r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: 2012

Praise of a road

You won't let me forget you. You keep nudging me
With your hairpin bends or, without a Next, please,
Magic-lanterning another prodigious view
In my skull where I sit in the dark with my brains.

You turn up your nose above Loch Hope,
That effete low-lier where men sit comfy
In boats, casting for seatrout, and whisper
Up the hill, round the crag - there are the Crocachs.

You're an acrobat with a bulrushy spine,
Looping in air, turning to look at yourself
And faultlessly skidding on your own stones
Round improbable corners and arriving safe.

When the Crocachs have given me mist and trout
And clogs of peat, how I greet you and whirl
Down your your half-scree zigzags, tumbling like a peewit
Through trembling evenings down to loch Eriboll

Norman MacCaig, from The Poems of Norman MacCaig

more Assynt tales and beautiful images found in Ian's blog
it's festival time
a man in Assynt



Ticks can make you seriously ill
Fiona Burnett counts the cost of being struck down by Lyme Disease

With the recent spell of good weather many of us are grabbing the chance of enjoying the freedom that our great outdoors offers us. But before you set off on your great adventure, be aware of unwanted hitchhikers roaming our countryside that might just leave you seriously ill if you allow them to tag along for too long.

Ticks are not fliers nor jumpers but crawlers. They are blood sucking, spider-like insects that hang out on blades of grass, bracken, low overhanging tree branches and undergrowth, waiting for their next meal to come along. Anything from a small mouse to a deer will do and if that’s not on the menu then we humans make a tasty bite.

Unlike the dreaded midge, a tick has anaesthetic properties in its saliva; so when it bites us we aren’t aware of it. There are over twenty different types of tick in Britain and most ticks do not cause health problems but there are infected ones which do. They are the carriers of borreliosis, a bacterium which causes Lyme Disease, a viral disease transmitted to humans by ticks which affects the joints, heart and nervous system.

A tell-tale sign if you’ve been bitten by an infected tick is the “bulls-eye” rash, a roundish mark with a distinct centre. However, this does not appear on everyone who has been infected and that’s when this disease becomes extremely difficult to diagnose. Disease transmission can occur in less than twenty-four hours after an infected tick attaches itself to your body.

I myself have recently been treated for Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD). My diagnosis was made, following blood tests, an MRI scan and lumbar puncture, at Raigmore hospital by Dr Grant Franklin, a consultant acute physician specialising in Lyme Disease.

Having suffered odd unexplained symptoms over the years and total “melt-down” the day before I was admitted to Raigmore, the diagnosis of CLD was, in some ways, a huge relief as often not knowing what is wrong can eat away at you and lead you to imagine all kinds of scenarios.

When “meltdown” came my body felt as though it was shutting down. Returning to my car after walking my dog, both legs lost power and I had difficulty walking. The right side of my mouth became numb and when I did make it to my car driving home was scary as my arms and legs became tingly. I couldn’t do anything quickly and I was suddenly nauseous with a thumping headache. At first I thought I was having a stroke, then I thought of a brain haemorrhage. My twin brother died suddenly in his sleep from a brain haemorrhage, aged thirty.

Contrary to what some doctors believe, I strongly believe I’ve had this illness for many years now. And according to Dr Franklin, it’s “quite possible” this is the case. I could not remember being bitten by a tick but many years ago while living in the Borders I do remember waking up one morning to find a large red mark on my left leg which, looking back, could have been the familiar “bullseye” rash. It did not give cause for concern to my doctor at the time.

I had heard of Lyme Disease then. A young child from the area whom I knew, Polly Cook, had been taken to hospital after developing walking problems, sore muscles and chronic fatigue and there was talk that she had been bitten by a deer tick.

For years now I’ve had a range of varying symptoms: general fatigue, depression, painful soles of both feet, which made getting out of bed very difficult, and walking too, for the first half hour on rising. I’ve had problems breathing, an extremely sore back, painful joints, a sore and sensitive side (imagine falling into a bunch of nettles and you have the needling pain) and difficulty sleeping at night, although during the day I could happily have fallen asleep standing up!

The worst symptom is “brain fog” when I can’t think straight, when doing a simple task takes me ages because I can’t remember what I’m meant to be doing or how to complete the task. My concentration can be non-existent and any extra chores are stressful. I sometimes can’t talk coherently or finish a sentence. And when I think back I quite often tripped up or bumped into walls, misjudging distances. Even now, when I’m tired, my symptoms appear worse.

Since my month of intravenous antibiotic treatment and a fortnight on oral tablets my walking is almost back to normal and I’ve recovered full sight in my right eye.

I am under no illusions here. I’ve had this for a long time and it will take some time before I feel totally well again. Having heard of other sufferers throughout the area, nearly all are still suffering from odd symptoms years after being diagnosed.

Around 3,000 people are diagnosed every year but in theory the number is far higher as there are many who have been misdiagnosed or who merely soldier on not realising that they have the disease since the first stages of this illness can present itself much like a bad bout of flu.

