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Sgrìobh mi an seo mar-thà mu Bheinn Uais agus Chnoc Fhaoighris, agus an turas seo tha mi airson sùil a thoirt air cnoc ionadail eile as toil leam, Cnoc Fearralaidh. ‘S e feart-tìre comharraichte a th’ ann a’ coimhead bho gach taobh, ach gu sònraichte bhon rathad eadar Inbhir Pheofharain agus Srath Pheofhair, agus ‘s e cuairt ghoirid agus cuimseach furasda a th’ ann bhon àite-parcaidh bheag aige fhèin (ri ruigsinn bho thaobh Loch Ùsaidh). Tha cuairtean nas fhada ‘s nas dùbhlanaiche ann cuideachd, bho Srath Pheofhair no slighe Cnuic Mhòir ‘s Druim a’ Chait – molaidhean air www.walkhighlands.co.uk .

‘S e druim fada, cas a th’ ann, sìnte bhon ear chun an iar, mu 200m a dh’àirde, le seallaidhean soilleir  anns gach àird – beanntan Srath Chonain, Beinn Uais, Linne Chrombaidh is Cnoc Neig, gu Creag Phàdraig taobh Inbhir Nis agus deas thairis air Loch Ùsaidh gu Moreibh is chun a’ Mhonaidh Ruaidh. Chithear Inbhir Pheofharain chun an ear agus Caisteal Leòid is Srath Pheofhair chun an iar. A bharrachd air a bhith fradharcach, bha cudromachd ro-innleachdail aige sna linntean a dh’fhalbh, oir tha làrach dùin mhòir ghlainnaichte bho Linn an Iarainn air a mhullach chòmhnard. Chìtheadh na naimhdean tighinn gun teagamh sam bith, agus bhiodh e doirbh dhaibh ionnsaigh a thoirt air an dùn ri bruthach is e cho cas air cha mhòr gach taobh.

Tha e coltach gun tàinig an t-ainm Cnoc Fearralaidh (no Farralaidh no Fearghalaidh) bho far-eileach, “àite àrd nan clachan”, a’ dèanamh iomradh air an dùn.

Tharraing an dùn arc-eòlaichean thar nan linntean, is e an innleadair John Williams am fear a bu tràithe dhiubh sna 1770an. Tha na trì truinnsichean domhainn aige rim faicinn fhathast a’ dol thairis air làrach an dùin, tro na gàrraidhean, mar a chithear san adhar-dhealbh aig Andy Hickie,  leasaichte le photogrammetry gus na feartan a shealladh gu soilleir. (Faic an obair shònraichte aige an seo: https://www.facebook.com/people/Andys-Aerial-Archaeology-Photogrammetry-Site/100068170431509 )  Sgrìobh Williams mu fheartan nach eil rim faicinn tuilleadh, m.e. gun robh pàirt den ghàrradh mu 7m a dh’àirde bhon fho-chreag. An-diugh fhèin chithear an dealbh-iomaill chreagach gu furasda, is na gàrraidhean mu 4.5m air leud mar chuibheas.

Tha beachdan eadar-dhealaichte ann mu ghlainneachadh, a chithear ann an iomadh dùn-chnuic Albannach, a tha air abhrachadh nuair a leaghas eileamaidean anns na clachan, uaireannan le coltas glainne, agus mar sin ceanglaidh iad ri chèile.  Bhiodh fiodh air a chleachdadh gu farsaing san dùn, mar sin bidh cuid a’ creidsinn gur e tubaist no ionnsaigh is losgadh le naimhdean as coireach, ach leis gu bheil feum ann air teas uabhasach àrd agus leantainneach, ‘s dòcha cuideachd gur ann a dh’aon ghnothaich a rinneadh e gus an gàrradh a neartachadh – chan eil cinnt ann.  Ach chì thu iomadh clach fhathast le fianais glainneachaidh. (Faic: https://brigantesnation.com/how-to-vitrify-a-fort .)

Tha sgeulachdan gu leòr ann cuideachd mun chnoc, nam measg tè mu bhàs Fhinn MhicCumhail,  an seann ghaisgeach Ceilteach, tro fheall, air a h-innse le Hugh Miller is eile. Agus dh’fhàisnich Coinneach Odhar, Fiosaiche Bhrathainn (is a’ chlach dhraoidheil aige ann an Loch Ùsaidh), gun èireadh uisge an loch às an tobar air mullach a’ chnuic agus gun tuilicheadh e Srath Pheofhair – ma thuiteas Clach an Iolaire an treas turas.

Ach ma bhios tu air a’ chnoc dìreach airson cuairt agus nan seallaidhean àlainn, tha tuilleach ‘s gu leòr ann a thoilicheas an t-sùil, le flùraichean fiadhaich, seann ghiuthais-Albannach, agus tòrr eun, beag is mòr, nam measg na clamhanan-gobhlach à stèisean-beathachaidh Thollaidh faisg air làimh. Bha e tlachdmhor san t-sneachd cuideachd nuair a bha mi ann sa gheamhradh. Uairbha fiù ‘s chalet fiodha sgeadachail ann airson biadh beag a reic as t-samhradh dhan luchd-tadhail bhon spa, c. 1910 – 1960an – thoiribh picnic leibh fhèin a-nis! Dealbh dheth an seo: https://www.ambaile.org.uk/asset/33064/1/EN33064-the-chalet-knockfarrel-strathpeffer.htm/

Carson nach fheuch sibh e, mura robh sibh ann fhathast?

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Knockfarrel (centre) seen from the Black Isle

I’ve written here in the past about Ben Wyvis and Fyrish, and this month I thought I’d look at another of my favourite local hills, Knockfarrel. It’s a very striking feature in the landscape seen from any angle , especially on the way from Dingwall to Strathpeffer, and is a short, fairly easy walk from its own wee carpark (approach from Loch Ussie), or longer, more challenging ones from Strathpeffer or via Cnoc Mòr and the Cat’s Back.  Have a look for the various routes on www.walkhighlands.co.uk.

It’s a long, steep ridge lying east to west, about 200m high, and has clear views in all directions – the Strathconon hills,  Ben Wyvis, down the Cromarty Firth to Nigg Hill, to Craig Padraig by Inverness, and south across Loch Ussie towards Moray and the Cairngorms. Dingwall is visible to the east, and Castle Leod and Strathpeffer to the west. As well as being scenic, this position clearly had strategic importance in the past, as there are the remains of a large vitrified Iron Age fort on the flattish top. You would certainly see enemies coming, and they’d have a hard time attacking the fort uphill as it’s so steep most of the way round.

The Gaelic name of the hill, Cnoc Fearralaidh (Farralaidh / Fearghalaidh), is likely to come from far-eileach, meaning high stone-place, no doubt a reference to the fort.

Seen from the Heights of Brae

The fort has attracted archaeologists over the years, the earliest being engineer John Williams in the 1770s. His excavation trenches across the ramparts at three points are still prominent today, as can be seen in the aerial view by Andy Hickie (see his wonderful work here: https://www.facebook.com/people/Andys-Aerial-Archaeology-Photogrammetry-Site/100068170431509 ), enhanced to show the features more clearly. Williams’ written reports usefully describe features no longer visible, and help illustrate the vast dimensions of the fort’s ramparts – the walls were still much higher then, up to 7 meters from bedrock in one place. Even today the stony outline of the ramparts is easily seen, and the average width of the walls is 4.5 metres.

There are various theories about vitrification, seen in many Scottish hillforts – basically heating rock until certain elements in it (“flux”) begin to melt, fusing the stones together. Timber would have been widely used around the fort, so accidental or enemy fires are one idea. But vitrification needs intense, sustained heat, so might well be deliberate, e.g. to form a more stable wall. The jury is still out. But you can still see the signs of it in the remaining stones, all around the ramparts. More on this: https://brigantesnation.com/how-to-vitrify-a-fort

Looking west from Knockfarrel, over Strathpeffer

There are also legends surrounding the hill, including one about the death there by treachery of ancient Celtic hero Finn MacCumhaill, as told by Hugh Miller among others, and a prophesy by the Brahan Seer (whose magic stone allegedly lies in nearby Loch Ussie) about the water in the loch rising up in the well on the hill and one day flooding Strathpeffer and allowing ships to moor – if the Eagle Stone there falls down one last (third) time.

But if you’re just up there for a walk and the magnificent views, there’s more than enough to delight the eye, with wild flowers, ancient Scots pines, and lots of bird life, large and small – including red kites from nearby Tollie feeding station. It even had its charms in the snow when I was up there recently. And from 1910 to the 1960s there was even a decorative wooden chalet there, built to provide refreshments to spa guests who made it up there in the summer – take your own picnic now! Photo of the chalet here:   https://www.ambaile.org.uk/asset/33064/1/EN33064-the-chalet-knockfarrel-strathpeffer.htm/

 Why not give it a try, if you’ve never been?

Caistealan eile

Northumberland 2 – Caistealan eile / Other castles

Am mìos sa chaidh sgrìobh mi mu Chaisteal Bhamburgh. An turas seo tha mi a’ dol air adhart le cuspair Northumberland, a’ toirt sùil air na caistealean eile a chunnaic sinn, dìreach gus barrachd dhiubh a thàladh dhan sgìre bhrèagha seo!

