Saturday, January 17, 2015

Buckie, Moray, Banffshire, Scotland

Scots Gaelic isn't spoken much on the east side, Sam informed me yesterday evening. We were relaxing in the sitting room in front of the coal and hardwood fire, watching the live broadcast of the 2015 Masters snooker tournament from Alexandra Palace in London, while Isobel was making dinner (rice noodles with broccoli and pork in a peanut and lime satay sauce, not very Scottish but quite delicious). Sam is married to Isobel, who is the oldest daughter of another of my grandfather's cousins, Kathleen, who died back in 2008, just a few months after Bill and Sheila drove me over here from Beith for my first visit to Buckie. I had asked Sam about the most accurate of three Gaelic phrases I'd found for the name of the white-diagonal-cross-on-blue-field Scottish flag, and he said he had no idea; less than 2% of the population still speaks Scots Gaelic, and though the BBC Alba station faithfully broadcasts bilingually there aren't many (if any, he said) schools that teach it in this region. Over in Glasgow and Beith, the road and town signs are frequently in both English and Gaelic. Here in Bucaidh, you're just welcomed to Buckie. I decided to use Gaelic phrases for this east coast post anyway, in an attempt to make a fairly prosaic review of the week a bit more poetic, in appearance if not always in meaning. A bheil Gàidhlig agaibh?

Èisd ri gaoth nam beann gus an traogh na h-uisgeachan. Madainn mhath!

While the weather in Ayrshire continues to be fairly horrid, with gale force winds blowing trees over, shutting the seaside rail lines down due to high waves, and generally causing havoc, it has been actually rather nice on this side of the island. There was a bit of rain earlier in the week, but the weather has gotten drier, and colder - the rain is falling as snow, when it falls at all. Most days have at least a little bit of sun, and I've been taking long walks to the seashore and into Buckie. Sam walks every morning, leaving before the sun rises. Of course, at this time of year the sun doesn't rise until 9:00am so that's not saying much, I suppose. On Tuesday he took me out just as the sun was coming up to show me the different walking paths leading coastward from this small cluster of houses called Arradoul. We crossed the A98 and went down a narrow paved lane between the fields and across the Burn of Gollachy, towards the small town of Portgordon and past one of the five golf courses in the area. After he pointed out the different roads to Buckie and back, I felt fairly confident setting out on my own. It's hard to get lost when there's only so far you can go without falling into the Moray Firth.

'S e là math a th’ ann. Coinnichidh na daoine far nach coinnich na cnuic.

I'm doing a lot of work on the computer these days, trying to earn enough to pay for the frightfully expensive hotel room near the Aberdeen airport where I'll be staying on Thursday night. My flight leaves at about 10:30am Friday but I decided it would be a good idea to get there a few hours early, in case there's any weirdness with customs or security; they've increased the threat level here in the UK after the Paris shootings, and I want to make sure there's plenty of time to get checked in. The airport's only about an hour away, but I didn't want to ask Sam or Isobel to drive me there in the dark, over possibly icy roads. So I need to stretch my legs and move my arms and shoulders, and keep the blood flowing after long hours at the keyboard, and the two-mile walk to the seashore is quite nice.

On Wednesday, I walked into Buckie along the main roads, past the Inchgower distillery, which doesn't have its own bottling, I think, but just produces a single malt that's used in the blended whiskey sold by Bell's. When I was in Beith, Bill shared his Highland Park whisky with me ("sweet and lingering with heathery notes and subtle smoke") and when I mentioned that on Facebook, a friend from Ashland High gave me the name of another good whiskey he likes, The Balvenie, made in a distillery less than 15 miles away from Buckie, in Dufftown. I picked up a small bottle of their 12-year-old DoubleWood ("sweet fruit and Oloroso sherry notes, layered with honey and vanilla") at Tesco yesterday - an expensive way to do it, but I didn't want to spend $50 on a larger bottle - and will enjoy it with locally-produced haggis this week, for an early Burns Supper.

