My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Being A Goth In The Highlands

I have been recently electronically interviewed by Gothic Beauty magazine about being a Goth in the UK. I was asked quite a few questions, and one of them was about my experiences in different locations - I obviously couldn't write an essay in answer to every question, and even the answers I did give ended up quoted rather than published in full. 

I have moved around quite a been to and stayed a lot of places - some for longer than others - in the UK and in Brittany, where my mother's family are from. My main locations have been Oxfordshire and Berkshire, then Peterborough and Bristol, before moving here to the Highlands. I've also spent time in Brittany, France. I could probably write reams upon reams on my experiences in each of those places, but as I've been writing this blog since I moved to the Highlands, and as I have yet to find another Goth blogger hailing from this far North in Scotland, I feel it's important to share this perspective.


I will also make it clear that my perspective is that of an immigrant; I have lived here several years, but I am not someone who was born here or has lived here since they were very young. Other people's experiences and perspectives will vary. 

The Highlands has been the most radically different place I have moved to and been to! Even Glasgow and Edinburgh have their paralels with cities like Bristol, Oxford and London, but the Highlands is most different place I lived compared to the others. I have lived in the countryside before, in Oxfordshire, but even that was nothing like here. The geography and climate is also rather different here, and I think it's important to understand that regional geography really does still impact on people's way of life, wherever you are, even in the 21stC. Highland culture is also pretty different from other regional Scottish and British cultures that I have experienced,and as such the Goth that exists there will be different than the Goth that exists in places with other local cultures. Goth is an interesting thing; it is its own culture, but it i also in many ways a subculture to the parent location of wherever it springs up.


The Highlands' alternative scene is very vital, vivacious and vivid, but due to the area being mostly small downs and villages with Inverness as the largest centre of population (and Inverness is not very big, as far as cities go), there's just not a lot of us. I think, in terms of percentage of the local population, there's possibly actually a higher than average number of alternative people of various sorts - and I would imagine that this may be a consequence of the Findhorn Foudation being in the local area, over near Forres. A lot of the alternative folk in the area tend to be of a more 'Bohemian' or 'Hippie' variety (although I am sure quite a few would eschew such labels), rather than the darker forms of alternative lifestyles. That being said, there are a fair few metalheads in the area too!


The Goth scene here is not a distinct entity from the other local alternative-lifestyle scenes - there are a lot of overlaps, and every person seems very individual; there's less pressure to form little cliques of subtypes - probably in part because there's simply not enough of any one subtype to make this work, except for perhaps the Skaters, who seem to be less engaged with other local subcultures - although I do know a few people in that group, they're a separate group in many ways. In general, though alternative people here participate in a variety of different alternative groups - alternative people connect with other alternative people, and it there's a definite intermingling of groups; I'm a Goth, but I'm intertwined with the Metal scene here, the small but burgeoning group of Lolitas,  and the Pagans, and a lot of people who are more close to being hippies or 'Bohemians'. This means there's a lot of cross-polination of ideas from the varied subcultures, and a lack of exclusivity; what group or groups you belong to does not exclude you from other groups. Those who have been reading my blog for a while will have seen the diverse assemblage of eccentrics I have the honour of knowing!


One advantage in the local scene being so small is that we don't seem to have that "Gothier than thou" competitive element (I have only come across this in a couple of younger Goths, and I think it was more about their own insecurity rather than them really believing they are some sort of Gothic elite), and folk here are not afraid to talk about their interests outside of subcultures, whether that's shinty or welding or being a chef. Small numbers make gatherings easier to facilitate, but as most gatherings are small, it is easier for us to find venues for some things, and harder for other things. The small scene also makes it easier to make friends, because it is quite a tight-knit group and a welcoming group, so once you know a few members of the scene, it is likely you will soon be introduced to more. Some of the disadvantages are that the scene ends up feeling a bit 'incestuous' - everyone ends up sometimes a bit too tightly connected to everyone else, and it can seem like a bit of variety and changes could be beneficial. I don't know literally every Goth in the area, but I do feel like I know a good few of them. 

The Goth scene in the Highlands seems to be a rather intergenerational Goth scene - I think due to there being fewer Goths in general, we tend to be more open to talking to Goths of any age. I certainly have friends here who were Goths "the first time around" who joined the scene when they were in their teens or twenties during the early 1980's, and I am acquainted with a few much newer Goths who are 18, 19, etc. There are even younger Goths in their early and mid teens, but I don't know them personally, although some of my younger friends do and as such I guess they're acquaintances of a sort. I try my best to support the younger Goths because I know I could have benefited from that when I was a younger Goth and a babybat, and it wasn't really something that occurred for me. 

Also, the Highlands do not have the numbers of Goths (or even darker alternative types) nor the geography (Inverness is the hub, but scene participants come from a rather broad geographic area, and that makes the practicalities of transport an obstacle, to support any specifically Goth retailers or venues. Our club nights have become rarer and rarer, and Inverness no longer has a specifically Goth shop. It's not a dying scene, though, and I find quite a few teenagers are still becoming involved, but it is a very small one. Life here is, however, connected to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the rest of Britain, and the Cairngorm mountains do not provide an inpenetrable barrier (even when the trunk road north to us is closed by avalanches and snow), especially in the age of the internet, and a lot of us go to places like Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh for events that happen there - but the cost of transport is restrictive. There are a lot of things I miss out on because they do not happen in the Highlands, and travelling down to a bigger city is very expensive. It's also time consuming; it's just over 4 hours by car or coach, and somewhere between 3 and 3 and half hours by train to get to Glasgow, and Stirling is closer, Edinburgh further. There does not seem to be many events in other Northerly towns and cities such as Perth, Aberdeen or Elgin. 

