‘Territory – Dùthaich’

I have started writing this moor blog whilst on a residency in St.Kilda. It seems that both these places have become defined by the notion of remoteness and as such are comparable. Also the language, culture and  archaeology of both are largely shared.

To fully experience both St. Kilda and the Moor it is necessary to make a sometimes arduous journey across a terrain that to the untrained eye is inhospitable, featureless, hostile, a landscape where seemingly humans do not belong.

But as the stories, songs and folk memory attest this is not the case.

Towards Muineag (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Towards Muineag

Many of the Gaelic blessings collected by the folklorist Alexander Carmichael relate to the moor. The language welds Christian and perhaps more ancient beliefs into  the ritualistic nature of everyday tasks such as milking, herding, lighting and the smooring of fires.

‘Peat is the fuel of the Highlands and islands. Where wood is not obtainable the fire is kept in during the night. The process by which this is accomplished is called in Gaelic smaladh; in Scottish smooring; and in English, smothering, or more correctly, subduing. The ceremony of smooring the fire is artistic and symbolic and is performed with loving care.

The embers are evenly spread on the hearth which is generally in the middle of the floor and formed into a circle. This circle is then divided into three equal sections, a small boss being left in the middle. A peat is laid between each section, each peat touching the boss, which forms a common centre. The first peat is laid down in name of the God of Life, the second in name of the God of Peace, the third in name of the God of Grace. The circle is then covered over with ashes sufficient to subdue but not to extinguish the fire, in name of The Three of Light. The heap slightly raised in the centre is called ‘Tula nan Tri’ the Heart of Three.

When the smooring operation is complete the woman closes her eyes, stretches her hand and softly intones one of the many formulae current for these occasions.’

I will build the hearth                                                                                                 

As Mary would build it

The encompassment of Bride and of Mary

Guarding the hearth guarding the floor

Guarding the household all

 

Who are they on the lawn without

Michael the sun radiant of my trust

Who are they on the middle of the floor

John and Peter and Paul

Who are they by the front of my bed

Sun bright Mary and her son

 

The mouth of God ordained

The angel of God proclaimed

An Angel white in charge of the hearth

Till white day shall come to the embers

An angel white in charge of the hearth

Till white day shall come to the embers

 

Alexander Carmichael- Carmina Gadelica Volume 2 – 1900

Near Loch an Duine  (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Near Loch an Duine


January – Setting off after warmth of the sun has gone. Skirting Loch an Tobair – a fenced off Sùil- Chruthaich approaching the breunlachan of loch Tana. Sending ducks to flight.

Dusk – a woodcock and a shrew illuminated in the headlights

Hail storms – losing sight of the road. Blurred shieling like a childs’ drawing. Net curtains and falling snow


It helps to try and cultivate what you could call an ‘ indigenous eye’ in places such as the moor

In doing this a landscape that can seem empty becomes full. Sometimes so full that your path is delayed with small observations, incidents with birds and animals, smells and sounds.

‘Hunting in my experience – and by hunting I simply mean being out on the land is a state of mind. All of ones faculties are brought to bare in an effort to become fully incorporated into the landscape. It is more than listening for animals or watching for hoofprints or a shift in the weather. It is more than an analysis of what one senses. To hunt means to have the land around you like clothing. To engage in a wordless dialogue with it , one so absorbing that you cease to talk with your human companions. It means to release yourself from rational images of what something ‘means’. ‘

Barry Lopez – Arctic Dreams

Red deer near Beinn Mhaol Stacaiseal looking South (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Red deer near Beinn Mhaol Stacaiseal looking South

Thinking about the deer and their linguistic connection with the moor.

The Gaelic for deer – Fiadh

The Gaelic for a wild untamed place – Fiadhaich


February – Visiting shielings around Loch Beag Thoma Duibhe, between Tomanach dhubh and Druim Gil Speireag the ground underfoot as mossy as a Finnish forest

Sheep hoof seraphs in the powdery scratch card covering of snow

A moulting Eagle a few feet above the car gliding


Red deer near Stacaiseal (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Red deer near Stacaiseal

Observing some of the elements of being out in the moor and inspired by Dr.Johnsons ‘Seventeen meanings for the word line’ in 1775,  I made a collection of Lines – a Taxonomy of moorland lines.

Included are the lines of ‘crazing’ in the pottery I have found in moorland lochs. Next to each Staran (a line of stones set out going into a loch for collecting water for a nearby shieling) there is often a scatter of shards of decorated pottery. Crockery taken out to the airigh. Even in the most remote of locations brightly patterned pieces of china glint through the peaty water.

