View of Centre Hallway House

I climbed a hill and lost 200 years but where is Jamie?

Mea culpa…

Hmm. Maybe I should have thought twice about committing to writing blog posts while I was on vacation.  I seem to be getting a bit lax about deadlines as the vacation progresses. I guess it’s a good thing no one enforces the deadlines but me. :-)

Anyway, when last we met I was looking forward to visiting The Highland Village Museum (An Clachan Gàidhealach) at Iona in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I am happy to report that I had a spectacular visit on a beautiful sunny day last week. The Village is spread across a hill overlooking the great Bras d’Or inland sea but the views before you even enter the village proper are just spectacular. I was also presented with immediate opportunities to test my Gàidhlig comprehension (I give myself a B+).

A Journey Begins…

Once I paid for my admission ticket, I began my journey through the history of Cape Breton settlement. There weren’t any stones but I still managed to lose over 200 years as I climbed the tree-shaded path up the hill. I wonder if I will find Jamie?

The first habitation on my tour is a Black House—or An Taigh Dubh in Gàidhlig. This is the type of dwelling that many Scottish emigrants left in Scotland when they moved across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. As I stepped into the hazy darkness of the single room lit only by a peat fire, I was greeted by it’s resident—a shepherd who tended his lordship’s flocks. He apologized for the clutter, as he was in the final stages of preparing to move across the Great Sea to join his wife and children who had already left. He was very interested to hear if I had any first-hand information about the new land of Nova Scotia. I tried to channel my best inner Claire (a character in Outlander for the uninitiated) and make a few comments without prophesying like Cassandra. ;-)

A trifle gratefully, I made my escape from the Black House and move further up the hill toward the first habitations of the Scots in the new world of Cape Breton.

An alien land…

Continuing up the hill, I paused to speak to some other new residents—Heiland Coos!

Once passed the coos, I entered the realm of the first Scots in Nova Scotia. The first thing the Scots had to do when they arrived was clear the great forests that covered their new home. As those of you who are familiar with the Scottish Highlands may realize, this was quite a change from the deforested landscape most of them had left. In fact, many of them had only carried a single axe head on their voyage and had to craft a handle for that before it could even be used.

However, once they did manage to get some trees felled, they were able to build dwellings for themselves and their animals. Entering the log cabin, I was greeted by a frontierswoman—in Gaelic!  I answered her ‘Ciamar a tha sibh?’ with ‘Glè mhath.’ I fancy she was a bit surprised but I don’t think even I could butcher the pronunciation of that too badly. Pleasantries exchanged, she was happy to show me around her humble home.

Prosperity beckons…

Exiting the Log Cabin (Taigh-logaichean), I made my way forward in time to the house of a slightly more prosperous farmer who owned a center-chimney house. This dwelling was a vast improvement over the log cabin. It had painted walls, a hardwood floor and actual partitioned rooms—all clustered around a central fireplace that provided not only for cooking but also the heat for the entire house. Also, many of the rooms served more than one function. You will note in one of the pictures below that the living room is set up for a milling frolic where they waulk the wool to make the cloth softer and more durable. An interesting note about waulking wool—in Scotland waulking was done exclusively by women but in Nova Scotia it was done by women and men. Personally, I think the men just didn’t want to be left out of the singing and gossiping that were part of any Cape Breton function. For all you Outlander fans, I have heard that there may be a waulking scene in Outlander!

After leaving the previous house, I ventured into the church that has served the community for hundreds of years. One of the things I have noticed since I first began coming to Cape Breton almost 15 years ago, is that every community seems to have set aside the piece of land with the best view for their church, and this was no exception.

Leaving the church situated on the high ground, I descended into a Cape Breton village of roughly the 19th century time period. I stopped to peek into a Centre Hallway house from about 1865 and admired the brand new cook-stove. Such a time-saver for the farmer’s wife.

Tentative steps…

After the 1865 house, I walked past the Village School and then stepped into a turn-of-the-century General Store. This is where I got very brave. Not only did I answer the Storekeeper’s ‘Ciamar a tha sibh’ query with ‘Glè mhath,’ but I even ventured a further comment on the weather—’Tha e glè briagh an-diugh!’  Smugly I thought to myself—Àdham would be so proud—unfortunately, however, the storekeeper took this to mean I spoke Gaelic fluently and unleashed a torrent of Gaelic at me. Luckily, she quickly interpreted my panicked deer-in-the-headlights look correctly and switched back to English. We did have a lovely conversation though about how I came to speak even a little Gaelic and I took the opportunity to tell her about a new upcoming television series called Outlander. ;-)

I finally found Jamie…

Next up on my path through the village was the Blacksmith’s Shop. And guess what!! I finally found Jamie. Ok, so maybe he’s not a six-foot four-inch Highland Scot with red hair, but he does speak Gaelic and has a useful skill! I took a few pictures and a quick video of him at work making nails. (And just maybe had a brief flashback to a certain scene in MOBY).