Dunstanburgh

Mar Bhamburgh tha Caisteal Dhunstanburgh (14mh linn) air a’ chladaich, suidhichte gu drùidhteach air na creagan, le seallaidhean farsaing air tìr is muir. Ach ‘s e tobhta a tha san fhear seo, gu ìre mhòr, ged a tha gu leòr na sheasamh fhathast gus dol a-steach, agus ‘s urrainn dhut dìreadh suas sna tùir. Chan eil e ri ruigsinn ach air chois, le ceum bho Chraster, mu 1 mhìle sìos an cladach, mar sin chan eil e cho freagarrach do luchd-tadhail ciorramach, ged a bha gu leòr de theaghlaich ann le clann agus bugaidhean, agus còin. ‘S e cuairt bhrèagha a th’ ann, agus àite glè mhath do chuirm-cnuic.  https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dunstanburgh-castle/

Warkworth

Caisteal eile a bu toil leam riamh, ‘s e sin Warkworth, prìomh làrach teaghlach cumhachdach nam Percys thar nan linntean. Ged a tha e gu ìre na thobhta, tha barrachd is gu leòr na sheasamh fhathast, gu h-àraidh an tùr tomadach àrd, aon de na tùir mheadhan-aoiseach as slàine (sa chruth bhunasach) a tha air fhàgail, shaoilinnse. ‘S urrainn dhut dol suas is sìos na diofar staidhrichean cloiche dha na trì làran eadar-dhealaichte làn seilearan, chidsinean, tallaichean, fiù ‘s an caibeal. Tha cruth dìonadach na làraich fhèin furasta ri aithneachadh, is na ballaichean, taigh-geata, togalaich-stòrais agus staing a’ chaisteil uile deagh-ghlèidhte. Agus mar bu chòir le caistealan, tha sealladh soilleir brèagha bhon mhullach anns gach àirde. Chaidh an caisteal a thogail air motte, cnoc daonna-dhèanta, le bruach chas dhan abhainn. Làrach sgoinneil dhan fheadhainn a tha measail air eachdraidh, agus do chlann. Feumaidh ùine gu leòr a bhith agad, ge-tà! https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/warkworth-castle-and-hermitage/history/description/

Lindisfarne

Bha Lindisfarne, an caisteal mu dheireadh air an do thadhail sinn, dùinte airson a’ gheamhraidh, ach is fhiach dol ann airson na làraich suaicheanta i-fhèin, is e air binnean cas am measg faichean is boglaichean rèidh an Eilein Naoimh timcheall air. Dùn meadhan-aoseach eile, beag ach le cudromachd ro-innleachdail is seallaidhean thairis air tìr is muir, chaidh a chleachdadh rè nan cogaidhean an aghaidh nan Albannach, agus bha gearasdan ann fhathast gu tràth san 18mh linn. Ann an 1901 ghabh neach-gnìomhachais Edward Hudson an t-aonta air, agus thòisich esan ath-dhealbhachadh mionaideach a’ chaisteil le Edwin Luyens, ailtire ainmeil, agus lios ballach air a chruthachadh le Gertrude Jekyll. Cuairt tlachdmhor bho bhaile beag Lindisfarne. Chan eil an t-eilean ri ruigsinn ach le rathad thairis air fadhlain (cùm sùil air na h-uairean fosgailte!).  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/lindisfarne-castle/history-of-lindisfarne-castle

Tha gu leòr de chaistealan is thaighean mòra eile ann an Northumberland, ri taobh a’ chladaich no a-staigh san tìr, mar Alnwick is Cragside, is sinne gun gu leòr de dh’ùine gus am faicinn – ach bidh iad ann fhathast airson turais eile. 😊

NB Tha làraich English Heritage saor do bhuill Alba Aosmhor, agus National Trust do bhuill NTS.

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Last month I wrote about Bamburgh Castle, and this month I’ll continue the Northumberland topic with a look at the other castles we visited, just to tempt even more of you to this lovely area!

Dunstanburgh

Like Bamburgh, 14th C Dunstanburgh is on the coast, perched impressively on a clifftop with great views all round (handy for defence). Otherwise however it’s completely different, as it’s mainly a ruin, though still has large sections you can go into, and towers to go up. It and can only be accessed on foot along a path from Craster, about a mile down the coast, so sadly not suitable for more disabled visitors, though there were plenty of families with buggies, and dogs. It’s a lovely walk, and a great place for a picnic. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dunstanburgh-castle/

Warkworth

Another old favourite I revisited was Warkworth. This partially-ruined castle, seat of the powerful Percy family through the centuries, must have one of the most complete, huge, mediaeval keeps still left in its original form – you can still go up and down on the various stone staircases to three floors full of cellars, kitchens, halls, even the chapel. The defensive site layout is still clear with walls, gatehouse and ditch well-preserved, and as ever with castles, there are great views from the top.  It’s built on a motte, an artificial mound, with a steep drop to the river. For history fans, and for children, it’s  great site to visit.  Leave plenty of time for it, though! https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/warkworth-castle-and-hermitage/history/description/

Lindisfarne

The last castle we went to, Lindisfarne, was unfortunately closed for the winter, but its iconic site alone is wth seeing, on a steep conical hill in the flat fields and marshes of the surrounding Holy Island. Another mediaeval fortress, small but strategically important with views over both the North Sea and the mainland, it saw service during the wars against Scotland, and remained garrisoned till the early 19 C.  In 1901 it was leased by businessman Edward Hudson, who had it completely redesigned by famous architect Edwin Lutyens, with a walled flower garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll. A lovely coastal walk from Lindifarne village. The island can only be reached via a road over a tidal ford – keep an eye on the “causeway open” times! https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/lindisfarne-castle/history-of-lindisfarne-castle

There are plenty of other castles and “big hooses” in Northumberland too, on the coast and inland, which we didn’t have time for, like Alnwick and Cragside – but they’ll still be there for another time. 😊

NB: English Heritage sites are free to Historic Scotland members, and National Trust to NTS members.

Northumberland: Bamburgh

Eadar an Nollaig agus a’ Bhliadhn’ Ùr bha cothrom agam beagan làithean a chur seachad còmhla ri caraid agus an dà chù aice ann an Northumberland. Tha, ‘s dòcha, 20 bliadhna bhon a bha mi san sgìre sin, ach a-mhàin san dol seachad, agus leis gun do chòrd i rium glan an turas mu dheireadh, bha mi a’ dèanamh fiughair ri a faicinn a-rithist. Agus chan e briseadh-dùil a bh’ ann idir – àite cho àlainn is eachdraidheil ‘s a bha e riamh. Chleachd sinn an ùine ghoirid gu math, le bhith a’ coiseachd air diofar thràighean leis na coin, agus a’ tadhal air seann chaistealean is eaglaisean (is dìreach pailteas dhiubhsan an sin).

Ach an-diugh bha mi airson innse dhuibh mun chaisteal as ainmeile an sin, Bamburgh. Chì thu bho fhada e às gach àird, na shuidhe gu pròiseil air a chreig bhasailt chais sna dùin-ghainmich, dìreach ri taobh na mara am meadhan achaidhean rèidh. Sealladh druidhteach!

Bha àitichean-tuinidh air a’ chreig agus timcheall oirre fad nam miltean de bhliadhnaichean, ach ’s ann leis na rìghrean Anglach is Sagsannach a thàinig na linntean a bu chudromaiche a’ chaisteil, is iad an sàs ann an sgaoileadh Crìostaidheachd (chaidh Naomh Aodhan a chur bho Eilean Ì san 7mh linn) agus anns an dìon an aghaidh nan Lochlannach – agus nan Cruithneach. Dh’fhàs an daighneach na bhu mhotha ‘s na bu treasa thar nan linntean, fo rìoghrachasan eile, ach mu dheireadh thall cha robh fiù ‘s na ballaichean tomadach cloiche sin làidir gu leòr agus ri àm Cogaidhean nan Ròsan bha Bamburgh na chiad chaisteal san tìr a chaidh a mhilleadh le cumhachd chanan.

As dèidh sin cha deach Caisteal Bhamburgh fìor am feabhas buileach mar dhaighneach. San 18mh linn bha e na àite-fuirich Easbaig Dhurham, Lord Nathaniel Crewe, a thòisich càradh a’ chaisteil, obair a chùm Urras Lord Crewe a’ dol as a dhèidh tron 19mh linn. Bha an t-Urras cuideachd an sàs ann an ath-thogail a’ bhaile agus ann an stèidheachadh seòrsa “stàit shochairean” ionadail le ospadal, sgoil, bàta-teasairginn is eile. Ach air sgàth dhuilgheadasan ionmhasail a thàinig orra, cheannaich Lord Armstrong of Cragside an caisteal ‘s an oighreachd ann an 1894.

Agus ‘s ann fodhasan a dh’ùr-bheòthaich an caisteal, le obraichean-togail mòra agus leis an ath-chruthachadh gu bhith mar dhaighneach Mheadhan-Aoiseach a-rithist. Dh’fhuirich e fhèin ann gu tric, agus lìon e le àirneis sònraichte is ealain e. Sin an caisteal a chì thu an-diugh, agus is fìor fhiach a dhol ann – tha an togalach agus an suidheachadh (agus an sealladh) drùidhteach gu leòr iad fhèin, ach a bharrachd air sin, tha na seòmraichean diofraichte, bhon talla mhòr chun a’ chidsin, uabhasach intinneach is làn stuth tarraingeach, le mìneachaidhean soilleir ciallach annta.

