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.
A number of months ago, I tweeted the producer of a podcast, commenting that their Gaelic hillname pronunciation needed a bit of work. Fast forward a few months, and I find myself at the top of a Munro with a microphone in my face, and said producer quizzing me on hillnames, Gaelic and lots between.
Mountain started life in November last year, created and hosted by journalist and producer Christopher Sleight. I’ve been giving Chris help in his pronunciation of Gaelic placenames and hillnames for a few different episodes of the podcast.
Back to the hill in question. Beinn Dòbhrain is a well-known and easily accessed Munro, off the West Highland Way in Bridge of Orchy. From the road heading north, it rises to an almost perfect triangle, just asking to be climbed. For Gaelic speakers, it’s best known as the subject of Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain, a praise poem by a renowned Gaelic poet, Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir. It was written over 200 years ago, but the descriptions of the landscape and environment are as fitting as they ever were.
There can’t be many places where you can take a poem and follow the path of the poet exactly as described. We did just that a couple of weeks ago, Chris, myself and my partner Paul. The sun shone, there were no midges and the views were fantastic. I don’t know the first thing about radio or podcast production, so it was a pleasure getting an insight to how it all works. I do know now that it is deeply nerve-wracking being recorded, and it’s essential to have both moral support (thanks, Paul!) and a patient producer (thanks, Chris!).
You can read an extract from the poem, both in Gaelic and an English translation, on the Scottish Poetry Library website here. The podcast hasn’t been published yet; I’ll post again when it’s live.
Walk Highlands have a route up and down the hill here.
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’)
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.
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
Coirean Coinnich – moss campion
Biastagan – beasties
Flùraichean – flowers
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.
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.
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.
It’s cold outside and in. My evenings are more free than they have been for a while. I have no great urge to be outside in the dark nights. This can only mean one thing: knitting.
When I’m busy working daytime and evening it’s hard to switch off for what little free time there is. In an effort to make the most of the restless energy I have at those times, I like to knit. It’s a productive act, but also one which takes me away from the computer screen. The same could be said of washing the dishes, but that’s much less fun. Here’s some things I’ve been working on for the past while.
Up-top is the pattern Grizzly by the Brown Stitch. My mum gave me some balls of lopi wool a while back (thanks, mum!) and I’ve had them waiting for a pattern to find them. And there it is! I love it already and am really enjoying knitting it. I’ve been pleased with the last few things I’ve finished, though haven’t loved the process so I’m extra-enjoying this one.
Hermaness Worsted by Gudrun Johnston. This I knitted with New Lanark aran yarn, leftovers which I’ve had in my stash for years. A nice pattern, though I felted it every-so-slightly as I blocked it, so it’s not shown off to its best.
Take Heart by Fiona Alice. This pattern was the only thing I bought at Edinburgh Yarn Festival, after seeing a lovely version of it at the designers’ stall. It’s probably my most favourite hat I’ve ever knitted. The cables represent a major knitting achievement for me – I neither enjoy knitting cables nor am I very good at them – so those with the pompom = joy. The first attempt at a pompom for this – my first pompom since I was wee – resulted in one virtually the size of my noggin so it’s hanging up on the wall instead. The one pictured is slightly more manageable.
After in excess of a year knitting it, I finally finished this hap. The pattern is A Hap for Harriet by Kate Davies. I really, really love the finished result of this, though I found the knitting a slog. I bought the yarn in Harris on a family holiday a few years ago. It’s lovely.
All projects ravelled here.
I find myself with a surprise free weekend. A trip north cancelled due to mother nature and father infrastructure rearing their ugly heads to make travel north of Edinburgh as difficult as possible. A day for quiet tasks, eating waffles and doing jobs which are days, weeks and in some cases months overdue. The less said about those the better.
With a new day job recently began I’m learning how to commute every day (top tip: don’t do it) and seeing as it’s now deep into Winter that is mostly in the dark. I listen to a lot of podcasts to keep me company and happily had an email read out on one I listen to recently. File this under ‘blatant self promotion’. Srsly is a great podcast on pop culture with thoughtful discussion and insights – recommended.
The light of the day has gone already. The past few months have been exhausting with working days extending into the night all too regularly. Today is not one of those days. I’m off to make the most of the rest of my Saturday. Namely, doing very little indeed. A rare treat.
A few weeks ago we headed north from my parents’ house, taking the road to Ullapool. After a browse in the shops and a bite to eat at the best deli in the north, we continued north to Inchnadamph.
The journey to Ullapool itself is beautiful, the landscape opening out to broad swathes of peat and lochain just a short distance west of the Black Isle. North of Ullapool the area abounds in astonishing geological features and tales of beasts from long ago found in caves.The landscape rewards those who get out of the car to explore, nooks and crannies everywhere to explore. How else would we have ever otherwise seen this incongruous wee church, tucked away from the roadside?
I’ve been doing my best to cling onto what little summery feeling there has been thisyear, but this walk down to Loch Assynt reminded me of what I like best at this time of year. It was breezy, on the chilly side but the air was beautifully clear. We pootled along by the loch, taking in the fossils lying casually on the shore. The hills had long since lost any greenery they might have had over the summer, but the heather was starting to come out. Driftwood on the shoreline had some colour of its own.
How I love Assynt, this place where various versions of the past – geological, archaeological, political – combine. Those who know it treasure it. Those who don’t are missing out.
Inchnadamph : Innis nan Damh
meaning, variously, a pasture, or an island or a stretch of green land.
Nan Damh: nan daf
meaning ‘of the deer’. The pastural, green land of the deer.
A long weekend spent in the trees, hills and sub-artic ‘tundra’ of the Cairngorms. Nearby the campsite there were exciting animals to be found, the likes of which we thought we might never see ‘in real life’. We both have a particular fondness for musk oxen, bison, elks and the like and lo, there they were just ahead of us!
Not to forget the vicuna, a smaller more dainty cousin of the llama and alpaca.
Above the campsite I witnessed a sundog for the first time one morning, and a red squirrel eating its breakfast just feet away the next.
We cycled around the lochans and through the trees – unintentionally going more off road than intended. There is so little of this remarkable native woodland left in the country that it’s easy to forget you’re in Scotland. If it wasn’t for the placenames and local accents around us, I could have thought I was in Canada or Scandinavia.
That feeling was emphasised further on the Monday morning when we did what most people do on a Monday – took some reindeer for a walk.
(Boris and his banana nose)
The reindeer have been in the Cairngorms for over 60 years, breeding and thriving in the sub-arctic environment. It was a magical experience getting to spend time in such close proximity to these placid, intelligent animals. They hardly make a noise save for occasional snuffling and the distinctive click of their heel tendons. While the nature of our visit was pre-determined, it’s a tantalising thought to be walking in the hills and come across a reindeer herd just grazing and going about their business in their natural environment. As I said, it’s easy to forget you’re in Scotland sometimes.