Considering the Highlands is a high risk area for ticks, there is very little information in our communities about Lyme Disease. I have yet to find anything local which refers to how you might go about extracting a tick from your body, certainly nothing in my local health centre or in the surrounding ones. And while there are plenty leaflets out there telling you how to reduce your cholestrol, eat healthier food, give up smoking, this is one area which is not covered. The great outdoors is a wonderful playground for all of us, but there should be a warning against these tiny unwanted hitchhikers which can cause dramatic suffering to their victims for many years to come.

Paul Castle, the Bettyhill-based countryside ranger, said: “As rangers we learn about Lyme Disease during our 3-yearly mountain first-aid refreshers and we are all aware of the terrible nature of this disease. We give safety talks at the beginning of events and checking for ticks is mentioned as a priority. We carry the excellent plastic tick removers in our first aid kits which are great for safely removing attached ticks from humans and pets.”

More needs to be done to raise awareness of this preventable disease. We all need to be vigilant, thoroughly checking ourselves after a walk in the countryside. Our pets, too, can also get ill from this disease. And don’t think that just because you haven’t been out lately you won’t come into contact with ticks. Others can carry them into your home without realising — your pets, even your friends, who come to visit!

Without wishing to scare people, local communities could do much to raise awareness. Doctors’ surgeries, schools, nurseries, playgroups, shops, camp-sites, hotels, forest walks, parks are just some of the places where posters should be displayed, informing the public what to look out for and how to safely remove ticks.

Borreliosos and Associated Diseases Awareness UK is a charity run by volunteers and offers free downloads of Lyme Disease leaflets from its website, www.bada-UK.org, giving tips on how to protect yourself from these unwanted intruders. The cost of copying these leaflets is minimal considering how much it would cost the NHS to treat someone with CLD. The “pharmacy” of medication I brought home from Raigmore must have cost a pretty penny, not to mention the visits I had from district nurses who attended to me when I was unable to drive to my local surgery.

I wouldn’t wish this illness on anyone. Make sure you stay healthy this summer. Be alert, be aware, be tick-free.

# It is reported that a fifty-seven-year-old Forestry Commission worker from Duror in Argyll, who became seriously ill after contracting Lyme Disease from an infected tick bite, is suing his employers for £80,000 damages. The commission is contesting the action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

June 2011

You have not seen me around here for a good wee while, dear reader, and this is why. I have it, too... like thousands of others here in the UK. It's criminal that almost 3 yrs since this article was written, we still have no formal policy regards the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases in this country.

For more information about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases here, please visit Lyme Disease Action and the Lyme blogs listed in the sidebar.

For those who live here as well as those planning to visit, please take care when outdoors....no matter what time of year, whether in your own garden, city parks, or our beloved hills and glens. Please protect your pets as well. They are just as vulnerable to these diseases as we are.

In Glen Affric

Late snow on Mam Sodhail
                      lies stubborn as quartz.

The river stumbling through its gorge

                             frets like the wind
through a stand of pine.

The wind
through these pine trees

                  wears the voice of water
falling over stones.

Everything is paying homage
                   to another's origins.

That raincloud answers
                   a hidden crossbill's song.

The thicket kneels before
                                       the wren.

a farewell symphony

Geodha Air Chul Na Greine, which inspired this soulful composition by Scottish born composer Jennifer Margaret Barker, was written by Ruaraidh MacThòmais/Derick Thomson who died yesterday at the age of 90. an eloquent tribute to the remarkable life and work of the man from Lewis,  from one exile to another ...... to all of us who went away "on a tether as far as love goes from hate.”

A Geo in the Sun's Shelter

There is peace in the bay tonight, and the tide swings past the
headland; foam on the hidden rock, wave-lapping at the cliff, the
distant wave cries, and the seas go coursing swiftly, but this sea is at
rest, with no boat at harbour,

where it dug out a quiet pool with the un-ease of days past, a geo in
the sun's shelter, its pebbles unstained, where the white years of the
moon might pass beyond it, lunatic, unresting, desirelessly seeking a

The salmon left the sea when this quiet bay was made, seeking the
fresh river - if one moved a stone the quicksilver lightning-flash of
wisdom and knowledge would tear the still crystal water of the
ducks and the scarts.

At a rock here on the shore the women awaited the return of the
small fishing-boats in storm; often losing treasure of sea and
treasure of bosom, and feeling the red taste of the salmon salt on
their lips.

Often standing watching the sea where their share was lost, and
sitting in houses where their kin had died, did they make a bay that
longing and hurting could by-pass, where the root of the darling
dulse could keep its hold.

Though desire for dulse might for a time entice one, the shining
salmon lies in dark repose, and if I quickly thrust where he lies
hidden, the water, churned, will leave its rings of peace.