"Aon ghlainne, chan fheàirrde ’s cha mhiste mo chorp no m’ anam e. Dà ghlainne, ’s fheàirrde mo chorp e, ’s cha mhiste m’ anam e. Trì glainneachan, ’s miste m’ anam e, ’s chan fheàirrde mo chorp e."
- Scottish proverb

A bheil am pathadh ort?

Uisge-beatha. Slàinte mhòr agad!

Yesterday I worked all morning at the computer, and after a quick lunch of oatcakes with avocado, set out just after noon for a longer walk. Even at noon, the sun was just a handspan over the low hills behind me, and I wrapped my Farquharson ancient tartan scarf around my ears and chin to ward off the frigid wind from the northeast. The gorse, hardier than I am, was still blooming by the side of the road; the sheep were well protected in their wool, and the Shetland pony that came up to the fence as I passed had grown his own long winter coat, though his taller horse companion sported a quilted blanket. And peacock feathers must be warmer than they look.

Tha mi ann an sunnd math dha-rìribh. Abair spòrs, a h-uile la sona dhuibh ‘s gun la idir dona dhuibh!

Once up the shallow rise of the fields, the land slips away steeply to the rocky shore. I went west up the coast to Portgordon, and was tempted to continue around Spey Bay to Lossiemouth and beyond, but the clouds began piling up off shore, and I could see the snow squalls starting to sheet down into the dark blue water. One day I'll keep going, north and east along the top edge of Moray Firth, and around towards Thurso. The Jumping Goats Dairy is nearby, a small family operation started by another woman who traded computers for cheese; I'd like to work with her, there on the north shore.

Bail' iasgaich. Cait a bheil thu ‘dol?

Instead, I went east to Buckie, following the last (or first, depending on your direction) part of the Speyside Way along the shore. I could also have followed the old railway line that no longer goes into Buckie from Aberdeen and on to Inverness, though it used to, and that's how Bill and Sheila traveled from Glasgow to visit relatives here for many years. Isobel had to pick me up in Keith instead. The tracks have been pulled up, and it's now part of the national cycle and walking path network. I stayed by the sea, hoping to spot some of the seals and dolphins that live in Moray Firth.

Sealladh na tràghad; cluinnidh tu na h-eòin.

Cho gruamach ri madainn diluain.

I didn't see any seals, nor any selkies either; no handsome brown-eyed man met me on the shore, leaving watery footprints in the dry sand. There was a wonderful kelpy smell in the air, but no kelpies. Bill had wanted to take me to Falkirk, at the tip of the Firth of Forth, to see the huge steel sculptures depicting the fairy beasts, but time and weather were against us last week. One more thing to put on my list for the next visit.

Am fear, is fhaide chaidh bho'n bhaile, chual e'n ceòl bu mhilse leis nuair thill e dhachaidh.

It's another two miles or so from Portgordon to Buckie. I didn't go up into the main part of Buckie on that walk, though I spent a little time wandering around the center of town on my first venture, exploring the buildings at the crossing of High Street and Church Street. There weren't many people out and about, but both times I was in town it was midafternoon on a work day. There are places that cater to the tourists who come here to golf and walk, or to look up family history at the Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Centre, as I'll be doing next week, attempting to trace the Farquhar side of the family.

Tha mi às na Stàitean Aonaichte.

Am fosgail mi an uinneag?

Isobel met me in town after my first walk in, outside the post office where I'd managed to find some very old and rather boring postcards (the tourists aren't exactly catered to in that respect, at least not in January). We walked up the High Street towards the Lidl store, where she needed to pick up some groceries and new floor mats for the car, going past the Buckie South and West Church of Scotland, on the other side of which is Farquhars Lane. I nipped around the block to take a quick self-portrait to go with the one from 2007.

There are quite a few churches in Buckie, though I'm not sure how many are still active. You can see the spires of St. Peter's just across the Burn of Buckie that divides Buckie and Buckpool, and the openwork tower of All Saints Episcopal on the center square makes a prominent landmark from land or sea. Tomorrow I'll accompany Isobel to the Methodist church for the 11:00am service; we'll go to the one she attends in the community of Portessie, on the other side of Buckie, where she plays the organ every few weeks. It will be interesting to see how the order of service compares to the one at the Randle United Methodist Church, where I used to play the organ every week, and occasionally attempted to set the altar on fire. I looked up "Scottish Methodist hymns" on line but all that came up were lists titled "suitable for funerals."

