A dream job in river restoration

In our latest guest blog with Lantra Scotland, we hear from environmental conservation apprentice Niall Provan on his work to restore Scotland’s rivers with the Forth Rivers Trust, and his journey into a conservation career.

Niall (centre) carrying out an electro fishing exercise, surveying fish populations. ©Niall Provan

I have always had a passion for the outdoors. I’ve spent many happy hours out hill walking so it was natural step to find a career where I could develop practical skills and be part of nature. After I left school I applied for a countryside management course at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), then looked for a Modern Apprenticeship. I heard that the Callander Landscape Partnership (CLP) was looking to take someone on, which sounded like the ideal stepping stone for my career, especially as I was learning while working and earning a wage.

I applied and was lucky enough to get a place. Working for CLP has really opened my eyes to the possibilities. I have been involved in so many varied and interesting projects including an archaeological dig at a Neolithic site near Callander where we collected artefacts, dug trenches and undertook geological surveys. This was followed by digs at an Iron Age hillfort and roundhouse in Stirlingshire. I also got involved in some environmental conservation work, managing invasive species like Rhododendron, and installing and surveying bird and bat boxes. This kind of work really piqued my interest in conservation and habitat management.

Restoration work as part of the River Larig Restoration Project with Forth Rivers Trust ©Niall Provan

After I finished my apprenticeship, I landed a job as a Project Support Officer with Forth Rivers Trust which has been a dream for me. I am part of a select team working on the Larig Restoration Project, which aims to improve the River Larig and its surrounding habitat through tree planting and in-river and bankside restoration works.

The work is really important because it will improve the biodiversity of the river and the surrounding area as well as provide shade and refuge for migratory Atlantic salmon. Salmon populations are currently on a downward trend, due to pressures such as pollution, over-fishing and climate change. These kinds of projects will create areas of sanctuary for salmon to spawn and help boost their numbers.

Flying a drone as part of site surveying work, using digital imaging software to show impact of their work along the river. ©Niall Provan

As with many land-based jobs today, the ability to harness new technologies is an important skill and I’ve been lucky enough to learn many useful skills and techniques. I think the most fun has been using drones to survey and map areas under investigation. We use digital imaging software which gives us before and after images so we can see the effect our work is having.

I also get involved with river surveying, sampling, and electro fishing, a technique that allows us to capture and survey fish without doing them harm.  I really love getting stuck into a long-term project like this and seeing it progress. You get to see the positive results of your work and the changes happening in real time. There is a bit of desk work to do, but most of my time is spent outdoors on site, getting my hands dirty and doing the practical work, which is what I really enjoy.

Driving a quad bike on site ©Niall Provan

What I have learnt as a trainee starting off, it that environmental conservation is a very competitive industry to get into. Forth Rivers Trust is one of the biggest organisations of its kind in the country, yet only employs 20 people, so you really need to stand out.

What employers are looking for is a demonstration of your commitment, so you want to be doing as much voluntary work as you can. As well as helping out and learning lots of different industry-specific skills, you’ll also meet up with people already working in the industry, so it’s a great way to network and make connections which will be a big help in finding future jobs.

Lantra Scotland helps people get the training, qualifications and skills to succeed in the land-based, aquaculture and environmental sector. For more information, visit: https://www.scotland.lantra.co.uk/

For more information about nature-based jobs, see: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/planning-and-development/social-and-economic-benefits-nature/nature-based-jobs-and-skills

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Bho Bheul an Eòin

Tha cruthachadh ainmean ùra Gàidhlig airson cuid de lusan is ainmhidhean ùra na h-Alba aig teis-meadhan pròiseact com-pàirteachaidh air leth a tha a’ faighinn taic le NatureScot agus Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Read in English

Tha am pròiseact, Bho Bheul an Eòin, a’ cruthachadh ainmean ùra airson ghnèithean ùra. Anns na beagan bhliadhnaichean a dh’fhalbh, tha seòrsachan ùra de lusan is de dh’ainmhidhean air tighinn a dh’Alba mar thoradh air a’ ghnàth-shìde againn a tha a’ sìor-atharrachadh. Tha cuid dhiubh cho ùr agus nach eil ainmean Gàidhlig orra – gu ruige seo.

