Friday Two Cents: Honour Our Past To Understand Our Present

This year I decided to visit the Ottawa region for a mini vacation.  There I indulged in a few activities that always bring a smile to my face.  This vacation came out of a desire to recharge my batteries so to speak by doing something I truly love, learning more about my beautiful country Canada.  What better place than in our nation’s capital of Ottawa.  

There I visited a number of historical sites and museums but the one place or museum that always touches my heart is the Canadian War Museum.  I have been to the museum many times, both at the old and new locations.  Our country is known for its peace and openness of other cultures but we Canadians have a vast and honourable military history dating back to the First Nations and then later to the first European settlers. 

This year they had an extra exhibition of the Highland Warriors. We as Canadians share a common heritage with the United Kingdom, Scotland being one of them.  If you have read my blog you would know that I recently went on my second trip to Scotland where I enjoyed the people, culture, history and natural beauty Scotland has to offer.  This exhibit was a wonderful reminder of that trip and how close culturally Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Britain are to Canadians.  Many of our military and cultural traditions originated for this region and I have always believed that knowing where we come from helps us to understand who we are.  

As a teacher I find this subject matter a necessity for all students to learn. The museum is a treasure trove of information of our history and sacrifice by many who would see Canada grow and flourish.  However many would argue against teaching students about this part of our history, that we should not be “glorifying” war.  Many I talked to were adamant that we should not talk about the soldiers or the wars to students.  

Yet I say, “To truly understand our present we must first understand our past”; the good, bad and ugly sides.  I cannot tell you how many adults do not know or understand the current Canadian issues that we face today, started many years if not decades ago.  But they keep on complaining and in my opinion whining about these issues without knowing the history of them.  

One such person, in a class I once attended, would not stop arguing about this and kept saying it is a waste of time.  I argued the other side saying how important it was for us to remember and teach this subject.  She finally asked me straight to the point why was I so passionate about this.  Well I looked at her and rather simply said, “Because those men and women gave their life’s blood so that we would have the RIGHT to be free and to have this argument.”  I emphasised Right, we have the right to do what we want because they made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that our rights were preserved.  

Today people have the right to be who they are, what ever that may be. Those men and women fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure these rights.  The least I can do is remember them and help pass on their goal of a prosperous and free Canada.  

For … 

“To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”

In Flanders Fields Poem, By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

I for one will always take up the torch and hold it high.  The question is who will join me.  


Scotland Adventure: Day Three / Part 3

You would think after climbing Storr to see the “Old Man”, walking around Lealt Falls and viewing the massive cliffs of Kilt rock, that would be a pretty full day.  Yet because of our early start to this day it was around 1pm when we finished at Kilt Rock and discovered that we were a little hunger.  Therefore after a nice lunch at a local café we continued our journey to our final destination.  

We continued north to the very tip of the Isle of Skye.  The local village is called Duntulm, where we stopped at Duntulm sea viewpoint briefly to take in the view.  It was quite windy that day and the waves were rolling on to the beach below us.  On a nicer day we might have stopped closer to the beach but with the weather conditions we thought better.  However that did not stop us from enjoying the views and indulging in a few quirky poses with the help of the wind.  

We rounded the tip of the island and headed back south towards the town called Uig.  We arrived in town well enough but our final destination was off the main streets.  Actually we had to take a small country road about 2 kilometres into the countryside.  When I say country road I am still talking about a paved road but it was only one lane wide with passing lanes every few kilometres.  It was a tight fit driving at points but eventually we arrived at the mystical and very secluded Fairy Glen.  

Located on the west side of the Trotternish at Balnacnoc (the village or township in the hills), the Fairy Glen is a Quiraing / like a landslip in miniature compared to the rest of the area.  The rest of the Trotternish Ridge was created by a series of landslips. The Quiraing is the only part of the landslip that is still in motion.  The road at its base near Flodigarry has to be repaired every year because of the movement.  

The difficult part of the trip to the glen was that it was not clearly marked. I suppose they are trying and keep the area as natural as possible.  Yet once there a large natural formation sprang up out of the countryside. I thought the formation was what we had come to see but once we started climbing up a hill the truth of the area came into plain sight. 

Once you crest the hill to the right you see a larger hill with its basalt topping intact, which looks like an ancient ruin. Some have called it Castle Ewan for some mysterious reason though no one quite knows the story behind it.  Yet in front there is a small valley and in it is a formation of some spirals in the grass.  They are not a natural phenomenon but probably created my people to create some rituals in the glen.  Many would walk the spirals and then place a coin at the centre for the fairies.  Many have moved rocks to create other spirals but locals come to the area and try to keep the glen as natural as possible.  

There are many legends and stories about fairies on Skye especially relating to Dunvegan Castle and their “Fairy Flag”.  The Fairy Glen has no specific legend just that the location appears unusual and the nickname Fairy Glen was given.  Many have even gone into the cave at the base of Castle Ewan and placed coins between the rocks for good luck from the fairies.  Yet some believe that the fairies truly talk to them there. 

