Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

A return to Arcadia


Halliday Sutherland wrote in a style that at first sight appears to be economical, yet it is also very evocative.  The example given here is Dr. Sutherland’s description of his return to “Arcadia”.

I made a pilgrimage two summers ago to the place I had described as Arcadia. I went in fear and trembling lest the place in reality should be less wonderful than in memory.  It was the other way round. As soon as I found the mossy road, I walked as in a dream, for I was alone and the only one who walked that way. After thirty-four years nothing had changed, and at every bend in the road I found the old landmarks. Round the first bend past the smithy there should be a spout in the wall through which peaty water poured into a stone trough. It was there. At the first farm only one thing had changed. There was a gate that opened on its hinges. The old gate had to be dragged across the road. The mill dam on which I had sailed in a box was there. Beyond the gully where I shot the roe deer. The undergrowth was thicker, and my hands were stung by nettles and scratched by thorns before I found the place where the roe deer fell. Two burns should now cross the road, in the old days an excuse for wet feet. The streams were still unbridged. All the old places were there, including the salmon pool.  The only change was a psychological change in myself. The road which in memory was five miles long was only two and a quarter. To a boy the distance had felt like five miles. Again, to the boy, the salmon pool  was five minutes from the farm-house, whereas to the man it was ten. Then I followed the cart track over the moor for two miles to a hollow in the hills where the old gamekeeper had lived. The door was opened by an old man with one tooth in his head. He said, “Come away ben, sir,” and in the kitchen I found sitting by the fire a large, tall woman of seventy-six, somewhat afflicted with rheumatism.

“Sit ye down, sir,” she said, pointing to the chair at the other side of the fire.

I sat down and said to her: “Ellen, it’s a long time since I saw you.”

She replied: “I don’t mind you.”

I said: “The name is Sutherland.”

She stared for a moment and then shouted: “Almighty God, it’s Hallie Sutherland!—and the devil was in ye the last time your were here. And now you will be wanting your scones and milk.” She went to the pantry, and produced milk as rich as cream, fresh scones, butter, and honey. As I ate this meal she plied me with questions.

“Are ye married?”

“Yes, Ellen.”

“Any bairns?”


“Good for you.” And then with the directness of the peasant she added: “Have ye stopped?” The old woman continued: “There was some talk about you here a year ago. They say ye’ve written a book.”

“Yes, Ellen.”

“Good for you, but you will never be the man your father was.”

Somewhat brindled I remarked: “As a matter of fact, I am taller than my father was.”

“Maybe,” said the old woman, “but your are no so broad. But dinna fash yourself. You’re only a loon, ken.” She was right. In that hour I was a boy again and happy.

As I walked back I drank in the scene. The great contour of the mountains broken by forests which give warmth and protection to the creatures of the wild. The great moors of purple heather, the murmur of the river, and the smoke rising from the little houses where once lived people that I knew. The old ones were dead and the young ones were now in Canada or Australia. They make good colonists, these people who learnt the mysteries of life on a hard soil. They were gone, but the scene in which they had lived remained unchanged, and to me it seemed that I had found in this world something that was eternal and unchangeable. The memory of that scene will remain in my mind during life and it may be in eternity.

From: A Time to Keep.

For Dr. Sutherland’s account of a visit to this place as a boy of ten, click here.


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This entry was posted on 1 May 2016 by in A Time to Keep, Early life, Scotland.

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