The language of twilight?

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For the past few years I’ve been making on-again, off-again attempts to learn Scottish Gaelic, a language that was spoken in my family until a couple of generations ago. It’s a difficult language to learn, and the Gaelic-community of Scotland is billingual – they all speak English already. So why do I try? The answer is, it’s complicated.

When we lose a language we may also lose the ability to describe the landscape it lives in. The land becomes less readily characterised, less gradated, more difficult to read. And so do we: what it means to be a Highlander, for example, becomes diffuse when there is no language to mark you apart.

I explored my desire to learn Gaelic – and attempted to untangle my, and my country’s, strange relationship to the language for Prospect magazine this month. The full text is online here (outside of the paywall), and after the fold.  Continue reading

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Writing for the Scottish Review of Books

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I was pleased to contribute to the Scottish Review of Books for the first time, with a review of Donald S Murray’s latest book, The Dark Stuff: Stories from the Peatlands, a fascinating mix of landscape writing, memoir and history that moves from the Highlands and Islands to the ‘midlands’ of Ireland and the peatlands of Germany, Holland and Denmark.

“A depth of appreciation comes with familiarity: his father, he says, could shut his eyes and know the exact moment the car crossed the town boundary at Stornoway, when the distinctive aroma of peat smoke switched to that of coal, and with it the urban world of pavements, shops and the English language.”

The full review can be found on the SRB site here; I’ll post it on this site after the magazine comes off newstands.

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Residency at Gladstone’s Library

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I’ve loved my time so far as writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, north Wales. While here I’ve been working on new writing, and also held an evening book event in the chapel on the evening of 6 May which was well attended – thanks all who came. I have one more event to come – a creative non-fiction masterclass on 26 May, which is now sold out.

I’m finding it a great place to write. Being surrounded by likeminded people all hard at work on their own projects is very conducive to sustained periods of concentration. It being very beautiful – and the food being excellent – and the weather being glorious – doesn’t hurt either. I’m very lucky to be here.

If you’re interested in visiting the library, you can sign up as a day reader, or book yourself in for a stay. Rooms start from £66/night B&B (link), and there are a number of scholarships and bursaries available. The writers in residence selection process runs annually, with an April deadline. It’s for authors whose work ‘engages with liberal values.’ More information and details on how to apply here.

 

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Barns Ness: fossils and hermit crabs

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Another short postcard for the Guardian’s Country Diary, which is always a pleasure to contribute to. This time: rockpooling and fossil-hunting at Barns Ness on the East Lothian coast: John Muir country. Full text after the fold, or on the Guardian website here.

In other news, I was pleased to be shortlisted for HorseScotland’s equestrian writer of the year award for my work for EQY (a glossy equestrian annual) and The Sunday Times Magazine. While in Falkirk for their glitzy awards night I also took the opportunity to review Airth Castle hotel for the Telegraph.

Continue reading

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Interviews for Five Books

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As ever, I continue to interview and edit for Five Books, a literary recommendations site which asks public figures, authors and academics to discuss their desert island book choices in their specialist subject. We publish long, discursive interviews on topics from philosophy to physics three times a week. Our site’s audience is growing fast: this month we’ve had around 300,000 unique visitors.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Daniel Goleman about the concept of ’emotional intelligence’; Will Storr, author of Selfie, on immersive nonfiction; the Scottish intellectual Alan Taylor about the best works of Muriel Spark; Lisa Feldman Barrett on the how emotions work; and the philosopher Christian B Miller on moral character.

Browse all our interviews on our homepage (www.fivebooks.com), or follow us on Twitter (@five_books) where we recently gained our 10,000th follower.

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Tracking badgers with Nan Shepherd

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I wrote a short postcard from the snowy Cairngorms for The Guardian’s gorgeous country diary feature. It can be found on the Guardian site here, or after the fold.  Continue reading

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Granta and Guardian Long Reads

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I’m very excited to have had an essay appear in the print edition of Granta (issue #142: Animalia). It is about the impact of red deer in the Highlands of Scotland, and the annual cull which takes place in estates across the country. It’s a complex issue, and one that causes a lot of discussion and disagreement in the Highlands. Thanks especially to my friends Julien Legrand and Iona Scobie of the East Rhiddoroch Estate, who helped me understand the issues at stake. Julien took me shooting during the hind season, where I learned the realities of stalking and gralloching.

I think of every time I’ve ever used the word ‘visceral’ and resolve never again to take it in vain. What did I know of viscera until I felt the chainlink of intestine running through my fingers? How dare I allude to this most intimate of acts: the touch of another creature’s innards, of following the transfiguration of grass to fumet as one traces digestive tract from throat to tail.

It was a primal experience, and immersing myself in the subject has totally changed the way that I look at the landscape around me. Read the full essay here (£), or after the fold.

The Guardian also kindly reprinted an excerpt from the essay as their ‘long read’ on Tuesday. It can be found online here. Continue reading

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Colorado Trail: Frequently Asked Questions

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here, including a how-to guide to pack horses.

When planning our journey along the Colorado Trail last year, I spent a lot of time researching the trail itself, and in the early stages I had a LOT of very basic questions that I needed answered – and these questions come up again every year, as a new ‘class’ of thru-hikers and thru-riders plan their trip. Find some answers below, from hard-won experience. Continue reading

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The Sunday Times Magazine and Radio Scotland

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I wrote a short-ish article about our adventures along the Colorado Trail for The Sunday Times Magazine last week, which alas I missed seeing in hard copy because I was doing a mini-residency at a cabin in Inshriach Forest, on the edge of the Cairngorms, for The Bothy Project. (It was a joy. Look into it, if you are a writer or artist and enjoy solitude / chopping wood / working by lamplight / cold water washing.)

But here’s a PDF – and I’ve gathered together all my posts about our Rocky Mountain summer here, including 6 weeks’ worth of trail diaries (1/2/3/4/5/6), some tips for packhorse use, and some notes on the equipment we took with us.

Rich and I also discussed our journey with BBC Scotland presenter Fiona Stalker for her Friday afternoon show Out for the Weekend, which is available to listen to here.

Full text of the article after the fold Continue reading

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Packhorse equipment to hire in the UK

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While preparing for our six-week ride along the Colorado Trail, I did a lot of investigation into the best packhorse equipment to use. After reading many, many recommendations from those who should know on the Long Riders Guild site, which is an incredible compendium of knowledge on the very specialist subject of ultra-long-distance riding, we opted to buy almost all of our kit from Custom Packrigging in Canada and have it shipped to a friend in the US. (On the way home, we taped the packs up and used them as suitcases.)

Kelly at Custom Packrigging was extremely helpful, and advised me on the best combination of items to fit three as-yet-unseen horses (who turned out to be very different in size and shape), and we were very delighted with how it all worked out. We had some issues with the Western riding saddles the horses came with, but none at all with the packsaddle, which I fully endorse.

It’s very difficult to procure packhorse equipment in Britain, so I don’t want to sell it – but I would be willing to rent it out to anyone planning a long distance journey who doesn’t want to pay for new equipment outright, plus the extortionate shipping costs that would incur.

If you’d be interested, drop me an email at cal [at] calflyn [dot] com, and we can discuss the details. Location depending, I could also help you tack up the first time. I have some tips on packhorse use here.

Available packhorse equipment is as follows:  Continue reading

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