We were fortunate to have the enter glen to ourselves for about 45 minutes and I have to admit that there were times when I thought I could here voices on the wind.  Yet while I was there, I did feel something.  Maybe it was the fairies talking to me, but more than anything else, I felt that there was something magical about that place.  It felt like a special place that people have been coming to for hundreds of years, to maybe talk to the fairies or simply for self-reflection. I was in a place where nature reigned supreme and the noise and hustle and bustle of the modern world was nowhere to be found.  A place to simply listen to the wind, smell the fresh earth under my feet or to just look at the land all around.  If that isn’t enough of a reason to feel a deep spiritual connection to Mother Earth, then I don’t know what is.  

Scotland Adventure: Day Three / Part 2

Our assent on The Storr was a wonderful beginning for our first full day on the Isle of Skye, however that was only the start of a full filled day of adventures.  

Map of Northern Skye and our adventure

Once back in our car we continued north on the road with some beautiful landscapes to enjoy.  We had lush green fields to the left and a mouth-dropping seascape to the right.  It was a gorgeous day for a drive with the sun shining and whiffs of clouds dancing across the sky.  Our next stop would be the Lealt Falls.  Part of the Abhainn An Lethuillit (stream) that feeds into the ocean.  Yet as beautiful as the falls and the landscape were, there was a window into the past of Skye just at the mouth of the stream. There we saw the ruins of an old diatomite drying shed.  

Diatomite is a whitish, clay-like substance made up of microscopic shells or diatoms.  There are large deposits in the area, locally known as Cailc.  It was discovered around 1886 and has a wide range of industrial uses including; insulation for ships boilers, filtration for beer and in the production of paints and polishes.  Yet it was also used in the manufacturing of dynamite.  In 1899 the Skye Diatomite Company was founded and diatomite was extracted and transported by railroad to the ruins of the drying shed we saw below us. From here the diatomite was prepared and then shipped to customers as for as South Africa.  

I was also able to indulge in a little Canadian fun by creating an Inuksuk that I placed on top of the cliff.  With the mountains, green landscape and ocean near by it seemed like the perfect place to leave a little reminder that I was there.  

We continued north towards another natural formation on Skye, Creag an Fhèilidh or Kilt Rock.  Around 61 – 55 million years ago, massive volcanic activity was taking place all along the coast of Scotland.  During this period the Cuillin mountains were formed and the northern half of Skye was covered in a series of layers of molten rock about 1,200 meters thick. The pillars of rock were formed around this time as molten rock forced its way between the layers of Jurassic sandstone rock.  This is what gives kilt rock its pleats.  

These massive cliffs stretch on for kilometers and are an unforgettable landmark to anyone who’s sees them.  In fact this area is know as Staffin which comes from the old Norse word stafrfor pillars.  In the 10thcentury sea-faring people from Scandinavia settled in the area and kilt rock would have been a memorable landmark for any sea-going people.  Even today, Kilt rock, with its massive pillars, high cliffs and gorgeous waters falls that dot the landscape, is truly an unforgettable sight to behold.  

Scotland Adventure 2019: Day Three

The trip up to Portree on the Isle of Skye was quite a journey and I slept well that night.  It’s a good thing too because we had a fun filled day ahead of us.  We did so much that I cannot fit it all in this post but in the next few postings.  

Portree on the Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr

Our first destination of the day was a famous natural rock formation about 6.5 miles north of Portree.  It is called the “Old Man” of Storr, a large rock peak that stands high and separate from the mountain The Storr and part of the Trotternich ridge on Skye.   They say the formation was created by a massive landside that left the colossal rock creation behind.  It’s reportedly one of the most photographed landscapes on Skye if not the world.  

We arrived at the car park where we were lucky to get a good parking spot considering this is a well-known destination.  During the warm months in Scotland many of the mountains would be clear of snow, however because we are in early March the tops of many mountains are still snow covered.  Just my luck a Canadian goes on vacation and can easily find snow wherever I go.  Yet the landscape at the foot of the mountain was clear of snow with lush green scenery.  It was an enjoyable hike up but once we arrived at the snow line the footing got a little trickier.   We all had proper footwear and clothing of the elements but no matter how prepared you are, you still have to be respectful of Mother Nature.  

There was some water runoff and we had to be careful not to slip.  We kept going up and we were about 300 meters from the “Old Man”.  We passed a gate and began climbing a muddy/snowy path. My companions were ahead of me and I began going up, but then I slipped a bit and felt a sharp pain in my ache and said to myself “Ok that’s it.”  I broke both my aches long ago playing hockey and baseball and I did not enjoy both experiences.  The sharp pain was in the same areas and instead of pushing to the point where I would reinjure them I stopped and headed back to the gate area where I knew my companions would return for the climb back down.  

I know when to listen to my body when it says that’s enough, or it sends a sharp pain saying to slow down.  I was not disappointed because I stopped, I simply continued to breath in the clean crisp air and enjoyed the beautiful landscape all around me. My companions eventually returned and they had some wonderful close up images of the formation. 

We made our way back down, carefully, as we revelled in a wonderful experience.  To be honest I had never climbed a mountain before and even though this was more of a medium level of difficulty I did climb up more than half of it.  Our first experience on Skye was a great hit, but this would only be the beginning of a day full of wonderful experiences.   

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