’s Bell in 2019.

The Coffin Roads: journeys to the West
Ian Bradley
Birlinn, £8.99
ISBN 978-1780297790