Chaidh 40 seòrsa ùr a shònrachadh tro phròiseas rannsachaidh is co-chomhairleachaidh le comhairle luchd-saidheans, luchd-rannsachaidh is sgrìobhadairean Gàidhlig – is iad air lusan, eòin, dealanan-dè, ainmhidhean mara, seilcheagan, fiù ’s seòrsa algaich ainmeachadh. Chaidh ainmean ùra Gàidhlig a chur orra agus tha an sàr neach-ealain fiadh-bheatha, Derek Robertson, air dealbhan dath-uisge a dhèanamh airson a h-uile ainmhidh.

Spanish bluebell, (C)Derek Robertson

Tha bàrdachd is rosg cuide ri gach pìos obair-ealain agus bidh taghadh den obair ri fhaicinn tro sheachdain a’ Mhòid Nàiseanta Rìoghail aig XOKO Bakehouse air Sràid na Drochaid, Inbhir Nis. Às a sin, thèid an taisbeanadh a Ghlaschu agus bidh cothrom agaibh fhaicinn aig Leabharlann Mitchell bho 30 Dàmhair gu toiseach na Dùbhlachd.

Tha lach-dhubh tuinnesurf scoter sa Bheurla – am measg nan ainmean ùra. Tha na h-eòin sin cumanta air cladaichean Alba Nuadh agus bidh grunnan dhiubh a’ geamhrachadh a-nis ann an Alba ann an àiteachan a leithid Linne Mhoireibh.

White-letter hairstreak butterfly, (C)Derek Robertson

’S e Bròg na Cuthaig Spàinnteach an t-ainm a th’ air dìthean ionnsaigheach a bhuineas do dh’Iberia agus a tha cho lìonmhor is gu bheil i air tòiseachadh air strì gu soirbheachail le bròg na cuthaige dhùthchasach ann an Alba. ’S e fuath-mhuc aon de na h-ainmean eile a th’ oirre, leis nach eil mucan measail orra, agus an t-ainm a’ toirt iomradh air linn nuair a bhiodh treudan mhucan gan cumail ann an coilltean.

Surf scooter, (C)Derek Robertson

Tha e iomchaidh gu bheil cumadh ‘W’ geal coltach ri sradag dealain ri fhaicinn fo sgiathan seòrsa ùr de dhealan-dè – an ròin-stiallach geal. Tha an dealan-dè seo air gluasad gu tuath an Alba, coltach ri dealanan-dè eile, air sgàth blàthachadh na gnàth-shìde againn agus gu bheil grunnan chraobhan leamhain air tilleadh a tha galar-fhulangach is a tha nan àrainn fhreagarrach airson an ròin stiallaich ghil.

Tha an obair-ealain is an teacsa gu lèir rim faicinn aig www.fromthebirdsmouth.com.  Thèid sàr leabhar ealain fhoillseachadh tràth sa bhliadhn’ ùir agus, nuair a thèid na bacaidhean a lasachadh, bidh taisbeanadh taistealach ann.

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From The Bird’s Mouth

Giving Gaelic names to some of Scotland’s newly arrived nature is at the heart of a unique partnership project, supported by NatureScot and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

The project, Bho Bheul an Eòin (From The Bird’s Mouth), is creating names for the new species. Over recent decades, new plant and animal species have arrived in Scotland due to our changing climate. Many of these are so new, they don’t have Gaelic names – until now.

Spanish Bluebell – (C)Derek Robertson

Through a process of research and consultation, with advice from scientists, researchers and Gaelic writers, 40 new arrivals have been identified – including plants, birds, butterflies, marine life, slugs and even snow-bed algae.  These species have been given new Gaelic names, and acclaimed wildlife artist Derek Robertson has produced bespoke watercolour portraits of them all.

This artwork is accompanied by poetry and prose, and a selection of the work is being showcased during the Royal National Mòd  at XOKO Bakehouse on Bridge Street, Inverness. From there, the exhibition will move to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow from 30 October until early Decemeber.

White-letter hairstreak butterfly, (C)Derek Robertson

Amongst the newly-coined names is lach-dhubh tuinne, literally meaning “black duck of the wave”, for the surf scoter. These birds are a common sight along the coasts of Gaelic-speaking Nova Scotia and a small number now winter in Scottish waters including the Moray Firth.

Bròg na Cuthaig Spàinnteach is the name chosen for the Spanish bluebell – an invader from the Iberian peninsular – which is so vigorous it has started to successfully compete with our similar native bluebell.  The Gaelic name for bluebell is bròg na cuthaig meaning “cuckoo’s shoe”, but an alternate name is fuath-mhuc which translates as “repellent to pigs” – referring to the era when pigs were regularly herded in woodlands.

