Feb 262020

Duncan Harley reviews Hamish Napier’s new album, The Woods.

In this, the third part of his Strathspey Pentalogy musical journey, composer Hamish Napier celebrates the ancient forests of the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve ranted on about the man’s music on a few occasions. Once or twice in the, now defunct Leopard Magazine, a couple of times in Aberdeen Voice and in the blogosphere.

So, here I go at it again.

The first album dwelt on vivid sonic images of the River Spey – The River, and part two of the five-part journey – The Railway, was dedicated to railwaymen all around the north-east.

In this new collection there are 21 new tracks which according to Hamish incorporate 28 new tunes and pieces in a folk-tune cycle. Legends, folklore and a heady mix of jigs, reels, marches and slow airs inhabit the album.

Themed around the medieval Ogham alphabet, there is says Hamish:

“A track for every letter of the Scottish Gaelic tree alphabet.” 

Venus of the Woods, an upbeat polka, reflects the cheerful mood of the ash while the elm, a coffin tree, is celebrated in a melancholy lament – The Tree of the Underworld. Birch, gean, holly, alder and rowan all get a mention as do willow, oak and hawthorn and more.

Hamish recalls his childhood playing in the Anagach Woods over at Granton as being the primary inspiration.

‘What I viewed as simply the woods is now a gathering of characters and personalities … my work is about celebrating my homeland, finding hidden gems and stories in the surrounding landscape.

“I have used the Scottish Gaelic alphabet, which is centred around Scotland’s native trees, to explore the folklore, natural and social heritage of Strathspey.

“I’ve composed tunes for all 18 Gaelic letters. There’s also music for the people who lived in the woods locally, and who explored, worked, foraged, mused, trained, flourished and died there.

“I explored the flora and fauna of the Caledonian forest, riparian woods, montane scrub and other woodlands, in particular the properties and uses of our twenty or so native trees.’

Hamish is joined in this new production by an array of talent including Calum MacCrimmon, Steve Byrnes, Ross Ainslie and James Lindsay.

All in all, this is a quite splendid album. Go buy/download.

The full 21 track album will be released on 20th March (the Spring Equinox) and is available now for pre-order @ http://www.hamishnapier.com/

Aug 112017

Tiny Toadstools and Monster Mushrooms make for magical event at Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate. With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

With its harled façade, magnificent turreted towers and walled gardens, Crathes Castle is a standout property from the 16th century.

Fungi, folklore and fairy tales come together in the grounds of a magical North-east castle where woodland secrets and stories will be shared with young visitors and their families.

Green goblets that elves might use to drink from are likely to be among the finds during the Tiny Toadstools and Monster Mushrooms walk at The National Trust for Scotland’s Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate on Tuesday, August 15.
The ‘goblet’ is in fact the green elf cup, a fungus which creates a vivid green stain on dead wood and looks like a drinking vessel for an elf, and which is among hundreds of different fungi that can be found in the grounds of Crathes, a stunning castle that looks like it has come straight from the pages of a story book.

The setting makes Crathes ideal for sharing stories of fungi and fairy tales and visitors will learn how the fly agaric toadstools, synonymous with Enid Blyton books, get their spots and have the chance to find out about the largest fungi in the world which is visible from space.

Ranger Stephen Reeves says:

“Crathes is home to hundreds of different species of fungi due to the wide variety of habitats that can be found here. Some mushrooms like open grass lands, some live on dead wood and some on trees and we have all these different mixes.

“Our ranger-led walk isn’t about identifying mushrooms and toadstools but it is about sharing some really cool stories and games. Some mushrooms turn purple when they are cut and the biggest organism in the world is the honey fungus which is found in Siberia.

“There’s lots of fascinating stores and some interesting folklore too around them and we think adults will be every bit as intrigued by the stories as children are.

“Mushrooms and toadstools are so often overlooked but we have them in abundance at Crathes at this time of year and they will be very much at the heart of our storytelling.”

The ranger-led walk on August 15 is from 10.30am to 12 noon and is ideal for families with children aged between 5-11 years. Entry is £5 per child and adults go free.

Places are limited and so booking is essential at https://nts.cloudvenue.co.uk/crathestinytoadstoolsandmonstermushrooms

With its harled façade, magnificent turreted towers and walled gardens, Crathes Castle, which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland, is a standout property from the 16th century.

The castle and its gardens will be open to visitors during this summer programme event.

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Jun 022017

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) adult, covered in dew, resting on grass at dawn, Elmley Marshes N.N.R., Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England, July

With thanks to Emma Brown.

