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White mountains better

This article appeared in The Lennox Herald on 2 April 2015

In April, A Woman’s Place relocated high in the Apokoronas region of western Crete in the foothills of the White Mountains.  April is a good time to speak of brighter things and sunnier climes.  Far from Scotland’s pantone grey, these bright breezy hillsides are exploding with springtime: lambs, almond blossom and camomile.  Snow still dresses the highest peaks of Kastro and Spathi to the south while the Mediterranean’s azure waters twinkle to the north beyond Souda Bay.

Apokoronas mapdownload

Crete has experienced waves of overseas invasions and cruel treatment over the centuries. Occupations by the Venetians and Turks, and later by the Germans during the Second World War are visible in hilltop forts, military roads, bullet-holed walls and in local memory. The Cretan code of filoxenia – a generous hospitality towards outsiders – camouflages a healthy caution of foreigners.  Nowadays budget airlines bring gentler hordes each summer.  Mainly from northern Europe, tourists delight in Crete’s sunny weather, lovely food, stunning scenery and beaches.  Filoxenia accommodates and caters well but Cretan people expertly sustain their own way of life and culture alongside the whims of seasonal visitors.

The tourist season has not yet started and the village life of Crete can still be glimpsed through the boarded up beach resorts, tourist-lite tavernas and quiet alleyways.  I pass the local shepherd every day.  Herding his tinkling belled flock to one juicy pasture or another I often see him later, heading home for lunch, arms draped over the knarled crook he wears yoked across his shoulders.    People are busy in the fields, or cleaning up the fine red dust which blows over from Africa in the winter and can turn the mountains pink; they are painting, and rebuilding after the winter’s storms, sprucing the place up for their Easter holiday weekend. A week later than our Easter, the Greek Orthodox Easter Liturgy is a deeply religious occasion when whole villages and extended families join together in religious rituals followed by feasting centred on spit-roast local lamb.

Sunset is a time of cool and calm.  Folk settle in the cafes to relax and review the day.  First sightings of the colourful hoopoe bird are discussed and the fruits of lemon and orange trees are exchanged.   The men gradually trickle home.  Women begin to drop in, they joke and laugh, they settle down and play board games late into the night.  I speak no Greek, am warmly welcomed, we toast each other, we nod and smile and settle comfortably together into that special Cretan woman’s place.

Crete tavernaimages

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Rubha Phoil – Sleat’s Forest Garden

Skye Permaculture

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

It would be hard to miss the colourful entrance to Rubha Phoil – Skye Permaculture when you step off the ferry from Mallaig at Armadale pier on the southern tip of Skye. The Sleat Peninsula, known as the garden of Skye and the 16 acre spit of lush verdant woodland at Rubha Phoil is just that in microcosm – a meandering magical woodland garden. Rubha Phoil is Gaelic for Paul’s Point, named after Paul Macdonald who landed there with his brothers in their flight from Glencoe following the massacre of 1692.

Armadale Ferry Terminal and Rhuba Phoil                      RuAerialNorth%20copy

The Macdonalds themselves settled further up the road but their landing place remained just that.   Their descendant Lord Godfrey Macdonald sold Rubha Phoil to its present owner Sandy Masson – site unseen- in 1989 when, according to Sandy ‘land was cheap’. Sandy a warm, tanned and and vibrant woman in blond pigtails, blue dungarees and wellies talks to me as she walks

Fell in Love

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Sandy is supervising her band of volunteers as she goes, searching all the while for her precious rake which ‘someone has pinched’. She arrived on Skye by motorbike and fell in love with the island. A maker and retailer of soft toys from east Yorkshire, surprisingly, Sandy found the climate on Sleat warmer than her native North Sea coast.

The move was chiefly inspired by a permaculture course Sandy attended in 1989 run by Graham Bell of Coldstream, now an elder of the permaculture movement.    Sandy claims the course changed her life. “It made me look inwards as well as around me and I realised it was time for a change. They were teaching about climate change and if people had listened then, would it have made a difference?”.

After a spell working as the National Coordinator at a permaculture centre in Devon where she found ‘lots of people who cared about the planet’ , Sandy moved to Rubha Phoil permanently. Taking up residence with her partner initially in a caravan in the Meadow they build their own wooden house and had moved in by 1991.

I realised it was time for a change. They were teaching about climate change and if people had listened then, would it have made a difference?

