Turning Blue Monday green: the physical and mental benefits of green exercise

With the festive season nearly over and Blue Monday fast approaching, University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Matthew Fraser provides insights into the physical and mental benefits of green exercise.

At this time of year it’s easy to slip into bad habits. From a dietary perspective, a lot of us over the festive period find ourselves eating things we normally wouldn’t consume. DrinksCombine this with the dropping temperatures, inclement weather and gyms closing for holidays and many of us will find ourselves conducting less physical activity and adopting poor lifestyle habits.

As a direct result of this, many us of set a New Year’s resolution designed to physically and mentally motivate us to take up positive habits. Despite this, statistics show that 80% will have quit this resolution by February. We fail to maintain our resolutions for many reasons, but typically creating unrealistic resolutions is the largest contributor to failure.

However, a new emerging form of physical activity is at the centre of exercise research and has been shown to not only increase motivation, but to offer supplementary mental and physical health benefits.

KayakSo what is this new form of exercise I hear you say? Well it’s not new. In fact it’s the oldest known form of exercise to man. It’s called outdoor exercise, newly termed ‘green exercise’. Areas to conduct green exercise are not exclusive to outdoor areas which are green. The research notes that local parks, mountains, hill trails, woodlands, beaches and public greenspaces are areas where benefits occur.

How can green exercise benefit us?

My current PhD research centres around green exercise. Being from a sporting background, I was surprised to discover the sheer amount of benefits that we unconsciously receive from conducting exercise in the presence of nature. I’m sure many of us by now have heard the exercise guidelines that recommend exercise for 150 minutes per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity.

While we all should aim to meet these targets, many of us find it challenging to begin conducting exercise. However, an interesting finding from the green exercise research found that, when walking at a self-selected intensity outdoors, participants actually exercise at a greater intensity whilst paradoxically perceiving the exercise as easier, compared to exercising indoors.

Most of the research into green exercise has tended to focus on mental health benefits. Mental health has become an increasingly large issue in modern society. Take ‘Blue Monday’. Blue Monday is the third Monday of January and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. So how can green exercise help improve our mental health? The figure below demonstrates just some of the mental health benefits of exercising in nature.


In terms of winter exercise, it has been shown that a 50 minute walk can improve focus and memory by 20%. GolfThis finding might be important for those of us who work or study in jobs where we are required to problem solve and concentrate for long periods of time. Whilst 50 minutes may seem like a long time to exercise, other studies have shown the greatest benefits to improving mood and self-esteem occur just after five minutes of green exercise.

Not only this, but the natural environment provides an area conducive for social interaction with friends, while also providing us with an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

How to set goals?

Many of us set goals for the New Year for various health reasons. When setting a New Year’s resolution we should make sure it follows the SMART goal setting framework:

  1. Specific
  2. Measureable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Time Measured

TimeSetting specific goals means instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to start exercising”, you would say “I’m going to go walking three time a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds”. By doing this you’re making your goals measureable. But remember, take small steps – taking on too much at once makes many quit through seeing no progress.

Most importantly, any goal you set should be attainable and realistic. For example, say “I’m going to go walking for 30 minutes, three times a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds in three weeks”.

Finally, by making your goals time measured, you can celebrate reaching milestones and thus keep increasing motivation to succeed with your goals.


Hopefully this article highlighted some of the benefits of conducting physical activity in nature. If you’d like to hear more about my research or even volunteer to participate in some of my research to witness for yourself the benefits of conducting outdoor exercise, I’d love to hear from you.Bike

Thanks and I wish you all a prosperous and successful New Year!

Twitter: @MattJamesFraser

Email: 08005183@uhi.ac.uk


For more information on the University of the Highlands and Islands health-related programmes and research, visit www.uhi.ac.uk


“This year will be different!” Top tips on setting and sticking to your New Year’s resolutions

Wendy Maltinsky, a health psychologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, shares advice on how to achieve your goals in 2018.