Ach faodaidh mi tadhal timcheall air àm na Nollaig a mholadh gu h-àraidh. Chan ann dìreach oir cha bhi e cho trang, ach ‘s ann gum bi iad a’ sgeadachadh nan seòmraichean a-rèir cuspair Nollaige (an turas seo The Twelve Days of Christmas), gu proifeasanta ‘s gu h-àlainn, cho cruthachail is mionaideach ‘s gur gann gun creidseadh tu e. Chòrd rium gu h-àraidh na breusan sgeadaichte gu h-ealanta. ‘S e Charlotte Lloyd-Webber, dealbhaiche-tèatair, a chruthaicheas e leis an sgioba aice, mar a nì i cuideachd aig Caisteal Howard, agus is fhiach fhaicinn – chan eil mi fhìn uabhasach measail air sgeadachadh mar as àbhaist, ach ‘s e rud gu tur a-mach às an àbhaist a bha seo, aig ìre àrd ealanta; chan e kitsch a th’ ann idir.  Bidh iad ga dhèanamh a-rithist san Dùbhlachd am bliadhna, a rèir coltais.

Agus mura h-eil sin gu leòr, tha am baile fhèin snog, le cafaidhean is taigh-seinnse, agus eaglais eachdraidheil, agus tha an tràigh-ghainmhich ri taobh a’ chaisteal air leth brèagha, fada, farsaing, agus dìreach taghta do theaghlaich – agus do choin. Rùm gu leòr ann dhan a h-uile duine!

https://www.bamburghcastle.com/

Northumberland: Bamburgh

Between Christmas and New Year I had the chance of a few days away with a friend and her two dogs in Northumberland. It’s maybe 20 years since I was in that area, except for passing through, and I’d enjoyed it so much the last time that I was really looking forward to it. And I wasn’t disappointed – it’s as lovely and historic as ever. We fairly packed in the beach walks, castles and old churches (and there are plenty of all these) in the short time.

But in this article I want to concentrate on the most famous castle there – Bamburgh. You can see it from far away from every direction, perched proudly on its steep basalt crag in the dunes, right by the sea, amid flat farmland. An impressive sight!

There have been settlements on the crag and around it for thousands of years, but it was under the kings of the Angles and the Saxons that it had its most important centuries, being involved in the spread of Christianity (St Aiden was sent there from Iona in the 7th C) and the defence against the Vikings – and the Picts. The fortress grew larger and stronger over the centuries under other dynasties, but even these massive stone walls were not enough to stop it becoming the first castle in the country to fall to canon, during the Wars of the Roses.

After that Bamburgh Castle never really fully recovered as a military stronghold. In the 18th C it was the residence of the Bishop of Durham, Lord Nathaniel Crewe, who began to repair it, work which was continued after him by the Lord Crewe Trust through the 19th C. The Trust was also active in rebuilding the village, and it established a kind of local “welfare state” with hospital, school, lifeboat etc. But due to financial difficulties that befell them, Lord Armstrong of Cragside bought the castle and estate in 1894.

It was under him that the castle saw a revival, with major building works and restoration back into a mediaeval fortress. He often stayed in the castle himself, and filled it with sumptuous furniture and art.  That’s the castle we see today, and it’s absolutely worth going to see it – the building and its location (and view) themselves are impressive enough, but also the different rooms inside,  from the great hall to the kitchen, are extremely interesting, full of fascinating objects, with clear, discreet explanations.

But I can especially recommend a visit around Christmas. Not just because it’s less busy, but also because they decorate the rooms with a Christmas theme (this year it was The Twelve Days of Christmas), professionally and beautifully; it’s so creative and detailed that it’s hard to believe. I particularly admired the beautiful, elaborate fireplace decoration. It’s the theatre-designer Charlotte Lloyd-Webber and her team who create it, as they also do at Castle Howard, and it’s really worth seeing – ordinarily I’m not very keen on decoration, but this was something altogether out of the ordinary, at a high level of artistry, no hint of kitsch. They’re doing it again this December, apparently.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the village itself is lovely, with cafes and a pub, and a historic church, and there’s an exceptionally beautiful long, wide sandy beach right beside the castle, just perfect for families – and for dogs. Plenty of room there for everyone!

https://www.bamburghcastle.com/

Bha sneachda na chuibhrig

Bha sneachda na chuibhrig air ìosal is àrd,

Am broinn an taigh-òsda na seòmraichean làn.

Bha Màiri is Eòsaph air toir àite-tàimh,

Am Betlehem fhuadain ‘s an uair ann mu thràth.

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Oh càit’ an robh fàsgadh bhon chas-shileadh fhuar

Dhan òigh a bha giùlan Fear-Saoraidh an t-sluaigh?

Ach threòraicheadh dìreach is cinnteach an ceum

Dhan fhàrdaich a b’ ìsle san tìr ud gu lèir.

O seall E na shìneadh gum riomhadh na chòir,

O seall air a Mhàthair ga thàladh le deòin,

‘S na h-ainglean a’ fàilteachadh pàisde na h-òigh!

Bidh ‘n oidhche seo àraid an cànan ‘s an ceòl.

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Bha ceòl air a’ ghaoith agus shoillsich an reul,

Mun cuairt air na cìobairean, ‘s shìn iad an ceum,

‘S an uamha nan ainmhidhean thairg iad an gaol,

Dhan naoidhean aig Màiri, Rìgh-pàisde chlann-daoin.

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The snow was a coverlet

The snow was a coverlet, on low and high ground,

Inside the guest-house the rooms were all full.

Mary and Joseph were seeking somewhere to stay,

Wandering in Bethlehem, and the hour already late.

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Oh where was there shelter from the cold driving rain

For the maid who was carrying the Saviour of man?

But their step was guided, straight and sure,

To the lowliest lodgings in all that land.

Oh behold Him stretched out with no finery near,

Oh behold His Mother cradling him gladly,

And the angels welcoming the virgin’s child!

This night will be renowned in song and music.

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There was music on the wind and the star shone down

Around the shepherds setting out on their way;

And in the animals’ den they offered their love

To Mary’s infant, the Child-king of mankind.

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Faclan le Dòmhnall Iain Dòmhnallach, ceòl le Iseabail T. NicDhòmhnaill.

Words by Donald John Macdonald, music by Ishabel T. MacDonald.

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

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Èist / Listen:

Jennifer Licko Band   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxUQwJtmHeo

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Marit Falt and Rona Wilkie:https://maritandrona.bandcamp.com/track/bha-sneachda-na-chuibhrig

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Hydro Ness

Seachdain no dhà air ais, bha cothrom agam rudeigin ann an Inbhir Nis fhaicinn ris an robh mi air fiughair a dhèanamh fad mhiosan – meanbh-sgeama haidro “Hydro Ness”. Cho luath ‘s a thòisich an sgeama air obrachadh, tràth san t-samhradh am bliadhna, bhuannaich e iomadh duais, m.e. aig Duaisean Cumhachd Ath-nuadhachail na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean, mar phròiseact ath-nuadhachail as fheàrr air tìr, agus Pròiseact Beag den Bhliadhna (British Construction Industry).  Bhiodh sin drùidhteach gu leòr gun dad eile, ach leis gu bheil an sgeama dìreach air Abhainn Nis, chan ann sna beanntan mar a b’ àbhaist, mar gum biodh anns a’ bhaile fhèin, agus ann an togalach beag fìor tharraingeach (chunnaic mi dealbhan brèagha dheth), bha mi air bhioran fhaicinn mu dheireadh thall.

Tha an sgeama suidhichte air bruach na h-aibhne aig ceann thall Pàirc a’ Chonaisg ri taobh Drochaid Muilleann an Tuilm, àite nàdarrach brèagha. Ged a tha an sgeama fhèin gu tur ùr, tha dà cheangal aige ris an àm a dh’fhalbh. An toiseach, tha e a’ cleachdadh pàirt den bhun-structar a chaidh steidheachadh airson sgeama bhig haidro eile sna 1920an. Chaidh an t-aonamh sgeama-haidro deug ann am Breatainn a thogail faisg air seo le bhith a’ leudachadh seann lad Muileann-flùir a’ Bhucht , a’ tarraing uisge às an abhainn ann an seòrsa cùrsa-uisge àrdaichte. Ruith e fad deicheadan gus an deach Inbhir Nis air a’ Ghriod Nàiseanta. Tha am “Powerhouse” (1929) ri fhaicinn an-diugh fhathast – sin far a bheil bùth uachdair-reòite as t-samhradh.

 Agus ‘s e seo an aon lad – air a ghlanadh ‘s a chur an òrdugh a-rithist – a bhios Hydro Ness a’ cleachdadh an-diugh fhèin. Ath-chuairteachadh gu dearbh!

Agus an ceangal eile do dh’eachdraidh? Uill, ‘s e rud fada nas sine a th’ anns an fhear seo: tha an dealan ann an Hydro Ness ga dheànamh le sgriubha Archimedes. Sin inneal à linntean àrsaidh, ann an cruth sgriubha mhòir, a tha ag obrachadh air prionnsabal simplidh gus uisge a ghluasad gu eifeachdach agus gun cus saothair (mar as àbhaist do dh’ìre nas àirde). Tha Hydro Ness a’ cleachadh cumhachd uisge na h-aibhne san lad gus an sgriubha a dhràibheadh, coltach ris an t-seann roth-muilinn, agus mar sin còrr is 500,000 kWh de dhealan ath-nuadhachail a chruthachadh gach bliadhna.

Tha an dealan ga chleachdadh gus cumhachd a sholarachadh do dh’Ionad-Spòrs Inbhir Nis faisg air làimh – 50% den fheumalachd aca. Nuair a smaoinicheas sinn air an dà amar-snàmh mòra aca, agus na goireasan uile eile, aithnichidh sinn gur e caomhnadh gu math mòr a th’ ann, gu h-àraidh le cosgaisean cumhachd a’ sìor dhol an àird a-nis.

