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Gypsies, Loch Erribol

© National Trust Images / Edward Chambré Hardman Collection impact on my behaviour. I was put on behaviour cards, excluded, and was always fighting. I was destroying myself by trying to hide who I was.

There is a word in the Gaelic, cianalas. Although it has no direct translation to English, it can be described as a deep-rooted sense of homesickness for a place that you have a spiritual connection with and are drawn back to. Cianalas is a feeling familiar to all Travellers, a longing to be back on the road. When I was shifting (on the road), I was myself again. This was the time we’d tell our stories and sing our old songs with grandads, grannies, aunts and uncles. We’d speak our own language and

We belong to the land in a way no one else understands travel to ancestral grounds steeped in ghost stories, fairy tales and legends. I felt at home in the trailer and on the camp. It was our way of being – I was with my people.

But shifting wasn’t without its drawbacks. Racism and prejudice seemed to follow us wherever we went. Trying to go to a swimming pool was a waste of time. The answer was always “No,” or sometimes worse: “We don’t let tinks in.” We’d only go to play parks if there were lots of us – we felt too intimidated to go alone. We’d struggle to sleep at night sometimes: the trailer would rock and the sides would bang as people flung rocks at it. My mother would sit up all night trying to comfort my crying, terrified sisters, as I would try to be a ‘man’ and protect my family from the thugs outside – despite being terrified myself.

These experiences made me think, why do they hate us? We did nothing wrong. We kept to ourselves – we were happy. I would ask my older relatives, and one explanation always stood out for me. We were driving past a place we call The King’s Bath, on the west coast of Scotland. “Granda, why do country folk hate us?” “They’re jealous, laddie,” he replied. “See that down there, that’s The King’s Bath, ay? Built out of a natural spring a long time ago for Bonnie Prince Charlie as he came through here. It was meant for him to wash in, as the crofter folk had no actual baths for him to use. Well, the country folk have forgotten about that bath and its significance. Where do you wash when we camp here?” Granda asked. “In The King’s Bath, Granda,” I replied. “Exactly, so whenever someone calls you a tink or a mink, or a gyppo – you just remember you bathe like a king!”

His strength, the strength of our stories, stays with me. We belong to the land in a way no one else understands. This is how I began my journey to activism. I thought, what can I do to help people? What kept going through my mind was how I see going on the road compared to how country folk see it. I wanted to change people’s perspectives. I wanted to show them the Traveller community that I know. Not the litter-leaving, tarmac-laying, Big Fat Gypsy-marrying, stealing, cowboy builders that society purports us to be.

I wanted to show them the people who have a deep-rootedness as Indigenous people in Scotland. A rich oral culture, with our values, beliefs, superstitions and ancient songs. To show them the smiles, the laughs and affection that happen around a Traveller’s fire; the wonder in a child’s eyes as they are told of fairy queens, ghost pipers and dragons in caves.

I am now well known as a Traveller activist and campaigner, advocating for my community in everything from eviction notices to education rights. I work with the government – local, Scottish and UK – on policy and legislation, in the fight to ensure Travellers are treated equitably. I work with the BBC and other media outlets to ensure that Travellers have fair representation in the media. I also advocate internationally through the Council of Europe, facilitating training to educate and empower young activists from across the EU, as well as working on solution-focused approaches to nomadism so that Travellers may retain their ancient ability to be nomadic for future generations.

The ‘Queen Among the Heather’, Belle Stewart, a famous Scottish Traveller and ballad singer, uttered the immortal words, “Travellers will be with us until doomsday in the afternoon.”

In that spirit, until doomsday I won’t stop fighting for the inclusion and equality of my people.

Davie Donaldson is an activist and campaigner for the equality and inclusion of Scottish Travellers.

Issue 313

Resurgence & Ecologist


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