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
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.
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.
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.
A few days away over on the Western Isles. Mostly Harris but a wee bit of Lewis. Mostly pleasure but a bit of business too. It felt like a different world, and I found it intoxicating. I often bemoan the lack of ‘proper’ hills here on Islay and miss the experience of travelling through the landscape, rather than just over it (what am I talking about here: There are next to no glens on Islay; everything is overland and not through hills). Harris sorted that out. For hills which aren’t, in the grand scheme, aren’t all that high they command awe and ‘oohs’ at every turn.
I’ve lots of personal connections to the island, but hadn’t visited since I was a wee tot so don’t suppose that counts, really. It was a pleasure to visit family, with family, and see where family now departed once lived and worked. I already can’t wait to get back and explore further; hopefully this time without the distraction of work.
One last thing; while I’ve not got any photos as proof take my word for it that standing at the Calanais stones as thunder rumbles, lightning strikes and rain pours down around you is indeed as dramatic experience as you could hope. Thanks, Lewis, chi mi a-rithisd thu.