Thoughts of the Week, The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral

I have been music blogging long enough by now to know which subject matters are best avoided – generally football, weddings and the Royal Family. I can’t however ignore the momentous news that our monarch of 70 years died last Thursday at her beloved home in Aberdeenshire, a place very close to my own heart. It came as a bit of a shock in the end, as only two days earlier she had carried out a very important piece of constitutional business, inviting the new leader of the Conservative Party to form a government. That has almost been forgotten about now.

Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire

Whatever your thoughts on the place of the monarchy in our national life, someone who was probably the most famous and recognised person in the world has left us, and news channels around the world are covering every step of what happens in the aftermath of such an event.

I seem to be alone in my little corner of the blogosphere, but I have been deeply affected by this massive change in the status quo. Prime Ministers come and go, recessions come and go, wars come and go, but throughout my lifetime the Queen has always been there, on the stamps, the money, giving Christmas broadcasts… . It’s a lot to take in that she is gone for good.

As someone who is a bit of a ‘quitter’ when the going gets tough, who found it hard to juggle work and motherhood, and who has not always kept her own counsel when it would have been wise to do so, I have always admired the many qualities the Queen had in spades. To have suddenly found herself thrust into the ‘big job’ at the tender age of 25 must have been frightening, especially as she was a mother to two young children at the time, but few can question her dedication and work ethic over the 70 years of her reign. There will never be another like her and I suspect things will change quite significantly, both at home and around the Commonwealth, now that she has gone.

The Queen’s coffin leaves Balmoral

Another reason why Mr WIAA and myself have been quite deeply affected by the Queen’s passing, is because we both also lost a parent quite suddenly, and have been reliving the raw emotion that came with it. My mother-in-law was abroad on holiday when she died, and my own dad went into hospital for a routine operation but didn’t ever wake up. They were both 25 years younger than the Queen was when they died – far too young. As for my own mum who now lives in a local care home, but who no longer recognises me, she is of the same generation as the Queen and all through the decades looked just like her. Because of the fashions of the day many of us probably say that about our mothers, but no, my mum always looked just like her. Not many of that wartime generation left now.

Because we have been reliving sad moments over the last few days, I am going to share the two pieces of music used at our own parents’ funerals. The first is called The Dark Island and it was the theme tune to a 1962 television series of the same name set in the Outer Hebrides. Mr WIAA’s parents were from different corners of England but they met whilst on holiday on the Isle of Skye in the 1950s and after watching this TV drama, once married with children, they decided to move to the Highlands of Scotland permanently. The second piece of music is called Highland Cathedral and is often heard at Scottish cultural events. We used it for my dad’s funeral but I hadn’t reckoned on choking up every time I now hear it, which is often.

The Dark Island by Margaret Donaldson:


Highland Cathedral:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I don’t quite know why everyone has chosen to make no mention of the fact the Queen has died, and I might be committing ‘sidebar suicide’ by doing so, but this place is also my web-diary so it would be weird for me not to.

My place of birth has been showcased in all its glory over the last few days, and I hope others will appreciate why the Aberdeenshire countryside held such a special place in the Queen’s affections. Likewise, Scotland’s capital city, where we had a wonderful Blogger’s Summit earlier in the year, has never looked better. After today the focus will turn to London and all that that entails, but if it was her time, I think the Queen would have been content that she ended her days quietly in Scotland, the only Queen Elizabeth we ever had.


Until next time…


The Dark Island Lyrics
(Song by Iain McLachlan)

Away to the westward, I’m longing to be
Where the beauties of heaven unfold by the sea
Where the sweet purple heather blooms fragrant and free
On a hill-top, high above the Dark Island


Oh Isle of my childhood I’m dreaming of thee
As the steamer leaves Oban, and passes Tiree
Soon I’ll capture the magic, that lingers for me
When I’m back, once more upon, the Dark Island

So gentle the sea breeze that ripples the bay
Where the stream joins the ocean, and young children play
On a strand of pure silver, I’ll welcome each day
And I’ll roam forever more, the Dark Island

True gem of the Hebrides, bathed in the light
Like a midsummer dawning, that follows the night
How I long for the cry, of the seagulls in flight
As they circle high above the Dark Island

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

21 thoughts on “Thoughts of the Week, The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral”

  1. An excellent post. I wrote a tiny post about the Queen on Friday morning. As I said there, whether you’re a monarchist or a republican or, like me, somewhere in-between, I think we can probably all agree that in an unimaginable role she neither wanted nor chose, Elizabeth did pretty well. And even in the last year, in grief and frailty, and whilst others were partying, she reminded us all what a true leader looks like.

