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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Holidays on Skye: Loch Coruisk

Fifteen years of visiting Skye and last week I went to Loch Coruisk for the first time. Accessible only by boat from Elgol or a long, long trek from Sligachan on the other side of Skye, it’s something of a feat to get there at all. Add three toddlers, a dog and some adults into the equation and the logistics go out the window. We made it, though, and it was worth every ounce of effort.

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We went with Misty Isle Boat Trips – a local company operating tours daily from Elgol. Going in an uncovered boat was great – 360 degree views there and back. We saw a basking shark, gannets, common seals. Apparently minke whales had been seen the day before. It was busy but the atmosphere was great. What a beautiful bit of the world this is! It’s humbling to be in a landscape where people are rendered so insignificant by the sheer scale of their surroundings.

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Note to self: don’t run out of camera batteryhalfway through the trip. Thank you to my sister who kindly loaned me hers instead.

Canalside – Edinburgh

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As I write this, I’m occupying a small space in the canalside area of Edinburgh. The canalside is within the city centre, occupying a space within the neighbouring areas of Fountainbridge, Polwarth, Viewforth and Tollcross. The canal offers a space within the city that is quiet, green and community-driven.

I’ve been living in this area for a few years now and have seen radical changes in my surrounding landscape. Abandoned and derelict brewery buildings have been demolished to make way for shiny new student accommodation;  a new school is in the early stage of being built; a community garden has been opened in a former wasteland. Community-led initiatives are in place to hopefully stop mass office space being built and left empty like in so many other areas of the city, and instead develop some projects which will be of social and cultural value for the area.

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New heritage panels

While this area of Edinburgh has lots of individual neighbourhoods, the canal itself acts as a cohesive entity between them all. People from all the surrounding areas feel a sense of ownership over this place, contributing to community events and using as a fundamental part of their everyday lives. I really hope this continues as the area is further regenerated.

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Shawl detail from illustration on the textile panel

It’s a pleasure to have been a resident here for the past few years, and while I’m largely living and working away from the area at the moment, I take great joy in when I am able to return for a visit. One such visit earlier this summer coincided with the annual canal festival: a day of music, local producer and business stalls, boat trips, raft races and many, many dogs.

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I saw these interpretive panels for the first time at the festival having been told about them by my partner, and assured that I’d like them. He was right – I do. There have been semi-regular exhibits along this stretch of cladding for a while now, usually contributed by local school or community groups. The RCAHMS and Lost Edinburgh sites have good records of how the canal once looked (with this area near the basin looking particularly different now from how it did a generation ago) but there is scant information about the historic industry available along the canal itself. These panels are a great step, then, in making some of that rich history available to locals and visitors passing through.

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The panels are nicely presented – clear, concise, beautifully illustrated and well-used subtle colour to differentiate pockets of information. They are exclusively visual, though. It’d be great to see more of this kind of work employed as the area continues to redevelop and grow, hopefully with some audio or hands-on elements to engage different audiences.

I’ve not long left in Edinburgh before flitting again, but it’s an exciting prospect to come back and see more changes next time I’m here. For some photos of just further along the canal, see the gorgeous blog at Reform Lane here.

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Boats on the loch

One of my favourite blogs has a semi-regular feature called Ships in the Sound, detailing recent sightings of various kind of vessel passing through the sound of Mull. I always really enjoy these. As is evidenced by this very blog, I love being on the coast and like seeing what’s doing on the water, wherever I am. To this end, I thought I’d share some boats that have been moored and passing by out on Loch Indaal. There’s not been a lot of activity for most of my time here, beyond the regular big tankers that serve a nearby distillery, but the good weather recently seems to have brought my wee section of the loch to life.

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A few nights ago I saw what looked like a long strip of disco lights on the horizon between the mouth of Loch Indaal the tip of Rathlin Island. A peek through the binoculars showed it to be this boat, fully lit up on her way to Portree. No photos unfortunately but take my word for it – massive!