I have written previously in this blog about how the meadowsweet is known in Gaelic tradition as a plant that once soothed the wild temper of the hero Cuchullin, famous for his meanderings, battling and philandering on the Isle of Skye. It is Crios Chù Chulainn ‘Cuchullin’s belt’. Another attractive native plant of similar stature that is often seen growing in the same vicinity to meadowsweet – damp and unkempt meadows or roadside verges – is also known for its ability to soothe an upset disposition in humans. It is Carthan Curaidh [pron. ‘kar-an KOO-ree’], a name which perhaps best translates as ‘warrior’s friendship’. Carthan is the root of the oft used carthannas, meaning ‘charity’ (a word to which it is a cognate). A bùth-charthannais is a ‘charity shop’ and carthannach means ‘charitable, kind’. Curaidh is an old word, still used and understood in the Scottish Gaelic community, which means ‘warrior, champion, hero’.
The Gaelic name is likely to reflect the understanding, long-established in traditions of European herbalism, that the juice of the roots could be employed to calm people who were suffering angst or worry – as might be the case with a warrior preparing for, or recovering from, conflict. Valerian, as it is known in English (Valeriana officinalis being the scientific name for the wild species), was used to treat shell-shocked soldiers and victims of Zeppelin bombings in World War I. The plant has also been used to promote sleep, lower blood pressure and treat epilepsy, although its efficacy in all of these is questioned.
An account in Flora Celtica tells of how it was administered, in a series of clinical experiments in the 18th century, to counteract the side-effects of (poisonous) hemlock which was being employed in a radical treatment for cancer. Another account in the same publication is of advice given to a woman on the Isle of Grimsay in the Western Isles to boil some valerian roots and ‘make a sort of drink of it’ as a pick-me-up. The recipient of the advice neglected to take it so could not vouch for its efficacy. Like many herbal remedies, such treatments should not be self-administered and should only be considered after receiving professional advice.
If you do decide to dig up some roots (doing so only where the plant grows in abundance), be careful if you have a pet cat. Felines absolutely love the smell of the roots (and other parts of the plant) in contrast to many humans who find it objectionable. You will have to store the plant in a pussy-proof location or you will be disturbed by energetic feline scratchings!
An alternative Gaelic name for valerian is Lus nan Trì Bilean ‘the plant of the three leaves’ which refers to the uppermost group of leaves found immediately below the attractive pink-white flower-heads. This has led to confusion with another plant, abundant in Highland lochans, called trì-bhileach ‘bogbean’ (which has leaves in groups of three). References to the sour taste of the juice of the trì-bhileach have been interpreted, perhaps erroneously, as being a commentary on valerian rather than bogbean.
The origin of the name Valerian is also interesting. It appears to derive from the Latin verb valere ‘to be strong and healthy’ (like a warrior or hero), which also gives the personal names Valeria and Valerius. The German pharmacologist Valerius Cordus (1515-1544) was one of the most celebrated herbalists in European history. Valere also provided the name – misleading or not, depending on your view – for a new psychotrophic drug developed in the 1960s, whose active ingredient is diazepam – Valium.
This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.
Tha mi air sgrìobhadh mu-thràth mu dheidhinn an luis ris an canar Crios Chù Chulainn a tha aithnichte mar meadowsweet ann am Beurla. A rèir beul-aithris nan Gàidheal, bha e air a chur gu feum airson an gaisgeach Cù Chulainn, aig a bheil ceanglaichean làidir don Eilean Sgitheanach, a shocrachadh, agus an dearg chuthach a’ tighinn air. Tha lus eile car dhen aon mheud, agus a dh’fhàsas anns an aon seòrsa àrainn ri Crios Chù Chulainn (lòintean rudeigin fliuch far nach bi cus ionaltraidh no gearradh feòir), cuideachd air a chleachdadh airson daoine a tha troimhe-chèile a dhèanamh socair. ʼS e sin Carthan Curaidh. Thathar a’ tuigsinn gu bheil an t-ainm a’ ciallachadh ‘lus a tha taiceil do ghaisgeach’. Tha cathran co-cheangailte ris na faclan cathrannas agus carthannach. Tha curaidh na sheann fhacal, a th’ air a chleachdadh fhathast, a tha a’ ciallachadh ‘laoch’ no ‘gaisgeach’.
ʼS iad na freumhaichean a bu mhotha a bh’ air an cur gu feum mar leigheas (mar a tha fhathast), agus rinn feadhainn feum dhiubh anns a’ Chogadh Mhòr, gu h-àraidh saighdearan a bha a’ fulang eagal às dèidh dhaibh a bhith fo shligean sna trainnsichean, agus daoine a bha a’ fuireach ann am bailtean air an deach bomaichean a leigeil à bàtaichean-adhair Zeppelin. Bha an lus, air a bheil Valerian ann am Beurla, air a chleachdadh cuideachd airson deagh chadal a bhrosnachadh, airson bruthadh-fala ìsleachadh agus mar leigheas air ann tinneas-thuiteamach.
Tha cunntas ann am Flora Celtica ag innse dhuinn mar a bha an lus air a chur gu feum ann an sreath dheuchainnean meidigeach anns an 18mh linn airson cur an aghaidh buaidh iteodha (a tha puinnseanta) air a’ bhodhaig, agus an t-iteodha air a chleachdadh mar leigheas ùr radaigeach airson aillse. Tha cunntas eile anns an dearbh leabhar mu chomhairle a thugadh do bhoireannach ann an Griomasaigh a bhith a’ goil freumhaichean carthain churaidh agus ‘nàdar de dheoch a’ dhèanamh dhiubh’ mar dhòigh airson a sunnd a thoirt am feabhas. Cha do ghabh an tè a fhuair a’ chomhairle rithe, agus mar sin cha b’ urrainn dhi a ràdh am biodh a leithid èifeachdach. Mar a bhitheas le mòran leigheasan luibheach, feumar a bhith gu math faiceallach mun deidhinn agus bu chòir comhairle phroifeiseanta a shireadh.
Ma nì sibh co-dhùnadh freumhaichean a chladhach suas (a-mhàin far a bheil an lus a’ fàs ann am pailteas), bithibh faiceallach ma tha cat agaibh mar pheata. Tha cait gu math math measail air fàileadh carthain churaidh – a tha gu math làidir agus nach eil idir tlachdmhòr do chuid de dhaoine. Feumar an lus a chur air falbh far nach lorg an cat e.
Tha na flùraichean air carthan-curaidh eadar geal is pinc agus thig iad a-mach anns an dàrna leth dhen t-samhradh. Tha ainm Gàidhlig eile air an luibh – Lus nan Trì Bilean – a tha a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul air na duilleagan as àirde a tha dìreach fo na cinn dhìtheanan brèagha aig ceann shuas a’ ghais. Tha an t-ainm sin car coltach ri ainm Gàidhlig a tha cumanta airson bogbean – an Trì-bhileach – agus saoilidh mi gu bheil beachdan air blas searbh ‘valerian’ a nochdas am measg nan Gàidheal ʼs dòcha gu fìrinneach a’ buntainn ris an Trì-bhileach.
