A New Map for the Cairngorms National Park

I have written of inanimate things, rock and water, frost and sun; and it might seem as though this were not a living world. But I have wanted to come to the living things through the forces that create them, for the mountain is one and indivisible, and rock, soil, water and air are no more integral to it than what grows from the soil and breathes the air. All are aspects of one entity, the living mountain. The disintegrating rock, the nurturing rain, the quickening sun, the seed, the root, the bird—all are one.

— Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

The Cairngorms mountains have long inspired writers, painters, dancers, musicians and creative institutions to create works of art that develop our relationships with the outdoors. As we have seen in Creatives, the Cairngorms National Park inspired Merryn Glover’s series of poems on the Gaelic names of the Park’s mountains, Fiona Mossman’s short story following a group of bandits through the Lairig Ghru, Deziree Wilson’s painting of the Northern Corries, and Anna Fleming’s account of the spring sublime atop Braeriach (with more to come!).  

The Park contains multitudes of experiences, ever-changing ecosystems and opportunities for nourishment; however, undergirding these creative works are two crucial narratives: the global climate crisis, and mental and physical health. In this digital age of disconnect, it is important we give back to the earth; to reconnect with each other, ourselves and our landscapes. The Park’s new project, Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030, has just that in mind.  

Inspired by the Gaelic word Dùthchas, meaning the deep-rooted connection between people and nature, Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 encompasses 24 long-term projects that aim to deepen our sense of connectedness with our landscapes to tackle the climate crisis, to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of the people who live, visit and work in the Park, to increase accessibility throughout the Park, and to restore large areas of woodland and peatland. 

This past week, the Community Arts & Culture sector delivered the first phase of their project—a free, digital directory of over 80 creative practitioners in the Park, ranging from poets to painters, sculptors to story-tellers, workshop spaces, bothies and studios to creative residencies, and more. It is an engaging resource, designed to identify and map the range and depth of creative activity, expertise and resources (human and physical) in the Park. 

Having now completed the first stage of the 18-month development phase of the project, Community Arts & Culture have started working on the second part of the development phase, which ‘will see Park creatives come together through a series of workshops to consider ideas on how to inspire and involve members of the community in climate action projects, some of which could be art installations, writers’ forums, youth and school climate activities or community design projects’. The park will also adopt UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development mission to empower young people and educators, and make them central to the Park’s decision making process. This will all culminate in the production of a stage-two function application to The National Lottery Heritage Fund in June 2023.

As Nan Shepherd writes in The Living Mountain (perhaps the most famous work to be inspired by the Cairngorms): ‘Place and mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered.’ Understanding this symbiotic exchange is crucial to develop mental and physical sustainability, as well as natural regeneration; however, it is an ongoing process that requires us to actively ask questions, listen to the voices of our peers, the trees and rocks, the water, so that in time, not only will we increase the breadth and depth of appreciation for Scotland’s landscapes, but we can build solid relationships that allow them to prosper naturally. Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 is an ambitious project, but it is exciting and important. 

Should you wish to get involved, contact Tania Alliod

Lead Image: Robbie Synge by Sara Teresa

Author biography

Alexandre Marceau is a French-Canadian writer who can often be found rock climbing, reading, or searching for traces of tall tales and new stories among the Scottish hills. He holds an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh, is the Co-Founder of and Fiction Editor at yolk, a Montreal-based literary journal, and his fiction has appeared in The Inkwell, From Arthur’s Seat, The Mitre and the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Chronicling the Days.