Equitable use

Permaculture ethics emphasise care for the earth, gaia, and its inhabitants and for the equitable use of the planet’s resources. The ethos is based on sustainable agriculture methods which aim to produce more energy than is consumed, to save and retain soil, recycle nutrients and waste and provide food for local consumption.

love your weeds

 

At Rubha Phoil they grow organic vegetables, herbs and flowers for food and remedies, and have a flock of roaming hens who produce fresh eggs . The produce is eaten by Rubha’s team of residents and volunteers, surpluses are shared or sold to campers and local people.

rhuba lane

Everywhere on Rubh [pronounced Ru], as Sandy calls it, there are colourful painted wooden signs, posters and notices instructing and advising visitors on the ethos and principles of Skye permaculture, on the traditional Gaelic terms for herbs and how they were used locally and about composting. A distinctive feature of the site is how they manage waste – food, water and human. Composting is a key activity onsite and the earth worms, ‘our friends in low places’, are everywhere honoured as the stars of this particular show.

‘Les Pipes’

Sandy has the distinction of being the ‘Compost Mentor’ for Skye and Lochalsh. There are open water sewage systems, compost toilets, reed beds and willow urinals – ‘Les Pipes’.   The worms, busy in their boxes under the charming wooden toilets dotted around the glades, keep the place surprisingly clean and odour free. It is a remarkable place altogether.

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According to Sandy, “People come here looking for something they are not finding elsewhere in society. A place where they can be creative.”. Sandy speaks about Mary Queen of Scots whose embroidery and colour work with her threads kept her sane during those long years of imprisonment.   “Being creative is what keeps your head together”.   The evidence of that is everywhere.

The place is a hive of happy industry in preparation for a forthcoming Midsummer Party and Gardens’ Open Day. Young people are painting and erecting signs, potting plants for sale, baking cakes, setting tables, weeding and clearing paths. They are volunteers spending anything from a week to months at a time on site. In exchange for the work they do they are given bed and board. They live in tents, in the community house or in one of the log cabins dotted around the site. French, Spanish, English and Glaswegian conversations could be heard around the place.

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Vision for Rubh

There is a serious side to Sandy’s vision for Rubh. She is concerned about youth homelessness and unemployment with many young people unable to get a house because they have no job. Scotland’s high rate of heart disease and of suicide, particularly among young men, is also a worry. She is convinced that young people can learn important lessons and skills at Rubh – how to live and work on the land, build cabins, cook and look after themselves and others. They can do physical and creative work to help keep them mentally and physically well.

In a recent venture, Skye Permaculture was registere by Highland Council as an Activity Agreement Provider to young people in Skye and Lochaber. Rubh lends itself well to providing an activity-based experience of work and learning. Mentoring and guidance are available to young people who haven’t secured a college or training place.

“People come here looking for something they are not finding elsewhere in society. A place where they can be creative.”

Budget and Cook

The scheme aims to help them develop skills and confidence, how to budget and cook on a low income and to plan their future.  Rubh has also been given Scottish Innovation Grant Funding to establish a textile workshop. The wooden building designed by local architect Magnus Gunnison of Broadford was opened earlier this year.

625470_703321273020236_472495333_ntextile workshop  Rhuba Phoil Textile Workshop

“Being creative is what keeps your head together”

This part of Skye is popular, with 220,000 visitors per year arriving by ferry from Mallaig. The beautiful natural environment of this unique Visitor Centre has much to offer day trippers and visitors. It has an Eco-campsite and according to Sandy, “People say it is the most beautiful campsite they have ever seen. They always want to come back – to enjoy living close to nature, to sit round campfires and walk in the woods”.

     Kevin’s Eigg View                   view off the headlands

“People say it is the most beautiful campsite they have ever seen.

Each of the private pitches has its own name: Calum’s Camomile Camping, Kevin’s Eigg View and its own fire-pit. Most have their very own seaview overlooking the Sound of Sleat. There is a little cabin in the woods for the use of campers when it rains and they are always welcome in the community house.

IMAG0075  Campers’ Cabin

Havens for Children

The woodland walks leading through a maze of rhododendron tunnels and the Faerie Glade are havens for children, seals are a common sight on the shore and the rock cave is popular. Gentle Bahii visitors built a quiet meditation cabin among trees they planted as part of the International Peace Forest. Recent ventures include the addition of yurts, a wigwam and Seagull Sanctuary Cottage for holiday lets.

 They always want to come back – to enjoy living close to nature, to sit round campfires and walk in the woods”.

Rubha Phoil is now a charitable trust and Sandy an acknowledged elder of the permaculture movement in Scotland. Perhaps the early permaculture visionaries knew what was coming when they began to alert the world to climate change and to advocate a greener future for planet earth and its inhabitants.   A visit to Rubh is a delightful introduction to these principles and who knows, aside from a grand day out, it may change your life.

