My professional life is working to promote, enable greater access to and ultimately celebrate the Gaelic cultural heritage of this island. My work has many different aspects to it, but of the different projects I’m working on a recurring theme is the long-standing relationship between Gaelic language and landscape. This week I led a session of the John Muir Award in Gaelic (Duais Iain Muir) at Gruinart, one of the island’s most bird-heavy areas, owned and managed as a working farm by the RSPB. My session focused on Gaelic terminology for birds and the landscape, but we also took a walk through some trees of indeterminate age.
There was a fantastic array of lichens growing, and buds appearing in earnest. My own tree knowledge is very limited, and my identification skills even worse, but there is a fantastically rich tradition of treelore in the Gaidhealtachd. So much so that each letter in the Gaelic alphabet (there are 18 letters) is named after a tree. It harks back to a landscape much more heavily tree-ed than a lot of the Highlands are today (at least, with indigenous trees and not forestry plantations), and goes some way to indicate how significantly the landscape has changed. I’ve some serious learning to do to be able to identify even half the species in the alphabet, but I enjoyed the trees at Gruinart, and the micro-habitats the trees themselves create.