Tha tùs an ainm Valerian cuideachd inntinneach. Thathar a’ dèanamh dheth gu bheil e a’ buntainn ris a’ ghnìomhair Laidinn valere ‘a bhith làidir agus fallain’ (mar a bhios laoch no gaisgeach) agus a tha cuideachd a’ toirt dhuinn nan ainmean pearsanta Valeria agus Valerius. Bha an t-eòlaiche chungaidhean-leighis Gearmailteach, Valerius Cordus (1515-1544), am measg nan lighichean luibheach as ainmeile ann an eachdraidh na Roinn Eòrpa. Thug valere dhuinn cuideachd an t-ainm – co-dhiù tha e meallta gus nach eil – airson droga ùr a tha a’ toirt buaidh air staid-inntinn daoine, agus a chaidh a leasachadh anns na 1960an – Valium.
Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.
You have all heard the term ‘net-zero’ but what does this actually mean and how can we achieve this? Tentsmuir NNR Student Placement, Andrew Black, tells us about what’s happening at the reserve as they play their role in achieving this goal…
As recently highlighted in the IPCC report the climate emergency is progressing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, the negative effects of climate change are extensive including decreasing water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, increased flooding & wildfires, reduced biodiversity and negative health impacts on the human population.
It is not all doom and gloom however as by striving to be NetZero these detrimental impacts can be reduced.
What is Net Zero?
NetZero is effectively ensuring the emissions produced are the same as those sequestered, or taken out, of the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gases (GHGs) contributing to climate change include: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (NO2) with both CO2 and NO2 sources including fossil fuel combustion.
To meet the NetZero targets laid out by NatureScot and the Scottish Government there has to be a reduction in emissions. These reductions must come from permanent and sustainable changes in people’s daily lives and how we work.
NatureScot has targets for being a NetZero organisation by 2035, or by 2040, at the latest. This is an ambitious target, being 10 years earlier than the UK target however this goal can be achieved.
What is happening at Tentsmuir NNR?
Tenstmuir NNR is actively engaging with NatureScot’s road to NetZero by utilising Electric Vehicles (EVs) on the reserve, encouraging active travel within the reserve and by re-using materials on the reserve to help promote an improved procurement system that has a greater focus on the circular economy.
EVs are beneficial for the environment and can be effectively utilised to tackle the climate emergency and meet NetZero targets. Traditional combustion engines produce previously mentioned GHGs that are not only harmful to the environment but to people’s health. With EVs these pollutants are reduced, and it has been shown that the shift towards the electrification of the vehicle fleet improves air quality on the local scale.
There has been a societal shift towards the uptake of EVs, supported by the Scottish Governments targets of phasing out sales of traditional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.
Recently at Tentsmuir NNR, an Electric Polaris was purchased, which this helps to transport staff and tools are around the reserve in a low-emission manner. Recent studies have found that one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions from vehicles is to electrify the Heavy Goods (HGV) and Light Goods Vehicle (LGV) fleet, as these are traditionally the biggest polluters. So by using the Polaris we are effectively tackling and reducing one of the biggest areas of vehicle pollutants.
Even better than the Polaris is active travel, i.e. walking or cycling. In the previous months everyone at Tentsmuir NNR has been travelling around the reserve on the reserve bikes.
This has had a multitude of benefits:
Reduced emissions: one of the best way to reduce emissions is by walking or cycling instead of driving short journeys. The great part about bikes are there are no emissions produced when they are used.
Public engagement: by utilising our bikes to move around the reserve there has been improved public engagement, members of the public are much more likely to approach and engage staff. This helps us spread the NatureScot brand and educate the public.
Improved Health: there is health benefits associated with the reduced emissions as air pollution is one of the most significant risks to human health but also through the daily exercise of using the bikes.
Another way we are reducing emissions at Tentsmuir NNR is by replacing our old petrol machinery with cordless, battery operated machinery such as chainsaws and brushcutters. This not only helps us work towards NetZero but has other benefits such as reduced noise pollution and removes the need to transport fuel on site.
We should all Reduce, Reuse and Recycle where possible and recently, at Tentsmuir there has been a greater focus on reducing waste and reusing available materials to meet NatureScot’s road to NetZero targets for the circular economy. Work has started on a giant insect hotel, this project is entirely comprised of recycled timber from an old boardwalk, meaning cost and waste is reduced while still promoting biodiversity within the reserve.
The climate emergency is more important than ever before. NatureScot has laid out the path to NetZero by 2040, and we at Tentsmuir NNR feel like we are doing our part to help meet this target and promote NatureScot’s vision for a nature-rich future. To reach net zero targets and help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change there needs to be a wider societal shift towards increased EVs and active travel. However, to be effective these changes must be permanent and sustainable, and who better to set an example to society than Scotland’s Nature Agency.
There is a rocky point of land to the south of the village of Clachtoll in Assynt (North West Sutherland) which is aptly named. Rubha Leumair (properly Rubha an Leumaire ‘the point of the dolphin’) is a promontory from which dolphins can still be spied today. Most sightings of these beautiful and intelligent marine mammals take place from boats but there is a handful of Scottish locations where they can be seen from the land. Another notable site is Gob na Cananaich (Chanonry Point) on the Moray Firth where the droll observation is made that the dolphins gather on the incoming tide as they are guaranteed a good view of an iconic species in its natural habitat – human beings gathered on land, many of them bearing binoculars!
The generic Gaelic name for dolphins is leumaire, or more commonly leumadair, based on the word leum ‘jump, leap’; it is literally ‘the leaping one’, referring to its spectacular habit of propelling itself out of the water. This differentiates it from the smaller porpoise (peileag or puthag in Gaelic) whose back breaks the water surface as it takes in and exhales air but which doesn’t leap in the same manner. As leumadair might in theory also be used for another leaping animal such as a grasshopper, a dolphin can be referred to as a leumadair-mara (literally ‘marine leaper’) to avoid confusion. The word deilf is also recorded for ‘dolphin’ in Scottish dictionaries but is generally regarded as Irish.
Compared to some marine mammals, the leumadair cumanta, common dolphin – which averages some 2.5 metres in length – is not a massive animal. Dwelly’s dictionary records an old Gaelic name for the species – bèist-ghorm – literally ‘dark blue beast’, but the colour attribution is not particularly accurate as it is more generally recognised by a dark back and yellowish flank. For this author, his summer is complete when he has been quietly sailing off the west coast and has his boat suddenly, and without warning, surrounded by dozens of common dolphins which are preying on shoals of fish. The only sound they make is the plumanaich1of their maritime cavorting as they pursue their prey. Sometimes this species gathers in schools of hundreds, appearing to encircle shoals of fish. It is surely one of the great natural experiences to be had off the Scottish coast.
A species of somewhat similar appearance, but largely restricted to deeper water and a more oceanic environs is the leumadair cliathaich-bhàin or Atlantic white-sided dolphin. The leumadair bàn-ghobach or white-beaked dolphin also appears in our waters, although it is widely distributed and ventures as far north as the Arctic.
In addition to the common dolphin, perhaps the species best-known to Scots is the bottlenose dolphin, of which there is a famous colony, numbering up to two hundred individuals, on the east coast, based around the Moray Firth but ranging as far south as the Firth of Forth; these are the animals which reveal themselves at Chanonry Point. In Gaelic, the specific name for this dolphin is rather unique – it is a muc-bhiorach which literally means ‘sharp (snouted) pig’ but is based on the fact that muc-mhara ‘sea-pig’ – now used generically for ‘whale’ – was probably the old generic for dolphins and porpoises in Scotland as it still is in Ireland. We have a simile in Gaelic – cho reamhar ri muc-bhiorach ‘as fat as a bottlenose dolphin’ – and, certainly, this species is large, heavy-bellied and with a robust look about it – although that doesn’t stop it leaping clean out of the sea at times!
