2006 Stories from the Flow Country
This work was commissioned by Scottish Natural heritage. The study provided a broad overview of the sorts of material available for use in interpreting the peatlands in Caithness and Sutherland. Some sources and stories are contemporary; others are very ancient and pre-date the Celtic church in origin – the material from the Carmina Gadelica is an example.
When asked to discuss the peatlands, bog or flows most people are at first hesitant because most people do not think of these places are a separate entity in their daily lives. However as the material included indicates, once respondents have time to think through the subject a rich seam of oral material begins to be uncovered. This study has only allowed for a small sample of interviewing. There are a lot more stories and thoughts to be gathered.
In the end the sheer volume of material which did start to emerge was overwhelming. The interview quotes only serve to give a flavour of the full transcripts.
Seasons and Colours
“And I’ve always loved the bog, and spending a lot of time in the hills. And I love the bog any time of the year. In the springtime, when all the bog-cottons come up in the little pools and the flowers … it’s a wonderful time. Summertime is perhaps the only time I don’t really like the bog because of the midges, but the autumn, at this time of the year, it’s wonderful. The colours are just so brilliant. And in the wintertime they’re great when it’s frozen and you can actually walk in places where you can’t … and the wee pools are frozen over with ice. So, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the bog! […] I just love the bog. The smell of it. And the bog-myrtle, you can see, I’ve always got bog-myrtle standing in our house.”
“I like the bogs for all their wild flowers which we used to gather. Lots of different things growing there and they look lovely. What I don’t like about them is walking through them! We were always frightened that we would go down in a bog and never get out of it. I suppose it’s what our parents used to say. But I’m proud of them and that they are part of our heritage.”
Sun and Showers
“Well the one thing about the Flow is; it’s quite a foreboding, desolate place. As I say, it’s not populated, it’s sparse, it’s low vegetation cover – there is very little trees. You are looking at brown, extensive moorland with this water. So I think anyone – and I remember this feeling of really feeling quite small at the Flow country, when I first saw it. It was this very expansive, expansive area.
I think it’s interesting though, because drawing, for example, on recent experiences of being in the Flow. For example today – it’s very changeable. So there are times when you think it’s the most desolate, miserable, bleakest place. But it’s also quite homogenous in terms of vegetation. But there are other times when you see it in a different light when you realise that it’s very rich and diverse – the bio-diversity is actually much higher than you might first think when you first look but it’s also – probably related to the weather –it’s also a really beautiful place and it can be quite enchanting. But that’s quite weather dependent. And I think it really changes. For example, when I was out today it changed from being very intense, cold, showery weather to being very bright and sunny. I was walking out to a clearance village – BadanLoisgin, which lies south of Rimsdale on the road between Syre and Kinbrace and I was walking out there and the weather was atrocious, very, very boggy, very wet and I was negotiating my way across the moorlands and going to this village and I thought – this has to be the most hardest environment for people to live. And the most bleak and desolate.
But then when the sun came out I could see actually it was a lot more beautiful – you had views over to Ben Loyal towards the east and perhaps – sorry, to the west I mean, Ben Loyal to the west and to the east you’ve got Ben Griam Mòr and Ben Griam Beag and it can be quite a dramatic landscape, perhaps not as fearsome as I might of thought five minutes earlier when the rain was pouring down.
And did you see beauty in the actual Flow itself as well as the landscape?
Absolutely, although as I say I don’t think that’s really Flow country I was in, for example, today. But there is beauty in the heather – and I’m not a botanist or anything – but the different heather types, in the bog cotton, in some of the flowers that I saw today, for example. You have to look a bit closely. I think there is also beauty just in the general landscape and to me it’s a historic landscape. I think it’s quite easy to think of the Flow country, as I say , as being desolate and empty but it really is largely a working landscape. It’s certainly home to stalking, you’ve got the forestry and forestation, certainly around some of it. And as I say, Badinloishgin, for example, which really is situated in bog land – there was a living community in the midst of this boggy moorland. So historically it’s been very much an occupied territory and I think it still probably is quite active, there is quite active use of it in terms of stalking and in terms of fishing. People like me going to walk and look at historic sites, the forestry, and presumably in bird watchers. Because one thing I saw today was the huge variety of bird life in the bog lands.”
Dh’Fhairich Mi Thu Le Mo Chasan
Dh’fhairich mi thu le mo chasan
ann an toiseach an t-samhraidh;
m’inntinn an so anns a’bhaile
a’ strì ri tuisgse, ‘s na brogan a’ tighinn eadarainn.
Tha dòigh an leanaibh duilich a thréigsinn:
e ga shuathadh fhéin ri mhàthair
gus a faigh e fois.
Dh’fhairich mi taobh an ascaoin dhìot ‘s an taobh caoin
‘s cha bu mhisde,
dà thaobh an fheòir is dà ghréim air an eòrna,
riasg is còinneach,
is bhon a tha an saoghal a bh’againn
a’ leantainn ruin chon a’ cheum as fhaide
chan fhiach dhomh am poll sin a ghlanadh
tha eader òrdagan a’ bhalaich.
Agus a nis aig meadhon latha
tha mi dol a-steach gha mo gharabh,
le mo chasan-rùistge air fàd ri taobh na cagailt.
I Got the Feel of You With My Feet
I got the feel of you with my feet
in early summer;
my mind here in the city
strives to know, but the shoes come between us.
The child’s way is difficult to forget:
he rubs himself against his mother
till he finds peace.
I felt the rough side of you and the smooth
and was none the worse of it,
the two sides of the grass and two grips on the barley,
peat-fibre and moss,
and since the world we knew
follows us as far as we go
I need not wash away that mud
from between the boy’s toes.
And now, in middle age,
I am going in to warm myself,
with my bare feet on a peat beside the hearth.
Poem by Derrick Thomson