Saturday, 29 October 2011

Some more on the Tigh nam Bodach hydro plan

Some articles have arrived in my email via Google alerts explaining a little more about what led to the Gleann Cailliche application, that would have affected the Tigh nam Bodach/Tigh na Cailliche site, being withdrawn. The letter I received last September was very sparse on detail, but a commenter drew my attention to a letter from Mott MacDonald explaining their decision was based largely on the strength of feeling against the plans in the community.

The BBC don't have much more to add to the story over all, but do point out that while the main focus has been on the Gleann Cailliche plan, there are three other applications elsewhere in the estate that have yet to be decided:

Owners of the Auch Estate in Glenlyon, Perthshire, had lodged plans for four run-of-the-river projects, including Glen Cailliche where the stones are.

History enthusiasts feared they would affect the setting of Tigh Nam Bodach.

But it has emerged landowner Adam Besterman withdrew the Allt Cailliche planning application last month, shortly before his death aged 51.

It will be interesting to see how the other applications turn out, since they might have an effect on any possible future plans as far as re-applying for the Gleann Cailliche site are concerned, so hopefully there wil be more updates on that in the press.  

A better article over at the Perthshire Advertiser explains that some of the locals have decided to make it clear that the site remains as important and relevant today as it ever has been:

In the last five years, Glenlyon has seen the construction of several lucrative hydro schemes, but local residents insist they have not been offered anything to offset the delays and disruption they have experienced during construction.
Expert dyker Norman Haddow and a group of volunteers camped at the Tigh nam Bodach stones and rebuilt the walls of the tiny house.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for years and I think it gives a clear message that this highly significant place is being cared for,” he declared.

Come Monday (I presume - perhaps this weekend?), the Cailleach and her family will be tucked away in their shieling for the winter. It seems they're in good hands.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Nice to see the Isle of Man getting some coverage for once. And also:

A good turnip lantern is worth a pound of anyone's money, safe in the knowledge that someone, though probably not the little cherub on your doorstep, has suffered sprained wrists and blistered thumbs scooping it out.

Truer words have never been spoken...

I've yet to carve any myself for the coming festivities, I'll probably get them done on Sunday, the day before I need them for the window to invite the guisers, so they'll still be fresh. I did loads last year, but taking into account my limitations I'll probably not be so ambitious in what gets carved this year. Then again, the kids might actually help this time.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


And so we have the final part of the scintillating trilogy of 'stuff what I did when my friend came to stay.' I'll spare you the updates on what I did when my mother and nephew came to visit the day after, for the rest of the week. But it's hard, being sociable. Especially if it involves having my mother come to stay...

Anyway. This pretty much sums up the weather of the last week or so (glorious sunshine just now, though. Of course):

I think it officially qualifies as dreich.

The view is from the ferry we took over to Bute on Monday (in case you hadn't noticed the bit of ship down in the corner there). I think the view there is looking towards Loch Striven and the Argyll mainland, with the edge of Bute just in the left-hand corner there. To right, just out of shot is Toward (the 'tow' as in 'towel', not 'to-ward'), where there's a lighthouse that you can see flashing every night on the shore of the village beach where I live. It's a place and a view that gives me calm and clarity, breathing in the cold, salty air and seeing the lighthouse flashing, flashing, as I look across the shimmering waves on a clear, bracing night. This is the view that I look to as I speak to the wind and the gods when I need a bit of deep thinking and to dust off the old brain. This here is peace. 

My friend and I have taken a trip to Bute before, and on that occasion we tried to take a visit to Mount Stuart. We waited an hour or two for the bus to arrive, and when it finally did the driver told us that he could take us there but the house was closing in ten minutes. So it ended up being a fruitless effort, and we went to Rothesay Castle instead.

This time we (as in I) planned things a little better and made sure that Mount Stuart would be open for the whole day, and we finally made it there with not too much trouble. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos when we were in the house, but the place is absolutely stunning (if you click on the link above you can take virtual tours of the most impressive rooms, well worth it, I think); the marquess who built it was fascinated with astrology and Greek goddesses and the like, and the great hall is dedicated to all of the astrological signs (depicted in stained glass windows), with the constellations marked on the ceiling in silver and crystal, along with the mythological characters each constellation represents painted on as well.