Risso’s dolphin, sometimes known as a grampus, is another species which is seen in Scottish waters, although it has a near-global distribution. It is unlike any other dolphin, bearing a blunt head, lacking a beak and becoming lighter in colour as it gets older, varying from light grey to virtually white. The colouring gives us its Gaelic name cana, based on an archaic root can ‘white’ (which we see in canach ‘bog cotton’). It is also referred to as leumadair-Risso after the English name. It is a large dolphin, up to 4 metres in length, and is found in deep waters off the Western Isles where it hunts octopus, squid and cuttlefish. Encounters with giant squid may be responsible for some of the many scars in evidence on the bodies of older individuals.
Orc is an archaic Gaelic word meaning ‘whale’, with a derivative uircean still used today for ‘piglet’ – the etymological connection between pigs and whales being of long duration. Indeed, this is seen in reference to Orkney where the ancient Latin Orcades (Insi Orc in old Gaelic) has been variously interpreted as ‘islands of pigs’ or ‘islands of whales’ (the author favours the latter). The northern part of the Minch stretching over to Cape Wrath, and perhaps as far east as Orkney, was known in Gaelic as Cuan nan Orc ‘the ocean of the whales’.
Non Gaelic-speakers will recognise the same root in an alternative English name for the killer whale – orca (the species is Orcinus orca to the scientist). This magnificent marine predator is strictly not a whale, but a dolphin – the largest of all, reaching a whopping 9 metres in length. Orcas are to be seen regularly in oceanic settings from St Kilda to Shetland, including Orkney and Caithness (they can often be seen off the Isle of Stroma near John O’ Groats, predating the large colonies of seals there).
In Gaelic, the orca is most commonly known as the madadh-cuain ‘ocean-wolf’ – a suitable name, given its propensity to hunt in packs (when its strength is sometimes in evidence as it tosses fully grown seals into the air). Interestingly the indigenous Yupik people who straddle the territories of Siberia and Alaska traditionally considered that the wolves of winter transmogrified to become killer whales in summer. Another Gaelic name for the species, recorded in Point in Lewis, is muc-bhreac ‘piebald whale’, a reference to its distinctive black-and-white coloration. It is one of the great predators of the sea and if you are lucky enough to see one, cherish the memory!
The noise of something plunging into water.
This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.
Tha rubha creagach deas air a’ Chlach Tholl ann an Asainte air a bheil ainm gu math iomchaidh. À Rubha Leumair (no Rubha an Leumaire mar a bhiodh dùil) chithear fhathast bho àm gu àm an creutair a thug ainm don àite – an Leumaire no Leumadair. Bidh a’ chuid as motha de dhaoine a chì leumadair ga fhaicinn à eathar ach tha grunn àiteachan timcheall costa na h-Alba far am faicear iad bhon chladach. Am measg sin tha Gob na Cananaich air cladach a tuath Linne Mhoireibh far am bithear ag ràdh gum bi na leumadairean a’ tighinn cruinn còmhla aig àm an lìonaidh a chionn ʼs gur e àite ainmeil a th’ ann airson a bhith a’ faicinn daoine, gu leòr dhiubh le prosbaig timcheall an amhaichean!
ʼS e leumadair am facal coitcheann airson na leithid de mhamail mara oir bidh iad a’ leum a-mach às a’ mhuir aig amannan. Tha seo gan comharrachadh mar eadar-dhealaichte bho na peileagan no puthagan a tha nas lugha agus nach bi a’ leum. Ma thathar ag iarraidh sgaradh a dhèanamh le ainmhidhean eile a bhios a’ leum (m.e. fionnan-feòir), faodar ‘leumadair-mara’ a ghabhail orra. Chithear am facal deilf airson leumadair ann am faclairean Albannach ach bidh a’ chuid as motha de Ghàidheil Albannach ga thomhas mar fhacal Èireannach seach fear a chleachdadh iad fhèin anns an latha an-diugh.
An coimeas ri cuid de mhamailean-mara, chan eil an leumadair cumanta no common dolphin uabhasach mòr. Anns a’ choitcheannas, ruigidh e 2.5 meatairean ann am fad. Ann am faclair Dwelly tha seann ainm air a shon – bèist-ghorm – ach saoilidh mise nach eil sin cuideachail oir bithear ga aithneachadh air a dhruim dorch agus cliathaich a tha car buidhe-bàn. Airson an ùghdair seo, tha an samhradh aige slàn nuair a tha e air a bhith a’ seòladh gu socair, sàmhach far a’ chosta shiar agus nochdaidh gun rabhadh na ficheadan de leumadairean cumanta, agus iad a’ sealg èisg. Cha chluinnear ach am plumanaich fhad ʼs a ruitheas iad an cobhartach. Uaireannan bidh an leumadair seo a’ nochdadh nan ceudan, agus iad a’ cuairteachadh sgaothan èisg. ʼS e tachartas mìorbhaileach a th’ ann do dhuine sam bith a tha fortanach gu leòr fhaicinn!
Bidh an leumadair cliathaich-bhàin no Atlantic white-sided dolphin a’ nochdadh nar n-uisgeachan cuideachd, ged a bhios e mar as trice anns a’ mhòr-chuan. Bidh an leumadair bàn-ghobach no white-beaked dolphin cuideachd a’ nochdadh timcheall Alba, ged a thèid e fad is farsaing, agus cho fada tuath ris a’ Chuan Artach.
A bharrachd air an leumadair chumanta, ʼs dòcha gur e an gnè as aithnichte dhiubh do dh’Albannaich a’ mhuc-bhiorach no bottlenose dolphin. Tha buidheann mhòr dhiubh anns a bheil suas ri dà cheud beathach ri lorg timcheall Linne Mhoireibh, ged a bhios iad a’ falbh cho fada deas ri Linne Fhoirthe; is iad seo na creutairean a rim faicinn aig Gob na Cananaich. Tha e iongantach gun do ghlèidh an gnè seo seann ainm airson leumadairean is peileagan – muc-mhara – a tha sinn a’ cleachdadh an-diugh airson whale, ged as e ‘peileag’ ciall an fhacail ann an Gàidhlig na h-Èireann fhathast. Tha samhladh againn ann an Gàidhlig – cho reamhar ri muc-bhiorach agus gu cinnteach tha an leumadair seo mòr, bronnach agus le coltas tapaidh air – ged nach eil sin a’ cur bacadh air o bhith a’ leum glan às a’ mhuir!
Tha gnè eile ann air a bheil Risso’s dolphin no grampus ann am Beurla – agus chithear seo timcheall costa na h-Alba, ged a tha e a’ dèanamh a dhachaigh ann an cuantan air feadh an t-saoghail. Chan eil e coltach ri leumadair sam bith eile oir tha ceann maol aige agus tha e an ìre mhath gun ghob. Bidh e a’ fàs nas lèithe le aois agus bidh an fheadhainn as sine gu math bàn. ʼS e sin as coireach gur e ainm Gàidhlig cana, a tha a’ ciallachadh ‘ban, geal’ (mar anns an lus air a bheil canach an t-slèibhe). Bithear a’ gabhail ‘leumadair-Risso’ air cuideachd. Tha e suas ri 4 meatairean ann am fad agus bidh e a’ nochdadh gu tric anns an aigeann far nan Eilean Siar far am bi e a’ sealg ochd-chasaich, gibearnaich agus sùilean-an-tòin. ʼS dòcha gur e còmhrag le gibearnaich-mhòra as coireach ris na làraichean fada a chithear air craiceann na feadhna as sine.