    You’re right, of course, we shall never see her like again. Charles, however well intentioned he may be, seems to be a very different beast. I suspect there are a lot of people who liked the Queen without having much time for the wider royal family (why are there so many of them?), but I’m not sure the same level of allegiance will transfer to KC3. And realistically, we’ll never see another queen will we? The line of succession is very one-sided.

    I am sad to see the Queen go, in the same-way that I am ambivalent about Charles and less favourable still about Andrew. If it was down to me, Anne would become queen and that would be the end of it. Of course if it was down to me, people could hold up signs saying “Not my king” without getting whisked away by the police too, but that’s a whole other matter.

    I shall be watching on Monday, of course. And to Elizabeth I say: a life of service, a life well-lived – RIP. Then, once Charles has his feet under the table, I hope he helps to initiate a review of the monarchy, shrinks the public purse they receive, does away with the “divine right” and “God’s choice” elements of proclamations, all of that. Then we just need to make the House of Lords an elected house…..

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    1. Thanks for dropping by Martin and for elaborating on much of what I merely hinted at above. Yes, wherever you lie on the monarchist/republican spectrum, few could deny the Queen did a sterling job over the decades. As I said above, I really wish I’d had more of the qualities she possessed, but sadly I have been found wanting. The emotional scenes we are witnessing are because so many people thought so highly of the Queen – as you say, we won’t have another Queen in our lifetimes and unlikely there will ever be a reign so long again. We are living through historic times. Like you I hope Charles pares down the monarchy to a core few, but I think that process has already begun and will continue to do so.

      I too will be watching on Monday and we actually drove down to Deeside on Sunday to be there in person to witness her coffin winding its way through the towns and villages on its way to Edinburgh. I got quite emotional at the sight of the tractors lined up on the edge of the fields but these are my people from my neck of the woods and just the kind of thing they would have done. At the Ghillies Ball at Balmoral she danced the Eightsome Reel and Gay Gordons with the local butcher and castle staff, and absolutely loved it all. If it was her time, which it seems to have been, I’m glad she ended her days in Scotland.

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  2. Totally on board with your thoughts in this post. A lovely piece of writing. I agree that things will change now and I think that will include my little corner of the Commonwealth here is Australia. But all that is in front of us, so for now I think we should take a moment to remember a great lady and to watch as history unfolds before our eyes. We will never see a Platinum Jubillee again in our lifetimes and it is quite likely we will not witness mourning a sovereign on such a grand scale either.
    Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by Jean. Indeed we are entering a new age and things will change. Very few people alive today will remember a time when neither the Queen nor her father were the monarch, so although things have changed at lightning speed around us, there has been that constant over the decades. As you say, there will never be another state funeral on this scale again.

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  3. As to myself, I’m not really ignoring it, but everything that can be said is being said, so what could I add?

    My initial reaction was one of sadness. It made me think of my own parents,not that far from the Queen in age.

    Beyond that… it’s a subject I feel it’s best not to broach, since in certain circles, anything other than utter devastation is being held up as a treasonable offence. I read an interesting piece on the media coverage in the London Review of Books, of all places, but I suspect the writer of that piece is being dragged to the tower as we speak. The writer clearly has respect for the Queen though, as do I… but the rest of it, the less said, the better.

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2022/september/the-death-parade

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean, but as well as writing about the songs, I’ve written about every big event and happening since starting this blog, so it felt wrong to ignore it. Like Martin, I’m not a monarchist nor a republican, but I did admire the qualities the Queen had, and wish I’d possessed more of them myself. Maybe not too late to change my ways. Like you it’s made us think of our own parents who were of the same generation and reminds us of their passing. In their own ways, they were just as remarkable as the Queen.

      It’s now going to get a bit frenetic and full of pageant down in London, so I’m glad she ended her days at Balmoral after which there were a few days of calm with her family and castle staff. The countryside around Deeside never looked better and local people came out as they would for many a local (both my dad and mother-in-law had huge funerals as they had made such a mark on their communities).

      Gosh, that writer certainly had a field day and although I have my own opinions on the coverage, I chose not to share them here.

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  4. Sidebar Suicide? I think I’ve got one of their early albums somewhere.
    That’s the beauty of blogging – it’s such a personal pursuit; leaving you free to write about whatever you want (within reason) whenever you want. I do mention football and weddings from time to time. As for Royalty, not my thing. But, hey, lots of things are not my thing. Life’s too short to worry about who’s writing about the Queen and who isn’t, don’t you think? That’s what I think, anyway.
    I like Highland Cathedral, tho’ perhaps a tad jaunty for a funeral, but, again, it’s purely subjective. The tunes I’d have played at mine would not be to everyone’s taste, I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha – you are right, a great name for a band. I should copyright it.

