Of course, it's hard to imagine what sort of spectacular and awe-inspiring sights you might be missing if you have little to no prior knowledge of them, and plenty of other things to distract you. But trips around Scotland are usually well worth a punt. As I found out myself one fateful, September weekend on Eigg.
When the minds behind Fife's Fence Records first announced two years ago that they were putting on a small-scale music event on Eigg, far from their home in the East Neuk of Fife, I was oddly captivated. I knew almost nothing about Eigg, so I was flying blind. But that was part of the excitement.
The inaugural Away Game festival is the younger sibling to Fence's annual spring "Home Game" weekend in their native Anstruther. For years, the tiny harbour village has played host to musical acts as diverse as London electronica whizz Four Tet, Arab Strap's Malcolm Middleton and Fife-born songstress KT Tunstall, alongside Fence regulars such as The Pictish Trail and head honcho, King Creosote AKA Kenny Anderson. With limited tickets every year, it has lived a celebrated but largely secretive existence. This sense of exclusivity and intimacy has made it a go-to event for its dedicated and quick-off-the-draw followers. And Away Game was no different.
From the positive reports I'd heard filtering out from these close-knit events, and given Fence's knack for honest, home-made, heartfelt music, Away Game seemed like a shoo-in for a good time. And after a chance meeting with Fence cohort and organiser, Johnny Lynch AKA The Pictish Trail, I soon found myself on a five-hour train journey up the west coast.
Photographer Takeshi Suga and myself were headed towards Arisaig, where a small, rickety boat called the Shearwater was waiting to take us across to Eigg. The journey up was oddly magical. Like a moving postcard, we were treated to sweeping views of dramatic peaks, dew-soaked woodland, and vast green expanses.
When we finally arrived in Arisaig, the sun beating down on the neighbouring hills, everything felt foreign. I'd spent 24 years of my life up until that point dotted around various parts of Scotland, yet arriving in Arisaig felt like not recognising your own doorstep.
We piled onto the Shearwater and after battling choppy waters finally made it to the pier at Galmisdale where we were greeted by Fence organisers and wise-cracking locals. Within minutes, the 30 or so passengers of the Shearwater were ushered onto dry land and lined up all down the slipway at arm's length from boat to "bus" – in fact, a trailer pulled by a tractor – and began to systematically unload its cargo, passing backpacks, guitars, drum cases, tents and handbags up the slope. Already we were acting like a small community, laughing, joking and working together.
From first glance, Eigg is a truly beautiful wee island – suspended in deep, glassy waters, just out far enough to be still, calm, and uninterrupted but with spectacular views back across the sound. The single-track roads are surrounded by lush woodland, and the volcanic rock of the island's largest hill, An Sgùrr, cuts a dramatic figure on the skyline.
Eigg's small size meant we were in walking distance of everything we needed. When we arrived, the Galmisdale Bay café and shop was crowded with hungry visitors and became the meeting point and emergency pantry for the weekend's festivities. A muddy plod up the hill took us to the village hall where local volunteers were on-hand behind the hatches, serving up cheap cans with a grin and were equally at home showing 200 or so fresh faces how to dance.
The music, split between the hall and the neighbouring marquee, ranged from gentle, introspective folk to knee-slapping traditional and ambient electronica, but these disparate strands were unified by a collective open-mindedness, with audiences spanning all generations and walks of life from elderly couples to young kids.
Add to this: organisers running around, meeting and greeting people, bands sharing stories and hot drinks with ticket-holders around a bonfire, and beach-side sing-alongs, and the end result was a rare, intimate and altogether jovial adventure that showcased the warmth and beauty of this easily overlooked part of Scotland's western coastline.
This year's event sold out again in record time, but with yet another sterling line-up – including Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, Django Django and The Twilight Sad – this is a little gem of an event worth keeping your eye on and the perfect excuse to venture out and visit this captivating Scottish island.
The 2012 Away Game runs from July 20-22. www.fencerecords.com
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