Being back in the city grind and with a few weeks of no escape, I can’t help but think of the landscape and open stretches of the Highlands and Islands. The word cianalas about sums up how I’m feeling at the moment. A combination of homesickness, melancholy, and general longing for a place or, as in my case just now, places and culture. Day-to-day life in Edinburgh doesn’t afford me the opportunity to be as immediately absorbed in Gaelic culture and heritage as I was in the islands so I need to be making more of an effort. It seems fitting that on a dreich day in the city the only word that sums up how I’m feeling is a Gaelic one.
Cianalas – kʲiənəLəs – ke-en-alas.
Photos from misc. places in Uist, about this time last year.
Elsewhere, mostly unrelated:
Edinburgh Yarn Festival is coming up; I’m really looking forward to it.
The Danish Diaspora exhibition in Haddington looks very much worth a visit (Nikolai and Beka Globe’s Mission House Studio in Harris is wonderful).
Ernest journal is a relatively new find for me but I’m enjoying it very much.
South Uist is a really magical island. It’s famous for the almost-continuous machair and sand on the west coast, but it’s the east coast that I find really enticing. With the exception of a few clusters and occasional lone houses, few people now live in this area. Infrastructure and expansion around the 1960s meant that those households still living on the coast* were faced with the reality that the services and facilities being afforded to communities in the west would not be extended to those in the east.
There is an abundance of excellent walks to be had in South Uist. When you start exploring a bit you begin to understand the difficulties in supplying services to this area. Walking overland is arduous, long and pretty impractical. On paper it seems to make much more sense to travel by sea, though what the waters around the east coast are like I don’t know. Perhaps going by horse, as many likely would have, is easier than just on foot. These photos are from a walk around the headland at the end of the Loch Aineort road last month. We followed a route – roughly- recommended in the Cicerone guide to walks in Uist. It’s excellent and much recommended.
*population movement anywhere is a complicated business – there are many and varied additional reasons why people had been moving away from this area.
Suddenly it’s June and we’re running headfirst into Summer. The open moorland has tipped over into green after shades of brown dominated Winter. Verges and lochans are ready to burst into a song of yellow with the first flag iris in bloom. Elsewhere, silverweed lies low on the roadsides, shimmering in whatever sun it catches. It’s an unassuming plant but I’m fond of it and it has a revealing history.
In Gaelic, many things have more than one name and silverweed is no exception. It’s common name in brisgean (breesh-kun) but it’s ’poetic’ name is An Seachdamh Aran, literally meaning ‘the 7th bread’. It has been, in the recent past, relied on in times of famine to provide much needed sustenance. The root can be ground into a kind of flour from which bread can be made.
In the days before tatties, it was reputedly used extensively as a foodstuff, not just as a last resort. I’m not going to be digging up the verges to try it anytime soon but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried some.
More here by Ruaraidh MacLean for SNH.
Looking at any maps for this area gives an immediate indicator of the island’s past – placenames are littered with Norse words, as well as the expected Gaelic . This Norse influence takes a bit of getting used to but is good fun for a bit of decyphering.
Take a walk I did last weekend, for instance. I headed down to Caolas Paible. From there, I walked onto the beach Oitir Mòr. When I was on the beach, I looked directly out onto Eilean Chirceabost. I love this collection of names together. It shows so clearly the varied past of the islands, Gaidhealach and Viking visitors and settlers over thousands of years leaving their mark.
Caolas Paible : Kyles Paible
I found a great story in Dwelly about Paible. Who knows what element of truth there is in it, but it’s good fun all the same:
“Baile fada-gu-latha, the township of the long night (lit. the long-till-day township). The reference is to Paible, N. Uist. Long ago a stranger, happening to spend a night in the place, some mischievous lads covered up his bedroom window from the outside, with the result that the night was lengthened by many hours. Several times the astonished stranger was heard to mutter “b’ e seo am baile fada-gu-latha!” what a long-till-day township!”
Oitir Mòr: Oitir (pron. ‘aw-chir’) – sand bank Mòr (more)– big, large
Eilean Kirkibost: Eilean (ellen)– Island Kirk – church Bost – farm
Placenames aside, even in grey, overcast weather it’s beautiful.