My professional life is working to promote, enable greater access to and ultimately celebrate the Gaelic cultural heritage of this island. My work has many different aspects to it, but of the different projects I’m working on a recurring theme is the long-standing relationship between Gaelic language and landscape. This week I led a session of the John Muir Award in Gaelic (Duais Iain Muir) at Gruinart, one of the island’s most bird-heavy areas, owned and managed as a working farm by the RSPB. My session focused on Gaelic terminology for birds and the landscape, but we also took a walk through some trees of indeterminate age.

There was a fantastic array of lichens growing, and buds appearing in earnest. My own tree knowledge is very limited, and my identification skills even worse, but there is a fantastically rich tradition of treelore in the Gaidhealtachd. So much so that each letter in the Gaelic alphabet (there are 18 letters) is named after a tree. It harks back to a landscape much more heavily tree-ed than a lot of the Highlands are today (at least, with indigenous trees and not forestry plantations), and goes some way to indicate how significantly the landscape has changed. I’ve some serious learning to do to be able to identify even half the species in the alphabet, but I enjoyed the trees at Gruinart, and the micro-habitats the trees themselves create.




Since arriving on Islay there have been a few places I’ve been desperate to get to. Being as I am sans vehicle, and with the buses not servicing much beyond Loch Indaal or Port Ellen, I’ve had to be patient. Happily, the milder weather is bringing with it both seasonal bird visitors to the island as well as large flocks of tourists and holidaymakers. Even more happily, some of these holidaymakers are here to see me. As a result I’ve had the chance to get out to corners of the island so far unknown to me, beyond pictures and notes of historical interest in books.


One of my top places to visit, which seems to be high on a number of ‘must-see’ lists, was Saligo Bay. No wonder people like it, it is wild, remote and bears the full brunt of the Atlantic on its shores. I visited on a day of exceptionally strong winds and saw waves bigger than I’ve ever seen before, with spindrift as high as the waves themselves. Beautiful light, stunning rocks, lambs cavorting around behind me in the dunes. It was spectacular.


What’s in the name? I’m not sure. Some indicate a Gaelic origin, others state simply ‘unknown’. For the military historian there’s plenty of interest in the area with significant remnants of wartime communication stations, now well embedded in the sand and providing shelter for newborn lambs. It’s a really spectacular wee corner of the island.


A lamb very adept to listening.




Sheep can’t tell whether I’m friend or foe. Or maybe just mistakenly think I have some food on me. I’m looking forward to visiting them again when their bellies have reduced in size. Can’t be long now. Come on lambs, I’m waiting!


torr caoraich


I’ve been on Islay 6 months. Yesterday I marked the day  in the same manner I started my time here: quietly. I waved goodbye to a good friend who had been staying for Easter, and retreated indoors to feel the wind buffeting the front of my building. So, now I count down. I’m not entirely sure what towards (unemployment? uncertainty? not knowing where I’ll be living?), but the prospect of hopefully being a little closer to those I love is an appealing one. Really, I don’t know what will happen or where I’ll end up. Before then, I’ve plenty to be getting on with, at work at least. It’s going to be a busy six months.

clachan roin PC PYRE

Photos of some things round and about me recently.

into the abyss

The mist has come down. I walked to the end of the pier and where I usually see hills and villages on the other side of the loch, over to the Paps of Jura, tonight there is…nothing. I imagine this is what it would feel like to be at sea with no sight of land for days. It’s a bit spooky.