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!
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.
As the pile of job applications keeps growing and as my annual Winter cold takes an ever stronger grip on my sinuses, I thought I’d take a minute or two to round up some things I’ve been enjoying recently. There surely is no soul on this earth who enjoys filling in job applications with or without a cold.
It’s just a few days ’til the launch of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s always a feast of interesting, challenging and inspiring music and with some of the best horo-gheallaidh you could ask for in the Festival Club. I can’t wait!
I recently read The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson and was reminded of the beautiful and enigmatic works of Angus MacPhee. Some of these are on display in Kildonan Museum in South Uist; I’ve spent a lot of time entirely transfixed by them. The Silent Weaver does justice to the man and his work as well as setting it within the wider context of mental health care in the 20th century.
A winter walk to see in the New Year. We took a trip north, enjoying the snow, trees and frosty landscapes of the uplands around Blair Atholl. I love Perthshire at this time of year. Photos in this post from that walk.
Yesterday heralded the old new year (interesting article by Angus Peter Campbell in the link) so with that I wish you all bliadhna mhath ùr.
One of the pleasures of being back in Edinburgh is the opportunity to be out and about with company. Much as I enjoyed time spent largely on my own in Uist, going for walks or hikes with company was a less common event than I might have liked. It is a joy, then, to be visiting places with my partner that we’ve been planning on visiting for some time. Most recently this was the East Neuk of Fife. Despite years of living just a stones throw away in Edinburgh, I hardly know Fife. The East Neuk was every bit as lovely as I’d hoped it would be. We visited quite a few villages and have amassed another list of places to return to and visit for longer. Anstruther for more fish & chips and to visit the Fisheries Museum. Pittenweem, to explore inside St Fillans Cave. To see Elie at high tide.
Best of all, for me, was the sight, sound and smell of the East Neuk so perfectly fitted what is evoked by so many of the Fence Collective musicians. I thought of this song by HMS Ginafore, covered by James Yorkston, as I wandered around Pittenweem.
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