Review: The Frayed Atlantic Edge; a Historian’s Journey from Shetland to the Channel by David Gange Assessment 8 out of 10

I both loved and felt belittled by this Book.

The title has multiple meanings, the writer’s Journey along the Atlantic Edge and a Journey in which beliefs about past and present are challenged. The Frayed Edge implies both the deeply indented coast, with offshore islands, skerries and reefs, and the coastal communities and culture, variously damaged, emptied or resilient.

There is poetry and art. There is consideration of Place Names and of disappeared and revived minority languages, Norn, Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish.

I will not be alone in having followed some of the same Journey by sea kayak and in wishing to start out on a similar Journey in ideas and imagination.

 Why did I feel belittled? Gange tells us he was paddling above 30 (statutory?) miles a day, which gave him time for reading. Whether or not this was on continuous days, that is a lot. His Journey was very largely by himself, through what Runrig call “the Mighty Atlantic”. I have almost never kayaked alone. His Journey includes a year’s exploration of eleven sea areas. I have paddled, during a longer time period, in only five of them. I doubt I will paddle in more, my remaining paddling restricted to my “home” seas around the Channel Islands and Brittany.

Gange’s Welsh speaking musician girlfriend in turbulent seas; he only describes kayaking with her on a couple of occasions. She is clearly a talented paddler

Gange refers to Robert MacFarlane’s writing. There are obvious similarities between them. Reading MacFarlane’s “Old Ways” and “Wild Places” and Gange’s “Frayed Edge”, you cannot but be impressed by both their outdoor skills and imagination and their knowledge of, and feeling for, language, literature and poetry.


There are the twelve chapters in which Gange describes his journey in different areas, but one of them, across Torridon in December, was on foot. There is a beautifully drawn map of his travels in each of the twelve areas with the “kayak route” marked. This includes his walk across Torridon, when he carried an inflatable on his back & only kayaked across Loch Maree, after inflating the kayak. So mapping his journey in this area as “kayak route” may strictly by right, but misleading.

The language of the Book is rich and beautiful.

“In the midst of a tidal maelstrom, hospitable seas can seem beyond the reach of imagination; yet unseen gentleness might be just a few wave crests away. This was driven home…at the northwest corner of Rousay, where the sea’s tidal features are named with the detail of a city’s streets. ..Emerging from a tide race called Ruilland’s Rouse, I hit a mesh of tide and swell so fierce that I had to head for shore. ..Yet five minutes later a more coastal line allowed me through”

“The long, dark nights I spent between knuckles of knock and lochan on the edge of the Inner Sound … I hunkered down against a thin smurt of rain, sometime caught in moonlight, with the thick smell of sodden peat eclipsing the salt of sea just feet away.”

“Archaeology is rarely about discovering or confirming facts, more often a process of inventing the most plausible stories”

“Formations, such as Dalriada, have straddled these sea zones and even when the patterns of power didn’t create connections, trade and culture did. The very name “Argyll” is often glossed as the borderland dividing the Gaels, but should perhaps be interpreted ….as the bridge binding Gaeldom”

There are beautiful colour photos, which better than the text give a feel of the challenge of the paddling. There are numerous comments and references to explore and research:

 *the mysterious Mesolithic

* Shetland the only part of jurisdictional Scotland which has not experienced isostasy

  * the birlinn, the rowed clinker built sailing boat, immortalised in iconography of the Lords of the Isles, without relicts, as they were ordered burned to end the power of the sealords, when in 1493 the Lordship was absorbed into Scotland,

* cultural difference between Lewis and Barra

* the Udal Law of foreshore in Orkney

* reversion to cultivation of the machair, relying on discussions with ageing crofters

* the life of Lighthouse keeper families on Fladda

My boat and Kevin’s on the beach of Belnahua last summer, looking across to Fladda

He questions whether Atlantic coasts and coastal communities should be seen as on the Edge of an urban multi-national world, or central in their own Atlantic world.

Writing to envy, explore and imagine, when paddling, or dreaming of, archipelagos, remote surf beaches, swell broached cliffs and ecologically complex reefs.

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