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Love of Country

A Journey through the Hebrides

Few landscapes are as striking as that of the Hebrides, the hundreds of small islands that speckle the waters off Scotland’s northwest coast. The jagged, rocky cliffs and roiling waves serve as a reminder of the islands’ dramatic geological history, inspiring awe and dread in those drawn there. With Britain at their back and facing the Atlantic, the Hebrides were at the center of ancient shipping routes and have a remarkable cultural history as well, as a meeting place for countless cultures that interacted with a long, rich Gaelic tradition.

After years of hearing about Scotland as a place deeply interwoven with the story of her family, Madeleine Bunting was driven to see for herself this place so symbolic and full of history. Most people travel in search of the unfamiliar, to leave behind the comfort of what’s known to explore some suitably far-flung corner of the globe. From the first pages, it’s clear that Madeleine Bunting’s Love of Country marks a different kind of journey—one where all paths lead to a closer understanding of home, but a home bigger than Bunting’s corner of Britain, the drizzly, busy streets of London with their scream of sirens and high-rise developments crowding the sky. Over six years, Bunting returned again and again to the Hebrides, fascinated by the question of what it means to belong there, a question that on these islands has been fraught with tenacious resistance and sometimes tragedy. With great sensitivity, she takes readers through the Hebrides’ history of dispossession and displacement, a history that can be understand only in the context of Britain’s imperial past, and she shows how the Hebrides have been repeatedly used to define and imagine Britain. In recent years, the relationship between Britain and Scotland has been subject to its most testing scrutiny, and Bunting’s travels became a way to reflect on what might be lost and what new possibilities might lie ahead.

For all who have wondered how it might feel to stand face-out at the edge of home, Love of Country is a revelatory journey through one of the world’s most remote, beautiful landscapes that encourages us to think of the many identities we wear as we walk our paths, and how it is possible to belong to many places while at the same time not wholly belonging to any.

320 pages | 23 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: British and Irish History, Discoveries and Exploration, Environmental History

Travel and Tourism: Travel Writing and Guides


“A remarkably thorough digest of the many histories of the Hebrides. . . . Bunting shows us that our feelings of home can be as ambiguous and multifaceted as the heritage of the place.”

Wall Street Journal

“As she writes of juxtaposed cultures and historical associations, Bunting is aware not only of the ethnic and social diversity of these places, but also of the many travelers who have preceded her, including poets and writers such as Auden and Orwell. Even today, as she recounts, the places of the northwest can offer cultural surprises: an early stop was to a place once thick with monks, once Christian hermits but now Tibetan Buddhists. And thick with tourists, too; . . . Bunting journeyed to St Kilda, once the most remote of the islands but now heavily visited by people seemingly in need of crossing it off a life list. Ever bookish, Bunting, in the company of a former player in the Buzzcocks, ponders such matters. . . . In the end, it is clear from Bunting’s lively, literate book why, in the words of an Irish poet, the Hebrides might become part of one’s ‘soul territory.’”


Love of Country elucidates the importance of one of Britain’s edge communities, the Hebrides, in the formation of national identity. [The book] performs this difficult intellectual labor while also serving as a wildly entertaining travelogue. . . . Reading [Bunting’s] evocative prose conjures the peaty campfire taste of an Islay malt whisky or the stiff, salty sea breeze of a jagged Skye peninsula.”

Spectrum Culture

“[A] moving and wonderful journey through both the geography and history of the Hebrides. . . . As much as it offers intellectual insight, Love of Country is readable and full of empathy. . . . Both the author and reader of this book end up losing themselves not just in politics and history and the details of nature, but a sense of wonder”


“[Bunting] explores the history and culture of the islands and, through them, the nature of home and what it means to belong to a place.”


 “[This] is a luminous enquiry into love of islands, their romance and their history chafing in the long-inhabited islands of the Hebrides, their myth and peoples; an exquisite and realistic account of life at the edge and at the edges of identity for this part-Catholic, part-Jewish writer. Her powers of concretion are poetic; she is hawkeyed amid nature, lucid of thought, a shining companion through the tangle of the isles.”