It’s New Year’s Day. Perhaps nursing a hangover, maybe with a bit less sleep than you may have liked, you spot the tattered sheet listing a set of New Year’s resolutions that you enthusiastically, but rashly made just before the bells.

On the sheet there are a lot of the old favourites that you have written from one year to the next, like taking up running, drinking more water and eating less chocolate.Gym But, added to that, this year there are ambitions such as Munro bagging (you’ve never managed anything higher than the two flights of stairs at the new Inverness College UHI campus and that’s only if you stop for a breather half way) and learning a musical instrument.

Hot tips for health behaviour change

New Year’s resolutions are difficult to keep because they are often overly ambitious, they don’t come with a clear plan of how to manage them and there are often too many things to change at one time. It’s good to try to make plans, but it’s also good to see yourself make progress. Making and breaking habits can be easier when we follow a few tips.

PlanWhat I want, what I really, really want

Changing something is much easier if you’ve thought about why it’s important to you. Consider your responses to these questions: 1. Write down three things that you think will be better once you have changed your behaviour.  2. On a scale of 0 – 10 how important is this change for you?  3. What would need to happen in your life for it to become more important for you to change your behaviour? What one thing can you do to make it easier for you to make this change?

Reducing the load – set a goal and make a plan

Cognitive load is the amount of thinking we have to do at any one time and it includes what you’re going to make for tea, all the things you need to do for work, plus all the little but important things that you need to remember on a daily basis. We tend to resort to habits because it reduces our cognitive load (take the elevator, flop on sofa after work, eat cake at coffee break) – we don’t need to think about it and also because there is a reward (less effort expended taking the elevator, relaxing after a hard day and CAKE!)

CaptureTo reduce the load, set a goal that includes precisely what you will do, a very specific time and maybe even a location. The goal should be difficult enough to feel a bit of a challenge, but not so difficult that you’ll find it too hard. This is an implementation intention and it links what you will do with a specific cue such as “at 5pm I will go for a one mile walk to the shop and back after work.” There are a few cues which will help to remind you.

Anticipate challenges

People who think ahead about the challenges that they may face and prepare for how to deal with them are much more likely to achieve their goals. For example, if you have decided you will go for a walk after work, but find that you are tired, it’s raining and your children need a lift to their piano lessons, your goal will quickly become extinguished. But, if you consider these challenges in advance, you could perhaps change your goal to walking at lunchtime when you have more energy and taking an umbrella if it rains.

The best rewards

People will tend to do what comes easiest to them and offers the best rewards. TomatoesChoosing between chocolate or crisps and an apple, for example, will seem easy when you are sitting working out your goals, but when faced with these things directly, when you are busy or stressed, you will choose the one with the best or most immediate reward.

To make it easier, consider giving yourself a couple of days off – “on Friday nights, I will reward myself by having crisps.” Also make your plan an asset based one – rather than denying yourself something, replace it with something else such as vegetables and dip instead of crisps.

Hung for a sheep as a lamb

Many of us suffer from feeling we have slipped up on our goals. Focus on the positives, remind yourself how well you are doing and that a small relapse can be valuable. Your way of thinking about these relapses can influence how quickly you will be able to return to your plans. When two groups of people were invited to eat cake, some were told it was very high in calories while the others were told it was low fat. Those who were told it was low fat were able to continue with their healthy eating goals, while those who believed they had eaten the high fat version gave up. If they had reviewed their thinking they may have been able to return to their plans.

Support and commitment

Things are always easiest when you can enlist support from a friend or family member. Enlist the help of a friend, but make sure you tell them what your goal is.  This has the added advantage of acting as a social commitment.


Monitoring what you are doing not only provides you with feedback, but can also give you a sense or reward. SaladIn addition, it acts as a reminder about what you did that worked well, so when things start to slip, you can have a look back.

But, make sure that the way you monitor is easy or you will suffer from diary fatigue. Use the numerous apps that are available for free. If you want to eat healthily, take pictures of everything you eat and review it at the end of the week or use a smaller plate and fill two thirds of it with vegetables.

