I’m fortunate enough to visit Skye on a fairly regular basis. Having family there means that in exchange for a spot of baby- and animal-sitting I’ve got free accommodation in one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. So far, so smug. But in realist, family comes first and so it is that most visits to the island don’t involve much sightseeing outwith our own wee area. Even so, there are still places nearby which have eluded us on multiple visits. One of these was, the Forestry Commission Scotland visitor hide at Kylerhea, famed for expansive views, otters and being right next to the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland.
The surroundings are impressive, we didn’t see much in terms of wildlife. Even so, within the side there was a wealth of interpretation and information about what we *could* have been looking at. The slight sting of disappointment aside, I was taken aback by just now how good the interpretation panels were. The south of Skye, Sleat specifically, is home to a really strong community which has been at the heart of the Gaelic language and cultural renaissance over the past 40 years. Even so, it’s possible to go to many, many places across Skye and not see a word of it.
I think my cynicism was out in full force when we went to Kylerhea as I was so taken aback by the bilingual interpretation that I just stood going “look! look how good this is! Look! Are you looking?” rather than just letting my partner enjoy the views and read as he wished.
The interpretation uses Gaelic in a way that isn’t just accurate but really meaningful to the language and the inherent connection it has to the landscape. This isn’t just a translation of one piece of text to another but has Gaelic at its heart; it is the place itself that it speaks of. It helps the visitor understand what it is about Gaelic that is important to the surroundings. It’s all very well and good providing the English translation of a Gaelic place-name, but why should anyone care about the name in its original language? Here, such questions were answered, explaining the value of understanding even a little of the language. It’s precisely the kind of thing I’m forever wittering on about to anyone who’ll listen so it’s incredibly edifying to see a national organisation doing the same. I think my favourite aspect of it is that there is no song or dance made about it – it is simply the interpretation that works best for the subject matter, location and the wider landscape. That in itself seems too often a forgotten consideration at so many sites.
Top marks to the Forestry for taking this approach – it’s one that many other places would do well to follow.
– Apologies for the dodgy quality of photos in this post; they were taken on my mobile phone in a fit of excitement with little consideration given to their public usage.
We’re well into August which means Edinburgh’s population has expanded to bursting point. Every spare nook and cranny turns into either a performance space or a boozer. Last year at this time I was working out of town so escaped the worst of the madness in the Old Town, but this year I have a different job with my office right in the heart of it all. This means that I not only get to experience the best of the cultural offerings on my doorstep, but sadly also see some of the worst.
Edinburgh is well known for the ‘tartan tat’ shops which pervade the Royal Mile and surrounding streets (questionable wool products! bagpipe versions of your favourite pop hits! kilt towels! tartan EVERYTHING!) and as a resident you get used to them. They bear no resemblance to the Scotland or Scottish heritage any of us know, but they clearly serve a purpose to visitors or else they wouldn’t survive (and keep multiplying). It takes something really bad, then, to jump out at you in how ill-informed and misjudged it is. But, ladies and gents, I found something. Hiding away in the Cowgate is Slangevar. A bar and restaurant according to their website, their banners state that Slangevar is “the Gaelic for cheers”. No, no it’s not, that would be Slàinte mhath. Phonetically: slahn-chuh vah.
Here I am, standing in the rain having just seen the sign. As you can see, not very impressed:
I’m willing to forgive not using proper spelling if the phonetic reading of a name or word is accurate and makes sense, but in this case it’s just plain incorrect. It’s so infuriating to see and smacks to me of nothing but laziness. Many people would claim not to know a word of Gaelic, but use the word slàinte themselves whenever they raise a glass. It’s embedded in folks knowledge, much the same way many words of Scots are too.
From the website. Edinburgh has never been this sunny.
I applaud anyone who wants to incorporate some Gaelic into their company identity, but it’s an affront to those of us who are part of that culture when it’s taken for granted. Do your research (you can do worse than starting here) and pay someone if necessary to research it for you. You’ll do us all a favour, and not make a fool out of yourself.
Gently emerging from a Winter slumber. Yesterday marked the old New Year. It’s said in Gaelic that from then, each day lengthen’s by a cockerel’s step. “An-diugh, bithidh ceum coilich air an latha”.
Bliadhna mhath ur dhuibh uile. Happy new year, folks.
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.