ʼS e orc seann fhacal Gàidhlig airson ‘muc-mhara’ le facal càirdeach – uircean – air a chur gu feum airson ‘muc òg’ fhathast, a’ sealltainn gu bheil daimh cànain air a bhith ann eadar mucan agus mucan-mara fad linntean. Chithear sin ann an co-cheangal ri Arcaibh far a bheil cuid ag eadar-theangachadh an t-seann Laidinn Orcades (Insi Orc anns an t-Seann Ghàidhlig) mar ‘eileanan nam muc’ fhad ʼs a tha feadhainn eile ga mhìneachadh mar ‘eileanan nam mucan-mara’ (chanainn gur e mucan-mara as coltaiche). Anns an t-seann aimsir, bha na Gàidheil a’ gabhail Cuan nan Orc air a’ mhuir eadar Leòdhas agus Am Parbh, agus math dh’fhaodte cho fada sear ri Arcaibh.
Bidh luchd-labhairt na Beurla ag aithneachadh orc ann an orca – ainm eile air a’ killer whale (Orcinus orca do luchd-saidheans). ʼS e am beathach mòr iongantach seo, a ruigeas 9 meatairean ann am fad, an leumadair as motha anns an t-saoghal. Bithear gam faicinn gu cunbhalach anns a’ chuan eadar Hiort agus Sealtainn, a’ gabhail a-steach Arcaibh agus Gallaibh (chithear gu tric iad far Eilean Stròma faisg air Taigh ʼan Ghròt, agus iad a’ sealg nan ròn a tha gu math pailt an sin).
Ann an Gàidhlig ʼs e madadh-cuain a chanar ris an orca – ainm gu math freagarrach oir bidh iad a’ sealg ann an lomhainnean mar a bhios madaidhean-allaidh. Tha iad cho làidir ʼs gum bi iad uaireannan a’ tilgeil ròin mhòra glan a-mach às a’ mhuir nuair a tha iad a’ sealg. Bhiodh an sluagh ris an canar an Yupik, a tha beò anns an tìrean eadar ceann an ear Shiberia agus Alasga, dhen bheachd gum bi madaidhean-allaidh na coille anns a’ gheamhradh a’ dèanamh cruth-atharrachadh orra fhèin agus a’ nochdadh mar mhadaidhean-cuain as t-samhradh. ʼS e ainm Gàidhlig eile a th’ air a leithid, a chaidh a chlàradh anns an Rubha ann an Leòdhas, muc-bhreac oir tha iad dubh-is-geal. ʼS e a th’ ann ach fear de shàr-shealgairean na mara agus ma tha sibh fortanach gu leòr fear, no sgaoth, dhiubh fhaicinn, glèidhibh nur cuimhne e!
Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.
This International Youth Day, Kirsten Brewster, previously one of our agricultural advisors and member of our Young Employee Network, talks about the theme of transforming food systems, and how young people can learn more about Scotland’s food system and get involved.
There is a lot going on in terms of transforming food systems and I think it’s a really exciting space for young people to learn more about and get involved in. This has been topical recently because of disruptions to UK supply chains as a result of Brexit and Covid 19, highlighting the importance of self-sustainability as a nation and eating locally where possible.
Agriculture receives a lot of attention for the significant way it has to go to reduce its carbon footprint and improve biodiversity, all while producing nutritious food for wider society. It is vital to ensure that as we reassess land use in the context of biodiversity loss and climate change that we don’t simply reduce domestic production, increase imports and offshore our environmental impact elsewhere.
Looking forward there are sure to be exciting developments in the way that land is managed and space for innovation to meet our goals. Agriculture policy in the UK is still being developed and rolled out but it is hoped that the substantial public funding available to this sector can be reworked to drive positive changes.
Farming is not easily defined and there are lots of new (and even old ideas) about how we can live and produce food and other services from land more sustainably such as: agroforestry, organic, pasture fed, regenerative and probably many more! Ethical considerations are also increasingly gaining in relevance to both consumers and producers as evidenced by recent events and demand for produce.
Agricultural is an aging sector, with the average age of a farmer in the UK at 59 years old. Young people vital to the industry, future proofing food production and bringing in new methods and processes, while access to land is vital for young people to move into this industry.
If you are new to this and want a simple regular round up of news and events there is a great newsletter from the Soil Association Scotland where topics are much broader than purely organic farming. (Did you know that Scot Lady Eve Balfour was a pioneer of organic farming and her book The Living Soil prompted founding of the Soil Association?)
If you have time you can access resources from previous years of the Oxford Real Farming Conference on YouTube which covers a wide range of topics on sustainable farming from the international to relatively niche.
I would also recommend a fantastic book earlier I read this year English Pastoral by James Rebanks, an upland farmer in the Lake District, which summarises the journey of agricultural intensification in recent decades and more importantly how we might go about reshaping our ways of farming to produce goods such as flood reduction, nature and carbon storage alongside food.
Formal education in agriculture has been considered lacking in content relating to environmental sustainability, but things are changing. For formal learning opportunities visit SRUC. Informal learning through volunteering are also popular with opportunities globally through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms or you could join a study trip.
And finally, as mentioned above, access to land is vital for young people to enter the industry. If you are looking for access to land, organisations such as Scottish Farmland Trust, and Land In Our Names particularly for marginalised communities, provide an entry point for new entrants and young people.
Last year saw the centenary of Corrour Bothy – perhaps the most famous bothy in the world and the oldest still in use. Today’s blog comes from author and passionate Scottish hillwalker, Ralph Storer, who tracked down and united the surviving bothy visitor books as he researched his own book on the bothy to celebrate its anniversary and provide a fascinating glimpse into the past …
Sited at the foot of the arrowhead peak of The Devil’s Point, Corrour bothy occupies a prime position at the heart of some of the wildest country in the Scottish Highlands. Even reaching it requires a long walk into the middle of the Lairig Ghru – the great pass that runs for 20 miles between Speyside (Aviemore) and Deeside (Braemar), bisecting 5 of the 6 highest mountains in the UK.
I first visited Corrour in1965 as a wide-eyed bejant (first-year student) at what is now Dundee University. At that time the university’s Rucksack Club was involved in a survey of the semi-permanent snowbeds in Garbh Coire Mor off the Lairig Ghru and I volunteered to help retrieve survey equipment before winter storms set in.
It was my first visit to the Cairngorms, but in truth I remember little of the trip except the wildness of the landscape. The sky was low, the mountains were decapitated, the light was dull and I was happy just to be involved, listening intently to the conversation of the older hands and storing away for future use every titbit of mountain-related information I could glean.
The bothy seemed to me a stark, uninviting, ramshackle, stone building. I would never have dreamt of spending a night there. Yet, in the decades since, I have spent many days and nights in the Cairngorms and have become as fond of the old place as any lover of the backcountry.