Aig an aon àm, ‘s e eisimplir a th’ ann an Hydro Ness – chì sinn dè cho feumail ‘s as urrainn do sgeamaichean beaga, ath-nuadhachail mar seo a bhith dha na sgìrean far a bheil iad, le cumhachd ionadail, gun fheum air pròiseactan einnseinnearachd mòra, daora, agus gun ar lorg carboin a mheudachadh.

Ach tha aon taobh eile aig an sgeama seo – tha e cuideachd airson luchd-tadhail (inbhich is clann-sgoile) a tharraing a-steach is am foghlam a thaobh chuspairean mar àrainneachd is eag-eòlas, obair còmhla ri nàdar, lìontan-bìdh is eag-shiostaman, brosnachadh bith-iomadachd, ath-nuadhachadh na Gàidhealtachd tro lùth uaine, amsaa. Air an adhbhar sin tha an togalach fhèin, slige shimplidh gus dìon a thoirt dhan inneal agus dhan luchd-tadhail, sònraichte tlachdmhor grinn. Tha e ann an cruth armadillo le pleitean meatailt airgeadach, leth-fhosgailte do sholas is do ghaoith. Glacaidh e an t-sùil nuair a dhlùthaicheas tu ris, air cois no air rothair, no ma bhios tu a dràibheadh thairis air an drochaid ri a thaobh. Tha sanasan fiosrachail ann – ma bhios tu airson an leughadh idir – le grafaigean tarraingeach is soilleir (le beagan Gàidhlig orra), anns an t-slige fhèin agus timcheall oirre, air an cruthachadh leis a’ companaidh Mather & Co, agus flùraichean is beingean àlainn à clach gheal. 

Àite sìtheil, brèagha, inntinneach. Carson nach toir sibh fhèin sùil air?

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Hydro Ness

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to see something in Inverness that I’ve been looking forward to for months – the micro-hydro-electric scheme Hydro Ness. As soon as the scheme was up and running, in early summer this year, it was winning awards, such as the Scottish Highlands & Islands Renewable Energy Award for Best Onshore Renewable Energy Project 2022, and the Best Small Project of the Year 2022 at the British Construction Industry Awards. That would be impressive enough on its own, but with the scheme being directly on the River Ness, not in the mountains as these schemes usually are, but more or less in the town itself, and in a fascinating wee building (I’d seen lovely pictures of it), I couldn’t wait to see it at last.

The scheme is located on the river-bank at the far end of Whin Park, beside the Holm Bridge, a beautiful green spot. Although the scheme is completely new itself, it has two connections to the past. First, it uses part of the infrastructure that was developed for an earlier small-scale hydro project in the 1920s. The 11th hydro-electric station in Britain was built near here using the widened mill-lade of the old Bught Meal Mill, drawing water from the river in a kind of raised watercourse. It ran for several decades until Inverness was connected to the National Grid. Its “Powerhouse” (1929) can still be seen today – it houses the ice-cream parlour in the summer.

And this is the same lade – cleaned and brought back into working order, which Hydro Ness is using today. How’s that for re-cycling!

And the second link to history? Well, that one goes back a lot further: the electricity produced by Hydro Ness is generated using the Archimedes screw. That’s a device from ancient times in the form of a large screw, which works on a simple principle to move water efficiently and with minimal effort (usually up a level). Hydro Ness uses the power of the river flow in the lade to drive the screw, a bit like the old mill-wheel, which then powers the generator to create more than 500,000 kWh of renewable electricity per year.

The electricity supplies half the power needed to run the nearby Inverness Leisure Centre, and when you think about the two large swimming pools and all the other facilities there, you realise that represents quite a sizeable saving, especially with fuel costs rising by the minute.

At the same time Hydro Ness acts as an example – we can see just how useful such small-scale renewable schemes can be to the areas where they are, with local power and without the need for large-scale expensive engineering works, and also without increasing our carbon footprint.

But there’s another aspect to this scheme. Hydro Ness also aims to attract and educate visitors (adults and schoolchildren alike) on subjects like environment and ecology, working alongside nature, food-chains and eco-systems, encouraging biodiversity, renewing the Highlands through green energy, and so on. For that reason the building itself – a simple shell to protect the generator and the visitors – is startlingly attractive and elegant. It’s in the shape of an armadillo with silvery metal plates, half-open to light and wind. It catches the eye as you approach it, on foot or by bicycle, or when driving across the bridge beside it. There are informative signs – if indeed you want to read them – with clear, attractive graphics (and a bit of Gaelic), in the shell and around the location, as well as flowers and elegant white stone benches.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful, interesting place – why don’t you go and have a look for yourself?

Barrachd fiosrachaidh / further information:

https://www.highland.gov.uk/info/1210/environment/971/hydro_ness

Na ceanglaichean / the links:

Bught Meal Mill: https://www.ambaile.org.uk/asset/11482/  

The Powerhouse (1929): https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/6040546

The lade: https://www.flickr.com/photos/conner395/8012801239

Archimedes screw: https://akvopedia.org/wiki/Archimedes_screw

Pearù 3: An Gleann Naomh agus na h-Incas

Machu Picchu

Am mìos sa chaidh bha mi a‘ coimhead air àitichean eachdraidheil anns na h-Andes a Tuath – tha am pìos mu dheireadh seo mu làraichean tarraingeach a’ Ghlinn Naoimh sna h-Andes an ear air Lima. Bha mi toilichte gun do thadhail mi air Peàru a Tuath an toiseach, leis gur ann an sin far am faic thu mòran de na làraichean cultarach ro-Inca, agus tuigidh thu nach do thòisich na h-Incas le canabhas glan – thog iad air muin coileanasan nan linntean romhpa – na Moche, na Chimu, na Chachapoyas is eile. Mar sin bha rathaidean is slighean-malairt ann mar-thà, agus dùin àrda ana-mhòr, uaighean is lùchairtean sòghail. Bha mèinnearachd, uisgeachadh, àiteachas agus cleachdadh farsaing na h-àrainneachd air fàs àbhaisteach, agus bha sgilean obair-mheatailt agus obair-criadha fìor adhartach. An rud a rinn na h-Incas, ‘s ann gun do leasaich iad na cleachdaidhean, sgilean is teicneòlais seo, a bha ann mar-thà, gu ìre iongantach ann an ùine gu math goirid – mu na 100 bliadhna ro cheannsachadh nan Spàinnteach (1563-72), agus gun do chleachd iad iad gus na treubhan eadar-dhealaichte a cho-aonachadh ann an aon ìmpireachd. Faodaidh sinn coimeas a dhèanamh ri leasachadh luath an teicneòlais agus a’ chruinneachais a chunnaic sinn san t-saoghal againne o chionn an Darna Cogaidh.

Thagh na h-Incas Cusco (3,400m), ann an sràth torrach sna h-Andes, mar phrìomh bhaile an rìoghachd, agus shìn rathaidean a-mach bhuaithe mar lìon an damhan-allaidh air feadh a’ phàirt mhòir seo de dh’Ameireaga a Deas. Cuimhnich nach robh eich aca, no buill-acfhainn iarainn, no a’ chuibhle. Cha bhiodh cuibhlean uabhasach feumail sna beanntan no san fhàsach ghainmhich co-dhiù – chleachd iad ruitheadairean airson conaltraidh, llamas airson bathar a ghiùlan, agus neart nan daoine airson togail. Tha e coltach nach robh sgrìobhadh aca, ach chùm iad clàran le bhith a’ cleachdadh siostam shreangan snaidhmte, quipu – buan agus furasta a ghiùlan.

Maras

B’ e Holber, an neach-iùil ionadail as fheàrr ‘s a ghabhas dhomhsa, a bha agam airson a’ Ghlinn Naoimh – e fhèin fear de shliochd Inca, aig a bheil an cànan Quechua, le eòlas iongantach air lusan agus an cleachdaidhean, agus tàlant eachdraidh a thoirt beò dhut agus coileanais na h-Incas a mhìneachadh gu soilleir. Mar neach-iùil mi fhìn, dhruidh sin orm agus fhuair mi mòr-bhuannachd às. Thadhail sinn air aon làrach air an raonach àrd aig Moray (3,500m) a bha na “lab” phrobhail àiteachais, far an do dh’ath-chrùthaich iad sònaichean-clìomaid dealbhag le bhith a‘ cleachdadh barraidean is uisgeachadh, gus na seòrsichean gràin, buntàta is eile fhaighinn a-mach a dh’fhàsadh a b’ fheàrr anns gach sòn. Chaidh sinn cuideachd do chlaisean-tèachd salainn Inca aig Maras, a bhios gan cleachdadh gus an latha an-diugh, leis na h-aon dòighean-obrach.

Ach ‘s e na togalaich-chloiche an ìomhaigh as ainmeile de na h-Incas, agus chunnaic sinn eisimpleirean druidteach gu leòr. B’ e Ollantaytambo (c. 3,000m) – dùn, teampull is ceumannan, a’ chiad cothrom a bha agam na blocaichean ana-mhòr rèidh fhaicinn, air an cur ri chèile gun bheàrnan faicsinneach idir eatarra. Dh’ionnsaich mi gun robh iad air an chumail ri chèile le siostam cnag-is-socaid nam broinn, mar Lego, agus cho-fhreagair iad cho dlùth air sgàth mheasaidhean mionaideach agus le bhith a’ cleachdadh mhodailean ro làimh. Chleachd iad rampaichean, geamhleagan agus sgiobachd gus an socadh a-steach dhan àite cheart.  Chunnaic sinn barraidean a-rithist gus àiteachas tairbheach a dhèanamh comasach sna beanntan, cuideachd aig an làrach Inca faisg air sin, Pisaq, far a bheil margaid glè mhòr ann fhathast. Tha sràth torrach na h-aibhne Urubamba gu tur fo àiteachas gus an latha an-diugh. Shiubhail mi tron t-sràth thaitneach air an trèana-turasachd Vistadome.

