For a few years now Staffin in the north of Skye has been host to a residential course called Àrainneachd, Cànan is Dualchas, meaning the Scottish Gaelic language, nature and the environment. I’ve been eyeing it up for a while now – the title alone screams “come to me” (all that’s missing is ‘yarn’). What is interesting about this course is that it is for folk who have Gaelic already. There are lots of resources available on the landscape and language for folk who aren’t fluent or native speakers (like those I’ve mentioned before) and of course these can be used by fluent speakers as well. But the benefit of having a course for fluent speakers is the depth in which the subject can be explored, without the additional time needed for context and explanation. The course is led by acknowledged Gaelic expert, Ruairidh MacLean, with classes held in the Columba 1400 centre in Staffin. Time spent in the landscape is a vital part of the course, and a focus on particular themes giving participants the chance to see and experience first-hand how the language and landscape intertwine.
The Central Belt is home to increasing numbers of Gaelic speakers, but with urban and suburban surroundings being so different to the traditional Gaelic-speaking areas, I think courses like this one are increasingly important. Our language is so connected to the landscape that any opportunity to explore those connections should we welcomed with open arms. For me, time spent out in the landscape identifying plants, animals and landmarks is the best way to spend a day, or five. Unfortunately I can’t make the course this year but I’ll be saving up for next year.
Full details of the course are available on their website: https://acisd.wordpress.com/
With thanks to Sìne of Urras na Taobh Sear and Ruairidh for their patience and helpfulness in answering my many emails about the course; gach beannachd dhuibh!
Almost every corner of Scotland has got some evidence of Gaelic in its place-names. Sometimes this is really obvious, other times it’s somewhat more obscure. The Gàidhealtachd – the traditionally Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland – is, as you would expect, rich in Gaelic place-names . These often carry stories and speak of the history of the place, though sometimes their meaning or origin has been lost. Understanding, researching and dissecting them is an ongoing artform and a point of interest for both lay audiences and academics for a long, long time.
For a number of years now an organisation called Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA; Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland) have been researching these, and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to produce bilingual booklets disseminating place-names of particular locales. Their latest release is Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay. Previous editions have focused on Islay and Jura, the North-West Highlands, Strath (Isle of Skye), the Rough Bounds of Lochaber and Gaelic + Norse in the landscape. Each of these publications is beautifully illustrated and – crucially – free to download. I’m really looking forward to delving into the Colonsay and Oronsay booklet, not least to remind me of lovely trips there a few years back.
As well as being really interesting to both researchers and the general audience alike, publications such as these, and the work of AÀA, are crucial to increasing awareness of Gaelic. They are accessible, informed and easy to digest, and provide an important route to understanding how our surroundings and language have shaped each other.
Some Colonsay and Oronsay names which have jumped out at me:
Sruthan na h-Ulaidhe – the stream of the treasure
Uragaig – bay with rock-strewn beach (Norse in origin)
Uinneag Eircheil – Hercules’ window
You can find all the booklets on the SNH website here. The AÀA database is ever-increasing in entries and worth spending a few minutes exploring. Siuthadabh – enjoy!
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!).
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, craftspeople, avian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.
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.
Bliadhna mhath ùr! Happy new year! No, you’re not going mad, for it is the 12th of January and the new year; the old new year, that is. In Gaelic tradition, the New Year begins now, with candles lit in each window the night before to welcome in the new year. It’s not a tradition much observed any more, but I make a quiet note of it to myself each year. Oidhche Challain – Hogmanay – would see ceilidhs and first footing undertaken, tales told and songs sung. Different areas would have their own particular traditions to see out the old year; this article mentions some Uist specialities.
As my dad always reminds me, it is from this point onwards in the year that each day lengthens by a cockerel’s step:’ceum coileach air an latha’. It’s a good thought to bear in mind when the weather is unforgiving and the darkness rarely lifts.
The photos in this post are (top – bottom) from Blair Atholl, the East Neuk, North Uist and Islay. Each one reminds me of how beautiful a change in light can make a scene, whether Winter or Summer.
Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile – happy new year to you all.
In the twelve months since searching for the elusive perfect yarn to suit the tastes, needs and desires of my friend Claire (see my last post), as well as my own knitterly preferences, an abundance of producers have opened their doors selling yarns from the Highlands and Islands. This is fantastic news. The Highlands historically have suffered from an ageing population, poor infrastructure and resources unable to support small or start-up businesses and a brain-drain from population movement to the south and further beyond where there are greater job opportunities. So whenever a new business starts up that I’m able to support, in whatever capacity, I try my best to do so. In this case it’s local yarns, and as a result, local farmers, crofters, spinners, dyers and salespeople (and of course, the various people otherwise employed as a result of the process).
A few years back, when I lived in Uist, I attended a course on wool processing – we graded fleece by hand, learning the individual qualities, and what is/is not desirable depending on intended use. We spun by hand (or at least others did, I sat watching with envy unable to master even the basics) and had a thorough introduction to the heritage mill machinery they use. Since then, Uist Wool has launched their yarns to the world, as well as having built a new wool store and employed dedicated staff to take the whole enterprise forward. It is a wonderful organisation for so many reasons, and I would thoroughly recommend a look at their site and gorgeous Gaelic yarn names. They are going to be at EYF this year and I forsee not being able to resist buying it all. I’m particularly excited by the Geòla 5-ply yarn and would love to make a geansaidh (gansey) out of it – a long-term knitting goal of mine.