A version of this article first appeared in Scottish Islands Explorer Magazine Sept/Oct 2014

Rubha Phoil Forest Garden

Armadale Pier

Ardvasar,

Sleat

Isle of Skye

IV45 8RS

Scotland

Email: skyepermaculture@yahoo.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/RubhaPhoil

Tel: 01471 844 700

 

 

P1070832Hello again to any faithful remaining followers of GlasgowAnni.  My blog took the hit from a prolonged spell ‘off grid’ and refusing to pay data roaming charges.  I am now back at the Gladgrind after a joyful summer swanning around the alliterative edges of these fair Isles – in Cornwall, Kintyre, Cape Clear Island (off West Cork).

      Cornwall          20140425_143003

WordPress gave up reminding me ages ago to do my weekly blog – my resolve to resume regular posts starts here! Now distant are my summer memories and the assiduous notes taken of things to remember to blog about when I was within reach of WiFi – hey ho.

      Kintyre                                                                                        P1070847

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A friend warned me that regular  blogging would wear me out but I would have none of it – it can’t wear you out if you don’t do it! So with a clean slate, a blank screen and some pix to fill in the spaces, I have returned to the fray, forgiving myself for all the things I haven’t written about with a reminder that today’s news will be wrapped around tomorrow’s fish supper.

Cape Clear Island (off West cork)                                                           P1070950

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On learning of the destruction of the Great Buddha of Bamiyan in March 2001

Afghanistan is a land of continuity and contradiction:  stark yet beautiful, hospitable yet treacherous.  It is the essence and colour of the barest earth.  Its people, even in extremis  adorn their surroundings and themselves with colour and jewels.   Its most precious stone, lapis lazuli itself holds a contradiction.  Blue like the deepest ocean, grown in a land which could not be further from or least resemble the sea in its high, hard, dryness.   This is a land where the blue of its lakes sits strangely in rocky treeless deserts.

The Bamiyan Valley situated to the north of the capital Kabul is a deceptive landscape.   It holds many secrets: centuries ago people dug themselves dwellings deep inside its unforgiving mountains to find sanctuary from invading hordes – evading even Ghenghis Khan.   This valley has looked over the comings and goings of courageous yet insignificant humanity while its dusts eventually reclaim homes and wither  crops.

Monuments to the spirit last a little longer there.  The Great Buddhas of Bamiyan were among the last enduring symbols of ancient peoples who tried to make their mark by carving mountains.  While twentieth century hordes with their current hatreds may have destroyed them with strong guns, they will fail ultimately to penetrate the eternal spirit which created them or to possess the land itself. How much braver it is to fashion a mountain in an image of love than to bombard it with mortar shells.  The Buddhas will become a mountain once more and retreat to the safety of memory.  The guns will eventually join the decaying archaeology of previous tides of fear which have swept this land but failed to conquer its silent unyielding majesty.  The Bamiyan Valley bears timeless witness to the necessity and futility of human action.

ImageIf it’s a summer’s day of peace and quiet you’re after, you won’t find the latter on the outermost of the innermost of the Hebrides.  You can’t escape the racket.  Best heard from your bicycle on a summer day bowling along the low-rise contours of Tiree, this innermost of the Atlantic’s easternmost islands. Tubby, almost-grown lambs still bleating for their Mas,  cattle all low and lowing.  The birds in full concert and chorus:  the nervous trilling of soprano swallows,  the seagulls skee-aw skee-awing, the prrrreeppeepeepeepeep of the oystercatchers catching nothing of the sort.  Cream crescent beaches catch the waves’ roaring blue rhythm as their cymbal-sounds crash to the shore.  And the wind! They say if the wind drops, a Tiree man falls over. It roars in your ear, whips your hair into tugs and disguises the tanning your face is taking from the eye-narrowingly bright sun.  There’s no escape from either in this surround-a-sky land of no-night summer days.   People voiced the lives of these places… Balephuil…Balevuillin…Caolas….Balephetrish … Cornaigbeag….soft, labial, aspirant tones kept harsh lowland consonants at bay – Tiree’s mouth-music silenced this keelie’s twang. Er falalalo – the land of the heedrum-ho fair put her gas right at a peep.

Anni Donaldson

Published in Scottish Review’s Summer Special June 2013

The Return of the Crone?

