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Poacher's Pilgrimage


Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey

a new book forthcoming from Alastair McIntosh

Published by Birlinn Books, 2016, book shops or online

 Publisher's web link  ~  Publisher's Press Release  ~  Diary of Events  ~ Reviews  ~  Hi-Res Front Cover


Opus Earth video interview about the book (5 mins) 

TEDx Talk on the book (12 mins) at The Royal Society of Edinburgh

Author interview in Life and Work, Church of Scotland (12 MB, 4 page PDF)

BBC TV The Adventure Show with Cameron McNeish - 12 min video compilation


"The islands of the Outer Hebrides are home to some of the most remote and spectacular scenery in the world. They host an astonishing range of mysterious structures Ė stone circles, beehive dwellings, holy wells and ítemplesí from the Celtic era, that resonate to this day. Over a twelve day pilgrimage, often in appalling conditions, Alastair McIntosh returned to the islands of his childhood and explored the meaning of these places. Traversing moors and mountains, struggling through torrential rivers, he went from the most southerly tip of Harris to the northerly Butt of Lewis. The book is a walk through space and time, across a physical landscape and into a spiritual one. Alastair had just come back from lecturing at military institutions across Europe. As he battled with his own ability to endure some of the toughest terrain in Britain, he met with the healing power of the land and its communities. This is a moving book, a powerful reflection not simply of this extraordinary place and its people met along the way, but of imaginative hope for humankind."

(That's the official blurb ... but woven through the walk is a study of war and nonviolence in our times from first hand experiences, J.M. Barrie's use of Hebridean faerie lore to explore war trauma, island spiritual experience and Christian theology for the future, human ecology and climate change, Celtic mythology and some implications for space, time and consciousness, and the development of what I call "an ecology of the imagination").


"Fascinating, provocative and, occasionally, very funny" - Joanna Kavenna, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a lovely book, a book to savour, a book to give - remarkable and unusual in its deep knowledge and its spiritual versatility" - Bishop David Chillingworth, Church Times

"This is a book I've been waiting years to read ... a joyful story, full of warmth, humour and passion" - Cameron McNeish, The Scots Magazine (book of the month)

"A book that operates on many levels ... a metaphor for all of us who seek renewal from the land that Alastair McIntosh explores so superbly well" - Roger Smith, The Great Outdoors

"I grew fond of my guide with his quirky self-deprecation.... This is as much a journey into an unusual mind as it is about the Island" - Madeleine Bunting, Resurgence.

"One of the most fascinating books Iíve read for a long while, if maddeningly hard to categorise" - David Robinson, Scotsman interview (print edition was titled Pilgrimage of Grace)

"Hard to categorise: travelogue, biography, spiritual quest. Easy to rate: very, very good" - Prof James Hunter, crofting historian, on Twitter (and his "Best Books 2016, WHFP)

"The Poacher of the title is the boy who grew up with his landless peers. He goes poaching as an act of solidarity. It could sound jokey, but it isn't" - Sue Weaver, Voice for Arran

"Poacherís Pilgrimage is a book full of generosity, spry in its thinking and detailed in its observations" - Scotland on Sunday

"One of Scotland's greatest living authors - a book to savour, to ponder and to work with" - John Sturrock QC, Scottish Legal News, also Progressive Voices

"The language is almost poetic, reflecting the writerís artistic gifts and his understanding of Celtic and pre-Celtic culture" - David Thomson, Press & Journal (book of the week)

"Deep and purposeful ... a coherent yet diffuse cast of mind" - David Robinson, Books from Scotland

"Entertaining and thought-provoking" - (the late) Rev Iain D Campbell, Free Church, Isle of Lewis, on Twitter

"If this sounds more serious than a Presbyterian church service, there is great fun to be found in Poacherís Pilgrimage. McIntosh is an entertaining subversive" - The National

"A poetically imagined, politically engaged, narrative theology which illuminatingly tackles some of the deepest problems of our world" - Prof Timothy Gorringe, at press with Theology