As far as we know, the bothy was built in 1877, during the heyday of the great sporting estates. Its purpose was to house a deer watcher, who would keep an eye on deer movements for the benefit of paying guests during the stalking season. It was abandoned in 1920 and was soon being used by travellers as a refuge in the wilderness.
A frequent visitor in the early years was the renowned naturalist Seton Gordon. There’s a famous photo of him sitting on the doorstep in his kilt tuning his bagpipes. He even attributed his Oxford degree in Natural Science to his stays at the bothy as they enabled him to write a remarkably authoritative answer to one of the exam questions: “Write as fully as possible what you know about the alpine flora of Britain.”
In 1928 the first visitors’ book was placed in the bothy by members of the Rucksack Club, which maintained the books until the newly-formed Mountain Bothies Association took over the task in the late 1960s. Many of the books have gone astray over the years, but 32 remain to give an intriguing insight into a century of walking and climbing in the Cairngorms. The Rucksack Club considered publishing extracts from the books in 1952 but never got around to it.
I first came across the books in a dusty university back room when I became editor of the club journal. Little did I know then that over fifty years later I would return to this treasure trove, now held in the university archives, and with the help of the MBA, NatureScot and many others compile a selection of the most interesting entries into a celebratory book, finally realising the club’s ambition.
In the early days of the 1920s and 1930s, the bothy was the hangout of hardy outdoorsmen who found here free accommodation and a profusion of unclimbed rock and ice routes that modern-day climbers can only envy. They found their way to the Cairngorms by whatever means they could, including hitch-hiking. They had to ford the River Dee opposite the bothy as there was no bridge. They had no Goretex and often no sleeping bags. Instead they slept on beds of heather in blankets or multiple layers of clothing. One visitor provided the following sound advice.
The “brown heath” makes a wonderful bed – but be careful to smooth out the “craggy wood” bits before settling down for the night.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most popular topic for discussion was the state of the bothy itself, which soon deteriorated as visitors burnt furnishings and flooring to feed the fire. Such a practice is now rightly deplored. Another popular topic was the weather.
First it rained and then it blew,
Then it friz and then it snew,
Once more it rained and then it blew,
And then it friz and snew again.
New Year’s Day, 1939, was particularly cold.
At the moment there are five of us, but the weakest will probably succumb before morning and the bodies will make fine seats and provide food for the survivors.
As can be seen from these and the following entries, a sense of humour has always been a useful attribute at Corrour.
Oh for a minister to save my sole,
It’s parting company with my boot.
Ken is producing weird noises from a much battered mouth organ and prides himself that he is making music. I hate to disillusion him but am afraid I must, with an edge-nailed boot.
Time on our hands led to experiments in cooking. Hit on the following recipe:Half tin corned beef; Half tin baked beans (small). Mash up well together. Add quarter cup water with third cup Oxo. Add oatmeal until fairly stiff and fry the whole damned issue in plenty of fat. Then dig a hole at a safe distance from the bothy and bury the lot.
Other visitor records verge on the enigmatic.
I am leaving in the bothy trousers as my own are still wet. Fair exchange is no robbery.
The “bothy trousers”?! And what is one to make of the following entry, signed “Winston Churchill” in 1935?
If Mrs Hendry goes up Mount Everest she will be shocked to see 2 empty tins which I carelessly left there.
Whatever state they found the bothy in, most visitors were more than happy just to be there.
The greatest scenery I have ever seen. Good luck to anyone who stops at this spot in paradise.
Let them drive in all their finery to their cities by the sea. Let them laugh at my greying unshaved visage. Let them stare with scorn as I eat my food and tear my bread with greasy hands. Let them turn in disdain as I hurl such curses at my primus stove. Let them build their promenades, their amusement palaces and their Towers of Babel. They vainly seek what I have found. For I have this day walked with the gods themselves.
Not that everyone rhapsodised about the place…
Back again. Good Heavens. Swore I would never come here again. Wet clothes. Sore feet. What a life!
Our feet are wet, we haven’t any sandwiches and we want to go home.
And it wasn’t just the weather that provided cause for complaint.
In the true tradition of the nature reserve, we gave protection to approximately 50% of Scotland’s midges last night.
I must be one of the few people who don’t mind mice running over the faces but these b—–s shout in your ear to make sure you’re awake and then do a sand dance on the polythene sheet.
In the 1940s, during the Second World War, there were other problems to worry about.
A plane passed over the bothy last night – the majority of the temporary inhabitants of the bothy believe it was a “Jerry” and a hastily improvised blackout was improvised.
As the years passed and Cairngorm storms wreaked havoc, the building became so unstable that in 1950 it was renovated by members of the Cairngorm Club, which enabled it to welcome a whole new breed of post-war mountaineers. These included climbers of the calibre of Tom Patey, who revolutionised winter climbing when he made the first winter ascent of the Douglas–Gibson Gully on Lochnagar. Its final section required using an ice axe as a foothold and tunnelling through an exit cornice that projected for 25ft. In an historic Corrour Bothy visitors’ book, almost in passing, is the first ever record of that ascent on December 30, 1950.
Called in here 11.40 en route for a snow climb up the front of the Devil’s Point. Made a successful attempt on the Douglas Gully of Lochnagar under excellent snow conditions on Friday 28th – First Winter Ascent.
Someone has added: NICE WORK, TOM! BLOODY GOOD!
Other winter mountaineers had less good fortune.
(We made) an unpleasant slip on the frozen slope, the consequence of which was rather unpleasant for the one of us who wore the kilt.
The 1950s also witnessed increasing numbers of young people from schools and clubs and on the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme (founded in 1956). Today the MBA requests that parties contain no more than six members, but on one night in 1956 no fewer than 20 bodies were crammed into the bothy.
The ford of the River Dee to reach the bothy nevertheless remained a major hazard.
The Dee is very high – stepping stones covered. One of the party fell in and drifted downstream on his back.
In 1959, following a double tragedy in which two men died, the bridge that still stands today was finally built. With this in place, and with increased car ownership and the growth of hillwalking as a leisure activity in the second half of the 20th century, the volume of visitors to Corrour continued to grow. One of them was myself.
From the many times I have visited Corrour in the more-than-fifty years since I first saw it, two memories stand out. On one frosty August night I was privileged to see the Aurora Borealis. Northwards over the Lairig Ghru, curtains of soft, rippling light reached out across the sky, silhouetting the peaks in such a way that you’d swear their outlines shimmered.
Even more deeply etched in memory is an April trip through the Lairig from Braemar to Aviemore in 1983. After hitching to Linn of Dee, my girlfriend and I walked to the bothy and camped overnight on a sheltered patch of low ground beside the Dee. On the following day we set out to cross the summit of the pass, but the weather closed in and we found ourselves floundering in deep snow in blizzard conditions. Progress became impossible – at one point I walked into a vertical wall of snow I couldn’t even see when my face hit it. Completely disoriented, we had no option but to retreat.
As darkness closed in we reached the bothy again, by now thoroughly exhausted, and tried to pitch the tent in the same spot as before. Without the heat generated by walking, our bodies lost heat fast. While my girlfriend dived inside for warmth I struggled with frozen fingers to peg down the flysheet and stack snow around the hem for further stability. To no avail. No sooner had I dived inside myself, and removed boots to massage frozen toes, than the gale ripped the whole tent apart.