Closer to (my) home, Black Isle Yarns started very recently, having just launched their online store in December 2016. I grew up in the Black Isle, so to see this name pop up in my twitter and instagram feeds was really exciting – for an area so fertile and full of active farms there hasn’t been much in the way of local yarns. I’ve heard word of the Black Isle Brewery also producing jerseys from local sheep yarn but haven’t yet visited to find out more.
I can’t wait to get my paws on some of these yarns to knit with. The closest I have at the moment is the yarn pictured in the first photo at the top of the post – yarn I received from an old colleague in Uist who was also part of the mill’s training programme. She gave me it as a leaving present and I treasure it. It is a bouncy, squisky DK cheviot with which I’m making a simple jersey at the moment. I think it’ll be lovely. Here’s to people making yarns from and of their surroundings.
Before the turn-off to Ardalanish, this is the view on the road south through Mull.
When my friend, Claire, asked me to knit her a shawl for her wedding (or did I offer? I can’t remember, doesn’t matter) I thought it would be important to use a yarn with some meaning behind it. She did too, so I took the interweb to find something. Claire and I became friends at school in the Highlands. As we both now live in the deep south (read: the Central Belt) I thought it fitting to use a yarn from the Highlands, an extra reminder of a part of her life and an area important to her.
In my head, I had ideas of locality, provenance and sustainability. I live close to multiple yarn shops, attended a fantastic yarn event focused on British yarns, consulted the excellent KnitBritish site, asked on Ravelry… But in the end I still couldn’t find anything that fitted my particular needs: yarn from the Highlands (and/or Islands), made in the area from local sheep. There were plenty of ‘almost’ options (namely Buachaille, Ripples Crafts , Alice Starmore and Shilasdair) but none of the combined right weight, texture, colour or origin for the task. In the end, it was a yarn from a place well-known to me that won out: Ardalanish, Mull. Their aran weight blue-faced leicester yarn had already been discontinued by the time I tried to order it (having originally spotted a few stray balls of it in a Glasgow yarn shop) but after a frantic online and in-person search I was able to source a solitary remaining cone from a local yarn shop. It is a beautiful yarn, and I was delighted with the finished result of the shawl. So was Claire, which ultimately was more important than anything. Plus, it helped keep her warm which is handy for a winter wedding.
(P.s The photos here are of Claire’s shawl, in progress and finished, but before blocking. The photographers caught some snaps of her wearing her shawl on the big day, which you can see here.)
(P.p.s It was early 2016 that I started searching for the yarn, before a plethora of businesses opened producing precisely what I was after. Brill! More on them next post.)
I spent Hogmanay afternoon walking through the city centre, feeling unutterably scunnered with Edinburgh. The city turns into a theme park at this time of year, with large sections barricaded off and constant disruption for anyone just trying to get from A to B. Needless to say, the festive cheer I was clinging onto from Christmas had long gone.
So I went home. The hours passed, some fireworks went off. Wine was drank, sleep was had, the calendar changed. By contrast, the following day, lots of venues across the Old Town were transformed into tasters of places beyond the city limits. Music, video, dance and participation in islands, rural communities and places elsewhere. This is precisely what I needed this New Year; to think of being anywhere else. That this was delivered so nicely to me, and the thousands others in attendence, through beautiful venues in the heart of Edinburgh is suitably ironic. I wished only to escape but ultimately the best of other places was brought to me through this frustrating but peerless city.
My favourite event of the day came from Sea Bird:Land, hosted by An Lanntair in Stornoway. Turas is Tumadh; sounds of the sea, coast, boats with a video projection and live score by Aidan O’Rourke and pals.
Some links for anyone interested:
Full info on the Scot:Lands event here.
A review by Sarah Laurenson of the Tumadh : Immersion exhibition held in 2014.
Bliadhna mhath ùr – happy new year – to one and all.
Visiting Skye, taking the opportunity to see places from land we’ve only seen by boat before. Neist Point is dramatic and impressive. We took advantage of some puffin-spotting (some, not many), seeing guillemots nesting, fulmars calling around us and the occasional gannet diving into the sea.
The wind hardly blew a breath. As we hung over the edge of the cliffs to see the birds, the waves crashed in the caves beneath us. A glorious sound.
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.
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.
Note to self: don’t run out of camera batteryhalfway through the trip. Thank you to my sister who kindly loaned me hers instead.
Being back in the city grind and with a few weeks of no escape, I can’t help but think of the landscape and open stretches of the Highlands and Islands. The word cianalas about sums up how I’m feeling at the moment. A combination of homesickness, melancholy, and general longing for a place or, as in my case just now, places and culture. Day-to-day life in Edinburgh doesn’t afford me the opportunity to be as immediately absorbed in Gaelic culture and heritage as I was in the islands so I need to be making more of an effort. It seems fitting that on a dreich day in the city the only word that sums up how I’m feeling is a Gaelic one.
Cianalas – kʲiənəLəs – ke-en-alas.
Photos from misc. places in Uist, about this time last year.
Elsewhere, mostly unrelated:
Edinburgh Yarn Festival is coming up; I’m really looking forward to it.
The Danish Diaspora exhibition in Haddington looks very much worth a visit (Nikolai and Beka Globe’s Mission House Studio in Harris is wonderful).
Ernest journal is a relatively new find for me but I’m enjoying it very much.