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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Seat of All Seats, the latest episode of Mountain podcast, featuring yours truly, is now live. Head on over to the site to hear the host, Chris, and myself, discuss how Gaelic can helps walkers and climbers understand the landscape. It was a fun day out and I think that comes across in the episode.
It’s a pleasure to spend time in the hills with someone so knowledgeable and so passionate about what they do. Thank you, Chris, for the opportunity.
Obviously, I’m biased, but I think Mountain is a great podcast worthy of your listening time. You can hear older episodes here.
Deep in the depths of Winter it seems interminable: the grey skies that Edinburgh is so fond of aren’t going anywhere soon. There is a dampness in the air that seeps into every bone of your body. I’m fairly certain the sun hasn’t risen in about a month, and I’m not sure it will for another month yet. Late last summer we took a trip to Provence – a holiday I’d dreamed of for years – and not only saw some sun, but felt the warmth on our faces and toes. It was glorious. In these cold, dark days of January it’s a soothing thought to think back to the holiday.
We visited villages full of beautiful craftsmanship, both old and contemporary. Markets in abundance with local produce, fruit, veg, cheese, charcuterie, all from within a stones throw of our accommodation. Thank you forever to the man who gave us a melon for nothing and the person who helped us translate what ‘spicy’ was to old stallholder and the man who gave us the most expensive cheese I’d ever bought but also the absolute best. At every turn there were glorious colours in the landscapes, from the lushest verdant greens to deepest red ochres.
Despite the guidebooks saying how popular the region is for British and continental visitors, we hardly herd another non-French voice. Locals assumed we too were local (surely a great compliment?), though it quickly came apparent that wasn’t the case as my rusty Higher French was all we had to see us through.
I spent so long in anticipation of this holiday that I was worried I’d made a bed for myself. How highly can you hype a holiday before you get sick of it yourself? But there was nothing to worry about. I’m off to look at my photos again and remember what it feels like to be warm in the sun.