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.
It’s been quiet round these parts. I recently had the good fortune to spend a short while on some of the Small Isles, notably Eigg and Muck. The trip to Eigg is deserving of a post in itself – an incredibly inspirational place where the islanders have taken their future into their own hands to ensure the island can survive – and thrive – in a responsible, sustainable manner. More on this anon. Firstly though, the neighbouring island of Muck. This is a small island in a literal sense – just a few miles long by barely a couple wide; the population isn’t much more than a few dozen. Nevertheless, it is packed with gems. There’s remarkable flora and fauna, excellent archaeological remains, incredible scenery and great use of local resources. This was epitomised for me by the tea room just a hop skip and a jump from the ferry terminal.
Inside there is not only the veritable feast of food and cakes but also an incredible section of local crafts. The best of this, for me, was the locally produced yarns.
Walking west across the island from Port Mor to Gallanach you pass fields full of the most beautiful sheep, with a remarkably large variety of breeds. Happily, it’s these same sheep that provide the wool on sale in the tea shop.
Some of it is locally spun, others sent elsewhere to be spun, and it is all beautiful. I’m still trying to decide what to make to show off the best of the wool, and will be keeping it until I have something in mind. I think some swatching is required first but any suggestions welcome. Utilisation of local resources like this pleases me greatly. I don’t have a huge interest in luxury unicorn yarns (see this succinct blog post) but much rather instead going somewhere, seeing the animals in front of me and having a product that is both directly benefitting the community and not wasting such a wonderful resource. It’s a beautiful landscape, not unlike other areas of the Western Isles and west Highlands, but unique in its own right. Unfortunately time ran out and the ferry beckoned. I didn’t even get a chance to ask anyone what on earth these saddle and rotary querns were doing in a storage area next to the loos…
I can forsee another trip to Muck to explore the island further (the hills! cliffs! beaches! archaeology! aretefacts in unusual places!)…
Endless beaches with rolling Atlantic waves.
White sands with intriguing patterns – perfect knitting inspiration.
A change from machair and sand to heather and hills.
Incredible light and endless water.
The landscapes of north and south Uist are incredibly inspiring and quite unique.
Some of the most picturesque and exciting places in Scotland can be found on various sides of the Sound of Mull. Dramatic views, an abundance of flora and fauna and often complete seclusion make these some of my favourite places.
The views aren’t bad, either.
Even Iona, so often crowded and overrun with coach tours and day visitors, harbours quiet spots with beaches and cliffs to explore all alone. Alone except for the occasional wonky-eared visitor, that is.
Old creels have been put to great use here too, helping to stop erosion of the dunes.