Ollantaytambo

Bha e ri fhaicinn sa bhad gun robh fada barrachd de luchd-turais an seo na bha ann an ceann a tuath na dùthcha – nàdar de sheoc a bha sin, ach bha fios agam roimhe gum biodh Machu Picchu co-dhiù glè thrang, agus abair gun robh. Tha baile Machu Picchu fhèin, ged a tha e ann an suidheachadh brèagha air abhainn ann an gleann cumhang, dìreach coisrigte do thurasachd. Bha na h-àireamhean a bha ceadaichte san làrach eachdraidheil cuingichte air sgàth Covid ach bha buidhnean gu leòr ann fhathast. Bha mi toilichte gun robh neach-iùil agam fhìn agus a bhith nas sùbailte mar sin.

Bidh bus gad tar-aiseag dhan làrach agus às dèidh sin bidh thu a’ coiseachd  agus a’ dìreadh – tha ceumannan gun chrìoch ann. Dhìrich mise pìos air ais suas air an t-Slighe Inca gus an sealladh ainmeil thairis air an làrach gu lèir fhaighinn. Tha tobhtaichean susbainteach air fhàgail den lùchairt rìoghail samhraidh (mas fhìor), de thogalaich chràbhach is chathaireach, àitichean-còmhnaidh is taighean-stòir, a h-uile rud na shuidhe ann an seòrsa nead creagach, aig 2,500m, air a chuairteachadh le sgurran dramataigeach – seallaidhean neo-chreidsinneach anns gach àird. Bha mi air fèitheamh fad mo bheatha gus seo fhaicinn agus chan e briseadh-dùil a bh’ ann idir. Is coltach gun deach an làrach a threigsinn seach ionnsaigh air a bhith oirre, agus leis nach robh eòlas oirre san t-saoghal nas fharsainge gus a’ chiad turas le Hiram Bingham ann an 1911, tha i air a gleidheadh cuimseach math.

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco

Tha tèoraidh ann gun do thog na h-Incas far an robh fios aca mu shuidheachaidhean geòlasach sònraichte, mar sgoltaidhean domhain, a cheadaich tochladh na creige gu furasta ann an sliseagan feumail, dìreach aig an làrach togail, gun fheum air an uiread de ghearradh no de chòmhdhail – cha chuireadh sin iongnadh orm. Tha na taighean-tasgaidh fiosrachail ann an Cusco sgoinneil (mar a tha ann an Lima cuideachd), agus ‘s e baile brèagha eachdraidheil a th’ ann e fhèin, le fianais de gach linn aige. Tha fiù ‘s dùn ana-mhòr Inca aige os cionn a’ bhaile, Sacsayhuaman, a-rithist le blocaichean tomadach air an cur ri chèile gu foirfe.

B’ urrainn dhomh fada, fada a bharrachd a sgrìobhadh mu Phearù àlainn eachraidheil, ach tha mi a’ creidsinn gu bheil dealbh math gu leòr agaibh a-nis. Air a mholadh gu mòr!

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Peru 3: The Sacred Valley and the Incas

Moray

Last month I looked at the historic sites of the Northern Andes – this final piece is about the stunning remains in the Sacred Valley and area, in the Andes east of Lima. I was glad I’d visited the north first, as that’s where many of the pre-Incan cultural sites can be seen, and you realise the Incas didn’t start from scratch – they built on the achievements of the past – the Moche, the Chimu, the Chachapoyas and others. There were already roads and trade routes, massive hilltop fortresses, and sumptuous tombs and palaces. Mining, irrigation, agriculture and general management of the environment were already the norm. Metalwork and ceramic skills were advanced. What the Incas did was to develop these existing practices, skills and techniques to an astonishing extent in a relatively short period – the last 100 years or so before the Spanish conquest of 1532-72, and use them to unify the various Peruvian tribal areas into one cohesive empire. We might compare it to the rapid development of technology and the globalisation that we ourselves have seen since World War ll.

The Incas chose Cusco (3,400m), in a fertile valley in the Andes, as the centre of their domain, and roads reached out from it like a spider’s web throughout that huge part of South America. Remember they had no horses, no iron tools (just bronze), and no wheel. Wheels would not have been that useful in mountainous or sandy terrain anyway – they used runners for communication, llamas to move goods, and man-power for building. It seems they didn’t use writing, but detailed records were kept via a system of elaborately knotted strings, quipu – durable and easy to transport.

Quipu, Larco Museum, Lima

I had the best possible local guide for the Sacred Valley area, Holber – himself a Quechua-speaking descendant of the Incas with a vast knowledge of plants and their uses, and a gift for making history come alive, and making the Incas’ achievements clear and comprehensible. As a fellow tour-guide, I was very impressed and made the most of his knowledge. One site he took me to was the experimental Inca farm “lab” up on the high plains at Moray (3,500m), where different climate zones were recreated in miniature via terracing and water management, to test what kinds of grain, potato etc grew best in each. We also visited Inca-period salt-pans at Maras (3,200m), still producing today using the same methods.

But what is most associated with the Incas is their stone buildings, and we saw some wonderful examples. The first site was Ollantaytambo fortress, temple and steps (c.3,000m), my first chance to see the famous huge, smooth blocks of stone built together with no visible gaps. I learned that they were held together by an internal spur-and-socket system, like Lego blocks, and fitted so well due to careful advance measurement and the use of precise models. They used ramps and levers and man-power to move them into place. We also again saw terracing used for optimal farming in the mountains, also at the nearby Pisaq site, which still has a huge market. The valley floor, along the Urubamba River, is still fully farmed. I travelled along part of it in the scenic Vistadome train.

Pisaq

There were noticeably far more tourists down here than in the north, which came as a bit of a shock, but I had known that Machu Picchu would be the busiest, and it was. The village below is extremely touristy, though still pretty, set on a small river in the steep valley. Visitor numbers to the ruins were limited due to Covid, but there were still plenty of groups going around. I was pleased to have my own guide and more flexibility.

A bus takes you up to the site, then you walk and climb – I climbed back up a bit along the Inca Trail to get the classic view from the top. There are substantial remains of the (probable) royal summer palace, religious and civic buildings, houses and storehouses, sitting in a kind of high rocky nest at 2,500m ringed by spectacular peaks – breath-taking views all round. I had waited all my life to see this, and I was certainly not disappointed. The site seems to have been abandoned, not attacked, and was unknown to the wider world until Hiram Bingham’s first expedition in 1911, hence its fairly good preservation.

Machu Picchu

A recent theory is that the Incas knew to build where there were certain geological conditions, e.g. deep faults and fissures, that allowed rock to be quarried easily at the building site in usable slices, reducing the transport and the cutting required – it would not surprise me.  The informative museums in Cusco are wonderful (as they are in Lima too), and it’s a beautiful historic city in its own right, with remains from all periods. It even has a massive Inca fortress above the town, Sacsayhuaman, with impressive walls made again of huge, perfectly fitting blocks.

I could write much, much more about historic, beautiful Peru, but I think you’ll have got a good impression by now. Highly recommended!

Pearù a tuath – làraichean eachdraidheil

Raon a’ chladaich

Cao

Bha mi ann am Pearù 3 seachdainean uile gu lèir. Chuir sinn mu aon seachdain anns an raon rèidh ghainmheach air a’ chosta tuath air Lima, sgìre le mòran phioramaidean tomadach, dèanta às na milleanan de bhricean-eabair (adobe).  ‘S e fuigheall theampuill agus lùchairtean ro-Choluimbeanach (agus ro-Inca) a th’ annta, aig na cultaran mòra Moche (c.100-700 AD) agus Chimu (c. 900-1470), agus bha sinn aig làraichean fìor dhruidhteach mar Huanca de la Luna, El Brujo, Cao agus Chan Chan. Chan urrainn dhut gun a bhith làn mòr-mheasa ro na sgilean-togail adhartach innleachdach a bha aca mar-thà. 

Sgapte air an fhàsach seo tha plantachaidhean-siùcair agus àiteachas eile, nach biodh rim dèanamh idir gun dòighean-uisgeachaidh a stèidhich na cultaran eachdraidheil seo. Tha bailtean brèagha trang ann cuideachd, mar Trujillo, le ailtireachd cholonaidheach agus raointean spàgach de thaigheadais earragis air an iomall.

Sipan

Uair eile bha sinn nas fhaide tuath san sgìre mu Chiclayo, gus na làiraichean aig Tucume agus Lambayeque (c.800-1350 AD) fhaicinn, leis an taigh-tasgaidh ainmeil “Lord of Sipan”, làn earrasan-uaighe luachmhor à tuama phrionnsail.

Tha taighean-tasgaidh fìor mhath aig gach làrach eachdraidheal, a’ sealladh caochladh iongantach de bhathar-criadha, bhuill-cheàirde, òir is airgead às na cladhaich arc-eòlais, a dh’aindeòin nan linntean de robairean-uaighe.

