Welcome back to the blog and this will be my last post until Boxing Day I would imagine so it’s a rather important one. I’d just like to wish you all a lovely holiday of whatever variety you choose to celebrate and to thank you all for reading, commenting and sharing the blog over the last year. I’m thrilled to say visits to the site were well up compared to 2012 and the passion for all things Clash continues all around the world, I appreciate you reading otherwise it’d all be a bit of a waste of time.
’twas the night before Christmas and all through the blog, not a creature was stirring not even my dog,
the blog posts were loaded to the website with care, in hope that Mick, Topper or Paul would read there
Clash City Rockers were all snug in their beds, with visions of Strummer singing in their heads
and Bernie in North London and I by the coast, patiently waiting for tomorrows blog post
when up on the website arose with great style, a story of Joe’s heritage and a wild Scottish isle
Tonight’s post comes from Herpreet Grewal who writes for the blog again, this time about a very special trip that she took earlier this year to Joe Strummer’s spiritual home on the Isle of Raasay, she followed in the footsteps of Paul Simonon who earlier had made the journey to honour Joe and I think you’ll really enjoy it, so please read on -- as I hand it over to Herpreet –
I had walked for hours in the rain and climbed rocky, slippery and steep paths to get to the hamlet of Umachan on the Isle of Raasay earlier this year, but I never once thought: ‘why am I doing this?’ I was going to find Joe Strummer’s grandma’s house and that was that.
If you had asked me what had driven me to go there, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly. But the desire had sprouted shortly after the 10th anniversary of Joe’s death. Yes, I am a Clash fan and I had to go pay my respects to Joe – but also to his ethereal Scottish maternal lineage. The flight from London to Glasgow, the 6-hour bus ride to Sconser on the Isle of Skye, and the ferry to Raasay itself, had not fazed me.
When I had stepped onto the 14-mile long and 3-mile wide Inner Herbridean island the previous day, the sunny weather had made it look peaceful, magical and idyllic, like Oz or Shangri-La. Seemingly at odds with the urban landscape the Clash are usually synonymous with, yet the scenery perfectly reflected the poetic, wise and still side of Joe, beneath his more snarly punk persona.
I saw another side to the island’s character on the day I walked to the ruins of the ancestral home in Umachan – a wild, grey bleakness made more dramatic by the pouring rain. I had set off in the morning with two guides from my accommodation, Raasay House, on a 40-minute drive along one of the few roads on the island that joined to Calum’s Road (with which there is attached a famous local tale about one determined islander, Calum MacLeod, who built the road single-handedly over the last twenty years of his life). The car was then parked and a near two-hour walk began. About 20 minutes in, we came across a building (see gallery) that had been an old school, extremely likely to have been the one Joe’s grandmother, Jane MacKenzie, had walked to – sometimes barefoot! We were essentially taking the same walk she would have taken all the time, back to her family home.
We walked mostly in silence, up long steps, and shallow inclines; upwards and then downwards, stopping occasionally to take in the silence and peculiarity of the uneven land all around us which was covered in purple heather and brown and green grass. The path was, at times, hard to make out and we had to ensure each step was a careful one, lest we fall far down amongst the craggy rocks or even on a random mountain goat. The walk certainly reminded me of Joe biographer, Chris Salewicz’s words about the island as “tough, gritty, awkward, dangerous, an astonishing terrain of primal, pure, mysterious beauty” – qualities he likened to Strummer himself. We reached a point on the trail, where we knew Umachan lay eastwards. It was hard to spot easily despite the general flatness of the land, because of the hills that obscured the hamlet. But as we walked closer, we saw the ruins of Umachan and made our way down to them.
We singled out the house built by Joe’s ancestor, Angus Gillies, the great grandson of Donald, whose son Alastair went on to inherit it. The second of Alastair’s ten children, according to Salewicz, was Jane, born in 1883.The house had been built in the early 1850s, after the family had escaped the Highland “clearances” – the cruel and forced displacement of people from their homes by aristocratic landowners. Maybe Joe had inherited some of his anti-authoritarian attitude from this family experience?
The heather roof had long blown off and we sat inside the ruins, had our sandwiches and reflected on what life must have been like more than a century ago, especially during the darkness of the winter months when the sun came up for shorter periods. One of the guides pointed out where the family would have prepared and stored the food, where they would have spent most of their time and where the animals would be kept during the cold season.
The rain and wind seemed to be getting worse and wouldn’t let us linger for too long. I wrote Joe a note thanking him for the inspiration and stuck it in the wall of the ruins. We noticed all the other notes, messages and mementoes left for Joe by fans from all over the world, who had decided to make the pilgrimage. Someone had even left a pencil drawing of the lodge in a mouldy and weather-beaten plastic see-through bag and a white Jiffy envelope.
Weeks before his death, Joe had said: “I’ve been a terrible Scotsman but I’m going to be better.” He was due to visit Raasay in the summer of 2003 but he never made it. But his failure to do so has inspired others – like myself – to do it for him, almost exactly 10 years later than he meant to. When I crossed the ferry back to Sconser a few days later, I looked over longingly at the island. Something about it felt like home. Was I leaving something there that I had brought with me or was I taking something away? Later I even wrote a song about my trip. Heaven only knows the inspiration the rugged and beautiful land would have drawn from a native son.
– Back to Clash Blogger — Please join me in thanking Herpreet for this wonderful tale and all of the great images, you can click your way through don’t forget. Yet another place I need to visit when I get the funds. Have a lovely holiday and I’ll be back soon.