The whole house is amazing - the details, the marble, the carvings. Even the knobs have knobs on. It can only be viewed as part of a tour, and that was pretty limited, but we were still impressed by what we saw. I have to say, though, we both came away thinking that as fantastical as the house is, the money it took to build such a huge monument could probably have been spent in far better ways that would have actually done something for society...

We could take photos outside, but given the incessant rain we weren't really keen on braving the damp for sake of some very dull photos. I did get a few, though. Dalek windows:

And a wee peek at the building itself:

Back into Rothesay, the main town on the island, we took a stop back at the castle, which nestles right in the middle of the town now. It's mostly a ruin and for some reason the first time we visited the castle I didn't take any photos of the building from the outside. So oooo, purty:

This doesn't seem to be the most effective moat in the world, for defensive purposes, anyway:

And looking in to the inside:

Time to go, and it wouldn't be a proper tourist spot without an appropriately twee and Scottish signpost, would it?

Oh alright, maybe just one photo from when my mother and nephew came to visit...Tom tempting the sea:

The Storm Hags have certainly been busy round these parts.

Monday, 24 October 2011

St Mungo's

Continuing on from the last post, we also had a trip to St Mungo's Museum of Religious Art and Life in Glasgow. For most of my friend's stay the kids were off with their grandparents, but by this time they'd come back home and so they came out with us, because I decided it would be educational, dagnabbit.

Seeing as we have no separation of church and state in the UK, and we are officially a Christian nation, schools are legally obliged to incorporate some sort of religious or spiritual element each day (though you can opt out if you so wish). The religious or spiritual element doesn't have to be Christian but in most schools it is, either by majority rule or because the school is church run. In the larger urban areas you can find a few Muslim-run schools too.

When I was at primary school we said prayers and sang hymns every day, at assembly before the school day started. Many schools today tend to ignore the law and not bother, in our increasingly secular society (so the tabloids say, anyway). At the school that my kids go to, they don't say daily prayers or sing hymns, but they do have Christian services at Easter, Harvest and Christmas, and on a couple of other occasions too. As we're not a Christian family (and my husband is a staunch atheist), we choose to opt our children out of the services and any forms of worship - hymns etc - but we don't opt out of religious education. Schools should be about education, not indoctrination, we say to the head teacher. And that's fine by them. There's not a lot else they can do, really. My youngest niece, on the other hand, goes to a Catholic high school and is frequently told that abortion and contraceptives and sex outside of marriage are wrong and will send her to hell. Or something. Personally I think that's shocking, but at least my niece has a good head on her shoulders and has bothered to educate herself where the school has failed. But anyway...

By not having the kids participate in the Christian services, the downside, of course, is that the kids don't have any practical experience of what most of their friends have, and therefore very little real understanding of Christianity or other organised religions at present. We live in a small village so the activities on offer are generally run by the Church. Most kids go to Sunday School and that sort of thing. Between my husband and I, I'm the only religious or even vaguely spiritual one, and we have an agreement that we won't 'force' religion on the kids but let them choose to explore or commit as they so wish. So much of what I do with them and blog about here doesn't really involve their worshipping gods, but participating in cultural practices, learning about the seasons and teaching them why we celebrate the first fruits, the coming of winter, then spring, and so on. They've picked up giving offerings themselves, to 'say thank you' when we go to the beach and so on, and I answer any questions I have as clearly as I can.

But as far as organised religion is concerned, they don't have much of a clue. They get a little confused when one of Rosie's friends says Jesus is going to give him a little brother soon, because that seems a bit odd to them. Jesus is a baby in a stable! And we all know babies can't do much. The bit where Jesus grew up and then died on the cross is still a little fuzzy, apparently. But they're still young - only four and six, so there's plenty of time yet.

Tom, who's six now, brought a reading book home from school the other day, for his homework, and it was about a boy getting ready to go to mosque with his grandparents. I asked Tom if he knew what a mosque was, and he said he didn't. "It's a bit like a church," I said. Then it occurred to me that he probably didn't really know what that was either, so I asked if he knew what a church was.

"It's where the big clocks are?"

Ummmmm. Weeeeellll...technically I suppose a lot of churches do have a lot of clocks on their towers. But it occurred to me that perhaps the kids could do with a little bit of religious education. And my good friend has a degree in Religious Studies and I did it as an extra option in my first year of university, so I figured we could explain a few things between us while we were at the museum.