Surf scooter, (C)Derek Robertson

The Gaelic for butterfly is dealan-dè which translates as “God’s lightning/fire”. Appropriately, then, the white-letter hairstreak butterfly has a distinctive, white “W” traced on the underside of its wings like a bolt of electricity. Like many butterflies, its spread northward into Scotland has been helped by our warming climate, along with a return of some disease-resistant elm trees that provide good habitat for the white-letter hairstreak to become firmly established here. The project proposes ròin-stiallach geal as a Gaelic title for this species, drawing on ròin (a single hair) and stiallach (striped). The addition of geal (white) distinguishes it from the other hairstreak butterflies.

View all the artwork and text at www.fromthebirdsmouth.com.  A high-quality art book will follow early next year, and – when restrictions ease, a touring exhibition will take place.

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Warrior’s Friendship

Valerian is a plant long utilised by herbalists in the Gàidhealtachd and beyond.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

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’.

Common valerian (Valeriana officinalis) ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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!

Common valerian (Valeriana officinalis) ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

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Carthan Curaidh

Tha an lus seo aithnichte do lighichean luibheach air a’ Ghàidhealtachd agus tìrean cèin.

Read in English

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’.

Valeriana officinalis ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

Valeriana officinalis ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

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Tentsmuir and the road to net-zero

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…

Polaris ranger electric vehicle ©Marijke Leith

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.

Staff use bikes to get about the reserve ©Marijke Leith

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.
Battery operated brushcutter/chainsaw ©Marijke Leith

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.

Conclusion

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.

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The Leaping Dolphins

A number of species of leumadairean – dolphins – can be seen in Scottish waters.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

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!

A place named for dolphins – Rubha Leumair (modern spelling) – properly Rubha an Leumaire ‘the promontory of the dolphin’ in Assynt.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

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.

Bottlenose dolphins people-watching at Chanonry Point. ©Ben James/NatureScot

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 plumanaich1 of 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.

Common dolphin breaching in the Minch. ©Sue Scott

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.

A juvenile pod of Risso’s dolphin off the coast of Lewis. ©Nicola Hodgins, Whale & Dolphin Conservation.

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).

Orca hunting seals off the Shetland coastline. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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!

  1. 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.

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Leumadairean na h-Alba

Tha grunn ghnèithean de leumadairean rim faicinn timcheall chostaichean na h-Alba.

Read in English

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!

Àite air ainmeachadh airson leumadairean – no leumairean – Rubha (an) Leumair(e) air costa Asainte. Chuala an t-ùghdar aithris gum bithear a’ faicinn leumadairean às a sin fhathast. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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.

Mucan-biorach a’ toirt sùil air daoine aig Gob na Cananaich. ©Ben James/NatureScot

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.

Leumadairean cumanta anns a’ Chuan Sgìth. ©Sue Scott

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.

Canachan òga far costa Leòdhais. ©Nicola Hodgins, Whale & Dolphin Conservation.

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).

Madaidhean-cuain a’ sealg ròn far cladach Shealtainn. ©Lorne Gill/ NatureScot

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.

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International Youth Day – transforming food systems

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.

NatureScot’s Kirsten Brewster and Steven McKenna meet Lynn and Sandra, young farmers at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

Wetland creation at Loig Farm near Braco, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

Organic reared cattle at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. Forth and Borders Area. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

Staff working at the farm shop at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. Forth and Borders Area. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

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.

Learn more…

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?)

Farmers and members of the public can sign up as members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network for free. And for events, news and resources on food systems and farming check out Nourish.

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.

For up to date information on agricultural and land use policy see our website.

Bumblebee meadow and management at RSPB Vane Farm by Richard Cooper

Get involved…

If you want to buy produce from some of these forward thinking farms you can find out more from the Land Workers Alliance and the organisations above or search at Community Supported Agriculture.

A few interesting places across Scotland you might want to support include Peelham Farm, Blackhaugh, Tap O Noth and Sailean croft, Lismore.

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.

NatureScot provides youth employment opportunities including those based in rural skills including ranger schemes, placements and apprenticeships. Please visit our opportunities page for further details.


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CORROUR BOTHY: A REFUGE IN THE WILDERNESS

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.

Ralph’s book Corrour Bothy: A Refuge in the Wilderness is available from all good bookshops and online.

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