Last time I was writing here here I was living in what seemed like a snowglobe. The small town in which I live was cut off from its neighbouring city for many days meaning there was no option but to switch off and enjoy the dramatic weather. Since then another two seasons have passed and I’m staring Autumn in the face. It has been a busy spring and summer with the pressure of working two jobs equating to a 40+ hour working week (in a good week) taking its toll. There has not been very much extra brain space to maintain this online space, far less write anything of use, interest or purpose.
But so it is that a few things have happened in a past little while that have had my mind turning to the niche subject I’ve spoken about here before: Gaelic language and the landscape, heritage, interpretation…
Firstly, I visited a site I hadn’t been to in 20 years and reminded myself of what it is that I love so much about archaeology. It isn’t the ‘strong personalities’ of people who have been in the sector almost twice as long as I’ve been alive, nor is it often incestuous working relationships between different organisations. It’s the sheer majesty of a place like Glenelg, the monumentality of a broch and the pure enigma of a place where we still, ultimately, don’t truly know what was going on. It’s the childlike sense of arriving somewhere, looking at something and thinking “woah, I wonder…”. That experience is missing in the daily grind of my working life and how to go about recapturing it more frequently is evading me at the moment.
Secondly, coming across and being involved in discussions of the use of Gaelic in relation to promoting heritage. I have a lot of thinking to do on this subject but I’ve seen a few instances recently of Gaelic-related resources being promoted in good faith but with a use of language (in English) which implies an othering which makes me really uncomfortable. I’m thinking out loud here as much as anything so, no, I’m not naming and shaming (at this point) though the promotional activity has always been from an organisation not an individual. Is it a matter of poor choice of words (likely), a lack of knowledge or understanding (also likely), ill feeling and/or lack of respect (hopefully not) ? Is it simply a case of Gaels being misrepresented (again) and therefore the language and culture, too? I’m not sure where these thoughts are going or, really, ultimately where the fault lies but I know I’ve been feeling deeply uncomfortable – both as a Gael and as a heritage professional.
To end on a happier note, the interpretation panels at Glenelg are great – and Gaelic-led! – fitting nicely into the site without distracting from the sheer awe-inducing nature of the site. They’re far from brand new but do everything you want a panel to do, and bilingually as well.
A long weekend spent in Kilmartin Glen, wandering among stone mounds many thousands of years old. Hours spent staring at rock carvings of unknown meaning, if any at all. Time spent in a landscape once the centre of the old kingdom of Dalriada.
It is a magnificent place. There’s a well-publicised walk that’ll take you through the ‘linear cemetery’ of Kilmartin Glen in a few hours. It takes in sites spanning thousands of years of prehistory- burial tombs, standing stones, decorated stone. From one site you can see another, sheep and cattle grazing, and Kilmartin village at the head of the glen. Our Victorian predecessors planted trees around many of the sites, today leaving carpet of bluebells under the rustling leaves.
The landscape today is vastly different to how it would have looked to those planning, building and using these sites in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. It’s well managed today, with grazing and Forestry plantations dominant. What struck me visiting these places is that then, in prehistory, it was a landscape put to a particular, determined purpose, and the same is still true today. Whether farmers, the Forestry, or tourists like us, out walking taking in the sights. Particular, determined purposes.
Kilmartin Museum has produced an excellent guide to walks in the area, which includes a thorough run through of the walk mentioned above.
Dunadd or Dùn Ad, the fort of the river Add. Standing clear among the surrounding landscape, this little hill holds a place of great significance: it was the royal centre of the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada, way back when Scotland wasn’t even really Scotland at all. The fortified hilltop has a well (now dry), clear ramparts still visible, and right at the top a footprint said to have been used in the inaugration of kings. It’s easy to get carried away with the romance of the place – I absolutely did.
If the shoe fits… So mine did, and I proclaimed my place as Queen of Scotland as my first cuckoo of the year sang its merry heart out. But I’m a republican and there’s no place for a Queen of Scotland these days. So downwards we went, relishing the view over this remarkable landscape. What a perfect start to a wonderful weekend in Kilmartin Glen – more to follow.
Further reading on Dunadd, with actual facts and things: From Historic Scotland & The University of Glasgow.
If you happen to find yourself in Barra on your birthday, as I did recently, I recommend a trip to Kisimul Castle. The plan was originally to climb Rueval, but the rain came in, as did the mist. So, to Kisimul we went instead.
I was surprised by how little interpretation there was throughout the castle. Historic Scotland are not known for their lack of information panels – often quite the reverse. It’s nice being able to visit an historic site and to discover details in your own time, but equally having almost nothing to tell you about the place seems a bit sparse.
It’s a great wee castle. It’s currently being looked after by Historic Scotland, though belongs to the MacNeil family. It is, and was, the seat of the clan MacNeil and still holds a draw for MacNeils around the world. I don’t place much importance on what little remains of the clan system today but it’s easy to see why people would want to travel a distance to visit here.
There’s fantastic history to see at Kisimul, even more enticing by the fact that the early records were lost in a fire, so we know relatively little today. This is despite the castle’s stature and important place within the Medieval period.
If you’re in need of scran when you’re in Castlebay, Cafe Kisimul is delicious. Even better if you’re not paying. Hooray! http://www.cafekisimul.co.uk
I have but two weeks left on Islay. As a result the next couple of weeks will be met with packing, tidying, and trying to see some final sights for the first time or indeed the last time.
An inevitable part of leaving Islay is packing up the belongings I took with me and those I’ve amassed since being here (far greater in number than I care to admit). One item that’ll not be leaving Islay with me are my beloved old walking boots. These were given to me as a birthday present in 2006. They’ve seen me through excavating thousands of years of human detritus in Wales, East Lothian, Skye, Mull, Uist… They’ve seen me through walking hundreds upon hundreds of miles in just about every corner of Scotland, climbing hills innumerable, and every holiday or day trip I’ve been on in the past 7 years.
Having been subjected to every weather imaginable, a few too many submerges in seawater and countless bogs, as well as clumsy wielding of spades, trowels and mattocks, they have long since been rendered not-fit-for-purpose. So, out they go. They have served me well and these photos are for posterity as much as anything. I hope their successors can serve me just as well. Forgive the unnecessary emotional attachment to a pair of boots, but I’m sure any walker or hiker will appreciate the singular role that a good pair of boots plays.
Yesterday I took a trip to Bridgend woods. It will likely be the last time I get the opportunity to visit this patch of lush, verdant trees so I took my time and made the most of it (this may or may not have had anything to do with the next bus not being due for hours). Either way, it was lovely and unexpectedly quiet. The leaves have started to turn so I know that it’s nearly time to leave. When I arrived on Islay the leaves had already mostly fallen. Mixed feelings on leaving here, but I’m sure I’ll come to that again anon.
Housekeeping note: this site is being tidied up over the next wee while too, so please forgive any glitches in the meantime.