Engage brain

IMG_20180817_132308683Last 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.

IMG_20180817_132524543But 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.IMG_20180817_133719798

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.

img_20180817_131903407.jpgTo 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.IMG_20180817_133558720

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Autumn arrives unannounced

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
Innis: in-ish
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.