Have you ever stumbled into an unexpected grassy area, full of mounds or low walls, in the middle of the hills? Maybe you’ve wondered if the quiet heather-covered uplands were always that way? You may well have walked through one of the thousands of shieling sites that dot the uplands and moorlands of Scotland, places once full of bustle, cattle and song. Sam Harrison and his team at the Shieling Project bring this story back to life and ask what it means for young people today.
Each summer, for a long stretch of our past, young people all over Scotland would play an integral role in taking livestock up to hill or moorland pastures, camping there in small bothies, learning about the world beyond the village. This was the shieling.
The shieling is a rich piece of our cultural heritage and the project allows us to explore so many important and interlinked themes: understanding how the landscape was and is used; where our food comes from (particularly dairy products); how we develop a healthy sense of place and lifestyle; the importance of Gaelic and culture in shaping relationships with the land; the range of exciting jobs in the countryside; and the ways in which sustainability fits into all these issues—personal, economic, ecological.
We are an education social enterprise, based in the amazing Glen Strathfarrar in the central Highlands, near Inverness. We offer hands-on outdoor learning for young people through their schools, and year-long accredited training for teachers. Our project site borders on the Strathfarrar SSSI and we regularly venture into this wonderful area to the historic shieling site which we will be excavating in the spring, and the stunning Caledonian pine woods.
Our experiential way of working gives hands-on experiences for young people with the opportunity to reflect on these, looking at the implications for modern life. For example, we are currently working to renovate the old byre at our site. Young people will be involved in learning traditional building skills, planning, and looking after our milk cow—milking and making butter and cheese in a modern micro dairy.
This whole experience ties together with the shieling past to give young people a sense of animal husbandry, different relationships with the land, and where their dairy products come from. For more details please visit the Shieling Project website.