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Archaeology, Literary Landscapes, and Finding the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands team were delighted to welcome our placement student Corey Anderson from the University of the Highlands and Islands to work with us over a 6-week period. During the placement, Corey was asked to select and research archaeological landscapes of interest, develop creative or informative stories based on this research and, finally, design an engaging trail around the archive stories and locations of his choice in the Highlands and Islands.

In this Spirit: Spotlight, Corey writes about his experience as a student and working with the project uncovering the 'Spirit of the Highlands and Islands' in its awe-inspiring archaeological sites and inspirational landscapes along the way.

Stubborn, bloody, and rough around the edges with a spirit not easily broken, either by the elements or anyone else. You must be quite tough to live here, and you’d have to be mad not to be inspired here.

I’ve just hopefully finished my last year studying BSc Archaeology and Environmental Studies with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), which has been the most eventful undertaking of my life.

UHI is a unique institution as there is no single campus or building from which all students congregate and no singular method of study, but rather 12 satellite colleges spread from as far between as Argyll to the Shetland Islands that each offer flexible learning. The challenge of establishing connections between students and lecturers at other colleges became all too apparent during the pandemic once we were all forced into remote study. It was difficult not to feel even more isolated from my archaeology peers in Orkney when I was already isolating from my next-door neighbour.

However, students in the Highlands and Islands are accustomed to adversity and far too spirited to be overcome by isolation. Despite having the widest college catchment of all, UHI Argyll kept their student union connected online. The marine science students in Oban opened an online shop to raise funds for future field research. Our archaeology institute in Orkney shared recorded excavations in absence of present trips and students across the network engaged with each other through video conferencing and discussion boards.

My placement with the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project is no different. In a perfect world, I would have liked to visit many of the locations described in the stories submitted. But equally, I have enjoyed reading and researching people’s experiences and trying to put together my own from remote study.

The Highlands and Islands are certainly an inspiring place. I think they would have to be for students to persevere through the pandemic and for people to share their stories so willingly. I consider myself very fortunate, as an archaeology student, to have so many historic landscapes almost on my doorstep, and to be taught by archaeologists in Orkney and Shetland who have immediate access to some of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world.

Personally, I’ve been struck by how this landscape has inspired literature, both from an historical perspective, but also from your stories. So many people have taken to poetry or short prose and even a limerick to describe what Munros, high streets, witches and ghost stories mean to them. Of course, the connection between many of the historical sites and landscapes mentioned to some of the world’s finest authors stood out to me most. Walter Scott and William Shakespeare seem to have been equally enthused with the Highland landscape and people, and the fascination with the Jacobite cause and Macbeth’s castles extends even now into modern media.

As part of my placement, I tried to create a potential visitor trail that may connect people with that literary past. I’ve posted my own descriptions of Sueno’s Stone and Brodie Castle, as well as their Shakespearian links, and adopted some locations from stories submitted. Stretching from Cawdor Castle in Nairnshire to Glen Shiel deep in the Highlands, I hope people find these sites of some interest.

My own experience with this landscape has been focused primarily during the Neolithic through to the Viking era as part of my degree studies, and I certainly hope to pursue excavations of sites like these in the future. But when I moved here, my first impression of the Highlands and Islands has always been encapsulated within the Jacobite rebellion era. They were my first experience of Scottish history at school and a gateway into my understanding of the Highland identity. Stubborn, bloody, and rough around the edges with a spirit not easily broken, either by the elements or anyone else. You must be quite tough to live here, and you’d have to be mad not to be inspired here.

 Corey Anderson

Discover Corey's Stories Here...