It is a’ Chèitean – May – the beginning of Summer. It’s warm, the sun is out, it’s pouring rain and there’s hail against the window. A Scottish Summer. I missed the chance to wash my face in the dew yesterday morning – perhaps not a bad thing given my current urban setting – so the chance of eternal youth will evade me for another year. I love this time of year. Despite the utterly bonkers weather we’ve got at the moment – snow on May day?? – the promise of what is to come is tantalising. A swallow flew above me today; surely not long now ’til the cuckoo sings and the skylark soars. I doubt I’ll come across either of the latter here in Edinburgh, but they for me are the ultimate sign of Summer arriving. Long days in the hills, no matter the weather, are just around the corner.
There have been some good days already and I like to remember back to this time in other years. There is bounty to be found in the hedgerows and hillsides and the promise of flowers still to come.
Là Buidhe Bealltainn dhuibh uile, as we Gaels say, – a very happy May day to you all, albeit a day late. You may notice the word Bealltainn there – the traditional way of referring to May Day. Edinburgh has a massive party up Calton Hill at this time of year to celebrate ‘Beltane’ as it’s called but the apparent traditions celebrated there with fire, drumming and lots of nudity doesn’t speak to me at all. I’ll stick with the morning dew of May Day instead.
Là Buidhe Bealltainn
Prounounced: laa boo-yih byal-tain. Always place your emphasis on the first syllable in the word.
Buidhe is the Gaelic word for yellow; imagine grasssy hillsides, verdant in the summer. It’s also used in sayings to express thanks and fortune.
Suddenly it’s June and we’re running headfirst into Summer. The open moorland has tipped over into green after shades of brown dominated Winter. Verges and lochans are ready to burst into a song of yellow with the first flag iris in bloom. Elsewhere, silverweed lies low on the roadsides, shimmering in whatever sun it catches. It’s an unassuming plant but I’m fond of it and it has a revealing history.
In Gaelic, many things have more than one name and silverweed is no exception. It’s common name in brisgean (breesh-kun) but it’s ’poetic’ name is An Seachdamh Aran, literally meaning ‘the 7th bread’. It has been, in the recent past, relied on in times of famine to provide much needed sustenance. The root can be ground into a kind of flour from which bread can be made.
In the days before tatties, it was reputedly used extensively as a foodstuff, not just as a last resort. I’m not going to be digging up the verges to try it anytime soon but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried some.
More here by Ruaraidh MacLean for SNH.
Thank you, Islay House Community Garden, for providing me with a weekly bounty of delicious veg. Living costs are something near astronomical here on Islay, with shop and/or supermarket options very limited. Not having a car, working outside any of the villages with said shops, with the closest shop to home being closed on either side of work, opportunities to actually buy any bloody food are few and far between.
It comes as something of a revelation, then, to have the local community garden offer a service to deliver a weekly veg box, to my door, for the princely sum of £15. A lot of money on a tight-budget, but actually very competitively priced compared to, well, just about any shop on the island for equivalent amount of veg. I’ve been getting them for a wee while now and they have been, without exception, excellent.
So, to the delivery man I have never yet met, thank you for accepting my poorly-scribbled notes, my last-minute demands every week, and the entirely inconsistent method of payment. Visitors to Islay, do go along and support this fantastic community venture when you’re here. Locals, I hope you are already.