Inspired by Islay

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Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).

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Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter  and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeopleavian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.

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Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.

For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.

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A meeting in a little hollow

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It’s getting into summer proper, so that means more time in the hills and more time staring at what’s beneath my feet. Last weekend I spent a good day walking in Argyll (more on that soon), taking great pleasure in the biastagan and flùraichean that popped out to say hello.

A cloudy and drizzly start to the day soon cleared up, leaving blue skies, few clouds and just enough of a breeze. Of the flùraichean that were about, I spotted moss campion and bog cotton with almost entirely dead heads – a sign of how dry things have been the past few weeks.Moss campion is called Coirean Coinnich in Gaelic, which if you pick apart, becomes a meeting (coinnich) in a little hollow (coire, like the anglicised ‘corrie’)

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Of the biastagan spotted, my favourites was this daolag and many losgannan, in fact the place was positively losgannach – abounding in frogs. I know so little about beetles that I can’t even begin to know where to name this one – online ID guides have lost me. Can anyone help? That’s a 1:25,000 map it’s on, so a perfect scale. I’m quite taken by the colour; we all were. The less said about the poor thing scrabbling about on the plastic surface the better, though. We didn’t keep it for long.

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Daolag – beetle
Duh-luck. The -ao here is not easily replicated, as it’s just not a sound that exists in English. It’s somewhere between the sounds duh and doo.

Losgannan – frogs
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Coirean Coinnich – moss campion
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Biastagan – beasties
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Flùraichean – flowers
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Cairngorms, camping, cycling and some reindeer

A long weekend spent in the trees, hills and sub-artic ‘tundra’ of the Cairngorms. Nearby the campsite there were exciting animals to be found, the likes of which we thought we might never see ‘in real life’. We both have a particular fondness for musk oxen, bison, elks and the like and lo, there they were just ahead of us!

Not to forget the vicuna, a smaller more dainty cousin of the llama and alpaca.

Above the campsite I witnessed a sundog for the first time one morning, and a red squirrel eating its breakfast just feet away the next.

We cycled around the lochans and through the trees – unintentionally going more off road than intended. There is so little of this remarkable native woodland left in the country that it’s easy to forget you’re in Scotland. If it wasn’t for the placenames and local accents around us, I could have thought I was in Canada or Scandinavia.

That feeling was emphasised further on the Monday morning when we did what most people do on a Monday – took some reindeer for a walk.

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(Boris and his banana nose)

The reindeer have been in the Cairngorms for over 60 years, breeding and thriving in the sub-arctic environment. It was a magical experience getting to spend time in such close proximity to these placid, intelligent animals. They hardly make a noise save for occasional snuffling and the distinctive click of their heel tendons. While the nature of our visit was pre-determined, it’s a tantalising thought to be walking in the hills and come across a reindeer herd just grazing and going about their business in their natural environment. As I said, it’s easy to forget you’re in Scotland sometimes.

It’s Spring…somewhere

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetThe 50mph gale currently blowing and heavy rain over the past two days is trying to hide the fact that, despite Mother Nature’s best efforts otherwise, Spring has sprung on Uist. There are daffodils (bent over in the wind), lambs (cowering in whatever shelter they can find) and all the birdsong you could hope to hear.DSC00427

I was excited to hear snipe calling last week. I’ve never, to my knowledge, seen one but it was a thrill to hear, especially as the drumming was echoing against the buildings near by. They’ve a few names in Gaelic, like so many things. The name I know for them is one of my favourite Gaelic bird names: gobhar-adhair. Pronounced in English like go-er ah-er (yes, most of the consonants are silent), the literal translation is ‘sky goat’. Never let it be said that the Gaels don’t have a sense of humour. DSC00418 DSC00440  DSC00371

Langass Woods

DSC00057Uist is not well known for its arboreal landscape. The ever-present wind and salty air straight off the sea make for a climate ill-fitted to trees. Instead, peat and sand dominate. I never consider myself to be a ‘tree’ person, but it’s only on walking around this small area of forest at Langass that I realised just how much I’ve missed them in the months living on Uist. DSC00069DSC00063The distinctive smell of pine, the mosses and lichens abounding on the forest floor and that glorious rustling of branches as the wind blows through them. Yes – I enjoyed being back in a wood very much.

DSC00070DSC00067DSC00065 - CopyThis area of forestry was first planted in the late 1960s, using species known to thrive in similar climates in North America. Since then, it’s been developed further, been taken into community ownership and has seen numbers of small birds previously uncommon on North Uist increase in this area.
stamps at LangaisArtists and community groups have worked to develop a trail of stamps to collect along the path through the trees, each bilingual and creating poetry as you collect them. It’s a lovely touch – especially with an important stamp celebrating perhaps Uist’s most famous ever resident, a fine statue of whom stands at the end of the trail.
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www.langasswoods.co.uk