Two years ago I blogged about the Drove Roads Journey which I had planned to undertake. Sadly, owing to unforeseen circumstances the event was postponed. And it’s now happening next week!
The purpose of the “mobile conference” is nicely phrased on the Spey Grian website:
“This journey will involve a diverse group of professional and amateur artists, ecologists, storytellers, historians and educators, some local and others from the Spey Grian Network. The group will travel from Newtonmore to Kirkmichael via Blair Atholl, accompanied by ponies and cattle, following the old driving and coffin roads. The route will include crossing the Minigaig Pass, an ancient drove road connecting Speyside to Atholl.”
I think it’s the first time cattle will have been driven over this Pass in a century.
The theme of this event will be exploring how a road is more than a line of communication between places, but has a life of its own, with unique stories to tell, linking people, places and journeys over time – the journey itself linking across generations.
Recently I blogged about trails. For me this this trail making on a massive scale by comparison to school grounds creations. I’ve had to plan and prepare quite meticulously which I’m not used to. Much of what I do is flying by the seat of my pants stuff. I’ve had to “break in” my shoulders to carrying a load. There’s been the organising seven days worth of food which I can carry. I’ve spent nights outside in my garden getting used to sleeping on turf! I’ve practised cooking on my stove.
Even then it’s still a journey into the unknown. Other than one person, I don’t know any of the others on the journey. We’re coming together to share a brief moment in space, time and place. To live, learn and laugh together. To wonder how many other travellers have got blisters on their feet and become soaking wet over the hundreds of years of the road’s existence. To have to go with the flow when it comes to moving the cattle, working the ponies and being in the company of strangers who are at present, friends I’ve yet to meet. To try and make sense of the chaotic and yet orderly world in which we live. To reflect and wonder.
And perhaps wonder is at the heart of this journey. I’ve had the words of Patrick Geddes ringing in my mind these past few weeks…
“Star wonder, stone and spark-wonder, life-wonder and folk-wonder: these are the stuff of astronomy and physics, of biology and the social sciences… To appreciate sunset and sunrise, moon and stars, and the wonders of winds, clouds and rain, the beauty of the woods and moor and fields – here are the beginnings of the natural sciences… We need to give everyone the outlook of the artist, who begins with the art of seeing – and then in time we shall follow him in to the seeing of art, even the creating of it.”
I’ll be back in a bit…. Here’s the official press release…
A Journey to the Heart of Place
Group to recreate drovers’ journey for the first time for over 100 years
Between the 30th June and 7th July, a varied group of travellers will set off on a ‘Journey to the Heart of Place’ to recreate the journey of highland cattle drovers. On the way they will make three stops for ‘Meet the Drovers’ events in Newtonmore (30thJune), Blair Atholl (4th July) and Kirkmichael (7thJuly). The droving journey is being organised by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in partnership with the Spey Grian Educational Trust, with support from Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust.
Departing from the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore on Sunday 1st July, a diverse group of artists, writers, crofters, ecologists, historians, geographers and educators will be re-enacting the highland cattle drove, travelling up Glen Feshie to a height of over 900 metres over the Minigaig Pass to Blair Atholl, and finally following the Cateran Trail to Kirkmichael – the site of a famous drovers tryst, or market. This group of drovers are the first to travel over the Minigaig Pass for over 100 years.
Cattle droving was once a vital part of Highland life, as highland soils are better suited to rearing cattle than crop growing. In the days before refrigeration the best way to keep meat fresh was to keep it alive! Drovers would drive these cattle long distances on foot, to sell in towns and cities with larger populations e.g. Lowland Scotland, England and Europe. Unlike other Highlanders at that time, the drovers were allowed to wear the plaid and carry weapons to protect themselves from ‘Caterans’ or cattle thieves.
During the modern day journey, the group will hold three ‘Meet the Drovers’ events in Newtonmore, Blair Atholl and Kirkmichael. The first will take place at The Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore on Saturday 30thJune from 1pm until 5pm. On Wednesday the 4th of July the modern day drovers will call in at the Atholl Country Life Museum in Blair Atholl between 11am and 3pm, and the journey will come to its end in the Showfield in Kirkmichael on Saturday 7thJuly between 11am and 3pm.
At each of the events the public will have the chance to meet the drovers and their ponies; discovering how they planned the route, their equipment and food and comparing this to drovers in the past. A small but fascinating droving exhibition from the Dingwall Mart will be on display and Veritas Vincent, a historical re-inactment group, will be dressed as 18th century drovers to show weapons and clothing of the time.
Storyteller Claire Hewitt will share local folk and fairy stories, human journeys of endurance facing supernatural forces, cow and horse tales – stories the Drovers would have heard and told to pass the evening round the fire.
At the Blair Atholl and Kirkmichael events, basket-maker Jane Wilkinson will also be demonstrating how panniers were made for the ponies and there will be opportunities for the public to try working with willow. Additional activities and demonstrations e.g. milking of cattle and shoeing the ponies for the journey will be offered at the Highland Folk Museum venue in Newtonmore on 30th June. Cattle will be taken on the first two days of the drove to Glenfeshie.
Everyone who takes part in the drove road journey will be invited to record their experiences in poems, writing, music, art, craft, and photography. This will be drawn together to form the Creative Journeys Exhibition which itself will go on a journey. Exhibition venues will include the communities of Newtonmore, Blair Atholl and Kirkmichael, and at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Visitor Centre at the Fair Maid’s House in Perth.
The ‘Creative Journeys’ initiative is planned to celebrate ‘Year of Creative Scotland’.
The Royal Scottish Geographical Society is an educational charity that promotes an understanding of natural environments and human societies and how they interact. For further information about RSGS please call 01738 455050.
SpeyGrian Educational Trust is a group of artists, writers, scientists and educators, united in their love of outdoor learning. They aim to provide a catalyst for change at both a personal and a national level by bringing new perspectives to the relationship we have with the natural world.
Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust is a registered environmental charity that provides, improves and promotes access to the countryside for walkers, cyclists, horseriders and canoeists.
The event is also in association with Scottish Crofting Produce, Atholl Museum of Country Life, Newtonmore Riding Centre , The Highland Folk Museum and The Session House at Kirkmichael.