Reward your achievements and permit slips and lapses

Don’t forget to reward yourself with your achievements and permit yourself lapses – we are only human!


Wendy Maltinsky is a health psychologist who teaches on the University of the Highlands and Islands psychology BSc (Hons) degree and works as a health psychologist and research fellow at the University of Stirling. Psychology cohort graduation, September 2015 She has been involved in delivering health behaviour change training to health practitioners throughout Scotland for both her current role as well as for the NHS previously.

She has worked in Uganda alongside the Royal College of Midwives and the Uganda Private Midwives Association supporting the health partnership to have enduring behavioural change outcomes. She is shortly due to travel to Ethiopia on a United Nations sponsored project in Nutrition where she will be working with community health extension workers.

For further information about behaviour change or about any of the projects Wendy is involved in, please contact her at wendy.maltinsky.ic@uhi.ac.uk

For more information about the University of the Highlands and Islands psychology BSc (Hons), visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/courses/bsc-hons-psychology

An insight into Archaeoacoustics

Nick Green, sector manager for audio engineering and theatre arts at Perth College UHI, recently attended the Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference in Portugal. Nick provides an insight into the emerging discipline of archaeoacoustics and discusses his experience at the event.

The field of Archaeoacoustics

Archaeoacoustics is a multidisciplinary practice requiring the knowledge of anthropologists and archaeologists, architects, acousticians, audio engineers and sound designers, historians and musicologists. As a sound designer and audio engineer, I came to archaeoacoustics through acoustic ecology (the study of the relationship between human beings and their environment, mediated through sound) and through conversations with archaeologists.

Anthropologist Dr Ezra Zubrow states in ‘Archaeoacosutics; The Archaeology of Sound’: “Indeed, many of its practitioners do not even realize that it is a field, albeit a very immature field. Nor do they think of themselves as archaeoacousticians. Rather they consider themselves to be sound engineers, architects, musical historians, ethnomusicologits and practicing musicians to name a few.”

My research is primarily concerned with the recording, analysis and archiving of impulse responses recorded in heritage and archaeological sites. Generally this requires man made or naturally occurring spaces used by our ancestors, such as caves.

Field recording in Court Cave Wemyss Bay
Nick Green recording in Court Cave at Wemyss Bay

An impulse response is the introduction of a relatively short broadband sound such as a controlled explosion. They can be generated successfully by bursting a balloon, firing a starter’s pistol or amplifying a short burst of random noise (white noise) through a loudspeaker system and recording the results.

Author of ‘Digital Signal Processing: An Introduction’ Tae Hong Park describes an impulse response as “agitating a system”. In this case the agitation is the introduction of the impulse, the short broadband sound; the system is the acoustic space, a room, a hall, a cave or even within the standing stones of an ancient Neolithic stone circle.

Once the recorded files are digitally processed and edited, they can be played back in a digital audio workstation and used to recreate the reverberation characteristics of the space in which they were recorded.

The field of achcaeoacoustics spawned from considerations around how and why our ancestors may have used spaces for their reverberant and resonant qualities. Sound designers and musicologists may imagine the soundscape of our ancestors and create compositions inspired by these spaces and places.

Excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

A current and very exciting archaeological dig taking place at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney, is further expanding the number of Neolithic sites on the island archipelago. The site has given up evidence that it may have been a ritualistic site which was sometimes used for the mass slaughter and feasting on of large numbers of cattle. To a sound designer this paints an audio image that would be worthy of composition. There are so many potential angles to archaeoacoustics; it is the acoustic analysis of archaeology. Archaeoacoustics can give a ‘voice’ or soundtrack to our past.

To quote Kate Douglas of the New Scientist Magazine: “How do you listen to the past? Obviously there are no recordings from ancient times, so you need to think laterally. Luckily, the nascent field of archaeoacoustics is not short of creative thinkers… Not just that, they can create an acoustic fingerprint of a cave using a “sine sweep” – effectively recording the response of the space to a series of scans emitting a rainbow of all audible frequencies.”

The Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference

Nick Green at Tomar, Portugal

Having recently returned from the Third International Archaeoacoustics conference and paper presentation in Tomar, Portugal, I believe the field of archaeoacoustics is in rude health, but never so more scrutinised by its practitioners from within. Having begun so enthusiastically, it has now reached a stage of critical self-reflection, with many of its practitioners questioning the direction and way forward for this relatively new field of research. Indeed, the next logical progression would seem to be the formation of an International Society – the International Society for Archaeoacoustic Research?

I have decided as a field impulse response recordist that a study of field recording methodologies and techniques in archaeoacoustic research need to be explored further. There are enough researchers in the field across the globe engaged in audio field recording in heritage sites to justify a study to discover a mean approach which may lead to a standardised methodology. However, with exponential advances in digital technology, this needs approached with caution although risks and experimentation need to be made room for and encouraged. However digital technologies can help bring our archaeology and our imaginations alive, to paraphrase Dragos Gheorhiu; ‘digital and virtual reality technologies are the new shamanism – it can transport us’.

Nick Green with Prof Chris Scarre

The conference itself was a truly amazing experience. It included field trips and presentations by in the field archaeologists, museum curators and academics. We were also treated to a surprise visit by Professor Chris Scarre, co-editor of the first archaeoacoustics conference proceedings at Cambridge University in 2003, who coined the term ‘archaeoacoustics’. There was art inspired by culture, heritage and sound design and performances both impromptu and organised.

The programme of speakers featured long established researchers in the field and many new and younger researchers. The youngest presenter was Keith Harvey (22), a first class Honours graduate of Perth College UHI. I was delighted to see how encouraging the established voices in archaeoacoustics were and nurturing in their advice and help towards Keith and others. It bodes well for the future.

Archaeoacoustics in Scotland

The Scots were well represented at the event with myself, Keith Harvey and PhD archaeologist Michelle Walker all representing the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Keith spoke about his project which examined the acoustic properties from most of the cathedrals on mainland UK – an extensive undertaking. Michelle presented her PhD study on audio phenomena in Sculptors Cave on the Moray Firth. The cave was used by our Bronze Age and Pictish ancestors, with Bronze Age people using it as a burial site.

Carving at Maeshowe, Orkney

Our presentations inspired many of the delegates we spoke to express an interest for the next international archaeoacoustics conference to be held in Scotland. We certainly have a wealth of sites to explore. Professor Jane Downes from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has suggested the conference could be hosted in Orkney where visits to the archaeological sites of Brodgar, Maes Howe, Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles could be arranged.

As part of my own work, I have conducted recordings at Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven, St. Andrews Castle and the Sacristy of Arbroath Abbey, a space well known for its impressive reverb.

On the topic of reservation, it’s interesting to note that the longest reverb time ever recorded (as evidenced by Guinness World Records) happens to be at a de-commissioned WWII fuel dump built into the side of a Scottish mountain in the Highlands. This does not mean it is the longest reverb time, it’s just that Trevor Cox of Salford University happened to record it using a starter’s pistol firing as the impulse response. It is a staggering one minute and twelve seconds in length, the average living room is less than a second! The previous world record was also measured in a space in Scotland at Hamilton Mausoleum.

It’s great to see the field of archaeoacoustics continuing to develop and that Scotland, with a range of acoustically interesting sites and an ever growing number of practitioners, can consider itself to be an important part of this evolving discipline.

Nick Green, Sector Manager for Audio Engineering and Theatre Arts, Perth College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands



Troubled waters? Could pink salmon pose a risk to Scotland’s native salmon?

Following the discovery of non-native humpback salmon in the River Ness and in other rivers on Scotland’s east coast, Professor Eric Verspoor, Director of the Rivers and Loch Institute, explains how the species came to Scotland and highlights implications for Scotland’s native salmon populations.

