The beautiful Scottish island I found myself on was quite a difference from the flat lowlands and busy town centres of the country I grew up in.

The following piece was awarded Third Prize in the OU Students Association Freshers Writing Competition for Freshers Fortnight 2022 (25 Jan – 6 Feb). The author, ­­Bliss, is living in Scotland and is studying BSc (Hons) Psychology.

A photograph of a landscape of islands, with a sunset reflecting on the sea.Image by Photouser23 from Pixabay 

I moved to Scotland when I was 16 years old, originally from England. The beautiful Scottish island I found myself on was quite a difference from the flat lowlands and busy town centres of the country I grew up in. Serene countryside the land rich and fertile, beaches a plenty and many historic sites to visit it was clear this archipelago had lots to offer in its own unique way. The parish on the main island that I resided in roughly 9 miles from the mainland was peaceful and provided amazing views, although as a 16-year-old fresh from finishing secondary school I found this a slight struggle. Missing friends and the ability to hop on a train to a shopping centre it took me a few years before I fell in love with the island and all it offers. I moved into the main town in 2006 and rented a 1-bedroom flat above a shop close to work enjoying nights out and keeping busy with work as a hairdresser. The islanders were welcoming and friendly and the islands full of traditions, I met my husband and have our 3 beautiful boys who are now growing up far too quickly. I am proud to call Scotland my home and now could not imagine leaving, although I do enjoy a shopping trip south every now and again!  

One of the traditions in this culture is a game called The Ba’ which has been played for hundreds of years. In December shop windows in the town centre are boarded up and many start preparing for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when The Ba’ takes place. Walking through the town in this time of year a visitor may be very puzzled as to why all the shop windows and doorways are covered up, its quite special to see.

The Ba’ is started outside the cathedral and players fill the streets forming a tight pack to get access to the ball which is handmade from leather and cork. A boys Ba’ starts a 10.30am and then once this game is finished a men’s Ba’ game follows. Islanders also fill the pavements to watch the games play out moving with the game through the town’s streets as it progresses. The game can appear to be chaotic, loud, rough and players form scrums and use various tactics to access the ball. The game has no set in stone rules and can go on for hours, but the object of the game is to get The Ba’ to either the Uppies or Doonies goal depending on which side the participants are playing on. The ball is then awarded to a chosen member of the winning team. when the ball is at a goal the crowd erupts with loud cheers and the winner is raised up with the ball as his trophy. 

To decide if you are an Uppie or Doonie primarily depends on whether you were born to the north or to the south of the cathedral, north you are a Doonie and south you are and Uppie. As time has gone on though many play for the side their families played on and birthplace has become less of an important factor in deciding which team you are on. Whatever the weather or injury dedicated Ba’ players would not miss this traditional game and the quiet town streets are transformed into a loud and exciting atmosphere, it is an exceptional sight to see. 

Aside from The Ba’ throughout the island countryside many ancient monuments are standing and there are various places of interest to wander through including a prehistoric settlement and ancient tombs. Many cruise liners appear in the summer and tourists go off exploring, when they leave sometimes the pipe band see them off with bagpipes and drums which can stir ancestral feelings in some. You are never far from a field full of sheep or cows and walks are refreshing, one of my favourite things to do is to walk on the beach with the dog and appreciate the special surroundings I now call home. Looking up at the sky in the autumn and winter if you’re lucky you might spot the captivating Northern Lights which are sometimes described as the ‘Merry Dancers’. 

I think it is vitally important to embrace other cultures and learn as much as you can about the area you live in to gain insight and a real sense of belonging. Social behaviour, customs, beliefs, and traditions vary across cultures, and it is fascinating to learn more in terms of these variations. When you embrace other cultures, you become more understanding and more tolerant towards others, when people are more accepting communities and individuals within them find their wellbeing increases and traditions can continue. Culture is diverse and the appreciation of other cultures could just be the key to peace and happiness.   

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