      I’m not worrying about who is writing about the Queen and who isn’t, it’s just such a massive global happening that I find it conspicuous by its absence. Unless I stayed away for few weeks, I would have had to mention it, as I have all the other big happenings over the last 7 years.

      As I said to Rol though, my thoughts very much reflected the fact it made us think of our own parent’s deaths; how I thought it was fitting she ended her days in my neck of the woods; and how I have always admired her work ethic despite the fact she was never expected to get the ‘big job’. I’ve liked the constancy when everything around us changes so rapidly (4 PMs in 6 years) – more change ahead I feel.

      Yes, a few of us do mention football and I did think of you. You have also had some happy wedding news to share – I hope to have some too one day (but they’re making me wait!).

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    2. PS: That was not the version of Highland Cathedral we used for my dad’s funeral – it was a much more pared down and subdued version – might change the audio clip.

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  5. Sorry it’s taken me so long to come to this. I’m glad you write from the heart, honestly and in keeping with how you have always done things on this blog, as your web diary, on a subject which has unfortunately become increasingly divisive over the last week. I echo John and Rol’s sentiments on this, and I know that we’re all good, decent humans whatever our differing views, so we should all feel able to be true to ourselves. I’m struggling with the total preoccupation of the media and some of the worrying decisions and proclamations being made (which are more virtue-signalling than any real mark of respect, you’ll know the ones I mean – and definitely linked to this increasing need through social media, etc. to be seen as doing/saying “the right thing” very publicly, whatever it is) more than anything else. How individuals genuinely feel, or choose to behave, is up to us all but the pressure felt around us to respond in one particular acceptable way is what’s currently so stifling.
    I found this article interesting – noting what you said about reliving your own sad moments and the sudden loss of parents, and it suggests there are many reasons behind the desire to gather with others in these circumstances, I think there is a lot of truth in it, and reading it helps me to understand a bit more.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/15/crowd-behaviour-london-mourning-queen

    Also, I do have a fondness for those bagpipes! (Plus theyremind me of Edinburgh!) So stirring, I can totally understand why you choke up on hearing Highland Cathedral.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wasn’t expecting people to drop by but I’ve written about so many people we’ve lost since starting this blog, from David Bowie to Des O’Connor, it would have been weird for me not to mention it. A difficult one to broach however as a divisive subject, but I concentrated on the lady herself, and how I thought so highly of her as a person. It did prompt Rol to write his excellent post, so maybe worth it for that alone.

      It’s now over a week on and we have moved into a totally different phase in proceedings. The Guardian article was spot on and I think the emotions I felt when I heard the news came from remembering how we both felt when we got the awful phonecalls about our own parents’ deaths, and of course I am possibly also mourning the loss of my own mum, who is still with us, but who no longer recognises me. We did drive down to Deeside last Sunday and it was all very calm. We stopped at a small village where locals lined the road as the hearse went past. I have a keen interest in Scottish history and this was a big moment in time so glad we did it. Very different indeed to the scenes in London. Again it reminded me of my dad’s funeral where different groups lined the street (his bowling friends in their green blazers), to pay their respects.

      I perhaps could have worded my post better, as I seem to have caused some offence – it was not intentional I can assure you and again this is when I wish I had more of the Queen’s qualities, as she never seemed to put a step wrong. I know what you mean about the stifling media coverage. It reminds me of the Jubilee Celebrations back in June which really didn’t happen at all here in Scotland, yet it was all that was covered in the media for a few days. Another few days to go and then all back to normal, whatever that is considering we have a new PM who hasn’t even got started yet. Tough times ahead this winter I think.

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  6. Please be assured you haven’t caused any offence, at least I can’t for a second imagine it in these circles! I think we’re all (in general) starting to worry too much about what is and isn’t potentially “offensive” (and I’m starting to hate that word!) just for not sharing exactly the same view about something – it’s all getting a bit much out there.
    As for the new PM, aarghh… still, she has given Jan Ravens the opportunity to do a great impression:

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    1. A tricky period for bloggers. I was conscious of the fact I have many followers from around the world who don’t necessarily leave comments but who do email me from time to time. They would have expected me to write about it but I perhaps could have done a better job.

      Jan Raven has got the voice spot on – and clever how she goes about pinpointing it. Noticing that the interview was made the day after LT became PM. At that point no-one knew what the following day would bring. We have had no functioning government for months now.

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  7. Thanks so much for a thought provoking and insightful post, Alyson. I can understand the concern about the sensitive subject matter and causing offence but I appreciate your from-the-heart approach to a significant event in your life that would be difficult if not impossible to ignore.