Andes

Karajia

Chuir sinn seachdain eile seachad anns na h-Andes a tuath gus tadhail air làraichean ro-Choluimbeach anns na gleannan torrach brèagha àrda, gu h-àraidh an fheadhainn aig na Chachapoyas (c.900 – 1500 AD), “Laoich nan Sgòthan”. An seo ‘s e na cleachdaidhean-adhlacaidh a tha gu sònraichte ùidheil. Ann an Revash, Karajia agus an sgìre Leymabamba chaidh mumaidhean a chur a-steach do chisteachan-laighe neo-àbhaisteach, ann an cruth dhaoine neònach no taighean, làraichte do-ruigsinneach àrd air aodainnean-creige dìreach. Tha an taigh-tasgaidh ann an Leymabamba loma-làn de mhumaidhean. Chì thu cuideachd eisimplearan de “trepanning” an sin, obair-lannsa air a’ chlaigeann gus bruthadh air an eanchainn a lùghdachadh – mar as trice gu soirbeachail. Air sgàth suidheachadh àrd nan làraichean sin, bha againn gu tric ri dìreadh gu math fada, air ceumannan casa, uaireannan le bhith a’ cleachdadh eich! Rinn sinn sin cuideachd dhan dùn ana-mhòr àrd Kualep, iongantach math dèanta à blocaichean-cloiche aibhseach – fada ro na h-Incas.

Bha làrach fada na bu tràithe ann cuideachd aig Cumbe Mayo, faisg air Cajamarca, duct-uisge ro-eachdraidheil (c. 1500 BC). Tha e ag obrachadh fhathast, le lùban toinnte air an gearradh às a‘ chloich gus maille a chur air an t-sruth, gun innealan meatailt a bhith aca, agus petroglyphs inntinneach air an t-slighe. Cuairt-bheinne chas eile againn!

Cumbe Mayo prehistoric aqueduct

Tha an sealladh-dùthcha shuas anns na h-Andes dìreach òirdheirc, agus chanainn gu bheil na rathaidhean cumhang cas lùbach gu math dùbhlanach, aig a’ char as lùgha!

An ath thuras cuiridh mi crìoch air an aithisg agam leis na làraichean Inca, ceann a deas Phearù – an Gleann Naomh agus Machu Picchu.

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North Peru – historical sites

Coastal plains

Chan Chan

Of the 3 weeks in Peru, about a week of our tour was spent in the flat, sandy coastal region north of Lima, with its massive pyramid-shaped structures made of millions of mud-bricks (adobe), the impressive remains of pre-Columbian (and pre-Incan) temples and palaces, especially those of the great Moche (c. 100 – 700) and Chimu c.(900 – 1470) cultures, at El Brujo, Huaca de la Luna, Cao and Chan Chan. You couldn’t but be impressed by the inventive, advanced building skills they had already had then.

The desert is interrupted by sugar plantations and other farming, only possible due to irrigation techniques established by these early cultures, and busy attractive towns like Trujillo with colonial architecture and sprawling makeshift developments on their edges.

Tucume

Later we went further north to the area around Chiclayo, visiting the Tucume and Lambayeque historic sites (c.800 – 1350 AD) , with the famous “Lord of Sipan” museum displaying amazing finds from a princely burial.
All the historic sites in fact have excellent museums, showing the huge variety of astonishing ceramics, artefacts, gold and silver from excavations, despite centuries of grave-robbers.

Andes

Revash

We also spent about a week in the northern Andes, visiting early Andean cultural sites in the beautiful, green high valleys, particularly the Chachapoyas culture c. 900 – 1500 AD, the “Warriors of the Clouds”. Here one of the main focuses was the fascinating burial practices. In Revash, Karajia, and near Leymabamba, mummies would be placed in different kinds of elaborate sarcophagi and somehow lodged high on inaccessible cliff-faces, some house-shaped, some curiously human-shaped.  Leymebamba has a museum full of different mummies, and also examples of trepanning – surgery cutting into the skull to relieve pressure (usually successfully). Most of these high sites meant we had to hike up steep hills to see them, sometimes using horses for parts of the way – also to visit the massive Chachapoyan fortress of Kualep, astonishingly well-built out of huge blocks of cut stone – long before the Incas.

Leymabamba

A much earlier site was the prehistoric (c. 1500 BC) stone aqueduct at Cumbe Mayo, near Cajamarcas, still functioning today, with complicated stone bends cut in the stone walls (without metal tools) to slow the flow, and interesting petroglyphs along the way. Another mountain hike for us!

The scenery in the high Andes is spectacular, and I would call the steep, winding roads adventurous, to say the least!

Next time I’ll finish off my story with the Inca sites in the south, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Kualep
Andes roads
Àilleachd nan Andes / the beauty of the Andes

Sipan (Lambeyeque)

Tucume (Lambeyeque)

El Brujo / Cao complex (Moche)

Chan Chan (Chimu)

Huaca de la Luna (Moche)

Cumbe Mayo (c. 1500 BC) – cave, grotto, canal, petroglyphs

Leymebamba Mummy Museum (Chachapoya)

Revash (Chachapoya) cliff tombs

Karajia (Chachapoya) cliff sarcophagi

Kualep fortress, 6th century (Chachpoyas)

Àiteachas is iasgach an am Pearù

Beagan seachdainean air ais bha mi cho fortanach is choilean mi bruadar nan làithean-sgoile agam, nuair a thachair mi air dealbhan Machu Picchu: chaidh mi a Phearù! Is e an turas as iongantaiche a rinn mi riamh, ann an iomadh dòigh – caochladh nan seallaidhean-tìre, eachdraidh nan cultaran eadar-dhealaichte tro na linntean, am biadh, na bailtean, na daoine, an fhìor-mheudachd dheth… tha mo cheann làn dealbhan, fhuaimean is fhàilidhean fhathast!

Bidh mi a’ sgrìobhadh turas eile mun eachdraidh, ach am mìos seo bha mi airson rudeigin a ràdh mu na chunnaic mi de thuathanasachd is de dh’iasgach, is iad cuspairean ceangailte ris an sgìre againne.

Thòisich sinn air an raonach ri taobh cladach a’ Chuain Sèimh tuath air Lima, is e fàsach a th’ ann gu nàdarrach. Ach b’ urrainn do na treubhan tùsanach tràtha den sgìre, gu h-àraidh na Moche is na Chimù (ro na h-Incas is na Spainntich, am fàsach uisgeachadh le sruthan as na h-Andes, siostam a bhios ga chleachadh an-diugh fhèin fhathast airson nam plantachasan-siùcair mòra, cruithneachd Innseanaich, buntàta, agus ann an àitichean cofaidh. Chleachdadh iad cuideachd am pailteas de dh’èisg a thug na làin-mhara àrda aig El Nino gus lagùnaichean daonna-dhèante a lìonadh. Chì thu seo anns an obair-shnaidhidh  agus na dealbhan air a’ bhathar-criadha aca. Agus bidh muinntir a’ chladaich a’ cleachdadh an aon seòrsa bàta-iasgaich bhig dhèanta à cuilc chun an latha an-diugh. Ghabh sin ceviche, biadh-mara sònraichte le iasg ùr is mòran liomaideige, ann am baile beag iasgaich (is surfaidh), Huancacho.

Às dèidh an raonaich dhìrich sin suas is suas a-steach dha na h-Andes, seachad air dàm dealan-uisgeach mòr – cleachdaidh iad uisge gu math ann am Pearù – agus chuir e iongnadh oirnn dè bhios a’ fàs cho àrd.  Aig 2000-4000 meatair os cionn na mara, fada nas àirde na Beinn Neibhis, tha srathan torrach le bailtean meudmhor mar Cajamarca, tuathanasan beaga, agus coilltean, air an uisgeachadh le lochan is aibhnichean, agus a-rithist le canàlan simplidh ach èifeachdach. Thadail sinn air fear drùidhteach aig Cume Mayo bho 1500-1000 ro Chrìosda. Chunnaic sinn cuideachd loin-eisg airson an tilapia bhlasda.

Anns an 20. linn chaidh craobhan eucalyptus a chur sna beanntan gus cuideachadh an aghaidh bleith-thalmhainn, gu soirbheachail, is tha iad glè fheumail a-nis airson connaidh is stuth-togalach. Tha an tuathanasachd gu math simplidh, seann-fhasanta shuas an seo – chunnaic sinn treabhadh le daimh, agus bha cearcan, gobhair is mucan a’ ruith ri taobh na rathaidean air an dùthaich.  Agus bha mi toilichte buntàta fhaicinn cho àrd – tha Pearù ainmeal airson nan 6000 seòrsachan eadar-dhealaichte! Tha na margaidean ionadail dìreach mìorbhaileach.

Às dèidh sin bha sinn ann an sgìre nas àirde timcheall air Chachapoyas, Andes a‘ Choille-Sgòtha, far a chùmas adhar blàth bhon Amazon an fhàs-bheatha mèath agus leth-thropaigeach, agus na craobhan ri taobh na h-aibhne làn bromeliads. Tha flùraichean mar hibiscus air feadh an àite.

San t-seachdain mu dheireadh (à trì), bha mi sìos san taobh a deas gus tadhail air Srath Naomh nan Incas, agus a-rithist chuir an torrachd aig àirdean anabarrach iongnadh orm.  Air an raonach àrd aig Moray (Phearù!), mu 3500 m, bha achaidhean farsaing ann le coirce, cruithneachd agus eòrna, sìol mar quinua, agus a-rithist buntàta – tha seòrsachan ann a dh’fhàsas aig 5000 meatair! Sìos air an raonach tha achaidhean-uisge ris ann cuideachd – pàirt chudromach den bhun-bhiadh. Ach nuair a dh’fhaighnich mi dè rinn iad leis an eòrna, cha robh mi an dùil seo a chluinntinn – an àite uisge-beatha a dhèanamh (nì iad deoch à cruithneachd Innseanach), bidh iad a’ beathachadh nan gearra-mhucan leis! Thèid a ghearradh buileach sìos fhad ‘s a tha e uaine fhathast, agus a thoirt gu lèir dhaibh. Bidh iadsan gan cumail mar chearcan anns a’ ghàrradh, agus gan ithe do dh’fhèilltean sònraichte, mar an Nollaig no co-làithean-breith.