Geodha Air Chul Na Greine

Tha fèath air a' bhàgh a-nochd, 's an sruth dol thar na maoile,
cobhar air a' chreig bhàite, is falpanaich air stalla,
gàig an tonn tha fad às, is siubhal than aig na cuantan,
ach tha 'n cuan tha so 'na thamh gun bhàt' aig cala,

far na chladhaich e linne rèidh le an-shocair nan làithean,
geodha air chùl na grèine, 's a mhol gun ghrùid,
far an rachadh bliadhnachan geal na gealaich seachad siar air,
air chuthach, gun iaradh, a' sireadh ceann-uidhe gun ùidh.

Thrèig am bradan an cuan ann an linn a' bhàigh chiùin so,
a' lorg na h-aibhne òig ud, 's nan gluaiste clach
reubadh beithir airgeadach beò a' ghliocais 's an eòlais
uisgeachan balbha criostail nan sgarbh 's nan lach.

Tha leac an so air an tràigh
far am biodh na mnathan a' feitheamh
nan eathraichean beaga iasgaich nuair thigeadh sian;
is tric a bha ulaidh a' chridhe is ulaidh a' chuain às an aonais,
is a gheibheadh iad blas dearg a' bhradain searbh air am bial.

Gu tric 'nan seasamh a' coimhead na mara
far na chailleadh an cuid,
Is 'nan suidh arms na tighean san d'fhuair an daoine bàs,
an do rinn iad bàgh air an rachadh
an iargain Is an cifùradh seachad,
Is am fuiricheadh friamh an duilisg luraich an sàs.

Ach ged bheireadh miann an duilisg duine a thaobh car ùine,
tha 'm bradan lainnireach sint' fo shàmhchar dorch,
is ma bheir mi an sgobadh sin air an àit sam bi e
bidh maistreadh fairg ann, is cearcaill sith 'na lorg.

Farewell Symphony

The lights go out one by one
and the string music comes and goes,
a bow is lowered,
a horn is raised,
the soft music rises and falls.
ghosts at the back of the stage;
sweet, sweet the twilight music,
twilight delivers its sweet sentence,
and the stage turns its back on life;
the string grows frail,
the darkness grows,
the horn is taken out and put away,
the arrow removed from the bow;
the music goes into the fairy mound;
the night of snuffed-out candles passes.

Derick Thomson,  Bramble of Hope

Siansadh an Dealachaidh

Solas bho sholas a' dol às
is ceòl nan teud a' falbh 's a'  tighinn,
bogha ga phasgadh
is còrn ga thogail
's an ceòl fann a' tighinn 's a' falbh,
taibhsean aig cùl na stèids;
binn, binn ceòl an eadar-sholais,
an t-eadar-sholas a' toirt a-mach a' bhinn,
's an stèids a' cur cùl  ri beatha;
an teud a' fàs fann,
an dorchadas a' fàs,
an còrn ga fhosgladh 's ga phasgadh,
an t-saighead ga toirt às a' bhogha;
an ceòl a' dol anns a' bhrugh;
oidhche smàladh nan coinneal a' dol seachad.

Ruaraidh MacThòmais, Smeur an Dòchais

Dán do Scáthach / A Poem to Scáthach

an t-oileán glé úd gurb é tusa é
tá sé fairsing sléibhtiúil
ceilteach agus oscailte
is nuair a bhogann néalta
trasna na spéire os do chionn
léirítear ailteanna is machairí

seangacht agus méithe in éineacht
agus scáth ar scáth ag leanúint a chéile
timpeall ar do cholainn bhán go léir

tráth gur shínis amach
ar an dtocht lomnocht
sa tseomra dorcha
os cionn na mara
bhí caille ar d’éadan
a d’fholaigh do cheannaithe
do shúile fiú
nuair ba léir iad faoin bhfial
bhí mar a bheadh scim orthu

do bheanna mórtasacha
ag éirí is ag ísliú
gile fhíochmhar do chnis
ina hoileán i lár an dorchadais
shnámhas go dtí tú
m’fheargacht go léir ar crith
le tnúth agus le heagla
do lámha anall tharam is mé ag dul isteach ort

A Poem to Scáthach

you are a bright island
hilly and wide
reserved and open
as clouds drift over you
across the sky
plains and ravines are revealed

swelling and slender together
as shadow follows shadow
around about your white body

when you stretched
naked on the bed
in the dark chamber
above the sea
the veil on your face
concealing your features
even your eyes
when seen
seemed hazed

your proud peaks
rising and falling
the fierce splendour of your skin
an island in the midst of dark
toward you I swam
my manliness trembling
with longing and fear
your arms around me as I reached your land

Ealaíontóir/Artist: Bridget Flannery
Peannaire/Calligrapher: Réiltín Murphy

From one island to another

there is nothing
to show there's land
across the sea.

When clouds convert to mist
that sits
on the sea's surface,
the mind relies on memory
to add the lines of islands,
the rise of distant hills.

When mist drifts and lifts,
the outlined islands,
shapes of distant hills
emerge like wraiths,
like shadows of themselves,
until sun scalpels through,
reveals each detail
against a blue so clear, the miles of ocean
seem to disappear
and I could walk
across the water.