Forestry, lochs but no otters on Skye

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I’m fortunate enough to visit Skye on a fairly regular basis. Having family there means that in exchange for a spot of baby- and animal-sitting I’ve got free accommodation in one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. So far, so smug. But in realist, family comes first and so it is that most visits to the island don’t involve much sightseeing outwith our own wee area. Even so, there are still places nearby which have eluded us on multiple visits. One of these was,  the Forestry Commission Scotland visitor hide at Kylerhea, famed for expansive views, otters and being right next to the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland.

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The surroundings are impressive, we didn’t see much in terms of wildlife. Even so, within the side there was a wealth of interpretation and information about what we *could* have been looking at. The slight sting of disappointment aside, I was taken aback by just now how good the interpretation panels were. The south of Skye, Sleat specifically, is home to a really strong community which has been at the heart of the Gaelic language and cultural renaissance over the past 40 years. Even so, it’s possible to go to many, many places across Skye and not see a word of it.

I think my cynicism was out in full force when we went to Kylerhea as I was so taken aback by the bilingual interpretation that I just stood going “look! look how good this is! Look! Are you looking?” rather than just letting my partner enjoy the views and read as he wished.

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The interpretation uses Gaelic in a way that isn’t just accurate but really meaningful to the language and the inherent connection it has to the landscape. This isn’t just a translation of one piece of text to another but has Gaelic at its heart; it is the place itself that it speaks of. It helps the visitor understand what it is about Gaelic that is important to the surroundings. It’s all very well and good providing the English translation of a Gaelic place-name, but why should anyone care about the name in its original language? Here, such questions were answered, explaining the value of understanding even a little of the language. It’s precisely the kind of thing I’m forever wittering on about to anyone who’ll listen so it’s incredibly edifying to see a national organisation doing the same. I think my favourite aspect of it is that there is no song or dance made about it – it is simply the interpretation that works best for the subject matter, location and the wider landscape. That in itself seems too often a forgotten consideration at so many sites.

Top marks to the Forestry for taking this approach – it’s one that many other places would do well to follow.

– Apologies for the dodgy quality of photos in this post; they were taken on my mobile phone in a fit of excitement with little consideration given to their public usage.

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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