By

Anni Donaldson

“They say you walk  about in that caravan naked.”  So says smiling Willie from the palatial static in the row along from mine, the one known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’.  I am incredulous. Some facts:  my 1970s towing caravan, newly pitched on the site in ArgyllImage this summer, is 12ft long from its back lights to its hitch  and  is one of the smallest it is possible to have.  The floor area is five foot by three – not enough to swing anything and you can almost put the kettle on from the bunk.  We both laughed at this ridiculous notion – he slightly less heartily. Willie, quickly distancing himself from the very idea he had voiced, adeptly body swerved  any further questions. The conversation quickly shifted to more acceptable investigations as we each searched for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do.

A similar rumour circulated around the  Ayrshire seaside village where I once lived.  It was said that a woman who lived alone in a shore-side cottage, who kept herself to herself, went about the house naked.  Local children used to walk past hoping for a glimpse of her nakedness.   Was I now a woman  about whom people dreamt up daft, frankly medieval notions by which to explain her chosen solitude?  There is a common factor in these batty rumours:  woman (probably older) alone in a dwelling by the sea prances about  in the buff.  People, knowing  little about either woman, may or may not choose to believe this ridiculous idea, however there is still talk.  Who starts such a rumour and why? Do I detect the fear of the crone: suspicion of  unfettered female sexuality (i.e. no bloke in sight), the faintest whiff of superstition, witches…  An closer examination of on-site gender relations may prove fruitful.

The campsite is occupied by couples, some with young children, others are grandparents with big extended families mainly from the central belt and other parts of Kintyre.  No singletons.  The campsite stratification jokily identifies the rows of static caravans as, respectively, Millionaire’s Row, Paradise and The Scheme.  People  drive giant 4 x 4s, own dogs, run noisy petrol generators and the odd solar panel, have timber decks, sheds and complicated arrangements of TV aerials.  They enjoy barbeques, sit around on comfortable garden furniture with parasols, have beach bonfires and generally enjoy all mod cons. A fine time is usually had.   They are a jolly and obliging lot..once you get to know them. Until I did, few ventured that initial wave or nod.  The ice, once broken by my cheery hello, is always followed by my offer to take a look inside my ‘van.  This is always accepted with enthusiasm , “Oh it’s like a tardis!” is a common observation.   I suspect relief when they see  that my buddhist prayer flags are simply colourful window decorations, the one candle is a small tea light and  there is no altar.  I have often encountered similar early coolness  in touring caravan sites around the country.  It usually goes like this:  woman fetches up alone towing a caravan, chaps fall over themselves to help and show off,  women look on with a faint air of suspicion and a hint of pity.  I smile and act a wee bit of the daft lassie and we talk  as the men pursue the new project.   I then let them all see inside as we  search for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do. Acceptance usually prevails, “Come round for a glass of wine later.” they offer.    I usually go, to be sociable, and the search for commonalities continues, sometimes confessions flow.   “You’re dead lucky.  I wish I had my ain ‘van…jist for me, no’ this lot…”.  After a couple of days I’m off and it all starts again somewhere new.  I will be sticking around this place though, but  already this rumour  has spread after only one  visit.…

The summertime area for  touring caravans, including mine, does not as yet have a name.  I suggest The Squat to the site owner  –  he agrees to put it out for consultation. It is in the  field which runs down to the seashore. My pitch is nearest to the beach with stunning sea views.  A rough wooden fence was built to separate my ‘van from the next man’s .    Another rumour had it that my neighbour Chic was not very happy about my prime location.  He had insisted that the fence wasn’t long enough to keep  my caravan out of his line of sight (had he heard the rumour about my private prancing?).  Another clype couldn’t stop himself from telling me that after he saw Chic drinking coffee with me,  after he had cut my grass and helped me with my generator.  Said Clype had introduced himself  and said rather too knowingly  “Ah… so you’re Glesca Anni…?”.  To set the record straight:  when I introduced myself, Chic had fallen over himself with offers of help and coffee saying how very glad he was that I had come over.  He also stressed that his partner wasn’t well and he was hoping she would come with him on his next visit. He got to talking,  told me practically his whole life story over one coffee and he only occasionally searched for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do.  I mostly smiled and nodded. We are sound now though, his four year old grandson sweetly calls me ‘lady’.

So there I was, looking forward to happy days spent alone at my new peaceful, settled bolthole by the sea, too small  for guests, away from it all,  no signal or wifi, where only Radio Ulster can be heard and what happens?   Am I an old tale –  a crone- the one about whom people can still create strange, faintly witchy fantasies?  I am working on being accepted by this new community.  I continue  searching for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do.  It may take some time but the views are worth it.

August 2013

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