Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Road To The Isles

Scottish Country Dance Instruction

ROAD TO THE ISLES (S4x32) 4C set James B. Cosh 22 SCDs

1- 8 1s+2s+3s dance reels of 3 on sides with all couples dancing "double" Inveran Reels - top couples crossing down to 2nd place opposite sides and casting down round 3rd place as bottom couples cross up to 2nd place and middle couples cast up to top place, 1s continue reel to 2nd place own sides as 2s cast up to 1st place ending 2134
9-16 1s set and cast down 1 place, all circle 4H round to left (2s+3s and 1s+4s)
17-24 1s set and cast down to bottom and all turn RH with 2s and 4s turning 1½ times to face down 2(3)4(1)
25-32 All dance a reel of 4 in prom hold and end with couples in 2nd and 3rd places (3s and 4s) passing RSh as 2s and 4s end on own sides

(MINICRIB, Dance Crib compiled by Charles Upton, Deeside Caledonian Society, and his successors)


Keith Rose's Crib Diagrams


Dance Information

The Road to the Isles is a famous Scottish traditional song. It is part of the Kennedy-Fraser collection and it appeared in a book entitled 'Songs of the Hebrides' published in 1917, with the eponymous title by the Celtic poet Kenneth Macleod. The poem is headed by the statement 'Written for the lads in France during the Great War'. The impression is given by the notes appended to the book that the author was Kenneth Macleod himself. Marjory Kennedy-Fraser toured the Western Isles of Scotland in the summer of 1917 and collected a group of local tunes.

The tune associated with the Road to the Isles was an air played by Malcolm Johnson of Barra on a chanter and composed by Pipe Major John McLellan of Dunoon (originally titled "The Bens of Jura"). Kenneth Macleod then wrote the words for a voice and harp (or piano) arrangement of this air by Patuffa Kennedy-Fraser.

The tune is a march of the British Army. It is said to have been played by Bill Millin, piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, during the first day of the Normandy Landings on D-Day during World War II, during a daring Commando attack during Operation Roast in the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy, and also at the start of construction on Toronto's first subway line, under Yonge Street, in 1949.

The lyrics mention first the hills of the Isle of Skye (whose memory is calling the traveller west); then the successive locations he will pass on the way across the Western Highlands and Inner and Outer Hebrides. The locations mentioned are (in this order): the Cuillin Hills (on the Isle of Skye), Tummel (in Perthshire), Loch Rannoch (in Perth and Kinross), Lochaber (to the west of the Scottish Highlands), Shiel (near Fort William), Ailort (near the Sound of Arisaig), Morar (near Loch Morar), the Skerries (rocky islets - in this case, just off Skye), and the Lews (near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis).

The Road To The Isles
A far croonin' is pullin' me away
As take I wi' my cromack to the road.
The far Coolins are puttin' love on me
As step I wi' the sunlight for my load.

Chorus
Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go
By heather tracks wi' heaven in their wiles.
If it's thinkin' in your inner heart the braggart's in my step
You've never smelled the tangle o' the Isles.
Oh the far Coolins are puttin' love on me
As step I wi' my cromack to the Isles.

It's by Shiel water the track is to the west
By Aillort* and by Morar to the sea
The cool cresses I am thinkin' of for pluck
And bracken for a wink on Mother knee.

The blue islands are pullin' me away
Their laughter puts the leap upon the lame
The blue islands from the Skerries to the Lews
Wi' heather honey taste upon each name.

A cromach or cromack is a shepherd's crook or stick.

'The Road to the Isles' is actually an ancient drove road which leaves General Wade's military road from Stirling to Inverness at Tummel Bridge, along the northern banks of the River Tummel and Loch Rannoch roughly along the present day B846. Where today's road runs out the old road continued over Rannoch Moor towards Kings House on the A82, over the Devil's Staircase and past Kinlochleven, to meet the present A830 at Fort William.

It is the A830 road which goes from Fort William to Mallaig that is commonly now known as The Road to the Isles. It ends at the quayside in the port of Mallaig with onward ferry services to the isles of Muck, Eigg, Rùm, Canna and Skye, and a ferry across to the neighbouring peninsula at Inverie.

Road To The Isles Image
Road To The Isles - Final Approach
The B8008, formerly the main road makes its way steeply up-and-down into the village towards the harbour.
The ferry can be seen in the harbour with the isle of Skye in the distance.


Dance Information licensed under this Creative Commons Licence.
Text from this original Mallaig article on Wikipedia.
Text from this original A830 road article on Wikipedia.
Text from this original The Road to the Isles article on Wikipedia.
Image Copyright Sarah Charlesworth under this Creative Commons Licence.

Back to the top of this Scottish Country Dancing Instructions 'Road To The Isles' page