There are lots of different religions represented there, but mostly concentrating on the religions that can be found in Scotland today - Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. There were some historical displays - a little bit of ancient Egyptians - and some others like Aboriginal and African religions, too. Notably nothing of a neopagan flavour, but you can't have everything can you?

The museum catered well for the children, lots of stuff for them to do, so they were well entertained. We got to learn about Shiva, Lord of the Dance:

And tried to see how easy that stance was, to get the kids involved and make it seem more tangible to them. We decided the extra arms were probably necessary for balance, for one, but also explained to the kids why Shiva was standing like that (the dance of creation), and was standing on what appeared to be a baby (a demon of ignorance, actually).

There was also Ganesha:

And the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (I think):

And rather a lot about Irish Catholicism, which inevitably involves St. Patrick: not the most popular of people in some circles. But he's got some very shiny relics associated with him.

And this one kinda looks like he's making something of a rude gesture, at a glance, suggesting that he's probably not all that fussed about opinions. (Sounds about right to me). Yes, his hand is actually in there. Supposedly. It's one of his reliquaries. I think there are reliquaries of his jaw and tooth as well, somewhere.

This one is allegedly the reliquary for his own bell:

Which in those days would have looked something like this:

You wouldn't ring it, ding-a-ling, but hit it with a stick (sort of thing).

And of course, we can't talk about Ireland without:

Although unfortunately the room it was in was really dark and it's not the best photo. Running after children, and all that, doesn't help with setting up the best shots.

The cathedral precinct itself is beautiful; the cathdral has a bright green, copper roof, and it's thought to stand right where St Mungo himself finally settled:

The cathedral is right by a stream, and it's said that Mungo (also known as Kentigern) would run into the stream every morning, no matter the weather, and sing the 150 psalms of David, then get out and dry himself on a rock. The stream is now covered by a culvert and there's a road running over it, and on the other side of the stream/road there's the Grey Rock, which is home to Glasgow's Necropolis - a fantastically gothic place, full of funerary monuments of Glasgow's richest and greatest from the city's nineteenth century heyday:

(These pictures are from previous visits). And if you're a Doctor Who fan, don't blink:

And that was that for the day, before we had to get to the station and see my friend off for her journey home. I'm kind of doing this all out of order, so next up will be our first day out, a trip to the Isle of Bute.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fun days out: Roman Scotland

I've had an old friend staying since the weekend so we've had some great days out enjoying the scenery. And a fair few museums, since the weather has mostly sucked. I have lots of photos to share over the next few posts, though considering the aforementioned weather there won't be much in the way of beautiful Scottish landscapes...

One of the places we went to was the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University, which has recently reopened after two years of refurbishment (with much fanfare). There's a lot of new stuff there, mostly pickled limbs and deformed animals of one form or another that were the stuff of legend when I was at uni (then viewable only by appointment, and I was told only those who were studying a relevant field would be allowed). These are a charming and delightful sight for some, I'm sure. Not so much if you have delicate sensibilities, though. Or just aren't feeling too great that day.

The stuff I was hoping to see, though, was the Roman artefacts from the Antonine - something the Hunterian has long been known for. With the reopening of the museum they've concentrated on advertising the Roman stuff, and way back when I was at uni they had a few altars on display at the least, so I wanted to see if it had been expanded and see if there was any Celtic stuff. Not so much new, it turns out, but the new displays do make everything a lot prettier, at least. They've added stuff that reflects how the Romans and the locals got on together, so that's where it gets interesting for me, and that's what I thought I'd start with first in this series of posts.

Most of the aretefacts on display come from the Roman forts along the Antonine Wall and others in the Clyde valley. The Antonine Wall starts in Bo'ness over in the east of Scotland (where I used to live), and cuts across to the west, through the northern outskirts of Glasgow, and it was only occupied for a relatively short period of time before the Romans abandoned it and withdrew back to Hadrian's Wall.

There were forts along the wall at regular intervals, and the soldiers there settled in and established a life for themselves while they were stuck out here in the Roman frontier. They weren't allowed to marry while they were in the army, but that didn't stop them forming relationships with the locals, having kids and attracting some of the locals to set up homesteads right next to the forts and so on. These leather shoes found at the Barr Hill Roman fort show just that - adults and children all in one place:

It's difficult to say just how integrated the Romans were with the local population (who would've been Brythonic speakers), or if the Romans had much of a lasting effect on them. It's also difficult to say how those who did form relationships with the legionaries changed - whether they adopted Roman ways, language, religious practice, that sort of thing. In the bigger picture, there doesn't seem to have been much of a lasting effect in this part of Britain.