This is the same style of pottery displayed in the museum in St.Kilda.

pottery 1

Pottery shards from Loch nan Cnàmh (Photos - Jon Macleod)

Pottery shards from Loch nan Cnàmh

A Taxonomy of Moorland lines

Deer skull suture line- river meanders in the Bughachan – the high water strand line of a loch – lochan ice line – herring bone design on bronze age pottery or in a peat stack- sheep ear marks – deer paths – Pentland road – map contour line – rush growth lines – crazed glaze on found pottery-

Lochan ice line (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Lochan ice line


MarchHalf moon – looking beyond the shadow cast by Stacaiseal to the Inner Moor. A downy Eagle feather – a Golden Plover feather – the dead flower stalks of Bog Asphodel. Slicks of ice amongst the deer grass

The Lochs and allts like the organs and arteries of an animal – an Inuit drawing

Swan feather - beyond Stacaiseal (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Swan feather – beyond Stacaiseal

After making a list of lines I made another list about what is often overlooked by academics in describing the human element to St.Kilda or the moor.

Playfullness

Sense of colour

Humour

Trials of strength and agility

Powers of imitation

Wonder in the natural world


Moor towards Harris  (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Moor towards Harris

AprilThe ribbon like strip of undulating (floating) road the only modern impingement on the natural integrity of the open moor. A hairline avenue from which to view the expanse.

Feadan – veins – the moor a living thing

Skirting Loch Gainmeach eitseal Bheag – snipe alighting – past Creagan na criche and along Abhainn na Bà Mòire – three Whooper swans uptailing on Loch Mòr a Chocair

  Shieling and Clach Tacais - Barvas moor (Photo - Jon Macleod)


Shieling and Clach Tacais – Barvas moor


Midsummer near Druim na Each Geal (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Midsummer near Druim na Each Geal

Loch Tana (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Loch Tana

May – Mountain Everlasting (Spog Cat in Gaelic – Cats’ paw) in flower growing in a crevice on Grianan – resounding to cuckoos


Shieling towards Achmore (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Shieling towards Achmore

Cuishader shielings (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Cuishader shielings

June – Still warm night- cuckoo calling – distant gulls above the fir tops

The panoply of hills stretching back from a ripple of Lochs and moor – tormentil in flower – sedges dusting pollen


Grouse chick (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Grouse chick

Scarecrow at the Barvas river (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Scarecrow at the Barvas river

July – Walking to Loch an Laoigh the fringes bejewelled with sundew – milkwort – lousewort

To Loch nan Cnàmh – tracks of a swan – small birds and a hare at Loch airigh nan Sloc. A finger tip of Pippit shell – a suture wind of burn between the two lochs – a piping of Dunlins gliding en masse between tomanan.


Pentland road shieling (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Pentland road shieling

Red grouse and antler at Loch nam Cnàmh (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Red grouse and antler at Loch nam Cnàmh

August – The moor hooching with frogs – a damp sultry day


Cuishader shieling and peat stack (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Cuishader shieling and peat stack

Rionnach maoim and peat roads -Looking towards Bragar and Arnol from Beinn Bragar (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Rionnach maoim and peat roads -Looking towards Bragar and Arnol from Beinn Bragar

September – Between the curtains at night the mast at Eitseal the only light in the dark mass of the moor

The Pentland road awash with young grouse.

Golden eagle at Loch nam Cnàmh (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Golden eagle at Loch nam Cnàmh

Bus shieling Cuishader (Photo - Jon Macleod)

Bus shieling Cuishader

Jon Macleod, October 2013

© All photos copyright Jon Macleod

 

A Blog by Anne Campbell: Tìr mo Rùin – Moorland diary

A pool where two streams emerge from beneath the peat  - Anne Campbell

 

March. NB 2976 3817. A pool where two streams emerge from beneath the peat – the source of the water which flows to Loch na Mòineach, which in turn feeds Feadan Loch na Mòineach, which joins Feadan Loch an Fhraoich and Feadan Loch nam Breac to form Gleann Thorradail, one of the tributaries of Gleann Bhradhagair.  Even here you can smell the river.  Sounds of the water, a single skylark singing, and the wind in the grass.  Skeins of geese are flying north, changing formation as they go.

