Wedged between the Dornoch and Cromarty firths, the Fearn Peninsula juts into oil-rich seas in Scotland’s remote northwest highlands. I speed along unnamed roads running through fertile lowlands and hilly coastal towns. Clouds and sun vie in the sky, casting off rain and rays as the battle rages on. There’s a sudden, familiar sign for an ancient monument, and I let serendipity take the wheel northwest of Balintore. The farm road peters out at Fearn Abbey, the most northerly of all medieval abbeys on Great Britain. Various eras of mankind are written in the stonework. Crumbled arches, fallen grave slabs, and pitted tombs litter the grounds. The air is rife with ghosts.
This abbey is known as The Lamp of the North. The Dark Ages of Europe lasted a lot longer in Scotland where vast tracts of centuries offer modern inquisitors little more than a periodic name or battle. The embers of early Christianity, places like 800-year-old Fearn Abbey, are where devouts worked to shed light on that black gulf of history. I circle the abbey and squint at the old stones, brush away lichen and feel the stone turn to sand. The scale and scope of what might have been lost in those blind centuries hammer at my imagination. I have my own ideas, and who’s to say they’re untrue?