We would have been in a perilous situation had Corrour Bothy not come to our rescue. It was dirty, crowded and uncomfortable that night but, like many before us, never had we less cause for complaint. We spread the tattered remains of our tent down on the earth floor in a dank corner and snuggled gratefully into sleeping bags.
The following day, having shown us its worst, the Lairig gave of its best. In magnificent snow conditions, under a brilliant, brittle sky, we completed our journey to Aviemore through a wonderland of glistening fresh snow. Such is the magic of the Cairngorms.
The designation of the Cairngorms as a national park in 2003 has made the bothy more popular than ever and in 2006 members of the MBA undertook a second reconstruction of the building. Improvements included a wooden floor, wall lining, insulation and a small sleeping platform. To eliminate the environmental hazard of accumulating human waste, an extension was added containing a composting toilet.
Corrour Bothy’s single 6m x 3.6m room is now “cosy” and often busy, which makes it even more “cosy”. Visitors today are requested to respect the bothy code (see www.mountainbothies.org.uk) and advised to take a tent in case the place is crowded. And DO make a coruscatingly brilliant entry in the visitors’ book for future generations to enjoy. One day it may be as precious as the records from the last century.
The old visitors’ books themselves are now even more faded and ravaged by time than when I first came across them in the 1960s. When you hold them delicately in your hands, it’s impossible not to be transported in imagination back to those early days of bothying. I’m at Corrour again. I experience again the howling gale, the swirling snow, the biting cold, the unforgiving floor, the warming fire, the conviviality of companions, the kindness of strangers and the irresistible pull of the wilds.
Tha am Maoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail againn a’ toirt taic do chothroman a bhios a’ glèidheadh, a’ dìon is ag adhartachadh nàdar is cultar na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean. Anns a’ bhloga an-diugh, bruidhnidh sinn ri Dougie Baird mu Phròiseact Làraichean Iongantach anns an Eilean Sgitheanach.
Thathar ag ràdh gu bheil an t-ainm ‘Sgitheanach’ a’ riochdachadh seann cheanglaichean Lochlannach is e stèidhichte air facal a bha a’ ciallachadh ‘sgòth’ agus ’s ann mar Eilean a’ Cheò a dh’aithnicheas cuid e. Tha an t-eilean soirbh gu leòr a ruigsinn agus tha turasachd air a dhol am meud gu mòr o chionn beagan bhliadhnaichean.
Ach tha cosgais an cois na fèille. Is gann gun tèid aig a’ bhun-structar cumail ris an àrdachadh seo. Ach chan eil cobhair fad às. Tha Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites Project air a’ Mhaoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail a chur gu feum airson aire air seallaidhean, fiadh-bheatha is cultar na sgìre a thoirt am feabhas.
Tha Outdoor Access Trust, a bhios a’ stiùireadh a’ phròiseict, air aon de na com-pàirtichean agus thèid bun-structar is dòighean mìneachaidh a leasachadh air trì làraichean ainmeil – Bodach an Stòir, a’ Chuith-raing agus Glumagan nan Sìthichean. Thèid gach làrach a thoirt am feabhas tro chothroman cleachdaidh is àiteachan seallaidh nas fheàrr agus fiosrachadh nas co-òrdanaichte airson sàr thursan do luchd-turais a thoirt gu buil.
’S e Dougie Baird, Àrd-oifigear Outdoor Access Trust an Alba is manaidsear a’ phròiseict. Dh’innis e dhuinn dè tha fa-near don phròiseact agus ciamar a bhios e a’ lìbhrigeadh nan leasachaidhean seo.
Dougie, an urrainn dhut blasad den phròiseact a thoirt dhuinn?
Bidh Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites Project a’ freagairt ri cion bun-structar turasachd is dhòighean mìneachaidh anns an Eilean Sgitheanach. Thèid tursan an luchd-tadhail a thoirt am feabhas do bharrachd dhaoine air trì de na làraichean as ainmeile agus as trainge – ’s iad sin Bodach an Stòir, a’ Chuith-rang agus Glumagan nan Sìthichean.
Thèid seo a choileanadh tro leasachadh a’ bhun-structair choiseachd – ceuman, drochaidean, àiteachan seallaidh; càradh cheuman is àrainnean; agus prògram mìneachaidh co-òrdanaichte tro bhùird fhiosrachaidh is soidhnichean, cuide ri sanasachd, margaideachd is iomairtean ceangailte an lùib co-theacsa nas fharsainge mun Eilean Sgitheanach mar àite turasachd.
Le bhith ag ullachadh nan trì làraichean don àm ri teachd, bu chòir gum bi luchd-turais air am brosnachadh gu fuireach nas fhaide agus tadhal air ceàrnaidhean eile den eilean agus mar sin a’ cosg barrachd airgid san eilean; bhiodh cliù an eilein air a ghleidheadh is air a neartachadh mar àite turais air am bu chòir don a h-uile duine tadhal.
Dè dh’adhbharaich stèidheachadh a’ phròiseict seo?
O chionn beagan bhliadhnaichean, tha pìosan naidheachd mhì-fhàbharach air nochdadh a tha air innse gu bheil an t-Eilean Sgitheanach làn no nach eil fàilte ro luchd-turais. Ann an 2018, chuir CNN an cèill gun robh an t-Eilean Sgitheanach aig àireamh a h-aon air liosta de dh’àiteachan a bu chòir do luchd-turais seachnadh air sàillibh ’s gun robh cuid den bheachd gun robh cus dhaoine ann a rèir bun-structar an eilein.
Thàinig an suidheachadh seo gu buil mar thoradh air àrdachadh mòr an àireamh an luchd-tadhail don eilean is na làraichean ainmeil thar grunn bhliadhnaichean. Chaidh 80,000 luchd-tadhail a chlàradh aig Glumagan nan Sìthichean ann an 2016/17, àireamh a bha neo-sheasmhach an uair ud ach chaidh còrr is 180,000 a chlàradh ann an 2019; agus anns an aon bhliadhna, chaidh 340,000 daoine a chlàradh aig Bodach an Stòir.
B’ urrainn don eilean barrachd luchd-turais a ghabhail. Ach air sgàth cion bun-structar bunaiteach is ghoireasan luchd-turais, tha barrachd chàraichean air rathaidean beaga ionadail is ceuman monaidh agus na bha a’ fàs ri an taobh a’ crìonadh is a’ fulang gu mòr.
’S ann air an dearbh adhbhar seo a chaidh an iomairt The Skye Iconic Sites Project (SISP) a stèidheachadh ann an 2018 agus anns a bheil na leanas an sàs: Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (com-pàirtiche lìbhrigidh a’ phròiseict) agus Skye Connect (buidheann stiùireadh àiteachan turais an Eilein), dà bhuidhinn choimhearsnachd ionadail – Urras Stafainn agus Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd agus Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (am prìomh uachdaran).
Tha an com-pàirteachadh neo-fhoirmeil seo a’ tuigsinn an luach an cois liubhairt fhuasglaidhean seasmhach is maireannach airson àiteachan turais nàdarra a leasachadh gus am faigh a h-uile duine tlachd asta fad iomadh bliadhna ri teachd.
Tha SISP air a dhol an sàs san trioblaid is e fa-near don phròiseact tursan an luchd-turais a thoirt am feabhas agus stiùireadh seasmhach a thoirt gu buil air na làraichean seo a tha an dà chuid iomallach ach air leth tarraingeach do luchd-turais.
