Two weeks after I arrived in Scotland, I spent a weekend learning to tell stories at Newbattle Abbey College, just south of Edinburgh. I fell in love with the place right then and there and I was sad when I completed the second weekend of coursework, fearing my relationship with the college was over.
Fortunately, I was wrong. Upon hearing me wax poetical on the beautiful old trees in the college grounds, Donald Smith, the Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, offered me the opportunity to work with him on a storywalk for the college’s inaugural storytelling festival.
This past weekend we led visitors on a tour of the ancient trees of the house’s parklands and the scenic beauty of its woods, telling stories as we went. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to one of Scotland’s ancient sycamore trees, which has now passed on to that great forest in the sky. And also to share traditional tales such as Hind Etin and Robin Hood in a wood much like the woodlands in which those tales take place. With ancient trees, a medieval bridge, a 16th century manor house, remnants of a 12th century abbey and a monk’s cell all within easy walking distance, it was simple to bring the past alive in people’s imaginations.
Storywalks are an excellent way to connect people with places on intellectual, emotional and experiential levels. Mixing stories about history with traditional tales keeps such walks from getting monotonous and separates storywalks from guided tours. Stories can be kept shorter and simpler than those told indoors since the setting is already there to be experienced by all the senses.
Earlier this year I attended an esoteric presentation by Bernard Anson Silj on storygardenz. Even after sitting through the slides and the talking, I am unable to state clearly what Silj means by the term. However, I think that Newbattle Abbey College and its 125 acres of grounds must be a storygardenz, because every step I take there and every moment I spend there invokes and inspires stories.
Newbattle Abbey is Scotland’s only residential adult education college. The grounds are open to the public and guided tours of the house are offered on Sundays during the summer.
For photos of the ancient sycamore, see Rae McGhee’s story about the day it died.
A variety of courses are offered at the college including Contemporary Oral Storytelling.
For more information on storygardenz see Bernard Anson Silj’s site.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre can be found behind John Knox’s house on the Royal Mile of Edinburgh.