Anns gach àite ann am Pearù tha measan ann – dearcan mar an fheadhainn againne, agus cuideachd papayas, mangos, tomàtothan-craoibh, measan-dràgain, measan-siotrachais, fìon-dhearcan, cnòthan-chòco, agus gach seòrsa tiùbair. Bidh tòrr mheasan gan ithe dhan bhracaist no gan òl mar shugh, agus tha deòch ùrachail ann dèanta le cruithneachd Innseanach purpaidh, chicha morada. Tha iad measail cuideachd air pisco, spiorad làidir dèanta à fìon-dhearcan, gu h-àraidh san cocktail pisco sour. Tha Pearù aimeil airson a thioclaid cuideachd, agus tha a ghnìomhacas fìona, ged a tha e òg fhathast, gu math gealltanach.

‘S e dùthaich bheartach chaochlaideach a th’ innte, agus anabarrach inntinneach a thaobh fàs-bheatha leis an dualchas fada de shaochrachadh-bìdh aig àirde. Is fhiach e a thadhail do chroitear no thuathanach sam bith!

Farming and fishing in Peru

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream from my schooldays, when I first came across pictures of Machu Picchu – I went to Peru! It’s the most amazing trip I’ve ever done, in many ways – the variety of landscapes, the history of the different cultures through the centuries, the food, the towns, the people, and the sheer scale of it … my head is still full of the sights, sounds and smells!

I’ll write about the history another time, but this month I wanted to say something about what I saw of farming and fishing there, subjects close to our own area.

We started off in the coastal plain north of Lima, which is naturally a desert. But the early peoples of the area, especially the Moche and the Chimù (pre-Inca and pre-Spanish),  learned how to irrigate the desert with water from the Andes – a system still in use today, mainly to allow vast sugar plantations, maize, potatoes, and in some areas coffee beans. They also exploited the fairly regular El Nino high tides to store the glut of fish they brought in man-made lagoons. This is all recorded in their carvings, ceramics etc. The type of little reed fishing boat still in use today is the same as on ancient carvings. We enjoyed the coastal speciality ceviche, made with fresh fish and lots of lime, in a small fishing (and surfing) town, Huancacho.

After the plains we went up and up into the Andes, past a huge hydro-electric dam – water is well used in Peru – and were amazed at how much still grows so high up. At heights well above Ben Nevis, 2000 to 4000 metres above sea level, there are fertile valleys with sizeable towns like Cajamarca, croft-like farms, and woods, all watered by lakes and rivers, and again with simple but effective irrigation canals. One impressive one we visited at Cume Mayo goes back to 1500-1000 BC. We also saw what looked like trout ponds, used for their tasty tilapia.

In the 20th C. eucalyptus trees were introduced to help stop soil erosion, and they have flourished, providing fuel and building materials. Farming is fairly unsophisticated up there – we saw ox-ploughs in use, and hens, goats and pigs run around by the wayside. And I was happy to see some of the taties that Peru is famous for – it has over 6000 varieties! The local markets are just wonderful.

Later we were in a higher region around Chachapoyas, the Cloud Forest Andes, where warm, humid air from the Amazon keeps vegetation lush and semi-tropical, and the trees along the rivers are full of bromeliads.  Flowers like hibiscus are everywhere.

In my last week (of three), I was down in the south of Peru, to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and again the fertility at high altitude was astonishing. On the high plains of (Peruvian) Moray (c. 3500 m) there are wide fields of grain – oats, wheat and barley, seeds like quinua, and again potatoes – some varieties grow as high as 5000 metres!  Down on the flatlands there are rice paddies too, an important part of their diet. But I got a surprise when I asked what the barley was used for – not for whisky, but to feed the guinea-pigs! It’s cut right down when still green and the whole thing fed to the many domesticated piggies. People keep them in their back gardens like hens, and eat them for special occasions, like Christmas and birthdays.

Everywhere in Peru there’s also fruit – berries like ours and also papayas, mangos, tree-tomatoes, dragon-fruit, citrus, grapes, coconuts and every kind of tuber. A lot of fruit is eaten at breakfast or drunk as juice, and a popular soft drink is a juice made from purple maize, chicha morada. The strong grape spirit pisco is also popular, especially as the pisco sour cocktail. Peru is also famous for its chocolate, and its still young wine industry is also promising.

It’s a rich and varied country, and exceptionally interesting as regards vegetation and the long tradition of food production at altitude. Well worth a visit for any crofters and farmers!

Tha òran snog ainmeil tradaiseanta ann air a bheil Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein. ‘S e òran-luaidh a th’ ann, luath, beòthail, aighearach, làn molaidh air na h-eòin ‘s an ceilearadh, air a’ bhradan a’ leum, agus air àilleachd nàdair. Ann an cuid de na tionndaidhean, tha nuallan a’ chruidh a’ nochdadh, is banarach bhòidheach a’ dol dhan bhleoghan. ‘S e dealbh eireachdail a th’ ann, agus nuair a chluinneas tu an t-òran, no gu h-àraid ma ghabhas tu thu fhèin e, bidh thu a’ faireachdainn toilichte, dòchasach, sìtheil, fada air falbh bhon t-sluagh agus saor o dhraghan an t-saoghail.

Ach san darna leth den 19. linn, aig àm na strì airson còraichean nan croiteirean, nochd faclan eile air an aon fhonn – faclan politeagach. An turas seo ‘s e moladh air duine a th’ ann seach air nàdar, is esan Teàrlach Friseal Mac an Tòisich, neach-lagha a sheas airson nan croiteirean,  sgrìobhaiche is òraidiche gun sgìos, ball den Choimisean Napier – agus neach-iomairt sgairteil airson cleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns na sgoiltean (toirmisgte aig an àm sin), mar chànan co-ionnan ri Beurla. ‘S e seo a tha ga chomharrachadh san tionndadh ùr den òran.

B‘ e duine comasach buadhach a bh’ ann, agus araidh air òran le cinnt. Agus nochd e gu dearbh ann am fear eile, le Màiri Mhòr nan Òran fhèin, a chuidich e, a rèir coltais, nuair a bha i fo chasaid mèirle breugaich. ‘S ann a thaing aigesan cuideachd a chaidh Leabharlann Saor Poblach ann an Inbhir Nis a a stèidheachadh ann an 1883, gus cothrom a thoirt do gach neach foghlam is fiosrachadh fhaighinn gus nach biodh iad tuilleadh ann am muinghinn breugan an luchd-politigs no nan uachdaran.

Mar sin, nuair a chomharraicheas sinn Là nan Còraichean Luchd-Obrach a’ chiad latha den Chèitean am bliadhna, bu choir dhuinn a bhith a’ smaoineachadh cuideachd air na gaisgich againn fhèin air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, a dh’oibrich airson nan còraichean againne – agus tha gu leòr ann dhiubh!

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There’s a lovely traditional song called Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein (I arose early on a May morning). It’s a waulking song, fast, lively, joyful, full of praise for the birds and their singing, the salmon leaping, and the beauty of nature. In some versions there are also cattle lowing and a pretty milkmaid. It’s an idyllic picture, and when you hear the song, or particularly if you sing it yourself, you can’t help but feel happy, optimistic, peaceful, far away from the crowds and free of the worries of the world.

But in the second half of the 19th century, at the time of the struggle for crofters’ rights, another set of words appeared to the same tune – political words. This time it was praising a man instead of nature, and that man was Charles Frazer Mackintosh, a lawyer who stood up for the crofters, a tireless writer and speaker, a member of the Napier Commission – and a vigorous campaigner for the use of Gaelic in the schools (at that time forbidden), on an equal basis to English. This is what is being celebrated in the new version of the song.

He was an able, influential figure and most certainly worthy of a song. And indeed he appears in another one too, by Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (“Big Mary of the Songs”) herself, the poet and land-campaigner whom he apparently helped defend when she was wrongly accused of theft. It’s thanks to him too that a Free Public Library was founded in Inverness in 1883, to enable everyone to access education and information, so that they would no longer be at the mercy of lying politicians or landlords.

So when we celebrate International Workers’ Rights Day on the 1st of May this year, we should also spare a thought for our own Highland heroes who worked for our rights – and there are plenty of them!

DH‘ÈIRICH MI MOCH MADAINN CHÈITEIN

Tionndadh tradiseanta:
Dh’éirich mi moch madainn Chéitein,
Fail ill é hill ù hill ó, Hiuraibh ó na hó ro éile
Fail ill é hill ù hill ó.

Mas moch an-diugh bu mhuich’ an dé e.
‘S binn a’ chòisir rinn mi éisdeachd.
Smeòraichean air bhàrr nan geugan,
Uiseagan os cionn an t-sléibhe.   
‘S bòidhche fhiamh ‘s a’ ghrian ag éirigh,
Madainn chiùin fo dhriùchd nan speuran,
Bric air linneachan a’ leumraich.
Leannaidh slàinte agus éibhneas
Riùthasan a bhios moch ag éirigh.  

Traditional version:
I arose early on a May morning.   
If early today it was earlier yesterday.   
Sweet was the choir I listened to,
thrushes on the tops of the branches,
larks above the moor.   
Beautiful is the prospect, with the sun rising,
a calm morning under the dew of the heavens,
trout leaping in the pools.   
There will follow health and happiness
for those who rise early
 
Tionndadh ùr:
Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein
Faill il o hill u ill o,
Hiùraibh o ‘s na hòro èile
Faill il o hill u ill o

Chuala mise sgeul bha èibhinn
Gun robh gaisgich dheas air èirigh
A chur beatha ‘n cainnt na Fèinne

Chaidh iad cruinn a ceann a chèile
Thuirt iad gu robh chànan feumail
Anns an sgoil cho math ri Beurla
Siud an duine a rinn feum dhuinn

Friseal Mac an Tòisich gleusta
Togaibh luinneag agus sèist dha
Àrdaichear e gus na speuran
Leis na Gàidheil ‘s gach àite ‘n tèid e.  

