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.
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
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.
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.
My friend Iona Scobie, who runs East Rhidorroch Estate near Ullapool, rides her four Highland ponies cross-country twice a year, east coast to west coast and vice versa, between their summer and winter grazing. It’s a journey of about 70 miles, and usually takes around three days—via road, forestry track, sheep path and peat bog, roughly in that order.
This year, me and my partner Rich joined her for the journey, riding three horses and having the fourth—a youngster called Boo—follow on behind. We slept in a hayloft and an abandoned cottage, and stopped off at the Glenbeg bothy too on the very, very wet last day on the hill.
Usually we’d keep at least one of the horses contained, but on the last night, we let them loose on the hill to let them relax and crossed our fingers they’d stick close by. Luckily they did. Or, not lucky exactly: after several days on the move together, the horses come to perceive our group as their ‘herd’ and like to stay in eyeshot of all its members.
I’ll write about the trip in more depth for the next issue of EQY, but in the meantime, here’s a brief postcard from the peatbogs written for the Guardian’s Country Diary section. Full text after the fold. Continue reading
I’ve still got my head down working on a longer term project, but in the mean time I continue to conduct interviews and edit for the literary site Five Books, which you should visit and follow if, like me, you like to keep a to-be-read pile larger than your bedside table or to hear authors/academics/public figures talking about their areas of expertise in depth. Recently I’ve spoken to author Matthew Green about post-traumatic stress, journalist and memoirist Bryony Gordon about depression, and academic Philippa Levine about eugenics.
I also contributed another short entry to the Guardian’s Country Diary, this time about horse-riding in the Black Isle during pheasant shooting season. Text at the Guardian website here, or after the fold. Continue reading