The last stop on my tour of the Highland Village Museum was a turn of the 20th century house. These are the types of houses still much in evidence in many places on Cape Breton. In this house, modern appliances such as stoves, washing machines and ice cream churns are starting to be seen. As I concluded my tour, I stopped to read the signboard about the 21st century Gaels in Cape Breton and also to make a purchase in the gift shop. I’ve never yet experienced anything easy about Gaelic but I’m hopeful this little book will live up to its cover.

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this tour through the Cape Breton Highland Village museum with me. If you are ever in Cape Breton—and I sincerely hope you will visit—be sure to stop by. You can find all the details about planning a visit at their website: Highland Village Museum

Final note…

I also wanted to take a moment to congratulate Linda Schultz (@lsdragonfly1) on winning the first ever GreatScot! giveaway. I know that the signed first edition copy of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood and the Outlander poster will have a wonderful home—just as soon as I’m home long enough to mail it!

Stay tuned for the next post all about my visit to the Gaelic College (Colaisde na Gàidhlig) where I see a man about a kilt, observe a waulking demonstration and listen to some fine fiddling from a former Premier of Nova Scotia!

Creignish

Traces of Old World Culture in New Scotland – Jigs and Reels

One of the best things about visiting Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is experiencing cultural traditions that were transferred from Scotland to the new world with the emigrant wave of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is especially true since some of these same things have all but died out in Scotland itself.   Although I’ve been coming to the island every summer for the last 15 years, I have enjoyed experiencing these now familiar activities through the lens of the GreatScot! blog.

Among my favorite traditions are the almost daily Celtic Square Dances that are held in Parish Halls and Recreation Centers around the island. Almost any night of the week you can find a dance somewhere—Mondays are Brook Village, Thursdays are Glencoe Mills and West Mabou on Saturday nights. There are groups of people ‘from away’—as Cape Bretoners call tourists— and locals as well, who spend the week going from dance to dance to enjoy the fiddle music and take to the floor for a set or two. This year, a new community has joined the weekly line-up as Creignish has added a dance on Tuesday nights.  No one on the island seems to know quite how these dances migrated from Scotland, but they are common all around Cape Breton and even on mainland Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton Square Dances usually start fairly late by modern standards—generally after 9:30 pm. This is because in the days of farm laborers and fishermen, no one had time for a dance until after a full days work was finished. The dances also follow a fairly regular pattern, although the origins are somewhat shrouded by time. First the fiddler and the piano accompanist take the stage for a bit of a warm-up, then they launch into the first jig and couples take to the floor. Often fiddlers will trade-off playing as one tires and another takes over. Towards the end of the evening, when the dancers are tired as well, often the floor will clear and individuals will take the floor one at a time for a spot of step dancing. This is the chance for the good dancers in the crowd to kick up their heels and show off for a bit.

In the area of Cape Breton where I spend the most time (the western or Sunset side of the island), the dances consist of 3 figures danced to the tunes of two jigs and a reel and are known as Inverness County Square Sets. Couples form squares (which are often really more round) to perform the figures. Jigs are tunes that are faster paced and in addition to being used for the 1st and 2nd figures of the square dancing, are also often used for solo or small group step dancing.

I took some pictures and some short videos from the Creignish dance to give you a taste of what a traditional Cape Breton Square Dance is like. The musicians for this evening are Wendy MacIsaac on the fiddle and Mac Morin on piano. Notice that all ages and skill levels take part and that native Cape Bretoners are really good about helping people from away join in and learn what to do.

First Figure – Jig

1. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
2. Turn to your corner and dance
3. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
4. Turn to your corner and dance
5. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
6. Turn to your corner and dance
7. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
8. Turn to your corner and dance
9. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
That’ll be it–That’ll be all!

Second Figure – Jig

1. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
2. Dance with your partner
3. Promenade around to the right
4. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
5. Dance with your partner
6. Promenade around to the left
7. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
8. Dance with your partner
9. Promenade around to the right
10. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
11. Dance with your partner
12. Promenade around to the left
13. All join hands forward and back doing the Mabou Shuffle
That’ll be it–That’ll be all!

Third Figure – Reel

1. Right hand to your partner, half grand chain
2. Swing your partner
3. Left hand to your corner partner, half grand chain back to home
4. Promenade to the right
5. One couple takes the lead and promenades to face the music
6. This couple turns toward each other (lady on the left, gent on the
right, with gent’s left hand on the small of the lady’s back and his
right hand holding his lady’s right hand) then they turn to face the
lineup and split the couples down the middle.
7. When the head couple has split the couples, they cast off and
return to the music with the men following the men and the women
following the women.
8. Gents on one side and ladies on the other side, forward and back
a few times and show your steps.
9. Join with your partner and do a simple two step or show your
footwork. Everyone dances back to their home place & makes a
circle.
10. Right hand to your partner, half grand chain, swing your partner
11. Left hand to your corner partner, half grand chain back to home
12. Promenade to the right
13. Another couple OR the same couple as before promenades to
face the back of the hall.
14. Repeat number 6.
15. Repeat number 7 returning to the back of the hall.
16. Repeat numbers 8 & 9
17. Repeat steps 1 through 16
18. Right hand to your partner and do a grand chain (passing your
partner by and going all the way to home.
19. All join hands and show your steps!
That’ll be it and that’ll be all

Stay tuned…

Coming soon is a post about my visit to the Cape Breton Highland Village Museum—where I met a blacksmith named Jamie—as well as one on my upcoming visit to The Gaelic College for a Great Kilt demonstration and the opportunity to partake in a milling frolic.

