Loretta Mulholland was born in Glasgow and studied for an MA (Hons) in Modern History and Economic History at Glasgow University. She worked as an Industrial Archaeologist and Research Assistant to Professor John Hume at Strathclyde University and co-wrote an academic publication on the history of the Scottish Brick and Tile Industry, entitled, Scottish Brickmarks. She is author of The Campsie Glen Picture Album, a local history booklet, written while working at the William Patrick Memorial Library in Kirkintilloch, when pregnant with her second child.
Before settling down to family life, Loretta lived in Thailand for several years, teaching English Language and Literature at Srinkaharinwirot University in Bangkok. She later took up a career in primary teaching but after decades of working in education, she returned to learning by enrolling for an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study at Dundee University. She is Fiction Editor at DURA, where she has had several reviews and an author interview published. She also writes blogs for the University and has had her work published in Vaulted Marvels, a Dundee University Publication. Loretta writes fiction and creative non-fiction and is currently researching the work of 19th century female travellers for her next writing project.
Preface from Moments in Thin Places
I have learned that a thin place is the soil out of which poetry grows.
John Crossley Morgan, American poet and philosopher, learned about thin places when he crawled under the branches of a small tree on a path by Tintern Abbey in Wales. The place seemed safe and sacred to him and he claimed to have felt the presence of people who had visited there before him. A Welsh resident later explained to Morgan that a thin place ‘is very special, where you felt a presence so deep and mysterious that you needed to stretch language to describe it.’  In Scottish Gaelic tradition, landscape and language are deeply connected:
…for local people with a knowledge of Gaelic, and especially with knowledge and memories of past events, the landscape is a living landscape and place names are mnemonic devices that trigger recollections of particular activities … by naming places after people or by commemorating an event with a name, people are located in the landscape. 
The term ‘thin place’ comes from an ancient Celtic belief in the liminal, which could be felt in a location in nature, or in the presence of others, and it could be awe inspiring or terrifying.
Middle of the night –
the thin time
The blinds are open
The moonlight steams in.
The inter-connection of landscape, nature and the spiritual is also a powerful element of Buddhist philosophy, and the parallels between the beliefs of these two distant cultures has been explored in Scottish literature in the past by authors such as Neil Gunn, and touched upon by non-fiction writers such as Nan Shepherd. Such connections are still intriguing to me – a century down the line …
The setting for these fragments is the Isle of Bute, which I chose not only for its particular topographical qualities but also because of its linguistic development, and deeply rooted Gaelic and Norse connections. Walking through Bute is like walking through time; Neolithic standing stones, ancient chapel ruins and Iron-age settlement remains exist throughout the island and many residents believe that wooded areas, hillsides, lochs and coastlines have an aura of energy, possibly connected to the Highland Fault Line running through the island, splitting it in half, north to south, and creating its unique geological formations and landscapes.
‘Write the word nowhere,’ Merlin told Arthur, ‘then rewrite it as now here. You have in a nutshell the truth about space and time … the relationship between nowhere and now here is the relationship between infinity and this moment that you are now living. 
I heard voices in the lodge. When I looked from my bedroom into the living room, I noticed the loft hatch was open, and the ladders were down. There were many figures in the room. Some were children. They felt like travellers. They looked poor and hungry and some were grouped around what may have been a pot of food. The thought ran through my mind that they were ‘fixing’ something but I felt that they were taking something too. Then they saw me. The children began to hide behind the adults and they all started to move towards me …
The dream changed then. I’m not sure what happened next but after a while I was back in my bed when I heard someone enter the room. It was a man. He wore a cloth cap, wide brown trousers, a dirty white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, and a brown waistcoat to match the trousers. He was young; I couldn’t stop looking at him – his face white as marble, protruding cheekbones chiseled from the same, cold stone, dark eyes surrounded by light crow’s feet that suggested no laughter.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, couldn’t speak. I tried to do all three. He circled the bed and came up to me with something sharp in his hand.
‘What are you going to do?’ I asked, the words clear in my mind, yet floating somewhere between my head and the darkness. I still couldn’t really speak and in a kind of blurred murmur I asked, ‘Are you going to use that to kill me?’
He took hold of my right shoulder, squeezed it hard and I felt a prick to my skin.
I woke up alone. I could see nothing in the blackness of night – not even my own hands. I felt sweat drip from my face yet also a deep chill in my bones. I rocked on the bed, hugging my knees, trying to calm my hammering heart.
It was the first nightmare I’d had in years. The first I’d had in the lodge and I hadn’t even been there a week.
I don’t think it means anything though. I am not afraid here.
Far from it. This spot had been inhabited by families for over a century. They came in their droves to this hill, to the camps, to be healthy and happy and free from the city soot and grime. This was a place for fun and holidays by the sea.
I am not afraid here.
… we all carry trace fossils within us – the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a gesture left by someone gone, repeated so often it has worn its own groove in air and mind: these are trace fossils too.’ 
