Could huts be the new shielings?

Shieling-ProjectTraditional shielings were crucial in the process of passing knowledge between generations in Scotland’s past. The Shieling Project gives children an opportunity to learn the skills of rural life – and, as Dr Sam Harrison explains, there are many parallels with hutting culture.

I remember my first experience taking school children to a shieling.  On a grassy bench half way up a hillside, two streams either side of the open meadow, scattered with tumbled hut walls.  Through our activities there I could see the children slowly realising that this would have been their summer life: herding, milking, standing watch, singing around a fire.

Recently I went to the shielings at Cuidhsiadar, in Ness on Lewis.  Here they were still milking at the shieling after the second world war (when most mainland shielings had long been ruins), and here the connection between shielings and hutting stands out most clearly.  There were some stone and turf structures, but the majority of the huts were built from what came to hand : old caravans, converted sheds, log cabins.  Here some of the essence of shieling culture is still alive: going up to the moor to live a little more simply, to share community.  The legacy of the shieling is one strong precedent for hutting.

Having now taken many groups of teachers and pupils to shielings I am developing the Shieling Project.  From our hut encampment, the children will explore the skills and feelings of the shieling (dairying, peat cutting, working wool), and ask what that means now for our food, energy, land.  Dr. Sam Harrison – sam@openground.eu.

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