Certainly the Romans themselves had some concern about local gods, though, and they approached them in their own religious terms. These altars here are dedicated to 'the Spirit of the Land of Britain' or 'Britannia':

The first altar is dedicated to the goddesses of the parade ground and Britannia, while the second inscription reads: GENIO TERRAE BRITANNICAE M COCCEI FIRMUS 7 LEG II AUG, "To the presiding Spirit of the Land of Britain, Marcus Cocceius Firmus, centurion in the Second Augustan Legion." In essence, the altars and the offerings made on it - milk, oil or wine, usually, poured into the 'dish' at the top - were meant to appease the land that the Romans were occupying, something that the local gods, who looked after their own people, would probably not be too pleased about. Interlopers! These offerings were meant to acknowledge that, and try to form some sort of peace with them.

Marcus Firmus also dedicated four other altars, one of which also mentions the Gaulish goddess Epona:

This inscription reads: MARTI MINERVAE CAMPESTRIBUS HERC(U)L(I) EPONAE VICTORIAE , COCCEI FIRMUS LEG II AUG, "To Mars, Minerva, the Goddesses of the Parade Ground, Hercules, Epona (and) Victory, Marcus Cocceius Firmus, centurion of the Second Augustan Legion." Epona is the only Celtic deity adopted into Roman religion - in general, while local Celtic deities are sometimes mentioned amongst deities on some altars, or syncretised with particular deities, they themselves weren't usually adopted into Roman practice in a wider sense. She was very popular amongst the Roman cavalry.

In some instances, we find locals (or local styles) being depicted. This water nymph from a Roman bathhouse in West Dunbartonshire, for example:

The armlets she's wearing indicate she's Celtic rather than Roman. The folds of her skirt are thought to represent flowing water.

And then there are the locals being thoroughly stomped on:

The hair and beards seem to be very distinctive 'Celtic' features, here are some more local captives (the two figures left and right):

I think that's Victory in the middle, so the whole scene is celebrating a win over the local hoards.

These are some coins minted in 48BC, but found in one of the forts on the Antonine Wall. They're thought to show Gaulish 'barbarians' captured during Julius Caesar's campaigns:

The styles here are very different, so it does seem that the Romans generally tried to show accurate depictions of whoever it was they were trying to subjugate. So it was kind of weird for me, seeing pictures of the past. People from 2,000 years or so ago, who lived pretty close to where I am just now. And kinda cool too.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Thinking ahead for Samhainn I've been out in the garden doing what I can to bring in the last of the fruit and veg. In spite of the warmer weather recently it's also been very wet and the larger of the onions have succumbed to the damp and slugs - I was going to pick them last week, but alas, my back didn't allow for that. The remaining carrots and the spring onions have fared a little better, though:

As well as a leek, there. The rest of the leeks could do with a bit longer and should be fine with the colder weather due soon anyway, so I've left those. Of the purple carrots I left in after the first batch of carrots I had for Lùnastal, only one turned out properly purple. Another appeared to be having a slight identity crisis, but the rest just gave up and decided on orange:

They were quite small still, but I figured they probably weren't going to do much else and I might as well pull them.

In honour of the latest haul I decided to put the larger onions to good use and make some stovies, a good stodgy winter dish that's a staple of the Scottish diet, that consists of only three basic ingredients - minced beef, onion, and potato:

Now, yes. Admittedly cat food may look more appetising than this but it's the taste that counts, right? I like lots of black pepper in mine, whereas my husband and the kids like to give theirs a kick with some HP Sauce. I've only ever used beef for them, but mutton is more traditional - harder to get hold of these days, too, though.

I made Brodick bannocks to go with them (I'm finally getting the hang of making them flatter, like they should be - though I think using wholemeal flour helps), to soak up the dregs, and boiled up the carrots. Et voila. Good wintry stodge. I've yet to decide on what I'll be doing for our Samhainn meal, but stovies are always good option, I think.

Now the kids are older and can get a bit more involved in the festivities I'm really looking forward to Samhainn this year. And so are they. The school has a fancy dress parade so they'll be spending the day in costume, and then once they get home it will be time for some fun and games before the guisers start knocking. I'd better start experimenting with the treacle bannocks...