Quernstone

Last week the theme was Harvest a follow on from the Toradh/Harvest Festival across Uist and Benbecula. First there was the quernstone milling event at Taigh Chearsabhagh where we all took turns to hand mill grain along to Linda Macleod’s beautiful singing of ‘Cronan Brathann’, an òran-bràthann/quern song. The lovely chorus ‘Hi hòi leagan’ has been spinning in my head ever since. During the evening I chatted with visitors to the event and started gathering ideas for a Harvest theme session at the Care Homes.

Clachan – bràth/ quernstone, saddle stone

Margaret Joan and I were leading the children’s Saturday Art club at Taigh Chearsabhagh and all the children were in agreement that the quernstone was harder work but more productive than the saddle stone.

The meditative spinning of the quernstone carried through to Trianaid where one lady was mesmerized and kept playing the video of the quernstone spinning on repeat. It has a very soothing and calming effect especially along with Linda’s singing.

Eòrna/Barley, Coirce Beag/Dwarf Oats and Seagal/Rye

I had taken a grain hand mill along with me to the Care Home and everyone took a turn of milling including all the carers. We all sang along or hummed as best we could to the milling song, some people milling in time and others just trying to mill as fast as possible for the amusement of the group! It definitely took out the competitive side in everyone! There were plenty whoops and cheers and claps.

Sitting around in the group people started to share stories, one man came out with his own version of Katie Bairdie;

Katie Mary had a coo

Black and White aboot the mou

When the coo began to moo

Dance Katie Mary

This sparked off another saying;

The whistle of a woman

The crow of a hen

Will surely take the devil

Out of his den

All the ladies in the room objected saying it wasn’t feminist but this was balanced out by stories that; ‘There was a woman in Heisgeir who smoked a pipe and would chew and spit the tobacco, she even inhaled the smoke’. A true independent lady who clearly paved the way for the next generations!

Home-made Harvest/Christmas Decorations:

 We used to use the wrappers of sweets so they were all different colours. We would save the sweetie wrappers and then flatten them out and wrap them around the oats. We would keep them as Christmas decorations. They are very beautiful.

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Clachan Speal (scythe sharpening stones)

Clach gorm (blue stone)

Clach bhàn (red stone)

 Yes we had them, of course, I’ve still got them at home.

First you use the clach gorm, then the clach bhàn.

Surprisingly heavy.

I remember those we called them ‘whetstones’ from when I used to make cars.

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What could we make with the grained mill…

We would make brose – you would bake it in the oven. It takes a while though it would really just be when you had the time.

Oatcakes?

Bread?

Let’s make some whisky!

Mills

There was a mill in Grimsay – well there must have been because the name of the loch is ‘Loch a Mhuillinn’ and then the stream is Alt A’Mhuillin.

There was one in Benbecula too, I don’t know when that closed down but it’s beautiful around there.

And at Howmore

And Gearran Mill.

And some sea stories…

 I once heard it said that all the rats on Uist could be traced back to the shipwreck on Baleshare the James A Wright. They came off that ship.

There was a man that was drowned and he haunted Heisgeir – we would come back as a ghost in full highland dress. Yes my Uncle saw him.

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