The River Ness

The “humpback” salmon being caught in some of Scotland’s east coast rivers in the last few days are probably what are more commonly known as pink salmon and scientifically referred to as Oncorhynchus gorbuscha. They are most likely strayers from naturalised populations in the Russian Kola Peninsula and White Sea regions to the north of Scotland. These populations established from the stocking of millions of eggs from Pacific Ocean rivers in eastern Russia in the mid-1950s. They may also come from rivers in adjacent northern Norway where small populations have become established by natural straying. The species is native to rivers on both sides of the Pacific Ocean in temperate and sub-arctic areas and has also been found to stray into adjacent parts of the arctic. The species has also been introduced into the Great Lakes of North America where a number of self-sustaining populations have been established and now flourish. However, that they are pink salmon needs to be confirmed and this is something we are currently looking at using DNA analysis.


If it is confirmed, this suggests that the species, like some other salmonid species (e.g. brown and rainbow trout) has the ability to adapt successfully to new environments when transplanted outside its native range and to expand to adjacent areas. It clearly has a solid foothold in the Kola-White Sea region of Russia where it has historically sustained a small local fishery. Thus the presence of multiple individuals in Scottish rivers gives rise to the concern that these strayers may eventually be able to establish self-sustaining populations in Scotland as well.

What the implications might be for the native Atlantic salmon is far from clear as the two species are not naturally found together, but exotic species seldom establish themselves without some impact on local species and biodiversity. It might be argued by some that another salmon species might be desirable in Scotland’s rivers. However, the potential for negative impacts on native species and the fact that they are the least desirable of the Pacific salmon from an angling and commercial fishery perspective suggests there are unlikely to be any positives from their doing so.

The fact that they are running up Scottish rivers is worrying as that suggests a spawning intention – the species normally spawns from July to October across its native range. Furthermore, the numbers of pink salmon caught in UK rivers appears to be on the increase over the last decade. What would be interesting to know is whether the fish caught encompass males and females, and whether they are reproductively mature or not. It is a situation which should be closely monitored in respect of the threat it poses to Scotland’s native salmon, given the latter’s great socio-economic value and biological uniqueness.

Professor Eric Verspoor

Director of the Rivers and Lochs Institute at Inverness College UHI

University of the Highlands and Islands


Scotland’s Salmon Festival 2017 takes place from Tuesday 29 August to Saturday 2 September. Organised by Inverness College UHI with support from a range of partner organisations, the event includes lectures, workshops, casting tournaments and a family fair. For more information visit http://scotlandsalmonfestival.org

Unheard Voices, Unseen Communities: Perspectives on Polish ethnicity in Scotland

The ‘Unheard Voices, Unseen Communities: Perspectives on Polish Ethnicity in Scotland’ workshop was held in Inverness on Friday 23 June 2017. Organised by the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for History, the event brought together politicians, academics, social workers and community activists to discuss issues affecting Polish communities in Scotland. Dr David Worthington, Head of the Centre for History, reflects on the workshop: 

Dr David Worthington

When a participant in an academic event describes having had an “amazing time” and it having been “one of the most interesting days in my life”, it highlights the potential of our universities to have a positive influence on the world beyond the walls of the offices or lecture rooms where we spend much of our working lives.

The ‘Unheard Voices, Unseen Communities: Perspectives on Polish Ethnicity in Scotland’ workshop took place one year to the day after the UK referendum on Brexit. It aimed to encourage frank, critical, open discussion about the impact of that vote on Poles and other EU citizens here, as well as broader reflection on the past, present and future of ‘Polishness’ across Scotland. It sought to position these debates, for the first time, within the Highlands and Islands.

Researchers, community activists and politicians (including two MSPs and the Polish Consul-General to Scotland, Dariusz Adler) presented on the already-visible effects of the 2016 referendum, on historical convergences and divergences between Scotland and Poland, and on other pertinent, pressing themes and issues such as language and mental health.