This year’s Scottish Nature Photography Festival will bring together top wildlife and landscape photographers from across the UK and Europe to deliver an outstanding programme of talks at Battleby Centre in Perthshire on 9 and 10 September. German photographer Sandra Bartocha will kick things off on Sat 9 Sept, with the first of two presentations about her latest project, LYS

She will be followed by Robert Canis, marine photographer George Stoyle, Richard Peters, plus landscape photographer Alex Nail.

Norwegian photographers Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg complete the Saturday line-up and will return to open the event on Sunday 10 September with a spectacular presentation about their work in Iceland.

Alex Nail and Sandra Bartocha also return for a second day and will be joined by Andy Parkinson, Robin Moore and Will Burrard-Lucas, who will share some of his adventures in remote photography.

Renowned nature and conservation photographer Peter Cairns, who returns as compère, said:

“SNPF gets better as each year passes, taking both photographers and nature-lovers on a roller-coaster journey through the words and images of the top photographers at work today.”

Several of the speakers will be on hand to deliver a diverse range of lunchtime workshops, which will offer a more in-depth exploration of practical topics, plus Cairngorms-based wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre will give a lunchtime presentation on his stunning new book, The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest.

Taking place at Scottish Natural Heritage’s prestigious Battleby Centre just outside of Perth, the annual event also features exhibitors, including Epson and Perth-based camera retailer JRS Photo Hardware, photographer portfolios, book sales, the ever popular SNPF photo competition, plus the chance to catch up with friends old and new.

State-of-the-art projection and sound, plus easy access, free parking and excellent catering, makes Battleby the perfect venue to enjoy the astonishing images and inspiring stories from some of the best photographers in the business.

The Scottish Nature Photography Festival is coordinated by the Wild Media Foundation, a group of photographers and visual media specialists who have come together to bring nature’s stories closer to people’s lives.

It operates as a company limited by guarantee, set up as a Social Enterprise, which means that all profits are put aside to further the objectives of the company.

Its mission is:

“To bring nature’s stories to life through the development of innovative visual media products, which will engage, inform and inspire a wide audience.”


Tickets and more information available from www.snpf.co.uk

Scottish Nature Photography Festival on Facebook 
Scottish Nature Photography Festival on Twitter
Wild Media Foundation

Image Credits:

African wild dog, Zimbabwe © Will Burrard-Lucas.jpg
Arctic Terns, Iceland © Orsolya Haarberg.jpg
Dragonfly, England © Robert Canis.jpg

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Jan 212016

By Tom Shepherd.
Bennachie cairn 27_12-2015 trimmed

I‘m often at my best when I’m alone
A cairn or tree behind my back my throne
The sun to be my hearth and to my ears
Soft wind amongst the grass gathered courtiers.
It’s here I best hear both my mind and heart
To be myself, not play another’s part
Where racing thoughts can finally be stilled
And a desire of peace truly be filled.
Bird song the brightest natural fanfare
Breezes bring gifts of nature scented air
A changing tapestry of life is shown
Each day to me as I sit on my own.
But should the black dog herald gathering cloud
And silence alarm by growing ever loud
The arms of friends and of my family
Can shelter me more than could cairn or tree.
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Nov 262015

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Retiral 1 Mike Fifield SMALLWith a combined service of more than 60 years, two forestry workers from Glen Tanar Estate have branched out into retirement.
Head forester Mike Fifield  and forestry worker Davey Goodfellow have reflected on healthy and happy times working in one of Scotland’s most stunning natural landscapes, in the heart of Royal Deeside.

Mr Fifield (65) can hardly recall being unwell since taking up his job at Glen Tanar 30 years ago and says:

“It’s obviously a very healthy job as I think I’ve only ever had a couple of days off sick. It’s kept me fit and very active and I’d have hated being in an office all these years.”

Meanwhile having spent more than half his working life at Glen Tanar, Mr Goodfellow (68) says he couldn’t have found a better place to work.

He even worked on three years beyond his retirement, helping out as a ghillie on the beats of the famous River Dee. Being a keen angler himself he particularly enjoyed meeting other people that share in interest in fishing.

“I’ve been here for 32 years and I have plenty of happy memories,” says Mr Goodfellow.

“If I had to do it all again I’d have no regrets about coming back to work at Glen Tanar.”

As well as tree planting and felling operations, dealing with storm damage and keeping roads open in the winter when normal forestry duties could not be undertaken due to heavy snowfalls is among the forestry team’s duties.

Conservation has become an increasing role, with almost half of Glen Tanar’s forestry area falling within the National Nature Reserve.

Working with partners including the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, the estate has successfully blended different land to deliver benefits – contributing to the latest thinking in habitat management.

