Last gasp of winter

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I cannot sleep. I’m not sure why. Ordinarily I don’t have this problem. I’ve slept through neighbouring houses being struck by lightning (Black Isle, 2000), a marching pipe band rehearsing outside my window (Aberdeen, 2003), waves crashing against the front door (Black Isle, 2005 + Islay, 2012), 90mph winds against my window (Uist, 2014) and the countless, endless noises that come with years of city-living. But at the moment not even the relative silence of suburbia I find myself in can help me sleep.

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This morning I stood awake at 4am, alone, quietly watching the weather outside. I felt like some auld fisherwoman, waiting for her man to return from the high seas. Despite it being the middle of the night, in Scotland, in February, it was quite bright. We are experiencing a late winter burst of weather complete with snow. The snow clouds working hard above us have an almost luminous effect; I find it irresistible.

Later, at an hour most would regard as a bit more human, I went out for a walk with my partner. It was real daytime, not the middle of the night, but that strange snow-light remained, bathing us in the gloom, surrounding us with drifting snow showers.

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I appreciate that unpredictable weather must be a hindrance to so many people, but I adore it. I take little more pleasure than wrapping up for a walk and facing the weather head-on. At those times I feel less like an auld fisherwoman and more like an intrepid explorer. Perhaps I will sleep tonight, cocooned safely from the great white outdoors.

According to Dwelly, February was once, somewhere, referred to as am mìos garbh-fhrasachthe month abounding in boisterous showers. It seems fitting to think of it as such today.

Yarns on Iona

I’m staring out the window of the study at the moment, watching the rain pool on the shed roof and the garden birds trying to figure out what this deluge is after weeks upon weeks of dry weather. I don’t mind the rain at all, but it does always put me in mind of whatever particularly nice recent weather we’ve had. Such was the case the week before last, when I spent an afternoon walking in Erraid and Iona whilst on holiday in Mull.

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I’ve been to Iona plenty of times before but had never before been to Erraid, a small tidal island most famous for being featured in Kidnapped. The walk was a great opportunity to stretch our legs, take in views we hadn’t seen before and get thoroughly burnt by the sun – the forecast was for a dreich day and we were shamefully caught out.

The afternoon was spent in Iona, which for me was a thinly-veiled excuse to spend some birthday money on Iona Wool. I’d seen their products at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March and decided there and then and a garment in their yarn was in my future. I enjoy being able to support small enterprises, even more so when the staff are as friendly and helpful as they were to me. Not realising that there were cones available of my preferred yarns, I marched up to the till arms full of balls of yarn but the shop assistant stopped me and instead helped me find cones as “they are better value”. Much searching for the cones ensued, resulting in one very happy customer and some lovely conversations with another staff member. I admire any small business which is willing to forgo some profit for themselves in order to please a customer; I suppose it simply comes down to good customer service

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I’m going to be making The Oa hoody from the Inspired by Islay book with my yarns. The colours remind me of a lovely day, admiring beautiful blue seas and Ross of Mull granite stone topped with my favourite lichens grey and yellow lichens. The rain is still pouring outside so maybe this is just the perfect time to cast on.

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Seat of All Seats

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Seat of All Seats, the latest episode of Mountain podcast, featuring yours truly, is now live. Head on over to the site to hear the host, Chris, and myself, discuss how Gaelic can helps walkers and climbers understand the landscape. It was a fun day out and I think that comes across in the episode.

It’s a pleasure to spend time in the hills with someone so knowledgeable and so passionate about what they do. Thank you, Chris, for the opportunity.

Obviously, I’m biased, but I think Mountain is a great podcast worthy of your listening time. You can hear older episodes here.

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On Location with Mountain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA number of months ago, I tweeted the producer of a podcast, commenting that their Gaelic hillname pronunciation needed a bit of work. Fast forward a few months, and I find myself at the top of a Munro with a microphone in my face, and said producer quizzing me on hillnames, Gaelic and lots between.

Mountain started life in November last year, created and hosted by journalist and producer Christopher Sleight. I’ve been giving Chris help in his pronunciation of Gaelic placenames and hillnames for a few different episodes of the podcast.

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Back to the hill in question. Beinn Dòbhrain is a well-known and easily accessed Munro, off the West Highland Way in Bridge of Orchy. From the road heading north, it rises to an almost perfect triangle, just asking to be climbed. For Gaelic speakers, it’s best known as the subject of Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain, a praise poem by a renowned Gaelic poet, Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir. It was written over 200 years ago, but the descriptions of the landscape and environment are as fitting as they ever were.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere can’t be many places where you can take a poem and follow the path of the poet exactly as described. We did just that a couple of weeks ago, Chris, myself and my partner Paul. The sun shone, there were no midges and the views were fantastic. I don’t know the first thing about radio or podcast production, so it was a pleasure getting an insight to how it all works. I do know now that it is deeply nerve-wracking being recorded, and it’s essential to have both moral support (thanks, Paul!) and a patient producer (thanks, Chris!).

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You can read an extract from the poem, both in Gaelic and an English translation, on the Scottish Poetry Library website here. The podcast hasn’t been published yet; I’ll post again when it’s live.

Walk Highlands have a route up and down the hill here.

A meeting in a little hollow

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It’s getting into summer proper, so that means more time in the hills and more time staring at what’s beneath my feet. Last weekend I spent a good day walking in Argyll (more on that soon), taking great pleasure in the biastagan and flùraichean that popped out to say hello.

A cloudy and drizzly start to the day soon cleared up, leaving blue skies, few clouds and just enough of a breeze. Of the flùraichean that were about, I spotted moss campion and bog cotton with almost entirely dead heads – a sign of how dry things have been the past few weeks.Moss campion is called Coirean Coinnich in Gaelic, which if you pick apart, becomes a meeting (coinnich) in a little hollow (coire, like the anglicised ‘corrie’)

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Of the biastagan spotted, my favourites was this daolag and many losgannan, in fact the place was positively losgannach – abounding in frogs. I know so little about beetles that I can’t even begin to know where to name this one – online ID guides have lost me. Can anyone help? That’s a 1:25,000 map it’s on, so a perfect scale. I’m quite taken by the colour; we all were. The less said about the poor thing scrabbling about on the plastic surface the better, though. We didn’t keep it for long.

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Daolag – beetle
Duh-luck. The -ao here is not easily replicated, as it’s just not a sound that exists in English. It’s somewhere between the sounds duh and doo.

Losgannan – frogs
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Coirean Coinnich – moss campion
caw-ren conn-yeech

Biastagan – beasties
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Flùraichean – flowers
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