Photo courtesy of Marcin Kufka

Several of the thirty-three speakers and non-speaking attendees provided insightful critical evaluations of the event. Maree Todd MSP, co-convenor of the Cross Party Group on Poland at the Scottish Parliament, who presented in Panel One, wrote:

“It was quite an emotional day – particularly when we were hearing from people whose families had fought with the UK in the second world war and stayed here afterwards. They have faced many challenges over the decades – not least being separated from family by the iron curtain – and now face uncertain times again because of Brexit. There was plenty for me to empathise with.

“As a typical Highlander, my family has plenty of stories of migration and feeling worried about using Gaelic outside the home! It was particularly lovely to be able to go along to an event like this at a University in the Highlands – a University which might never have come into existence without EU membership.”

Krystyna Szumelukowa, a former town planner with considerable experience of working on projects related to the UK’s links with Poland, “took great encouragement from the positive actions being taken to confront the challenges facing the Polish community in Scotland.” Jenny Robertson, author and poet, considered that “at this time of huge indecision” the workshop “brought both realism and encouragement.” For Antony Kozłowski, a leading figure in the Polish community in Scotland, it was “an uplifting and inspiring event.”

Other topics discussed at the one-day conference included the portrayal of Poles in TV dramas, suicide and use of English among Poles in Scotland, while one afternoon panel focused on current research and potential heritage possibilities relating to Scots who migrated to Poland in earlier centuries.

On balance, most agreed that there is scope to build on this foundation, to bring the same group together again, to seek to do something much larger, and/or to look at other cases in addition to the Polish one with the aim of influencing public and curatorial policy. One speaker considered it a “credit to the University of the Highlands and Islands to be at the forefront of debate and research” on the themes in question. With Brexit already having a psychological impact on Scotland’s EU migrant communities, the macro-political situation looks likely to frame and influence this future activity.

I am very grateful to our society, identity, landscape and knowledge and our humanities and arts research clusters for providing financial support for what was an important and timely event.

Dr David Worthington

Gillean Chullaig – Tachartasan cullaig tradiseanta an Uibhist

Tha Oifigear Gàidhlig Oilthigh na Gàidhealtachd agus nan Eilean, DJ Mac an t-Saoir, a toirt tuairisgeul air na bha e òg agus a gabhail pàirt ann tachartas traidiseanta Chullaig ann an Uibhist a Deas.  

“Tha cuimhne agam fhathast am t-uisge a cur na sùilean asam agus a ghaoth fhuar a fàgail mu chluasan goirt. Ge-ta cha robh sin a cur dragh orm. Carson? Uill se seo oidhche Chullaig no oidhche Challain agus bha ballaich a bhaile gu traidiseanta a dol bho taigh gu taigh air an oidhche sònraichte seo. Dè a tha air cùlaibh seo? Tha gu leòr a gràdh gu tàinig seo bho na Lochlannaich a bha co dhiù sna h-eileanan siar sna linntean a dh`fhalbh. Bha mise coma co dhiù agus mi air mu dhòigh.

dj-macintyreSeo rud a tha air a bhi tachairt an Uibhist agus gu leòr àiteachan eile tro na linntean. Bha atharraichean ann bho sgìre gu sgìre. Air oidhche Chullaig s e na ballaich a mhàin a bha dol a mach sna bailtean. Bitheadh cead aca a dhol a mach còmhla ris na ballaich nas motha bho aois 5 bliadhna, bha na ballaich a bu shìne suas gu 17 a dh`aois.

Bha na ballaich a tachairt aig aon cheann do bhaile agus a dol bho taigh gu taigh. Bhitheadh ceas cluasag no poca aig gach fear agus bha sin gu lìonadh le rudan bho taigh gu taigh. Na bha na balaich a dol bho taigh gu taigh bha iad ag èibheach,” Air Chullaig agus air Challaig Hooray”. Chluinneadh muinntir a bhaile seo co dhiù air oidhche ciùin.

