Combining learning from history, the rich and descriptive Scottish gaelic and the place based skills with a forward thinking, sustainable approach which makes the best use of new technology and scientific knowledge (power from renewables, composting toilets and the like) seamlessly combines the ultra modern with the ancient.
“The Shieling Project is an off-grid learning centre based in Glen Strathfarrar, near Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland. The project is all about outdoor living – from looking after our livestock to making real buildings, from weaving baskets to making burgers from the meat we have raised here.
The tradition of the Shieling where folk lived outdoors all summer herding the cattle, gives us a window onto the past, but also helps us look towards a sustainable future.”
The Shieling Project Website
It is also now the home of Summerlings outdoor nursery, and never one to miss an opportunity for a skills share (tea with like minded folk in a beautiful place) I petitioned my boss to organise a visit. This was easier than I’d first imagined as he was already in contact with the project due to the existing nursery and Gaelic links.
I am a total living history nerd, whilst much can be learned from books and the ‘telling’ of history, to be able to physically step back in time and see, hear, smell and experience the world as our ancestors did has such a profound effect.
Much has been lost in the pursuit of progress. I’m not suggesting that all change is bad or that I’d prefer we were still setting dye with urine and living in a world without penicillin, but living in a way that is in harmony with nature and as part of a community, with knowledge and skills built from generations of people observing the natural world and our place in it, well that is a sad loss indeed.
I come from a place of industrial revolution. ‘Black by day and red by night’ is how my ‘homeland’ was described, as they built over farms and land to build factories for glass and iron or steel and ‘brummigen’ (little metal things). This is my heritage and it has left its mark on the people, on our work ethic and the insatiable need for the new, for progress.
But I have seen 1st hand the fragility of it, how when the resources ran out or progress moved on to ‘cheaper’ pastures, it left subsequent generations of people (born from the flood of people to cities for work) without the opportunities of their fore fathers. Some adaptable people took roles in the business or service industries, retail and later tourism, as the bright twinkling lights of Britain’s second city attracted others to come spend their money. We evolved, because the way things were was not sustainable. Those who could not evolve were left behind. There are still a great many ‘left behind’ people. The fear of becoming left behind is a constant companion.
How sustainable is the current model? Well that is to look at the capitalist western society in which we live…I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that; build me a campfire, put a chipped mug of cider in my hand at about 1am and you’ll get my opinion but until then…
Back to the Shieling Project! As an immigrant to these wild Scottish lands I am obviously FACINATED by the history, the stories of Stoorworm and Selkies, the folk traditions and the Ceilidh (kay-lee). I am also heartened to see that the consideration for the sustainable is a key consideration of their evolution. Combining learning from history, the rich and descriptive Scottish gaelic and the place based skills with a forward thinking, sustainable approach which makes the best use of new technology and scientific knowledge (power from renewables, composting toilets and the like) seamlessly combines the ultra modern with the ancient.
For the children I work with this is their heritage. Basket weaving in 2017 might seem like a ‘nice craft activity’ rather than the necessity of rural living it once was. However as with forest school the end product is not the goal. When we started mass production of things it was to ‘get to the goal faster’, make more profit, be most efficient. We lost individuality and craftsmanship, we saved ‘time’ – what did the maker gain from that time? Flow state, problem solving, creativity, opportunity for quiet contemplation, mindfulness, the opportunity to become an expert at something, sense of achievement, pride, community, songs and stories, building relationships. We have ‘given that time back’ for people to do ‘other things’ but with it have gone all those benefits to the individual.
Now one can buy a basket online for next day delivery then download a mindfulness ap to our ‘smart’phone and hold back the pressures of modern living from crashing in for another day!
You sometimes see a similar mindset it the forest school world, decisions made in the interests of efficiency or progress which do not allow for or at least account for the significance of the ‘moments’ in between; because we can’t always articulate them, or we don’t monetise or curriculise *made up word!* them. There is a value in staring up at the tree canopy, of the smell of woodsmoke drifting through a frosty woodland, hearing birdsong, being alone, being with others, having animals to care for whatever the day or weather.
‘Wellbeing’ is a bit of a buzzword in education circles just now, but for me the key to it is the reconnection with your inner spirit. Recognising the divine spirit in others, in all things. Valuing the moments, seeing, being, the essence of Namaste. Because when you do, the choices you make and the person you are changes fundamentally. Wellbeing could just as easily be described as ‘at peace’ or caring – whole lesson plans could (arguably should!) be designed in ‘giving a shit about yourself, others and nature’! It is our job to care, to model caring, to inspire those who follow us to care, for they won’t protect what is not valued in the unrelenting face of ‘progress’. If not us who, if not now when?
So you might visit the Shieling project to learn more about Scottish history, a skill or a craft, I am in no doubt you will come away with some fantastic ideas for place based learning and rural skills. I am also sure like me you will enjoy the opportunity to reflect on your time and what it is to be human. I highly recommend a visit.