On Location with Mountain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 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.

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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere 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!).

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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.

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
loss-kan-an

Coirean Coinnich – moss campion
caw-ren conn-yeech

Biastagan – beasties
bee-us-tak-en

Flùraichean – flowers
floo-reech-en

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.

Cairngorms, camping, cycling and some reindeer

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.

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(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.

Stac Pollaidh

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A few weeks ago I took a trip home to the mainland for a much overdue visit to see my family. I was lucky enough to grow up on the Black Isle. A verdant peninsula right at the foot of some of the Highland’s most incredible scenery. It’s a great place to be, and the weather was in our favour all weekend.

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My partner was also up visiting so we took the chance of having the car (new car owners and drivers – the novelty of getting places under our own steam is still very exciting) and headed north and west to Wester Ross. Stac Pollaidh was calling, and we answered. It was a glorious day.

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Stac in Gaelic means a steep cliff, a precipice. Pronounched stach-k with the -ch as in ‘loch’ – nice and gentle. A stack, as it is in English. And Stac Pollaidh is quite a stac, too, standing proud of the surrounding landscape. It was fantastic walk to the top, steep but with views which opened out step by step. We followed the route recommended by Walk Highlands – a fantastic resource if you’ve not used it before. After the walk you’ll have earnt yourself some tasty treats from the West Coast Deli – our new favourite place in Ullapool. The best hot drinks either of us have had in a long time.

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Please note these photos were not taken my me but my partner. Please do not use them without his permission – get in touch if you’d like to do so.