Perhaps my walk with Bonnie that day last spring started me off on my quest, though I didn’t think so at the time. It was on a Tuesday we went out, not long after I’d arrived on the island. I was delighted that my neighbour, Ewan, had asked if I would watch his dog for a few hours whilst he got on with some business.
We had a good walk, considering the weather and my lack of knowledge of the area. We headed downhill, following the winding road, past horses wearing blankets, breath turning to frosted mist where they stood, turning upwards again, following the lichen-covered dry-stone dyke, and the dense verdancy of the woods by the golf course. We came to another path that led to some farm buildings. Bonnie met a canine friend and I fed them both some treats.
The mud was thick and my boots left deep imprints in the moist soil, Bonnie sniffing at hedgerows and chasing insects as we ambled. The view over Ascog from the hillside – over forests and lochs, stretching to the lighthouse, and the mainland beyond the sea – was everything I had come to expect from every angle of this tiny island. Fresh daylight dew still clung to blades of grass. The clouds began to darken and dampness filled the air but I didn’t care.
My find that day was the model hut at the farm. Made of wood, painted in ‘corporation’ green, with a black felt roof, it appeared to be a miniature replica of the many huts that had stood there before. The roof was pegged down with guy rope and hooks, but they felt brittle and my fingers were like pencils of ice, so stiff I couldn’t even hold the cord, let alone unhook the rusty pegs from the catch. The rain was pelting down by this time.
It was too wet and too cold to open the box that day but Ewan and I returned there the next, and together we loosened the hooks, removed the roof and discovered the letters and photos of people who had camped there in the ‘40s and ‘50s, or whose parents had and who had left messages for new visitors to discover. A child had laid out a plan of the hut itself, showing where the living, eating and sleeping areas were. ‘Not to scale’ someone had scribbled, on another piece of paper. But what did that matter? ‘Inverclyde’ was the name of this hut – built by the child’s great grandpa.
Happy faces stared out at us from black and white photos of families sitting in front of the huts, smudged ink names and dates on their borders. I vowed I would email the woman from Canada who left the long letter whose writing we could barely make out because the paper was so damp and fragile. I took a photo of her email address on my phone, crossed my fingers and tapped my heart that it would reach her. Perhaps she could provide me with clues to the answers I was seeking. The field had once held over forty of these huts. None remained now, save the ‘dolls’ house’ model. Beside it stood a decorated, wooden cross, some fresh flowers and soft toys, and simple messages of love, tied to a post with ribbons of silk.
I read those notes and examined the photos, trying to imagine what it would be like coming here as a family for two weeks or more in the middle of last century, arriving on foot, clambering along that path with cases of clothes, buckets and spades, kettles and cups, pots and pans and a summer’s supply of food and drink. Some even carried their belongings in prams and wheeled the lot up the Serpentine, the long and winding road, from the centre of Rothesay to the camps on the hills at the top of the island.
There were a few cuttings from ‘The Buteman’ showing happy campers alongside cinema listings for ‘The Palace’ and an advert for Billy Graham, the American evangelist, coming to Glasgow. Someone had circled a band that was playing at the ‘Pavilion’ but I couldn’t make out the name and there was no date visible in the ripped-out piece. When we’d finished reading, we carefully replaced the contents, secured the roof, opened the kissing gate and entered the field where the camp had been built. It was empty now but there was a sense of there once being many men, women and children, cows, ducks and dogs, scattered around this piece of land. Bonnie trotted along happily beside us, sniffing as she does, but suddenly she froze and made a low whimpering noise, looking in the direction of a hedge, which had a gap in the middle. Ewan and I looked at each other with some unease, and as he approached his little dog, the whimpering became a low growl. I followed her gaze, but there was nothing to see, apart from the empty field, slightly overgrown, with a few spring flowers breaking their way through the still damp ground. Ewan knelt down, patting Bonnie gently, attaching the lead to her collar, repeating the words, ‘good girl.’
It was the stillness that made us uneasy. There was no buzz of insects, no cry of birds, nor sigh of wind. Just us. The smell of long grass and coldness; the path ahead somehow resisting our presence or need to go on any further. Bonnie sat alert in front, as though defending us, but the air remained still and a calmness descended, like a light muslin shawl. Ewan squinted his eyes against the glare of the sky, blinking occasionally, addressing something beyond the field.
‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ was all that he said.
 John Crossley Morgan, Thin Places, (Oregan Resource Publications, 2009), pX
 Ibid, pIX
 Ibid. pIX
 (Jedre) and Nutall, 1996, 123, cited in John Murray, Reading the Gaelic Landscape, (Dunbeath: Whittles Publishing, 2014), pVI
 Morgan, pIX
 Alan Spence, Alan, Morning Glory (Edinburgh: Renaissance Press, 2011), p40
 Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard (New York: Harmony Books, 2000) p115
 Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (UK: London: Hamish Hamilton, 2019), p79