Last gasp of winter

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I cannot sleep. I’m not sure why. Ordinarily I don’t have this problem. I’ve slept through neighbouring houses being struck by lightning (Black Isle, 2000), a marching pipe band rehearsing outside my window (Aberdeen, 2003), waves crashing against the front door (Black Isle, 2005 + Islay, 2012), 90mph winds against my window (Uist, 2014) and the countless, endless noises that come with years of city-living. But at the moment not even the relative silence of suburbia I find myself in can help me sleep.

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This morning I stood awake at 4am, alone, quietly watching the weather outside. I felt like some auld fisherwoman, waiting for her man to return from the high seas. Despite it being the middle of the night, in Scotland, in February, it was quite bright. We are experiencing a late winter burst of weather complete with snow. The snow clouds working hard above us have an almost luminous effect; I find it irresistible.

Later, at an hour most would regard as a bit more human, I went out for a walk with my partner. It was real daytime, not the middle of the night, but that strange snow-light remained, bathing us in the gloom, surrounding us with drifting snow showers.

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I appreciate that unpredictable weather must be a hindrance to so many people, but I adore it. I take little more pleasure than wrapping up for a walk and facing the weather head-on. At those times I feel less like an auld fisherwoman and more like an intrepid explorer. Perhaps I will sleep tonight, cocooned safely from the great white outdoors.

According to Dwelly, February was once, somewhere, referred to as am mìos garbh-fhrasachthe month abounding in boisterous showers. It seems fitting to think of it as such today.

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That was 2017

Snowman at the bridge

The sun has set on another year and this blog has been sat unloved and under-utilised for some months. It has not been forgotten about in entirety, with plenty bits written here and there in different notebooks, just nothing which has made it online. Earlier in December I bought myself a horrifyingly expensive lovely diary for 2018. My stationery needs are always quite particular, but even by my usual standards this was expensive. My diary is the only thing I never forget on a daily basis as with two jobs and various other commitments I otherwise would never know where I am ever supposed to be so I keep justifying the purchase to myself with that inmind. This particular diary comes with a nice feature – a weekly page for scribbles in which I thought I could attempt to piece together thoughts on the various subjects listed on my about page. After all, that was always the intention with maintaining this tiny corner of the internet. Whether or not any of it will make it online is another matter but one can try. Or at least try and convince myself it will happen with thoughts of “a year from now I will have done so much“. We shall see.

Wishing anyone reading this a happy new year and that 2018 treats us all with a little more grace and kindness than 2017 has. If anyone needs me, I’ll be hibernating for a few days yet reading some Winter Tales, rediscovering my knitting mojo and eating my body weight in the last remaining festive foodstuffs.

Bliadhna mhath ùr nuair a thig i.

Knitting in progress

Winter Tales

Oidhche Challain + the old New Year

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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.

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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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile – happy new year to you all.

 

Foxglove: the thimble of death

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I was always warned as a child about the dangers of foxglove. Mum and dad told me not to touch the flowers, and definitely never to pick the plant, no matter how bonny. Despite the warnings, the temptation was always strong – the colour, shape and size, the sheer number of them out through the summer. Speaking to a friend recently, it was funny to hear her tales of an almost pathological desire to stick her fingers in the flower heads as a kid, despite similar repeated warnings from her parents. I’ve still never picked a foxglove stem, or touched one of the flowers, though I do still think they are one of the bonniest plants growing just now.

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I like the English name foxglove in itself, but Gaelic has some great names too. In fact, there are a few different names for this plant depending who you ask (and where they’re from), and they’re all interesting.

Foxglove,  digitalis purpurea

Cìoch nam cailleachean marbha
kee-och nam call-yech-an marv-uh
The dead women’s breast


Lus nam ban sìth
looss nam bahn shee
The fairy’s flower. Fairies were not always benevolent visitors in Gaelic tradition.


Meuran a’ bhàis

mee-uh-run a vaa-ish
The thimble of death. Meuran means thimble here but otherwise usually means a branch.

Commonly used words in Gaelic that might you might see elsewhere: cailleach (old woman; uncomplimentary); lus (plant or flower); marbh (dead).

These names say something of the mythology and folklore attached to foxglove; the dangers or potential medicinal use of the plant would have been well known. It’s not for no reason that a plant name would be so connected to death. What better way to warn children of the potential danger than to call it Cìoch nam cailleachean marbha?

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All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons except the lead image which is © Copyright Linda and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

A meeting in a little hollow

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It’s getting into summer proper, so that means more time in the hills and more time staring at what’s beneath my feet. Last weekend I spent a good day walking in Argyll (more on that soon), taking great pleasure in the biastagan and flùraichean that popped out to say hello.

A cloudy and drizzly start to the day soon cleared up, leaving blue skies, few clouds and just enough of a breeze. Of the flùraichean that were about, I spotted moss campion and bog cotton with almost entirely dead heads – a sign of how dry things have been the past few weeks.Moss campion is called Coirean Coinnich in Gaelic, which if you pick apart, becomes a meeting (coinnich) in a little hollow (coire, like the anglicised ‘corrie’)

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Of the biastagan spotted, my favourites was this daolag and many losgannan, in fact the place was positively losgannach – abounding in frogs. I know so little about beetles that I can’t even begin to know where to name this one – online ID guides have lost me. Can anyone help? That’s a 1:25,000 map it’s on, so a perfect scale. I’m quite taken by the colour; we all were. The less said about the poor thing scrabbling about on the plastic surface the better, though. We didn’t keep it for long.

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Daolag – beetle
Duh-luck. The -ao here is not easily replicated, as it’s just not a sound that exists in English. It’s somewhere between the sounds duh and doo.

Losgannan – frogs
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Coirean Coinnich – moss campion
caw-ren conn-yeech

Biastagan – beasties
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Flùraichean – flowers
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