New version:
I arose early one May morning
I heard news which gladdened me
That the able heroes had risen
To put spirit in the language of the Feinne

They had gathered together
Declaring the language of use
In the schools as well as English
Now there was a man…

Wise Fraser MacIntosh
Sing songs and tunes for him
Let him be praised to the heavens
By the Gaels wherever he goes
.  

Kathleen MacInnes (new version of lyrics):

New York Public Library

‘S ann anns a’ Ghearran a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh seo, àm nan gealagan-làir.  Anns na mìosan dubha den gheamhradh bidh sinn a’ fèitheamh air a’ chiad sealladh dhiubh,  is iadsan comharra an earraich ri teachd, geal mar an sneachd agus deàrrsach mar sholas na maidne. Anns a’ Ghàidhlig tha an t-ainm a’ ciallachadh “rud beag geal an talmhainn”, ach tha ainm eile ann cuideachd, blàth-sneachda –  “flùr den t-sneachd”. Uaireannan bidh iad a’ nochdadh tron t-sneachd fhèin, uaireannan am measg dhuilleagan donn seargte, ach an-còmhnaidh nan samhla di-beathte dòchais.

Mar sin is beag an t-iongnadh gun nochd a‘ ghealag-làir anns a‘ bheul-aithris mar lus sònraichte. Chì sinn aon deagh eisimpleir san uirsgeul Biara, Brìde is Aonghas. B’ e Banrigh a’ Gheamhraidh a bha ann am Biora Dhorcha, boireannach mòr, grannda, cruaidh, agus chùm i Brìde, bana-phrionnsa òg, àlainn, mar phrìosanach, ag obair na tràill. Aon latha thill Brìde air ais bhon allt reòthte far am b’ fheudar dhi clòimh bho chaora dhonn a nighe geal, saothair gun fheum, le bad ghealagan-làir na làimh, agus abair fearg a bha air Biara, is fios aice gum biodh an rìoghachadh aice a tighinn gu crìoch.  Dh’fheuch i a h-uile rud gus an geamhradh a chumail a’ dol, le stoirmean is gaillinn-sneachda air feadh na h-Alba, ach aig a cheann thall chaidh aig a’ Phrionnsa Aonghas nan Òg às an Eilean Uaine (seòrsa Tìr nan Òg) air Brìde a shàbhaladh, agus chaill Biara a cumhachd. Thàinig an t-earrach agus rìoghaich Aonghas is Brìde mar Rìgh is Banrigh an t-Samhraidh – gus an tilleadh cumhachd Biara sa gheamhradh a-rithist.

Tha gealag-làir shònraichte a’ nochdadh ann an sgeulachd eile. Anns an fhiolm ghoirid tarraingeach Foighidinn – the Crimson Snowdrop le Simon David Miller (2005), tha duine òg uasal air an leannan aige a phuinnseanachadh le tuiteamas, agus feumaidh e an aon chungaidh-leigheis san t-saoghal a shireadh – gealag-làir chrò-dhearg, flùr dearg a‘ chridhe, a dh’fhàsadh air mullach nam beann as àirde ach a chaidh bàs o chionn linntean. Ach cumaidh e a‘ dol, fad seachd bliadhna, gus an ruig e an Cuiltheann san Eilean Sgitheanach…. ma bhios sibh ag iarraidh faighinn a-mach dè thachair an uair sin, seo am fiolm (14 mionaidean): https://vimeo.com/7855573. (14 mion.)

Às dèidh dha a bhith soirbheachail le Foighidinn, rinn Miller fiolm fada mar leasachadh den sgeulachd, Seachd – the Inaccessible Pinnacle ann an 2007 – fiolm uabhasach math cuideachd.

Tha gealagan-làir gu math cumanta ann am Breatainn, ged a tha iad nas sgaoilte air feadh a‘ Ghàidhealtachd ’s nan Eileanan, ach chan e lus dùthchail a tha innte. Tha e coltach gun tàinig iad às a‘ mhòr-thìr Eòrpach mar fhlùraichean sgeadachail san t-siathamh linn deug ach cha deach an clàradh mar lusan fiadhaich ach aig deireadh an ochdaimh linn deug. Tha seòrsaichean gu math eadar-dhealaichte ann san eadar-àm, bhon fheadhainn simplidh as fheàrr leamsa, gu cuid eile le coltas dreasaichean dannsairean-ballet. Tha daoine ann air a bheil Galanthophiles a tha gu sònraichte measail agus eòlach air gealagan-làir is iad a’ feuchainn an uiread ‘s a ghabhas de sheòrsaichean a lorg ‘s a chlàradh.

Bha mi dìreach aig Caisteal Dùn Robain gus na gealagan-làir ainmeil aca fhaicinn, agus leugh mi air sanas gun do thog an t-àrd-gàirnealair an sin, David Melville, seòrsa ùr de ghalag-làir ann an 1879, Galanthus Melvillei, agus bidh na Galanthophiles a’ feuchainn ri eisimpleirean dhi a lorg sna coilltean, agus a’ tadhail air an uaigh aig Melville sa chladh ann an Goillspidh, far a bheil diofair seòrsaichean de ghealag-làir a’ fàs.

Tha na gealagan-làir measail air coilltean agus pàircean, agus gu h-àraidh air cladhan – bidh mòran rim faicinn ann an cladhan na sgìre againne. Agus an robh sibh riamh aig Poyntzfield san Eilean Dubh sa Ghearran? ‘S e sin an làrach as fheàrr leam fhìn air an son. Tha an dà thaobh den cheum suas dhan ghàrradh-lusan loma-làn de ghealagan-làir is winter aconites buidhe. Thèid mi ann gach bliadhna a dh’aona-ghnothach.

Agus chan ann bòidheach a-mhàin a tha gealagan-làir – nì iad feum cuideachd, cuide ri conaisg, dha na seilleanan tràtha, gus an stòr poilein is meala den t-seann bhliadhna a mheudachadh.  Lusan àlainn, feumail is làn dòchais – cò dh’iarradh a bharrachd!

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I’m writing this in February, snowdrop season. In the dark months of winter we wait for the first sight of them, a sign of the spring to come, white as the snow and shining like the morning light. In Gaelic their usual name means “wee white thing of the ground” but they have another name too, blàth-sneachda – “blossom of the snow”. Sometimes they emerge from the snow itself, sometimes against withered brown leaves, but always a welcome sign of hope.

It’s therefore small wonder that the snowdrop appears in oral tradition and legends as a special plant. One good example is in the old tale of Biara, Angus and Bride. Biara the Dark was the Queen of Winter, a big, ugly, cruel woman, and she kept Bride, a beautiful young princess, a prisoner, working her like a slave. One day Bride returned from the frozen stream where she had to wash a brown sheep’s fleece white – a senseless task – with a bunch of snowdrops in her hand. What a rage Biara was in, knowing that her reign was coming to an end. She tried everything to keep the winter going, with storms and blizzards across Scotland, but in the end Prince Angus the Ever-young, from the Green Isle (a kind of Land of Youth), managed to rescue Bride, and Biara lost her power. The spring came and Angus and Bride ruled as King and Queen of the Summer – until Biara’s power gradually returned again in winter.

A very special snowdrop features in another story. In the gripping short film Foighidinn – the Crimson Snowdrop by Simon Miller (2005), a young nobleman has accidentally poisoned his sweetheart, and has to search for the only cure in the world – the crimson snowdrop, red flower of the heart, which grew on the highest mountain peaks but which had died out centuries ago. But he keeps going, seven years long, until he reaches the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye…. And if you want to find out what happens, you can watch the film here: https://vimeo.com/7855573. (14 mins.)

After the success of the short film, Miller made a full-length one as a development of the story in 2007 – Seachd – the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Also a wonderful film

Snowdrops are fairly common in Britain, though more scattered in the Highlands and Islands, but they’re not actually a native plant. It’s likely that they came from the European mainland as an ornamental plant in the 16th century but they were not recorded in the wild until the end of the 18th century. There are many different varieties in the meantime, from the simple ones I prefer to the ones that look like ballet-dancers’ tutus.  There are people called Galanthophiles who are particularly fond of and knowledgeable about snowdrops, and who try to find and record as many varieties as possible.

I’ve just come back from a visit to Dunrobin Castle to see their famous snowdrops, and I read on a notice that a head-gardener there, David Melville, raised a new variety in 1879, Galanthus Melvillei, and the Galanthophiles go looking for it in the castle woods, and visit Melville’s grave in Golspie, which is surrounded by many varieties of snowdrop.

Dunrobin

Snowdrops are fond of woods and parks, but especially of graveyards – you can see masses in our own local graveyards. And have you ever been to Poyntzfield on the Black Isle in February? That’s my favourite site for them. Both sides of the path up to the herb-garden are lined with carpets of snowdrops and yellow winter aconites. I go there every year specially.

But they’re not just a pretty face – they’re of use, alongside the whins, to the early bees too, supplementing their diminishing store of pollen and honey from the old year. These snowdrops are beautiful, useful, and full of hope – what more could anyone ask for!

Taing do / Thanks to Anne MacInnes (Logie Wester, Contin images) agus Allan Bremner (Oldmeldrum).