‘Abair ach beagan agus abair gu math’
We were an intimate group of six, which meant there was time to talk to each other as well as having discussions altogether. I was involved, in 2007, with Staffin Community Trust’s Ceumannan project to develop and deliver a series of walks working with Staffin Primary school. This walk was the one in which we explored the trade routes of the people of An Corran, a Mesolithic campsite from 7000 years ago.
For this walk, I wanted to highlight and explore the overlapping layers of time within a landscape. This is a very good walk on which to see a large variety of marks in the landscape from many different periods. This has mesolithic, neolithic, iron age, and different layers of modern imprints within a short distance.
How do these different layers of history interact with each other?
How can we respond in the present, learning and valuing each in the same way?
What can we add meaningfully and what is added randomly?
We had a really stimulating range of topics covered by our wide-ranging discussions and sharing of stories. Some that come to mind are: Gaelic proverbs and the meanings invoked, stories relating to how places get named both old and recent and how quickly these can be lost, the prevalence nowadays of angelica in crofts possibly replacing the ragwort which people remove, peat cutting and formation, landscape viewed from the sea, bringing boats up the built track, the scale of cottars dwellings and the modern camping pods, the uses of plants in the past and how we can value the recent past more as it is very easy to forget.
Crios Chù Chulainn, meadowsweet in English, came up a lot. The Gaelic name, meaning Cuchullin’s belt, comes from the habit that Cuchullin had of wearing the plant in his belt to help him keep calm and not loose his temper so often. It has medicinal properties being traditionally used to cure meat and keep it longer, the stems have a very particular distinctive ‘mouthwash’ chemical, while the flowers were used to flavour drinks. It also has a chemical which is used in aspirin and cures headaches. There is a meadowsweet cream produced nowadays on Skye which is apparently good for joints. We also heard about someone who has become allergic to meadowsweet possibly through being exposed to too much of it.
Doing this walk after ten years I am aware of how much I forget, but I am also aware of how I remember and the connections that I make between different types of facts and stories and that this is what drives my work, instead of layers within the landscape it is layers within me.
I have remembered the name of the hand-built road which runs from the shore to Staffin village ‘Cadha Riach’ but I have lost the story which belonged to it.
‘Abair ach beagan Agus Abair gu math’ – Say little, but say it well
Tha Seo Math Dhuibh – Good for you
A partnership project with Aros Centre, Portree