Retiral 2 D Goodfellow SMALL

Davey Goodfellow with Michael Bruce.

Glen Tanar forms a substantial part of the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland’s largest national park. Land uses are balanced through careful management to ensure a long term future for all rare wildlife and plants, and this approach to conservation has won Glen Tanar many awards, including the Green Butterfly Award and certification by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

Among Glen Tanar’s many woodland residents include red deer, roe deer, the occasional capercaillie, grouse, brown hare, and black cock.

Mr Fifield and Mr Goodfellow were bid a fond farewell at a gathering at Glen Tanar Estate when owners Mr and Mrs Bruce presented them with long service certificates from the Scottish Lands and Estates.

Mr Bruce says:

“We greatly appreciate the sterling service that Mike and Davey have given, both giving more than 30 years of their working life to Glen Tanar.

“Their knowledge, skills and experience have been a great asset in the running and management of the estate and we wish them well as they embark on retirement.”

While Mr Goodfellow will continue to live at Glen Tanar, Mr Fifield and his wife Ann are moving to Alloa, near Stirling, to be nearer family – and other people!

Mr Fifield adds: “Our nearest neighbour was a quarter of a mile away and we were completely surrounded by trees so this is going to be a complete change!”

Glen Tanar Estate offers a wealth of activities and attractions from fishing and walking to adventuring on estate safaris. Glen Tanar Estate’s grand ballroom is available to hire for functions, including corporate events, weddings and conferences and the estate has a number of self-catering holiday cottages.

For more information on Glen Tanar Estate, visit www.glentanar.co.uk or contact 01339 886451.

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Dec 052014
Jennie and kids stethoscope – Jennie showing children the ‘heart’ of a tree.

Jennie and kids stethoscope – showing children the ‘heart’ of a tree.

With thanks to Jennifer Kelly.

Jennie Martin, founder and executive director of North East charity Wild things! has been presented with the winning title in the environmental category of The Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards 2014 at Prestonfield House Hotel, Edinburgh.

To recognise and reward the contributions of extraordinary people in Scotland, the winners of this unique scheme are determined by public votes. The charity received the largest number of votes in their category to make Jennie’s accolade possible and her work through Wild things! nationally recognised.

Jennie, an ethnobotanist by training, has worked with great passion and commitment over the past 12 years to develop the work of Wild things! The environmental education charity provides unique and inspiring outdoor experiences for people of all ages regardless of emotional, physical or financial barriers.

Based on the Moray Coast, it successfully delivers quality outdoor learning experiences that encourage a greater custodianship of the outdoors, as well as opportunities for life-changing personal development. Over the years, approximately 10,000 individuals have benefited from their programmes, opening their eyes to the wonders on their doorstep or to remote wilderness regions of Scotland.

Jennie Martin comments,

“When I was told that I was nominated for this award I was deeply honored to be considered alongside such notable Scottish figures. I was also delighted that the important work of Wild things! was being recognised in such a way.

“I am touched to have been given this award and by all the people who took the time for vote for Wild things (as well as the person who initial put us forward to the vote). I started Wild things! over 11 years ago with a small grant of  £5,000 from the National Lottery. We now employ 6 people, have over 10 freelancers, 45 volunteers have worked with over 12,000 children, teenagers and adults over the years.

“Our connection to the natural world can make us so much more than we think we are able to be. It can stretch the boundaries of what we think is possible, invigorate our hearts bodies and minds, as well as being a fantastic landscape within which to make meaningful friendship. This is all aside from the fact that it feeds and clothes us, treats our illness and so much more. How can we not care for such a precious commodity?

“That is what Wild things does… one programme, one activity, one client, one camp fire or conservation project at a time. A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to vote – this wouldn’t have been possible without you.”

Wild things! is a Scottish Environmental Education Charity based on the Moray Firth. The charity offers a variety of inspiring wilderness and nature experiences for all ages and abilities regardless of learning challenges or physical and financial difficulties.

To find out more about the work of Wild things! visit the website www.wild-things.org.uk

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Nov 142014

sky-mountain-1By Bob Smith.

A hiv noo ti confess masel’
A’ve cursed fin it dis rain
Canna git on the gowf course
Greens flooded eence again

Bit hae a wee bit think fowks
If we didna hae the rain
Kwintraside aa leukin gizzent
Baith here an in Dunblane

Nae watter rinnin doon the hills
An inti oor rivers tumblin
The fairmers tryin ti growe craps
Wid fair hae cause fer grumblin

Nae greenery in hills or glens
Trees stuntit in their growth
Nae watter ti the distilleries
Noo aat wid raise an oath

Fin yer plowt’rin throwe the dubs
An aa the rainfa it is measur’t
Jist myn withoot the rain
We’d be like the Gobi desert

Gweed Lord lit the rain doon faa
On golden locks an baldy heids
Ca cannie wi hivvens’s watterin can
Jist aneuch fer aa oor needs.

