The Journey of a Poet

Andrew Sclater
Category: Writing

Hello! Hei! Salut! Willkommen!

I dreamed of riding to Orkney on a motorbike to search for my roots.  You're probably searching for something too.  Otherwise you wouldn't be here!  Read this blog, and you'll follow me on a journey into unknown places, meet new people and feel history and the present come together in my head, in glens and bars and miles and miles of tarmac. Future posts will have my poems, thoughts and pictures from the journey.  But first, the who, the how, the why.

There's more about me at I've written for years and produced loads since 2007. I'm still not sure who I am. Feeling confident about what I have to say has to do with feeling OK about myself, accepting who I am.

When the SBT announced the New Writers' Awards in summer 2011, I thought, 'OK stop prevaricating'. And when I got the award, that settled it! - I'll never forget hearing Caitrin's voice in a layby off the A1 - I'd get myself to Orkney, where my father's folks came from but where he never managed to go. 

He and my mum lived in southern England bringing up my brother and me, each longing for elsewhere. My Mum, her Wigtownshire childhood home, my Dad the Jotunheim mountains of Norway where he'd lived as a boy. I was raised inside these longings for lost homelands and I've turned out placeless.  Scotland and Norway have always beckoned to me.  Between the two lies Orkney, where Scots and Norse traditions intersect.

As if by magic, the best route for me was hiding in the introduction to Gerry Cambridge's Nothing but Heather! which mentions Edwin Muir's Scottish Journey of 1934.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to follow Muir's route.  It goes from Edinburgh by a 'road less travelled' to the Borders - my former home.  Then to Kirkcudbright - where a younger me visited an ancient uncle. Then, on to Glasgow via Culzean where I'd worked in the 90s and reconnected with my inner Scot. 

Muir went on via the Highlands, Ullapool and the Northwest, through Sutherland and Caithness (I'd nearly become a glass blower there in my twenties). I knew nothing of all this country north of Edinburgh, apart from a few Western Isles.  For me, as for the displaced Orcadian Muir, this would be a specially charged journey - a sort of homecoming trip, to a place I've always been separated from but where there are still kinsman too distant to be situated on the visible branches of the family tree.

I knew the principal produce would be a bunch of poems! And then, to let me know this had to be, I won a place on the Orkney Writers Course!  No time to lose, I couldn't keep my tutors Pam Beasant, Jen Hadfield and Alice Oswald waiting in Orkney.

This is my route.  Every overnight stop, marked with a number, corresponds with where Edwin Muir stayed in 1934 (except Dunkeld - Muir didn't say more than that he stopped thereabouts with friends).

Day 1. Edinburgh to Jedburgh

Day 2. - to Kirkcudbright

Day 3. - to Glasgow

Day 4. - to Dunkeld

Day 5. - to Beauly

Day 6. - to Ullapool

Day 7. - to Scourie

Day 8. - to Halladale

Day 9. - to Stromness, Orkney.

The next posts will cover the journey stage by stage.  See you here again!

Andrew Sclater

Andrew Sclater has worked as an actor, gardener, lecturer, garden historian, and editor of Darwin’s letters.  He is interested in art and landscape and more, and more and more, in people. Though unpublished till recently, he has always thought of himself primarily as a poet. In 2010, while still unpublished, he was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. He held a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in the following year.

In 2012, through the SBT, he is being mentored by the poet, naturalist, photographer and typographer Gerry Cambridge.  2012 also saw him participating in the Orkney Writers Course at the St Magnus International Festival, appearing in print in national magazines for the first time, and in residence during September at Hugh MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank Cottage.  Andrew has been supported by Apples and Snakes and ARC Stockton Arts Centre in performance development. He is increasingly being invited to read in public, both in Scotland and in Northern England. He is co-editing the second issue of the new poetry magazine, Butcher's Dog ( for publication in spring 2013. He also builds drystane dykes, keeps dogs, rides a motorbike and lives in Edinburgh. He is concerned as to why sclatrie, in old Scots, means obscenities and scandals.