"This is a quite wonderful book - a theology of justice and peace and love re-presented through human ecology" Rev Kathy Galloway, at press with Coracle (Iona Community)

"Poacher's Pilgrimage is, simply put, the most delightful read of the year for me" - Brian D. McLaren, USA, author of The Great Spiritual Migration, by email 

"A journey of people, history, geography and the deeper understanding of the connection between religion and nature" - Lynne McNeil, Life and Work

"A sense of connectivity between the head and the heart" - Scottish Review of Books

 "Poacherís Pilgrimage is a book of beautifully compacted writing Ė clear, strong and constantly surprising Ė a fortnightís walk that contains a universe" - Dark Mountain





Events forthcoming related to Poacher's Pilgrimage

(for my full itinerary, click here)

  1. Sat 20 May 2017, a celebration for readers at our house - Poacher's Pilgrimage: an evening "As We Get It" with Alastair McIntosh - free tickets and details, Eventbrite (very limited numbers).

  2. Wed 9 Aug, Edinburgh Festival Fringe event chaired by Jane Fowler on a theme t.b.a. from Poacher's Pilgrimage, afternoon, St Andrew's & St George's West, Edinburgh.

  3. Week commencing Aug 21, event hosted by the New York Open Centre, Lews Castle, Stornoway, of which I'll be leading the first 3 days with an opening conference plenary address on the 23rd on Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey.

  4. Sat 23 - Fri 29 September. Leading full week at Iona Abbey on Pilgrimage of Life, bookings open November 2016 (and the 2016 event quickly sold out) thought not currently showing in the 2017 Iona programme. Fully Booked, but...

  5. ... Sat 3 - Fri 10 November, a further Iona event is being planned by the Iona Community using the St Columba Hotel (right beside the Abbey). The theme will be Cycles of Grace: Exploring the Ten Beatitudes, with a sense of pilgrimage will be woven through the week. Theformat will be more of a retreat than is usual for Abbey events. Details yet to be confirmed.

  6. Fri 24 - Sun 26 Nov 2017: Pilgrimage of Life retreat at the Glenthorne Quaker Centre, Lake District.



Roineabhal, viewed from my starting point at St Clement's Church, Rodel

Stalker's pathway leading into the heart of North Harris

Near Loch Langabhat at the Lewis & Harris border (taken on a later visit)

Bothain (or Beehive) Dwellings near Loch Reasort

The moors, bogs and mists of central Lewis

The remains of Saint Bridgit's Sheiling as the storm lifted, central Lewis moors

The inestimable Dr Finlay (Macleod) of Shawbost at Saint Bridgit's Well

Saint Ronan's Temple at the Butt of Lewis - The less there is to see, the holier a place it be



I generally publish an online erratum to my books, so that readers of earlier edition(s) can see what's lined up for correction in later editions. It also invites reader reporting of any errors of fact or spelling mistakes, for which I can be emailed here.

  1. On the Gaelic, Dr Finlay Macleod of Shawbost says that the care taken with Gaelic place names is "remarkable", but that in due course he'll send me a note of minor corrections, such as the odd missing accent or misplaced apostrophe.

  2. Finlay pointed out that on p. 295 of the bibliography I have wrongly assumed that two island historians, both called Donald Macdonald, were the same person.  Macdonald, Donald (of Gisla) (1990) should read (of North Tolsta), and the entry immediately below it should be separated out and listed as Macdonald, Donald (of Gisla) (2004 reprint) (i.e. the "Dolly Doctor" as he was nicknamed).

  3. Caption in page 5 of the colour plates - "John Matthew Barrie" should read "James Matthew Barrie".

  4. Last word, p. 248, for "mained" read "maimed".

  5. I wrongly described my brother-in-law as having been serving "in a very junior capacity" with respect to the Advanced Command & Staff Course back in 1996 on p. xvii. I had forgotten he was promoted so fast and so young - my apologies. In fact, he was a Lt Col at the time.

  6. Top of p. 261, for clarity, revise by adding red text: "They donít fire guns, but theyíre an integral part of the fighting unit."


Last Updated: 27 Apr 2017

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