When I picked up last Friday’s Scotsman I was delighted to find a feature by Jenny McBain on Tom Forsyth. Tom is almost eighty and has been living on the Scoraig peninsula on Litle Lochbroom near Ullapool for almost 50 years. The two page spread shows, amongst other things, pictures of an ancient, yet hardy man, neck-deep in the loch and chopping logs to heat his tiny bothy. As the feature was headed ‘the good life’ and highlighted a memorable quote – ‘people suffer from stress from living by deadlines when we could be living by livelines’ – I would not have turned the page without finding out more about this unusual character but I had a other personal reasons to be interested: two weeks ago I had the pleasure of walking in to the remote Scoraig community to pay a visit to Tom Forsyth.
I first met Tom over seven years ago at one of the first Ceilidh Place discussion weekends. My first book, The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence, had just been published and Jean Urquhart and Gerry Hassan, who organise the programme, had asked me to speak about it. Tom, from nearby Scoraig, was in the audience. He was heartened by the scope of my talk and we spent time afterwards discussing one of his favourite thinkers – Carl Jung. Tom is an erudite man and afterwards wrote to me suggesting ways that I could have rounded out my argument. He particularly encouraged me to look at the work of Ken Wilber.
Earlier this year I was back at the Ceilidh Place talking about my new Glasgow book and I was so delighted to see Tom there. I promised that I would visit him this summer and I’m so glad I did.
It was an unexpectedly sunny and clear when we left Ullapool. After leaving the main road to Gairloch we drove through the Dundonnell Estate, parking our car at the road end and then walking the last four and half miles on a coastal path. Tom was in the garden doing his laundry when we arrived.
Tom’s house is a tiny two room bothy. It lacks not just modern conveniences such as a washing machine and fridge but basic amenities such as mains electricity and a flush toilet, Yet in more important ways Tom has everything he needs for ‘the good life’ proclaimed by the headline. Scoraig is a community, and the isolation means that people have to rely on one another. Relatives, including a ten year old daughter, live near by.
Tom may not have television but his small dwelling is crammed with an eclectic mix of books. On several occasions during our discussion he climbed the stairs to retrieve some of his favourites – well-thumbed books mainly on spirituality often filled with pages of hand-written notes. But Tom cannot be pigeon-holed as a bookish intellectual. He lives close to the land, intimately knowing about plants, insects, tides, weather … . He also has many practical skills – bee keeping being one of them. He is also a deeply emotional and sensitive man.
I would find it very challenging to live without my home comforts but I am inspired by the fact that I know a man who does: a man I hugely admire and a man who instinctively knows what makes life worth living.
On my desk as I write is one of the quotation cards the Centre produced which I picked out to send to Tom. The quote is from another of his favourite authors – Patrick Geddes. As I read the whole passage on the back I realise how apposite it is for Tom Forsyth of Scoraig:
This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.
Carol Craig is the Chief Executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being and the author of three books including. She is the driving force of the Centre, constantly seeking new and innovative ideas to ensure that it maintains its leading role in the field of confidence and well-being. She blogs on www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/carolsblog.php