    I’ve got it easier inasmuch as my blog is first and foremost about music, but even then it’s impossible for the events in the wider world or snippets of my life story not to creep in because it’s often integral to my connection to music.

    I really struggled with any personal commentary on the events of the past 10 days, not least because my relationship with the ideas, concepts and reality of the Royal Family is more complex and nuanced than I could hope to articulate. I finally posted something yesterday (Monday) which I initially thought was fairly non-committal but on reflection seems clumsy and likely to cause offence somewhere.

    In reality, I echo many of the same comments from you and the others: I admire the Queen as a woman, one-of-a-kind and a model of humility and integrity that the conveyor belt of political leaders haven’t been able to come close to matching. I’m less enamoured with the Royal Family as a whole, for a whole host of reasons. Many people that I love, admire and respect feel very strongly at either end of the spectrum or, like me, somewhere in between.

    Your final words about the connection with your and Mr WIAA’s parents really hit it home, powerfully but sensitively put. I wasn’t familiar with The Dark Island, so thank you for sharing this and your thoughts, it was very moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by Khayem, especially as it seems to be a subject matter that none of us quite know how to broach. You are right, if I had been purely a music blogger I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the Queen’s death, but for a long time now this place has been so much more than that, and it has become my web-diary. My post was written just a few days after it happened and after her long journey through Scotland on the way to Edinburgh – at that time I think I was still in shock and it reminded me of our own patents’ sudden deaths. I should have written a purely neutral post but my clumsy writing style kind of prompted a response, which was wrong. In all these years, I’ve obviously learnt nothing from the Queen!

      In the week since writing my post things moved into a totally different phase – it was no longer the quiet mourning of locals on Deeside but the implementation of Operation London Bridge, which must have been in place for decades (just in case). Watching the funeral yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking the Queen probably would have been happier with something simpler up at Balmoral, but she knew it was always going to go this way. There will never be another on that scale and things are bound to change now going forward. I know what you mean about finding it hard to articulate how you feel about the idea of a Royal Family and the many articles I’ve read this last week on the subject certainly give food for thought. Let’s see what happens next.

      As for The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral, I couldn’t find either of the versions we used at the funerals but I can assure you they were much better than the above. I think I’m going to have to seek out a version of that TV series from 1962 – it must have been quite something for a Brummie and a Geordie to move so far north with their young family! Thanks again for your lovely comment.

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  8. Thank you for sharing The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral – it must be difficult for you to listen to music which triggers memories of your dad’s funeral. I’ve been thinking of my dad, who died nearly five years ago. He loved Scotland – and Scottish music – and we travelled north of the border every summer when I was a child. Years later, when my son and my nephews were children, we had several holidays in the Highlands as a three-generation family of 11. The last of these was in 2011 – but we didn’t know at the time that it would be the final time we would all be there together. Listening to The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral, and watching the Queen’s coffin travel from Balmoral to Edinburgh in the golden September sunshine, brought back memories of happy times 11 years ago, and 50 years ago. Every time I’ve heard bagpipes over the last week, I’ve been close to tears.

    It was easy to take the Queen for granted, as for most of us, she’s always been there, and those good old-fashioned qualities she possessed – constancy, humility, decency – can sound dull, particularly if we add ‘duty’ to the list. Her death, even at 96, has been a shock, and reminds us of sudden deaths in our own families, as you know only too well. I lost my mum last year, just before the Duke of Edinburgh died, and since the Queen’s death, I’ve been reliving that time of grief.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah Lizza, you are the same then. We’ve got to the age when we’ve lost parents ourselves and the momentous news about the Queen’s death brought on memories of our own bereavements. I do like the sound of your big family holidays in Scotland – when I was young there were always grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins around, but as I don’t have any siblings and only had one child (now an adult) our family gatherings are very minimal affairs nowadays. Cousins are scattered all over the world so a very different family dynamic – I miss it. The Queen on the other hand had four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren so there certainly were a lot of pews needed at her funeral for family. None of them will ever close in character however. In this day of celebrity culture she was the biggest celebrity of all, but never acted like it. I’m glad that we knew so little about her other than that she loved dogs and horses!

      As for the two music clips, neither were the best examples but I couldn’t find what I was looking for when I wrote this. A really good version of the Dark Island theme music is quite moving and atmospheric. I’m going to seek out the 1962 tv series and give it a whirl – Robert Hardy from All Creatures… etc starred. I haven’t been to the furthest south islands of the Western Isles yet but I met a friend from South Uist this morning and she said I must go in July sometime. White sand, turquoise blue sea, and wild flowers everyone – beautiful.

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