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
 Image Credit: SKY MOUNTAIN 1 © Alexandru Mitrea | Dreamstime.com

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Apr 042014

By Bob Smith.

The 100th anniversary o the death
O a gweed mannie fae Dunbar
Fa left ess shores fer America
Stravaigin near an far
John Muir wis ess chiel’s name
An environmentalist o renown
A philosopher an explorer
Cwid be added ti his crown
In America he is weel kent
Yet in Scotia nae sae muckle
Ti fin oot aboot ess legend
Doon ti learnin we maan buckle
The faither o conservation in USA
A founder o the Sierra Club
Is jist twa o the monikers
On John Muir we cwid dub
Explore, discover an cherish
Wis ess mannie’s philosophy
We’re aa pairt o the naitural warld
Love wild places wis his decree
He fair likit the wilderness
Free fae touch o human han
Ower muckle interference fae man
The chiel jist cwidna stan
The John Muir Trust in Scotland
Cairries on Muir’s philosophy
An maks sure we learn mair
An git telt o his legacy
Cherish weel oor wild lans
Try oot the John Muir Way
Connect wi the mannie’s ideas
An lit nature hae its say

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
Image Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/woods-green-trees-path-park-175878/

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Jan 102014

By Bob Smith.

Bob the Robin186 Elaine Andrews

Hullo ti ma  feathered freens
As they sit oot in the caul
Aa jist waitin ti be fed
By a fite haired human pal
Efter fillin up aa their feeders
An scatterin seed alang the grun
A gyang back ti ma hoose
Ti watch aa naiture’s fun
The sparras an the blackies
They swoop doon fairly quick
Syne folla’t by the chaffinches
As throwe the seeds they peck

Starlin’s are at the bird table
Squabblin wi aa their micht
The robin sits on a claes pole
Scauldin aabody in his sicht
The robin tho’ he’s fair itchin’
Ti jine the thrang alow
He flees doon an flutters aboot
His importance he likes ti show
The bird bath’s frozen solid
So a sma dishie his ti dee
Five dunnocks try ti hae a bath
Fin there’s room fer only three
The craws they sit an ponder
Foo ti get at aa the seed
They try an hing on ti a feeder
Bit they jist spill aa the feed
A  fair get a lot o enjoyment
As the birds they gyang aboot
In es  caul windy wither
They need feedin there’s nae doot

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”
Photos – Bob The Robin by Elaine Andrews
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Dec 062013

There’s a Cree Native American prophecy fit’s worth readin:-

“Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten”

Voice’s Bob Smith scribbles doon ees thochts aboot the naitural warld an oor misuse o’t.

tullosbeethistleFoo lang afore ess prophecy becomes a reality?
Weel the wye we’re gobblin up the Earth’s resources, maybe seener than ye bliddy think.

The fowk fa war native tae America lang afore the supposed civilised warld visited their shores kent fine foo tae live alangside naitur.

They kent they war pairt o the naitural warld an aat the Earth wid gie them fit they needit tae keep them gyaan. Great buffalo herds fit supplied them wi meat, an hides tae bigg their tepees wi, shrubs fit kept them nourished wi berries.

Trees gied them aa the poles tae bigg their tepees aroon an bark tae mak their canoes oot o, an the rivers supplied them wi fresh drinkin watter as weel as fish tae aet. Bit they war savvy aneuch tae ken nae tae use ower muckle o the naitural resources o the Earth itherwise it wid seen rin oot.

Faist forrit a fyow hunner eer an fit did we see? Hardly ony buffalo cos the likes o Buffalo Bill Cody hunted them nearly oot o existence tae supply fresh meat, fer the army an fer the workers faa war biggin the railroads across America.

Rivers war pollutit bi industrial waste an shite fae the big toons biggit tae hoose a the buggers faa rushed tae America in the great hope o makkin their fortunes.

Syne on the scene cam a mannie fae Scotland, John Muir, sadly better kent in America than he is in his hameland.

John Muir emigrated fae Dunbar tae the USA in the 19th ceentury, wunner’t aroon America an throwe his screivins wis kent as een o the early advocates o the preservation o the naitural warld an the wilderness in America. If ye wint tae ken ony mair aboot John Muir then ging on tae www.johnmuirtrust.org.uk

Bit lit us hae a leuk at fit his happen’t tae the naitural warld in war ain kwintra.