As dèidh a dhol suas gu doras taighe bha aig balach duan na callain a ghabhail. Aig deireadh na duan bha na Gillean Cullaig a faighneachd airson feuchadh a dhol a bhroinn a taighe. Bha cleachdadh ann an uairsin a bhi cur coinneal laiste mun cuairt a h-uile daoine a bha fuireach sa taigh agus bha aca a chhoinneal laiste a chur mun cuairt a cinn tri tursan. S e am balach a bu shinne a bha cur na coinneal mun cuairt. Bha eagal air daoine na bha iad leis a seo gu tigeadh a chhoinneal as oir bha iad a creidsinn gu bitheadh bliadhna droch-fhortan aca. Bitheadh fir nas sinne le fella-dha agus a feuchainn a chhoinneal a chur as!

Whisky tasting by the fire

Nuair a bha a chhoinneal air a dhol mun cuairt bha bean an taighe an uairsin a dol mun cuairt agus a cur lofa, siùcar, measan, briosgaidean agus suiteas sna pocanan. Uairean bheireadh iad seachad feòil mairt no iasg. Gu math tric bha fear an taighe a toirt seachad airgead agus fir nas sinne san dachaidh cuideachd a toirt seachad not no dha. Bha seann bhodaich a tabhann drama bheag do na balaich bu mhotha ach bha sinn a diùltadh sin!

Na bha na Gillean Cullaig a fàgail, chuireadh am balach a bu shinne beannachadh air teaghlach a taighe airson deagh bhliadhna ùr.

Bha a dol bho taigh gu taigh a ciallachadh gu robh na pocanan gu math làn agus na ruigeadh sinn a taigh mu dheireadh sann a sin a bha sinn a riarachadh na bha againn sna pocanan. Bha na balaich air fad a faighinn riarachadh co-ionnan. Cha robh e gu diofar dè an aois a bha thu. Chuireadh a neach-aoigheachd partaidh air dòigh agus bha seo a dol suas gu meadhan oidhche ach bha aig na Gillean a bhi as an dachaidh fhèin ron uair sin.

Air an rathad dhachaidh cha robh an dìle bhàite no fuachd a cur dragh sam bith orm agus mu phoca làn, mu bhrù làn agus airgead na phòcaid.”

Ceanglaichean ri seachadas nan Lochlannach

Orkney September 2015 photoshoot

Bha an t-Oll Ragnhild Ljosland, òraidiche aig an Ionad airson Rannsachadh Lochlannach an Arcaibh, ag ràdh gu robh ceangal ann eadar na Gillean Cullaig agus an cultar Lochlannach. Mhìnich i:

‘Na bha mi òg ann an Nirribhidh sna h-ochdadan, tha cuimhne agam a bhith gam sgeadachadh fhìn airson “gå julebukk” (go Yule-goating).

‘An àm a bhith ri julebukk bha agad ri aodann-fuadain a chur ort agus dol gu dorsan dhaoine airson an Nollaig a ruagadh a-mach aig àm na Bliadhna Ùire. Bhitheadh agad ri seinn agus poca agad airson cèiceannan agus suiteas. An gàirdeachas às dèidh poca làn rudan matha fhaighinn!

‘Ma thig sinn air ais na linntean, bhiodh daoine ann an Nirribhidh a’ dol mun cuairt nan tuathanasan sa pharaiste agus iad sgeadaichte airson agus nach aithnicheadh duine sam bith iad. Bhiodh iad sgeadaichte ann an dòigh a bha eagalach agus a bha a’ riochdachadh beathaichean fantasach, mar cheann boc-gobhair air maide. Bhiodh biadh agus deoch air an tairgsinn do na gìsearan aig gach tuathanas.

uphelly‘Tha na cur-seachadan seo anabarrach aosta, a’ dol air ais gu creideamhan ro-Chrìosdail. A rèir beul-aithris bha bithean os-nàdarra na bu bheothaile aig an àm seo sa bhliadhna. Rud as inntinneach, tha cur-seachadan coltach ri seo air sgeul ann an Innis Tile, Eileanan Faro, Sealtainn agus Arcaibh. Mar eisimpleir ann an Sealtainn bidh gìsearan a’ siubhal mun cuairt agus biadh agus deoch air an tairgsinn dhaibh aig àm Up Helly Aa san Fhaoilleach.’