Being a small group here, we stand out more. I am certainly known as visible figure, and have had a lot of strangers come up up to me with some variation on "I've seen you around as that lady in the Victorian clothes with green hair, and..."  but I am probably one of the more visually distinctive Goths (and my fashion isn't actually accurately Victorian, but I guess that is what people identify it as). I am often asked if I know other visually distinctive local Goths (and mostly the answer is that I do, or am at least acquainted, and it will turn out that there will be someone in common that we know; it is really that sort of small scene). Being visibly rather different probably contributes to the attention, but I love how I look more than I dislike the attention. There are also practical concerns because of the climate; I have ended up with skull-pattern wellie boots worn over layers of stripy socks and vine-pattern tights, a big collection of Gothic scarves in varying warmths and thicknesses, lots of gloves to wear under my gloves, and an ability to put together layered outfits that are both adjustable to the ever-changing weather and still within the Gothic aesthetic, I have bought an extensive selection of sensible footwear that keeps relatively within the aesthetic, and have all-black wet-weather gear and then high-visibility skull stickers to add to that! Here I end up wearing a full-length trenchcoat out of warmth rather than aesthetics, and wear it buttoned up against the cold. Compared to Southern England, the weather is noticeably colder and more changeable, and the winters much harsher.

Urquhart Castle - photograph by the HouseCat

There is a lot of dark and bloody local history. My last apartment was in walking distance from Culloden Battlefield, and I've been to ::Rait Castle::, the ::Old High Church::, the remains of ::Craig Dunain pyschiatric hospital:: (which used to be Inverness District Asylum) and plenty of other places with dark and turbulent histories. The current division of the landscape is still a derivative of the landscape carved up in the Highland Clearances. Artistic interpretation of past events is part of what makes Goth very attractive to me, and part of how I engage with Goth myself. The land has millennia of human history, back to the Picts and even before. Historical inspiration is a big part of being Goth - and while we ought not glamourise or exploit the sufferings of the real people involved in these events (or ignore their contemporary ramifications), it is important not to forget them, and I think that artistic exploration of the more troubled parts of history not only facilitates a greater understanding of that history - as long as it is done with good scholarship - but also can act as a way for us to understand more contemporary struggles.  

I find a lot of inspiration in the regional architecture, history, art, etc - as I have in Oxford, Bristol Edinburgh (I love Edinburgh!) and Glasgow. I visit the local cemeteries quite regularly, especially the one at Tomnahurich, which is practically a necropolis, and I visit and photograph the many local castle ruins, ecclesiastical ruins etc. I actually have personal project to visit and record as many of the cemeteries in the area as possible, and I find the local traditions of symbolic carving to be fascinating. 

There's a uniquely Scottish style of architecture called Scottish Baronial, different to Gothic and English medieval fortified and vernacular architecture, evolved from late medieval and renaissance 'castle' architecture specific to the needs and purposes of the how the semi-fortified and fortified estates of the Scottish functioned. It is aesthetically different despite there being parallels between castle architecture the world wide, and in the same way that the Gothic style evolved to be used for more than its original use as an ecclesiastical architectural style, Scottish Baronial went on to be applied to things other than castles and the estates of the nobility. In the same way that Gothic architecture has shaped the atmosphere of the Gothic mindset in the literary aspect of that term (after all, it was named after the architectural settings), Scottish Baronial architecture fills that role to a degree in Scotland, especially in the Highlands. Yes, we have ruins of Gothic architecture too (::Fortrose Cathedral ruins::, ::Beauly Priory ruins::, Elgin Cathedral ruins, Pluscarden Abbey...) but the Scottish Baronial style is more ubiquitous, especially as it was adopted in a revival manner in Victorian times, and even more recently, buildings like the newer wing of the Eastgate shopping mall in Inverness hark back to it, and castles are certainly a lot more common in these parts (surrounding Inverness there are several castles - Rait, Kilravock, Cawdor, Brodie, Urquhart, Inshes (only the doocot left), Inverness, Aldourie, and Dingwall had one that is now a manor, etc.).

There were two more paragraphs on this blog entry and then BLOGSPOT ATE THEM. I will fix this when I have time. Coursework is priority. 

5 comments:

  1. A very informative post that provides the reader with a window into your world. Although the climate and local/regional culture are different where I live, I can see some definite similarities between the Goth scenes in our two locales.

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    1. That's an idea worth considering.

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    2. Re-written response: Perhaps you should write a blog entry on what it is like to be a Goth in your area?

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  2. I agree with regards to the community up here, in that there is no one definive scene to pigeonhole people in, but rather a collective of unique individuals inspired by multiple cultures and scattered among the closely neighbouring areas.
    Very informative indeed :)

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    1. We're certainly the most eclectic scene I have been part of :)

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