Last time I was writing here here I was living in what seemed like a snowglobe. The small town in which I live was cut off from its neighbouring city for many days meaning there was no option but to switch off and enjoy the dramatic weather. Since then another two seasons have passed and I’m staring Autumn in the face. It has been a busy spring and summer with the pressure of working two jobs equating to a 40+ hour working week (in a good week) taking its toll. There has not been very much extra brain space to maintain this online space, far less write anything of use, interest or purpose.
But so it is that a few things have happened in a past little while that have had my mind turning to the niche subject I’ve spoken about here before: Gaelic language and the landscape, heritage, interpretation…
Firstly, I visited a site I hadn’t been to in 20 years and reminded myself of what it is that I love so much about archaeology. It isn’t the ‘strong personalities’ of people who have been in the sector almost twice as long as I’ve been alive, nor is it often incestuous working relationships between different organisations. It’s the sheer majesty of a place like Glenelg, the monumentality of a broch and the pure enigma of a place where we still, ultimately, don’t truly know what was going on. It’s the childlike sense of arriving somewhere, looking at something and thinking “woah, I wonder…”. That experience is missing in the daily grind of my working life and how to go about recapturing it more frequently is evading me at the moment.
Secondly, coming across and being involved in discussions of the use of Gaelic in relation to promoting heritage. I have a lot of thinking to do on this subject but I’ve seen a few instances recently of Gaelic-related resources being promoted in good faith but with a use of language (in English) which implies an othering which makes me really uncomfortable. I’m thinking out loud here as much as anything so, no, I’m not naming and shaming (at this point) though the promotional activity has always been from an organisation not an individual. Is it a matter of poor choice of words (likely), a lack of knowledge or understanding (also likely), ill feeling and/or lack of respect (hopefully not) ? Is it simply a case of Gaels being misrepresented (again) and therefore the language and culture, too? I’m not sure where these thoughts are going or, really, ultimately where the fault lies but I know I’ve been feeling deeply uncomfortable – both as a Gael and as a heritage professional.
To end on a happier note, the interpretation panels at Glenelg are great – and Gaelic-led! – fitting nicely into the site without distracting from the sheer awe-inducing nature of the site. They’re far from brand new but do everything you want a panel to do, and bilingually as well.
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.
Dunadd or Dùn Ad, the fort of the river Add. Standing clear among the surrounding landscape, this little hill holds a place of great significance: it was the royal centre of the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada, way back when Scotland wasn’t even really Scotland at all. The fortified hilltop has a well (now dry), clear ramparts still visible, and right at the top a footprint said to have been used in the inaugration of kings. It’s easy to get carried away with the romance of the place – I absolutely did.
If the shoe fits… So mine did, and I proclaimed my place as Queen of Scotland as my first cuckoo of the year sang its merry heart out. But I’m a republican and there’s no place for a Queen of Scotland these days. So downwards we went, relishing the view over this remarkable landscape. What a perfect start to a wonderful weekend in Kilmartin Glen – more to follow.
Further reading on Dunadd, with actual facts and things: From Historic Scotland & The University of Glasgow.
It’s been quiet round these parts. I recently had the good fortune to spend a short while on some of the Small Isles, notably Eigg and Muck. The trip to Eigg is deserving of a post in itself – an incredibly inspirational place where the islanders have taken their future into their own hands to ensure the island can survive – and thrive – in a responsible, sustainable manner. More on this anon. Firstly though, the neighbouring island of Muck. This is a small island in a literal sense – just a few miles long by barely a couple wide; the population isn’t much more than a few dozen. Nevertheless, it is packed with gems. There’s remarkable flora and fauna, excellent archaeological remains, incredible scenery and great use of local resources. This was epitomised for me by the tea room just a hop skip and a jump from the ferry terminal.
Inside there is not only the veritable feast of food and cakes but also an incredible section of local crafts. The best of this, for me, was the locally produced yarns.
Walking west across the island from Port Mor to Gallanach you pass fields full of the most beautiful sheep, with a remarkably large variety of breeds. Happily, it’s these same sheep that provide the wool on sale in the tea shop.
Some of it is locally spun, others sent elsewhere to be spun, and it is all beautiful. I’m still trying to decide what to make to show off the best of the wool, and will be keeping it until I have something in mind. I think some swatching is required first but any suggestions welcome. Utilisation of local resources like this pleases me greatly. I don’t have a huge interest in luxury unicorn yarns (see this succinct blog post) but much rather instead going somewhere, seeing the animals in front of me and having a product that is both directly benefitting the community and not wasting such a wonderful resource. It’s a beautiful landscape, not unlike other areas of the Western Isles and west Highlands, but unique in its own right. Unfortunately time ran out and the ferry beckoned. I didn’t even get a chance to ask anyone what on earth these saddle and rotary querns were doing in a storage area next to the loos…
I can forsee another trip to Muck to explore the island further (the hills! cliffs! beaches! archaeology! aretefacts in unusual places!)…