An ann san Eilean Sgitheanach a-mhàin a tha an cion maoineachaidh ann am bun-structar inntrigidh ri fhaicinn?
Chan eil an t-Eilean Sgitheanach na aonar ged a tha na cùisean turasachd an sin air a bhith fo phrosbaig nam meadhanan san Rìoghachd Aonaichte agus air feadh an t-saoghail. Tha na sluaghan a thill do thuath na h-Alba an dèidh lasachadh bhacaidhean siubhail Covid-19 air trioblaidean pàircidh a thoirt am miosad, air salachar fhàgail ri taobh rathaidean agus slighean air feadh na dùthcha a mhilleadh. Tha a’ chùis air cion maoineachaidh ann am bun-structar inntrigidh a thoirt am follais air an robh feum fad iomadh bliadhna. Tha e coltach gum bi fàs sa bhliadhna seo ag adhbharachadh fàs buan agus ginealach ùr a’ cur eòlas air na th’ air a stairsnich fhèin. Bidh seo na bhuannachd airson sunnd is slàinte dhaoine ach thig buaidh mhòr air an tuath na chois.
Bidh Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites Project a’ toirt teamplaid gu buil a ghabhas cleachdadh an àiteachan eile gus an soirbhich le leasachadh turasachd sheasmhach ann an àiteachan iomallach air feadh na h-Alba agus nas fhaide air falbh.
Nach innis thu dhuinn beagan a bharrachd mun phròiseact fhèin?
Thèid am bun-structar inntrigidh a leasachadh airson leigeil le farsaingeachd nas motha de dhaoine na trì làraichean a chleachdadh. Thèid prìomh eileamaidean na h-obrach a choileanadh thairis air dà bhliadhna agus togail ceum do gach comas aig a’ Chuith-raing na measg, a leigeas le daoine ann an cathraichean-cuibhle sàr àite seallaidh a ruigsinn far am faicear a’ Chuith-raing agus a’ mhuir. Leigidh na drochaidean ùra aig Glumagan nan Sìthichean le daoine aig nach eil de mhisneachd no de chomasan a dhol tarsainn air na h-uillt gu sàbhailte. Thèid àiteachan seallaidh ùra air na trì làraichean a chur air dòigh a leigeas le daoine tlachd fhaighinn asta.
Tha stèidheachadh prògram slàn de dh’obair ath-bheothachadh àrainnean riatanach airson stad a chur air crìonadh àrainneachail mar a tha e agus na h-àrainnean a neartachadh air na trì làraichean – tha an cron cho leathann ri 40 meatair ann an cuid a dh’àiteachan!
Tha e fa-near don phròiseact luachan dualchais a ghleidheadh aig ìre sheasmhach gus am faigh na ginealaichean a th’ ann is ri teachd cothrom eòlas a chur air agus tlachd fhaighinn às na làraichean ann an staid a tha fada nas fheàrr.
Thèid luchd-turais a chuideachadh gus am faigh iad nas urrainn às an turas tro fhiosrachadh nas fheàrr air na trì làraichean air sgàth plana co-òrdanaichte agus dhòighean mìneachaidh. Thèid a dhealbhadh a rèir feuman sheòrsachan ùra is nas measgaichte de luchd-tadhail agus e a’ toirt fa-near do an cuid chànanan. Tha e riatanach gun tèid a’ Ghàidhlig is cultar nan Gàidheal ùisneachadh le fradharc Gàidhealach seach eadar-theangachadh facal air an fhacal air ainmean-àite is lusan is ainmhidhean na sgìre. Thèid cuid mhòr den fhiosrachadh is mìneachadh a thoirt seachad anns na raointean-chàraichean a ghabhas cleachdadh leis a h-uile duine a dh’aindeoin comas agus a chuireas ri goireasan pàircidh is nan taighean-beaga.
Tha muinntir an eilein san fharsaingeachd a’ cumail taic ri amasan Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites Project agus obair a’ dol no air a coileanadh air raointean-chàraichean is taighean-beaga ùra air na trì làraichean tro iomairtean co-òrdanaichte eile. Thig buannachd a bharrachd an cois nan raointean-chàraichean. Thig sruthan airgid ùra gu dìreach bho chìsean pàiricidh air na làraichean a chuirear ri seasmhachd a’ bhun-structair inntrigidh, ath-bheothachadh àrainnean agus uidheam mìneachaidh air gach làrach.
Ciamar a thathar a’ maoineachadh a’ phròiseict?
Tha buidseat iomlan de bheagan fo £1 millean aig Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites Project. Thig £650,516 bhon Mhaoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail (NCHF), air a stiùireadh le NatureScot agus air a mhaoineachadh ann am pàirt tron Mhaoin Leasachaidh Eòrpach (ERDF); agus maoineachadh a bharrachd bho Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland – £98,793, Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspections Division (SGRPID) – £150,000, Minginish Community Hall Association – £20,000, Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd – £10,000.
Our Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund supports opportunities to conserve, protect and promote the nature and culture of the Highlands & Islands. In today’s blog, we speak to Dougie Baird about the exciting Iconic Sites Project on the Isle of Skye.
Popularity has come at a price. Groaning infrastructure struggling to cope with the influx of visitors is the most obvious sign. But help is at hand. Skye’s Iconic Sites Project has tapped into the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund to better promote, and protect the outstanding scenery, wildlife and culture of the areas.
The Outdoor Access Trust, which will lead on the project, is one of a number of partners and will oversee significant improvements to infrastructure and interpretation at three iconic sites – the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the Fairy Pools. Each site will have improved and more inclusive access, viewpoints, and better coordinated information to give high-quality visitor experiences.
Dougie Baird, Chief Executive Officer of the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland, and Manager of Skye’s Iconic Sites Project, gave us a detailed insight into what the project aims to do and how it will deliver a range of welcome improvements.
Dougie, can you give us a flavour of the project?
Skye’s Iconic Sites Project will help to address the chronic lack of tourist infrastructure and co-ordinated interpretation on the Isle of Skye, making improvements to the quality of the visitor experience for a wider and more inclusive range of people at three of its most iconic and busiest sites – the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the Fairy Pools.
This will be achieved by constructing access infrastructure such as paths, bridges, and viewpoints; restoring and rehabilitating habitats; installing co-ordinated interpretation through information points and signage; and developing joined-up promotion, marketing within the wider context of Skye as a visitor destination.
Future proofing all three sites should not only encourage tourists to stay longer and explore other areas of the island, thus increasing the levels of spend, but it should also ensure that the reputation of the island is maintained or improved as a ‘bucket list’ visitor destination.
How did this project come about?
In recent years, Skye has attracted numerous pieces of unwelcome publicity regarding it being ‘full’ and ‘closed to tourists’. In 2018 CNN Travel famously listed Skye at number one on the list of tourist places to avoid, entirely due to the sense that it was beyond carrying capacity.
This comes as a direct result of the exponential rise in visitor numbers to the island and its most iconic sites for a number of years. The Fairy Pools recorded an already unsustainable 80,000 visitors in 2016/17, to more than 180,000 in 2019, while in the same year a massive 220,000 people flocked to the Old Man of Storr (up from 36,000 in 2012).
The island can readily absorb more tourists. However, there is a lack of the most basic infrastructure and tourist facilities to enable the most popular attractions to thrive under the increased pressure, with access roads struggling to cope, and mountain paths and the surrounding vegetation overwhelmed and badly damaged.
