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A Sassenach's Stravaig
Friday, 12 June 2009 -- Ayr speed records, and other mitherings


At nae more than 60, mindI mentioned some weeks ago how little Ayrshire seems to spend on keeping its roads in good condition. What the authorities there do spend money on is speed cameras. One local road, the A77, has a 29-mile stretch overseen by the SPECS System. It has been described as the longest speed trap in Britain. The system cost nearly 800,000 to install.

The usual ranters criticize the use of these cameras by pointing out the low income from speeding fines since the system was installed. That's like complaining that vaccines have been a waste of money because there are now so few cases of the disease they've prevented. It's Daily Mail-style 'logic'.

From what I saw while staying in Ayrshire, the existence of these cameras is a strong deterrent to speeding. Compared with, say, Cheshire, there are far fewer vehicles whizzing by at lunatic velocities and much less tailgating.

Ayrshire's cameras are probably also helpful in reducing the number of accidents, although trustworthy statistics on this are hard to come by. The maker of SPECS (no, not Specsavers) quotes a 49% reduction in deaths and serious injuries since their installation. It implies that the cameras are the only or main cause of this fall. Without knowing the trends on similar roads without them, one cannot rightly say.

All the same, the human and financial cost of accidents is high. The Department of Transport estimates the cost of a death on British roads at 1.5 million and for a serious injury at 167,360. (I love the lopsidedness of the precision in the latter figure.)

On that basis, the Ayrshire system has to prevent just one death that would have occurred otherwise and it will have more than paid for itself, fiscally and morally. It's probably achieved at least that, so I'm in favour of it.

Don't think I'm being holier than thou here. I often speed and always have done so but not in towns or other slow zones. (They're keen on 20 mph limits in Scotland, by the way, especially near schools.) My view is that, if you get caught, it's your hard luck or the result of inattentiveness. Just cough up the fine or attend the class and don't whine.

Mind you, some of the roads in Ayrshire are so rough they are their own speed limiter.

It's someone else's fault

I mentioned ranters above. In The Scotsman a year ago, a director of a so-called think tank said this about urban average-speed cameras: "They will turn drivers into speedo-focused cruise missiles, watching the clock permanently rather than watching the road" That's thinking? You could say the same about the presence of speed limit signs.

Elsewhere, a different buffoon said that he and other drivers now leave the A77 where a new, 50 mph limit starts and instead "divert" through adjacent country roads and villages where they can drive faster. His argument was that any increase in accidents on these roads would therefore be the highway authorities' fault. That's the kind of excuse terrorists put forward for killing hostages.

The way people like this prate about their freedoms, you'd think the right to drive at high speed was enshrined somewhere in an annexe to Magna Carta.

I used to own an old Range Rover and belonged to a couple of on-line forums about them. It was both amusing and worrying to see the ferocity of the responses if someone in the press should mention how dangerous bull-bars are. Down would come the red mist, out would go reason and away would go all sense of proportion.

From this, a visiting Martian would also deduce that it's clearly a Briton's right to mow down and potentially kill other people who dare get in his way. Why not mount some machine guns on the bull-bars? That would clear a path.

Watching my language

When I was on Skye, I stayed at the Kinloch Campsite in Dunvegan, in the north west of the island. It's next to Loch Dunvegan, and just a mile or so from an archetypal baronial castle, Castle Dunvegan, ancestral home of the Clan Macleod.

Getting the hint about name of the place yet? It means either Beagan's fort (dunno who he was) or the fort or hill of the few (dunno who they were). In Gaelic, it's rendered Dn Bheagain. The name's pronounced something like 'doonvaygan' and has nothing to do with brown vegetarians.

Gidhlig or Gaelic -- pronounced 'gal-ick' (but it's 'gaylick' dancing, coffee, etc.) -- is mostly found in the northwest of Scotland but fewer than half the people on Skye speak it, even though there's a national college of Gaelic at the other end of the island.

The Outer Hebrides (Skye is Inner) has proportionately more speakers, Gaelic being the official first language of the Council of the Western Isles. All told, only about 60,000 people in Scotland speak the language.

So good they named it twiceThere are many incomers on Skye -- I kept meeting English shopkeepers, for instance -- and I doubt that many of them bother learning Gaelic. The observant among them might pick up a smattering from the bilingual road signs erected throughout the Highlands in recent years. (The one pictured wouldn't be be much help, though! Filte -- 'fawl-sha' -- means welcome.)

Speaking Gaelic is tough going for southerners. It involves a lot of throat clearing and r's trilling (they can't touch you for it), neither of which feature in 'Oxford' English. Some weeks ago, on the mainland, I went into a tourist information office to ask about Acharacle, which has some interesting oak woodland nearby. I soon found out that I should have gargled at the same time to get anywhere near the right sound.

Spelling seems chaotic, possibly because there are only 18 letters, 13 of them consonants. Who would guess that Stob Coire Sgreamhach, a peak in Glencoe, is pronounced 'stob corry screevach'. It means peak of the dreadful or fearful corrie. The literal meaning of 'coire' is cauldron or kettle.

Gaelic is not the same as Scots, although it has naturally influenced it. Scots is a Germanic language that developed from a Northumbrian dialect of Middle English, the language of Geoffrey Chaucer. (What is now Cumbria was once ruled from Scotland but by Anglo-Normans.) Robert Burns wrote in a version of Scots he called Lallans, i.e. Lowlands.

Collins publish a small dictionary of the Scots language under their handy Gem imprint. "In colour," it says on the front, so I looked up 'tartan'. Like everything else, it was defined in black and white.

That's as much linguistic blethers (nonsense) as I'll inflict on you for now but for a couple of small items. The specific name of this blog is, of course, Roger's Rambles, but a Scot might describe it as a Sassenach's stravaig. To stravaig is to wander or roam aimlessly.

Sassenach means lowlander but is often applied solely to the English. Originally, it meant Saxon and is thus akin to the Welsh word, Sais ('seiss'). Gaelic and Welsh are both Celtic ('keltic') languages, of course, as are Manx, Cornish, Breton and Irish. The Scots are alleged to have emigrated from Ireland about 1,500 years ago, displacing the resident Picts, but the truth is obscured.

England has relatively few Celtic place names left; most places carry names bestowed by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Normans. One that remains is Penge. Who'd a' thought it?

Doggy style

When did Alsatian dogs become transmuted into "German Shepherds"? Despite its ambivalent history, Alsace is still in France, so far as I know. And why don't people at least say German Sheepdogs? German shepherds are bipeds answering to "Franz" or "Otto".

By that logic, Dulux paint would be advertised by Old English Shepherds. "'Oy foind it goes on a treat', says Jethro."


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