Moorland shimmering in a heat haze - Anne Campbell

 

April.  Moorland shimmering in a heat haze.  Pipits singing, plover whistling.  An occasional little breeze running across the moor, which you can hear coming before it hits you.  My first time out here since six wind turbines were built on Beinn Mholach.  I’m shocked to see them towering over the beautiful line of the Barvas Hills, like a jagged scar on a previously flawless face.  The limitless moor of sphagnum and water and insects and bird-calls feels limited by concrete and steel, the vast calm horizon disrupted by constant restless movement. I walk home feeling sad.

Walking out the river  - Anne Campbell

May. Walking out the river on a hot morning to a loud chorus of pipits and skylarks, thinking of those I’ve walked this way with in the past, the people they walked with, and those who walked it a hundred, a thousand, six thousand, perhaps eight thousand years ago.  Bobbing sandpipers, calling twee-see-see.  The loud, exotic trilling of dunlin. The song of a thrush from a shieling. The bird sounds may have changed over the centuries but the sounds of the river itself remain the same.

Big footprints of swans and curled white feathers on a peaty beach - Anne Campbell

Big footprints of swans and curled white feathers on a peaty beach.  The first bees, dragonflies and damselflies, buzzing, whirring and flitting in and out of my field of consciousness. Spiders spinning everywhere: when you sit down, small spiders walk across you.  The evening breeze is sweet smelling after blowing over miles of sun-warmed moorland.

Four colours of milkwort growing in the centre of the peat track  - Anne Campbell

 

June. Four colours of milkwort growing in the centre of the peat track – deep blue, rich pink, pale pink and pale mauve.  Siabann nam Ban-sìth – ‘fary women’s soap’.  Harestail, orchids and eyebright by the side of the road, and pale mauve marsh violets with purple veining and saffron-coloured centres.   I make a new track in a day, barrowing peats. An eagle, a skua, some butterflies, a four-spotted chaser and a few bees pass by while I work.  Curlews and pipits display on and off through the day.  Wheatears flit ahead as I walk home, decoying me and the dog away from their nests.

Photo - Anne Campbell

July.  Birds heard through the evening, night and early morning from a tent on the moor: dunlin, golden plover, red grouse, snipe, meadow pipit, red-throated diver.  During the day I hear a greenshank call –  tyew-tyew-tyew.

A sunny, muggy, hot evening on the beach of a moorland loch - Anne Campbell

A sunny, muggy, hot evening on the beach of a moorland loch.  Silence but for the humming of insects and the eerie sound of a distant Diver.  Dragonflies hunting – Hawkers and Darters. The silence is broken by a deer wading, plunging and swimming across the loch.  It watches the dog, stamping its foot.  Big ears, small velvet-covered antlers, large eyes.  It scrutinises me for a minute or two before putting its head in the air and sauntering off.  I’m pleased to have come face to face with it here.  Fiadh – ‘deer’, fiadhaich – ‘wild, untamed’.

Photo - Anne Campbell

Deirdre Nelson, Murray Robertson, my sister Catriona and I walk through a thunderstorm, enveloped in cloud, with mist rising off the lochs after the heat of the day.  I’m glad to get to the shelter of the shieling.  In the morning we sit on stones in Loch an Òis chatting while Deirdre knits a sock.  The knitting makes me feel as though we’re re-enacting a scene from the past.

 

 

A Blog by Fabric Lenny: Sexy Peat – First Edition of 12 Screen Prints in the Bag

I am nearing the end of my time on Scottish soil for now as I move into the last couple of days of working at Highland Print Studio as part of the Sexy Peat project. Yesterday saw the completion of a three colour print run, with two more print editions and a photogravure plate (to be printed from an iPad painting source, in an attempt to liberate the file from the digital domain)  to be printed today. I fear I am now hooked on printmaking!

Photo - Fabric Lenny

Photo – Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

Work by Fabric Lenny

 

Follow Fabric Lenny on his blog: http://fabriclenny.blogspot.co.uk

 

A Blog by Fabric Lenny: Sexy Peat – First Day at the Highland Print Studio

A great first day at the Highland Print Studio in Inverness as part of the Sexy Peat Project. A really enjoyable return to screen printing after 20 years, and a test print made! Images below are of some of the process.

Beautiful view from the studio window

Beautiful view from the studio window

Working with a variety of mark-making mediums on truegrain film

Working with a variety of mark-making mediums on truegrain film

Checking the opacity of the image against the window before exposing the screen

Checking the opacity of the image against the window before exposing the screen

Washing out the exposed screen

Washing out the exposed screen

Clamping the screen in place prior to printing

Clamping the screen in place prior to printing

First test prints

First test prints

Follow Fabric Lenny and his work by visiting his blog: http://fabriclenny.blogspot.co.uk