It was for this reason that the Skye Iconic Sites Project initiative (SISP), comprising the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (the project’s delivery partner), Skye Connect (Skye’s destination management organisation), two local community organisations – the Staffin Trust and Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), Highland Council, Nature Scot and Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (the principal landowner), was formed in 2018.
This informal collaborative alliance fully appreciates the real value in providing sustainable and long-term solutions to develop natural heritage attractions that can be enjoyed in the coming decades by all.
SISP is tackling the challenges head-on and aims to improve visitor experience and achieve sustainable management of these remote but hugely popular locations.
Is this lack of investment in access infrastructure specific to the Isle of Skye?
Despite their tourism issues being subjected to scrutiny by the UK and international media, Skye is definitely not alone. The sheer weight of people rushing to Scotland’s countryside as Covid-19 travel restrictions are eased has exacerbated the problems with parking at trailheads, fouling and the erosion of popular trails throughout the country. It has also highlighted the lack of investment in access infrastructure that has been so clearly needed for many years. This year’s growth is likely to bring a permanent rise in countryside use, as a new generation realise what is on their doorstep. This is fantastic for health and wellbeing but means increased pressure on the countryside.
Skye’s Iconic Sites Project will provide a ‘template’ that can be learned from and used elsewhere, so that sustainable tourism development can be achieved in remote and fragile locations throughout Scotland and further afield.
Tell us more about the details of the project?
The access infrastructure will be developed to help a wider and more diverse range of people access all three sites. The main elements of the work, phased over two years, includes the construction of a short all-abilities path at the Quaraing, which will allow less able people, including those in wheelchairs, to get to a key viewpoint. New bridges at the Fairy Pools will allow less confident and able people to cross the burns without fear of falling in. The addition of viewpoints at all three sites will allow people to access key areas to best experience them.
The implementation of a comprehensive programme of habitat restoration work is key in arresting and reversing the current rate of environmental degradation experienced at the three locations – erosion scars are as much as 40 metres wide in some places!
The project will also ensure that heritage values are maintained at a sustainable level in order that current and future generations can experience and enjoy all the sites in a much-improved condition.
With a coordinated and iterative interpretive plan, the project will help people get the most out of their visits through improved information, interpretation and promotion at all three sites. It will be tailored to the needs of newer, and more diverse types of visitors, and take cognisance of their languages. An essential element of this will be the authentic and sympathetic use of the Gaelic language and Gaelic culture, rather than just a literal translation of local place names and flora and fauna. Much of the physical information and interpretation will be delivered at the car parks, making it accessible to all, augmenting the basic facilities of parking and toilets.
The aims and objectives of Skye’s Iconic Sites Project are widely supported on the island with new car parks and toilet facilities at all three sites, either in progress or recently completed, via other coordinated initiatives. The car parks will also deliver an added bonus. Sustainability of the access infrastructure, habitat rehabilitation, and interpretation at all three sites will be provided via new income streams generated direct from car parking at each of the sites.
How is the project being funded?
The project has a total budget of just under £1 million. It will benefit hugely from receiving £650,516 from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund (NCHF), led by NatureScot and is part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). There is also additional partnership funding from the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland – £98,793; Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspections Division (SGRPID) – £150,000; the Minginish Community Hall Association – £20,000; and Highland Council – £10,000.
Cairgein (also given as Carraigean) is a special seaweed in a Scottish Gaelic context as it is still foraged in a traditional manner, being generally used to make a pudding or jelly. The name derives from carraig ‘rock’ – the very substrate on which the small marine alga grows – although the modern Scottish Gaelic name might have been influenced by the English form carragheen which derives ultimately from the Irish Gaelic carraigín ‘small rock’ (it is also referred to in English as ‘Irish Moss’). Despite its popularity as a foraged food, the current author has not located a reference to it in the Gaelic landscape. Sgeir a’ Charraigein on the west coast of Mull, opposite the island of Ulva, at first appearance looks like ‘the skerry of the carragheen’ (and it is likely the species grows there) but an early Ordnance Survey map shows that the skerry is in fact named for a nearby sea-pinnacle called An Carraigean. It is ‘the skerry of the small rock’!
It is only at the lowest tides that enough carragheen is revealed to allow its collection in quantity. It is an attractive, diminutive weed, reaching around 15cm in length but usually smaller. It is dichotomously branched with squarish tips to the fronds, it bears no air bladders, and it varies in colour from bright green to dark purplish-brown, depending on depth and habitat. Sometimes found growing on relatively bare rock, it can also be somewhat hidden within beds of larger alga such as kelps. As with other fixed marine algae, it is most sustainably harvested by being cut with scissors rather than by detaching the entire plant from its substrate. Be gentle with seaweeds!
The Gaelic name cairgein actually includes two species – carragheen (Chondrus crispus) and false carragheen (Mastocarpus stellatus), the latter having pointed ends to its fronds and a slightly warty texture, but this need not bother the forager, as both species can be used in the same way.
The traditional way of dealing with carragheen in Gaelic Scotland is to lay the freshly-cut plants out in the sun and allow it to bleach (the species is best collected in the spring or early summer when its Vitamin A content is at its maximum). It is recommended that it be rained upon three times (the Scottish weather usually obliges!) and it is said that the best surface to dry it on is a clover lawn, as the plant will absorb sweetness from the clover flowers, although it is not clear if this has ever been scientifically validated!
The bleached, dried carragheen is then stored in a dry, dark place in a hessian sack and can be used in the winter months. Some people even store it for a couple of years before using it. The dried seaweed is boiled and sieved to produce a relatively flavourless, white or light grey gelatinous pudding, rather like a blancmange, which is easily digested and was traditionally used in the Gàidhealtachd (and beyond) as a recuperative food for people suffering from stomach complaints. The flavour comes from the additives which are only restricted by the cook’s imagination – cinnamon and nutmeg are commonly used ingredients – and various sweet sauces are often drizzled over the pudding, topped with fresh fruit (raspberries are favoured if they are in season). What emerges is a foodstuff with no noticeable maritime flavour.
Perhaps surprisingly for such a seemingly innocuous and cryptic alga, carragheen has not been without its controversy. The extract, known as carrageenan, which is used as a thickener and gelling agent in products such as ice cream, cottage cheese and various desserts – as well as in infant formula – has been promoted as a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatin, which originates in animals. However, some scientists have suggested that carrageenan is inflammatory and even toxic within the digestive tract, although their findings have been rejected by other scientists and by regulatory agencies in a number of countries.
Cairgein has an alternative and rather poetic Gaelic name – màthair an duilisg ‘the mother of the dulse’ as it was seen as being the precursor to a slightly larger red seaweed which grows in similar locations and is still widely used in Scotland – dulse. In fact, this is the only name recorded for the species in the Gairloch area of Wester Ross by Roy Wentworth who compiled a comprehensive dictionary of the local dialect in the modern era. While Eriskay priest Father Allan McDonald (Maighstir Ailein) recorded only carraigean as a Gaelic form, he described the species as ‘a short sea-weed like dilse growing on same rocks as dilse’.
Dulse (or ‘dilse’ if you prefer) is another delicious seaweed beloved of the Gaels. But, for this blogger – as with the dried, bleached carragheen sitting in its hessian sack – the delicious dulse will have to wait for another occasion to be revealed!
This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.