An turadh, an t-anmoch, am muir-làn, 's an Dòmhnach. Am thu anns an eaglais a-màireach?

A'bhiast as mutha ag ithe na beiste as lugha.

My walk yesterday ended at the Mair Fish shop, which I first saw in 2007 when Bill bought smoked haddock for Kathleen's famous cullen skink. Isobel and I bought more smoked haddock, two smallish filets, though that was probably one too many since there will only be two of us for tea (dinner/supper) tonight, as Sam is spending the night in Aviemore, after walking the last (or first, depending on your direction) section of the Speyside Way trail; he was gone with a group of friends before I got up this morning, in the predawn darkness at 8:00am. While I was waiting for Isobel to meet me there, I wandered around the shop looking at the old photos on the wall of fishing boats and fishermen, and the women who knitted the woolen jerseys that kept the men warm at sea, and who sorted and processed the catch when the boats came back to shore. And who mourned when the boats and men never returned.

Lost at sea, January 1884: George Farquhar, age 35
Lost at sea, October 1885: William Farquhar Sr., age 38
Lost at sea, October 1885: William Farquhar Jr., age 15
Lost at sea, October 1885: James Farquhar, age 13
Lost at sea, June 1894: William Farquhar, age 25
Lost at sea, December 1959: William George Farquhar, age 45
Lost at sea, May 1974: William Farquhar, age 37

You can see how tracing my particular branch of the Farquhar family tree might get a little complicated - there are a lot of Farquhars around here. Which is actually rather nice.

Iasg locha agus iasg mara - tha an t-acras orm.

The fish shop sells Arbroath smokies, the whole (headless) haddock cured in the towns on the other side of this spit of land jutting into the North Sea, south and a little west of Aberdeen. But they also make their own smoked fish: Scottish kippers, the gutted and split brined and cold-smoked herring that have to be cooked before they're eaten, traditionally at breakfast; plain or peppered smoked mackerel; and hot-smoked salmon that I ate for lunch today, and it was so very good. Tonight, I'm going to flake the smoked haddock and layer it with thin-sliced potatoes and caramelized onions and fresh parsley and thyme, pour some of my nondairy milk over it, and bake it in the oven for an hour until it's hot and tender and bubbling around the edges. Maybe I'll even pour myself a dram of whiskey to go with it, toasting the traditions of the fishing families who hauled in herring for a century or more.

Shìos aig a' chala - tuig thus’ an t-eathar, 's tuigidh an t-eathar thu.

The Buckie Heritage Museum has a collection of interviews with the older residents of the region, done back in the late 1980s, documenting their memories of the days when fish made up most of the local economy. Here's Maggie Cowie, talking about processing the day's catch for sale:

Did gutting hurt your fingers?
Aye, ye hid tae tie yer fingers wi cloots fin ye wir guttin. They used saut, ye see, for saut heerin and ye hid tae tie up them for the saut wid've ruined yir fingers, cut them intae the bane.
It must have been very painful.
Aye, I wid say it wis.
Tell us about packing the herring into the barrels.
Well fin we startit we selectit the herrin, sma, medium an syne large, intae different tubs. Ye hid tae cairry them tae the rosun tub far the packer wis. She hid the job tae pack them. Fin ye laid the first tier in the barrel it hid tae be wiled oot for the best heerin tae be pit in then efter that ye jist packed awa ivery tier. Contered the tiers, ye see, time aboot till ye cam tae the top, then it wis a top tier again.

Well, there's a morning gone with nothing to show for it but this long blog post, but I'm happy anyway, full of smoked fish and memories. It's even colder today than it was yesterday, but the sky is blue from end to end, and there's a lane going inland up into the hills from Arradoul that I haven't explored yet, so I'll leave my financial concerns behind and go collect more memories and photographs. New horizons beckon, new adventures await, here in the land of (some) of my ancestors.

An bratach nàiseanta na h-Alba.

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