A lot o fowk seem tae think aat the naitural warld belangs tae them an they can dee fit they bliddy weel like wi it. They seem tae hae fergottin aat they are jist pairt o the great scheme o thingies in the naitural warld.

Foxglove - Tullos Hill - Credit: Fred WilkinsonNoo fairmers hiv aye thocht o thersels as custodians o the kwintraside bit even some o them hiv bin suck’t in tae the belief aat the earth owes them a livin an hiv begun tae treat the grun in a nae verra gweed wye.

Tae git mair oot o the lan they hiv in placies ruggit doon dykes an hedges, fit are the equivalent o “motorwyes” tae the wee beasties an birdies faa wint tae gyaang fae ae placie tull anither in relative safety. Ess maks bigger parks tae accommodate the muckle modern machinery needed nooadays tae help satisfy the insatiable appetites o supermairket shoppers.

The auld wye o fairmin his gin oot the winda. Foo muckle fairmers div ye see usin the rotation method o fairmin? Crap rotation involves chyngin the type o crap ye grow in a park on a regular basis. Ess benefits the grun itsel bi stoppin nutrient depleeshun an there is less risk o pests an diseases attackin the craps.

Nooadays cos the grun can git a bittie soor kine they hiv ti pit on mair fertilisers fit o coorse can leech intae the ditches, burns an syne intae rivers causin the thingies fit bide in the rivers an alang their bunks a bittie o a problem.

We canna o coorse pit aa the blame on the fairmers as they hiv tae mak a livin an as a hintit afore, their hans are tied bi supermairket customer needs. So if wi wint tae help the naitural warld wi micht hae tae chynge oor shoppin habits.

Fer a stairt we cwid stop expectin tae aye bi able tae buy things oot o season an if we bocht mair fae fairm shops an fairmers mairkets we micht git back tae a mair sustainable wye o managin the lan.

Noo hiv ye ivver thocht foo muckle gweed agricultural lan is gobbled up bi hoosin an industrial developmints in ess kwintra o Scotland?

It’s a fair amunt. As lang as the warld’s population keeps gyaan up then the situation winna chynge as fowk need hooses tae bide in. Bit o coorse wi cwid help thingies a bit bi biggin hames on broonfield sites instead o aye biggin industrial units on them or wi cwid jist nae hae sae mony geets.

The naitural warld in Scotland is a great attraction fer tourists an as tourism, we are aye telt. If it is o great economic benefit tae the kwintra, fit the hell wye div wi keep biggin windfairms in placies o  scenic beauty?

White Butterfly - Tullos hill - Credit: Fred WilkinsonThere are as weel great scars on the hillsides tae accommodate sheeters fa are ower bliddy lazy ti wakk tae faar they blast the hand reared grouse an pheasants oot the skies aa in the name o sport.

They shudna hae ti waak faar as the bliddy birds are sae tame they cum the wye o fowk sheetin thinkin it’s feedin time.

Noo a’m aboot tae invade the realm o a touchy subject in the north–east corner.

The subject o fishin an whither or no stocks o fish are bein depleted cos o ower muckle fishin. A’m nae scientist nor a fishin boat skipper, bit fae the ootside lookin in it seems tae me we humans hiv tae tak some responsibility if stocks o fish are gyaan doon.

Efter aa technology maks it easier noodays fer skippers ti pinpoint shoals o fish faar mair easily than they did eers ago so it staans ti reason aat stocks micht be in greater danger o bein fish’t oot cos o ess.

Noo a dinna wint ti bi flippant aboot the dangerous job on affa treacherous seas the chiels on trawlers hiv ti dee, bit it dis seem nooadays that technology his made the job o findin the fish a helluva lot easier. An the easier the fish are catcht the mair chunce there is o the seas bein scarce o fish.

A myn o readin a beuk bi a mannie fae the East Neuk o Fife fa’s fisherman granfadder said awa back in the 1950’s aat if the wyes o fishin advanced ony farrer it cwid bi the death o the industry. So if ess fishermannie is richt the naitural world micht eventually becum devoid o anither een o its resources.

A hiv cum tae the conclushun aat unless we chynge oor wyes as regards foo we treat the naitural warld an its resources oor affspring’s affspring wull be inhabitin a warld far removed fae aat o oor forefaithers an they micht jist curse us fer bein sae greedy an neglectfu’.

A’ll leave the last wird tae a Native American tribal leader, Chief Seattle, fa said awa back in 1854:-

“Humankind has not woven the web of life
We are but one thread within it
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves
All things are bound together
All things connect”

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