 

 

Cabot Trail

The next best thing to Scotland…Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (oh, and the Outlander Premiere)

In my mind, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is the next best thing to Scotland and that’s where I’ll be for the next couple of weeks. Although GreatScot! blog posts may be a little more infrequent than usual, rest assured that I will keeping an eye out for interesting tidbits to post from time to time during my vacation.

For those who may not be familiar with Cape Breton Island, it is an island at the northern tip of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. As it was largely settled by Highland Scots emigrants, Cape Breton has a rich Gàidhlig history and many aspects of that culture are still evident today. The Celtic musical tradition is especially strong and there are still places where Gàidhlig is routinely spoken. I’m looking forward to the chance to practice my limited Gàidhlig vocabulary and see if anyone can understand me.

Here are a few pictures I took from my trip last year and a video from a music festival that I attended at Colaisde na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic College).

By the way, I found out yesterday that I am indeed attending the Outlander Premiere in San Diego on July 25, so readers can definitely look forward to Great Scot! blog posts covering the event. I’m very excited to be meeting more Outlanders and having the chance to see both the first Outlander episode and attend the Q&A panel with Ron, Diana, Sam, Caitriona, Tobias, Graham and Lotte.

Stay tuned, exciting times ahead!

In the meantime, don’t forget to enter the inaugural GreatScot! giveaway. Click here to enter.

 

 

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The Outlander Effect or (in Gàidhlig) “Buaidh Outlander”

 Outlander and Scottish tourism

Now that a premiere date for Outlander has been announced, we are slowly yet surely seeing press coverage about the series tick up. One such article published recently got me to thinking. Outlander already has a large and loyal fan base. What impact has there been, if any, on Scotland’s economy and culture? And what can we expect to change after the series starts airing?

First, let me start with the article that intrigued me, published by a site called “We Love Soaps, who bill themselves as the “World’s biggest champion of scripted, serialized storytelling on TV & the web.” I guess the Outlander TV series does fit that description, although I would never call it a Soap! The bit of the article to catch my eye was this:

The fervent on-line fan base totals over a half-million and when the ‘first-look’ photo of Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser posted on the Starz social channels, it outperformed other introductions of lead characters for properties such as The Great Gatsby (Gatsby), Hunger Games (Katniss), Game of Thrones (Ned Stark), and NBC’s Dracula (Dracula). Additionally, when Sam was cast as Jamie Fraser, the fans took it upon themselves to make their voices heard and put him on E! News’ “Hottie of the Week” charts two weeks in a row (which is very rare, if not unprecedented). In addition, #Outlander trended (was one of the top ten things being talked about on Twitter) numerous times during NY ComicCon.  Starz Summer 2014 New Series: ‘Power’ and ‘Outlander’

It is apparent the size and fervency of the Outlander fan base has already been noticed and its impact noted. One example is the recent Twitter trending event held on May 19 for #WorldWideTVNeedsOutlander. The tag trended globally and the fact was highlighted in the introduction of Outlander during the L.A. Screenings event for international TV buyers that same day. You can see Diana Gabaldon author of the bestselling Outlander series of novels — tweet about that here:

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Great Scot! Music Monday – Julie Fowlis – An Eala Bhàn/The White Swan

As those of you who follow my personal Twitter feed (@rtidwell730) may have noticed, I have been completely caught by a new BBC series The Crimson Field.  TCF is the story of a WWI field hospital and the nurses and doctors that work there.  Richard Rankin (@RikRankin, who did the Scottish words and noises videos for the Heughligans) is one of the stars. Oona Chaplin from Game of Thrones is another and Outlander’s own Richard Clark directs 2 episodes. I really hope that this series is brought to US television at some point as it is excellent.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late, I know), this week’s music is a beautiful song in Gàidhlig sung by Julie Fowlis called ‘An Eala Bhàn (The White Swan)’.  In addition to being beautiful, this song was written by Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna (Donald MacDonald of Coruna), a Scottish-Gaelic poet from North Uist, whilst fighting in the battle of the Somme, in the trenches of the Great War, for his love, Mhagaidh Nic Leòid (Maggie MacLeod).  (http://youtu.be/6qWWgntTdO0)

I also really like this video as it has lyric subtitles in both Gàidhlig and English.

Julie Fowlis – An Eala Bhàn/The White Swan