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Showing posts from March, 2011

If it's not Broch, Don't Fix It

Anyone who has taken the sea road of the Eilean Siar (Western Isles), or skirted the high edges of Caithness and Sutherland, or meandered the archipelagos of Shetland and Orkney, will have noted a peculiar structure, often wore down to its foundational stump like an old tooth - the 'broch'. These blind eyeless towers once stood proud of the landscape on our northern Celtic coastlines (the tallest remaining is the Mousa Broch of Shetland), from around 300 BC through the Iron Age until they were either 'inherited' by invading Vikings and occupied until around AD 1300, or 'unquarried' for walls and other structures. It was the vikings who have given us their modern name from 'Borg' meaning 'fortification', though what they were called by their original architects swims in the deep Celtic well of lost tongues.

It is unlikely, however, they were originally built in response to insecurity. Their frequency, such as in the northern peninsulas of Skye, …

Where have all the trees gone?

Hard times we bring upon ourselves. Slowly, wilfully, over the centuries, things disappear, ownership takes all. Take the mythical Caledonian Forest. A canopy of blacky greens, flashed with broad red limbs, standing shoulder to shoulder through the glens, over the bealachs, climbing the mountain sides.
I was at the head of Glen Nevis, at the gorge car-park, having driven through a remnant of this forest, like a battlefield after the war, a few stragglers - twisted, wounded soldiers of gruesome witness and blooded limb. I was keen to go a step further into a 'lost corrie' cupped between the Ben Nevis and the arcing ridge of Aonach Beag (paradoxically higher than Aonach Mor by 13m).
Rarely visited and tucked away from the North Face crowds on The Ben and the skiers on the far side of Aonach Mor, this corrie translated as 'Corrie of the Pine Woods'. I climbed steeply up through the gap of the Bealach nan Cumhann (Pass of Lamenting!) and was stunned by the austere 'majes…