Gibbet Hill, “the oldest place you’ve ever been”


The sign at Gibbet Hill says it may be “the oldest place on Earth you have ever been.” The rocks there are 550 million years old, 100 million years older than the Appalachian Mountains, and over 400 million years older than the Rockies. I stood there today, looking out over the city of St. John’s, enjoying the sunshine before the storm. When I got home again,  I read this line in “Beyond the Black Ditch,” by David Frankel in The Journal of Wild Culture: “[His father] loved the bones of places like Skye: the bare stone projecting through the skin of the world, showing its age…” That exactly describes how it feels here where I live. It’s also a place where the bare stone projects through the skin of the world, showing its age.*

David also says, “I’m interested in places where things seem to converge: layers of history, topography and architecture. For me, Rubha an Dùnain also has a sense of convergence with my father’s life.” That’s exactly it, isn’t it? It’s the palimpsest, those layers and layers of meaning, personal, historical, geographical, geological, that make me want to read on. He interweaves those layers so deftly in this essay, in photo and in text, it leaves me feeling I’ve walked there with him, and with his father, and with those long ago inhabitants in their stone and turf blackhouses before they left for Nova Scotia.

I did walk there once, with my friend, Johanne Kérouac, visiting the homes of our ancestors, hers in Brittany and mine in Scotland. I’m not sure if we went to Rubha an Dùnain or not but we walked and hitchhiked around a lot of Skye and David Frankel’s essay brought it back and made it richer.

* It turns out that the rocks of Gibbet Hill are probably not the oldest I’ve ever seen. The oldest rocks on Skye were formed about 2,800 million years ago.


Johanne washing her hair somewhere on Skye in 1978.

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