Herald, Best Books of the Year

“A skillful exercise in weaving, drawing together the memories of childhood holidays in the Highlands, the literature and history of the Hebrides, and her own journeys over six years.”


“Bunting explores the choppy history of the Hebrides and makes you feel you are there even if you have just left.”

Observer, Best Books of the Year

“[An] excellent history book. . . . [Bunting's] depth of engagement gives authenticity to the writings and substance to the arguments. . . . Almost the perfect marriage of travelogue to the inner landscape of political ideas and cultural reflections that makes this such a super read. I cannot think of a more intellectually challenging or rewarding travel book in recent years.”

New Statesman

“Rich in detail, richer in writing: the elegiac Love of Country is one of the year's best, taking Bunting through her old Hebridean haunts.”

Wanderlust magazine

“Bunting's rich, precise book addresses questions of history, religion, politics, culture, language, and emotion as they affect the islands themselves and their residents, living or gone before, as well as the outsider's understanding of them. . . . Bunting demonstrates with vivid craft the truth of Rebecca Solnit's words in The Faraway Nearby: ‘We think place is about space but in fact, it is really about time’ [and] makes the notion of arranging history around not time but places both seductive and refreshing. . . . This beautifully structured book redresses any such imprecision without sacrificing a sense of numen and enchantment, while also cautioning us, in its refusal to be fanciful, not to project onto the real presences that these islands constitute our own Occidentalising imaginings.”

Literary Review

“Bunting weaves together the islands' rich culture with her own experience of feeling 'both at home and abroad' on these uninviting but welcoming islands.”

BBC Country File

Love of Country moved and encouraged me. I was not just touched by the bits that engaged with my personal memories, but was much heartened by understanding as I never had before how closely the stories of every part of the British Isles are tied together. The book is a great achievement of observation, imagination, and reflection.”

Neil Macgregor, author of A History of the World in 100 Objects

“Bunting’s pilgrimages to the farthest edge of Britain are revelations of place, language, and perspective—uncovering a world rich in story; a world where the ambitious have often foundered, but where the quietly observant visitor can discover self-sufficiency, in the people, their unforgiving land—and in themselves.”

Ted Nield, author of Underlands: A Journey Through Britain’s Lost Landscape

“Bunting’s thoughtful, question-asking journey through the Hebrides makes Love of Country an indispensable guide to the past and present of one of the most inspiring landscapes in Europe.”

Ian Jack, author of The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain

“Bunting writes with both heart and brain at full throttle, weaving together history, geography, literature as she travels the islands she has loved all her life. Love of Country is personal, erudite, and quirky—through the history of the Hebrides she has hit on an original and timely exploration of what home means, of what Britain was, and what it has become.”

Lucy Kellaway, columnist, Financial Times

“A heroic journey that takes us as far into the regions of the heart as into the islands of the northwest.”

Richard Holloway, author of Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt

Love of Country is the best book I’ve read this year. It’s a vivid narrative of journeys taken over many years to the remote islands at the northwestern edge of Britain. But it’s more than that: it’s a meditation on islands and their relations with the main; on the traditional sense of place that has existed on islands since before there were nations; on belonging and identity, both personal and national; and on how islands have attracted travelers in times of trouble, when nations seemed shaken. It’s a book that is travel writing, and nature writing, and history, and memoir, and—most moving—personal reflection in which the journeys becomes pilgrimages, all these strains intricately woven in a rich tapestry. I was charmed, instructed, and entirely engaged by it.”

Samuel Hynes, author of The Soldier’s Tale

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Taking Bearings

Part I: Imagined Geographies

2 Jura
3 Iona
4 Staffa

Part II: Whose History?

5 Rum
6 Eriskay
7 Lewis
8 St Kilda

Select Bibliography
Illustration Credits

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