I have but two weeks left on Islay. As a result the next couple of weeks will be met with packing, tidying, and trying to see some final sights for the first time or indeed the last time.
An inevitable part of leaving Islay is packing up the belongings I took with me and those I’ve amassed since being here (far greater in number than I care to admit). One item that’ll not be leaving Islay with me are my beloved old walking boots. These were given to me as a birthday present in 2006. They’ve seen me through excavating thousands of years of human detritus in Wales, East Lothian, Skye, Mull, Uist… They’ve seen me through walking hundreds upon hundreds of miles in just about every corner of Scotland, climbing hills innumerable, and every holiday or day trip I’ve been on in the past 7 years.
Having been subjected to every weather imaginable, a few too many submerges in seawater and countless bogs, as well as clumsy wielding of spades, trowels and mattocks, they have long since been rendered not-fit-for-purpose. So, out they go. They have served me well and these photos are for posterity as much as anything. I hope their successors can serve me just as well. Forgive the unnecessary emotional attachment to a pair of boots, but I’m sure any walker or hiker will appreciate the singular role that a good pair of boots plays.
Yesterday I took a trip to Bridgend woods. It will likely be the last time I get the opportunity to visit this patch of lush, verdant trees so I took my time and made the most of it (this may or may not have had anything to do with the next bus not being due for hours). Either way, it was lovely and unexpectedly quiet. The leaves have started to turn so I know that it’s nearly time to leave. When I arrived on Islay the leaves had already mostly fallen. Mixed feelings on leaving here, but I’m sure I’ll come to that again anon.
Housekeeping note: this site is being tidied up over the next wee while too, so please forgive any glitches in the meantime.
Two things today.
Firstly: Living alone in what is still a new place, surrounded by beautiful scenery but few very close friends, it is easy to feel isolated. During times of heightened stress and tension this is exacerbated further. When a loved one has been visiting and departs the same day various stresses hit crisis-point then, well, that’s not a good combination at all. It has not been an easy short while. Just as well then that I am so fortunate as to have people in my life, albeit at a great distance, who through small gestures help ease the worries, whether they realise it or not.
Coming home to this book in the post, a gift promoted by an earlier blog post, was an unexpected treat and just at the right time. And now I’ve no excuse not to up my tree-knowledge.
Secondly: reading through the transcript of Fiona Hyslop’s keynote speech, “Past, Present & Future: Culture & Heritage in an Independent Scotland” at the Talbot Rich gallery in Edinburgh was incredibly heartening. I am neither party-political nor decided upon how I’ll vote in the independence referendum next year. Hyslop’s speech, however, I found to be an honest, positive and, ultimately exciting account of the role culture and heritage plays in Scotland just now. The prospects for the future is anyone’s guess but being employed in the cultural-heritage field I found myself nodding in agreement with many of the statements made. Not often I agree so wholeheartedly with a politician!
…the culture and heritage sectors make an invaluable contribution to our economic life, but despite these challenging times, we do not measure the worth of culture and heritage solely in pounds and pence – we value culture and heritage precisely because they are so much more, because they are our heart, our soul, our essence.
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.