The Hogmanay Boys – Hogmanay traditions in the Uists

University of the Highlands and Islands Gaelic Officer, DJ MacIntyre, describes taking part in a Hogmanay tradition as a child on the island of South Uist.

“I remember to this day the feeling of freezing rain blinding me and the extreme cold wind causing my ears to hurt. However, that did not bother me at this time. What was the occasion? Well, this was Hogmanay and the boys of the township were carrying out the traditional ritual of going from house to house on this special evening. What is the tradition behind it? It is widely thought that some of these island traditions came from the Vikings who were settlers in the Western Isles in particular, during past times. To be honest, that did not matter to me. I was out and about having fun.

This traditional event which happened in the Uists throughout the centuries, was also practised in many other places, but with differences in format depending on where you lived.

On these nights it was the young males that went round the township with permission given to boys as young as 5 to go out with the big boys. The upper age limit was normally 17.

dj-macintyreMy township was North Boisdale and I would say there were about 25 houses to visit and a few not so friendly dogs to dodge! The start time was 7pm and all the boys would meet up at one end of the township and begin to visit each house on route. Each person had a pillow case or bag that would be filled with goodies received from householders. As you walked between each house the boys would shout in Gaelic “Hogmanay and New Year Hooray”. This alerted the folk, especially on a clear calm night, that the Hogmanay boys were on their way.

Outside each house one person would recite the Hogmanay poem and at the end of the poem ask the man of the house for permission to enter. Once inside the house a candle would be lit by the senior/eldest boy in the group and then the candle would be passed round all family members starting with the householder. There was superstition involved with this as it was thought that when the candle was being circled above each individual’s head, if the candle was to go out it meant that individual would have a year of bad luck. Of course jokers within the family would try and blow the candle out when this was taking place!

Whisky tasting by the fireOnce every member of the family had been passed the candle, the mother of the house would bring out the gifts. Loafs of bread, sugar, fruit, biscuits and of course sweets. Sometimes folk would offer meat or fish. The man of the house would give money as would older males in the family. Older men in the township would offer a dram to the senior boys, which would of course be refused.

On leaving each house the oldest boy in the group would wish luck on the family for the coming year.

After being to each house the pillowcases would be full and heavy and it was at the last house that the fun began. The pillowcases would be emptied and the goods shared out evenly. It did not matter how old you were the boys all got their share. The hosting house would also provide a small party that would finish before midnight so all the boys were home before the bells.

On the way home the blinding rain or freezing conditions did not bother me as I now had a pillowcase full of goodies, a full belly, and money in my pocket. A great start to the New Year!”

Links with Norse tradition

Orkney September 2015 photoshootDr Ragnhild Ljosland, a lecturer at Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney, confirms the Hogmanay Boys tradition has connections to Norse culture. She explains:

“As a child in Norway in the 1980s, I remember dressing up to “gå julebukk” (go Yule-goating). Julebukk involves putting on a mask and going to people’s doors to chase Christmas out around New Year. You sing and carry a sack to collect cakes and sweeties – ah, the joy of ending up with a huge sack of goodies!

“If we go a couple of hundred years further back in time, Norwegian people used to walk in a group around the farms in the parish, dressed up so that nobody would recognise them. These costumes could be rather frightening and represent fantastical animals, such as an effigy of a billygoat’s head on a stick. The guisers would be offered food and drink at each farm.

uphelly“These customs are extremely old, going back to pre-Christian beliefs. Folk belief had it that supernatural beings were extra active at this time of year. Interestingly, similar traditions are also found in Iceland, the Faroes, Shetland and Orkney. In Shetland today, for example, guisers travel around and are offered food and drink at Up Helly Aa in January.”