Trees of Exile

a residency at Outlandia Fieldstation

My residency to the Scottish Highlands started before it even began - 5 weeks before in fact and several hundred miles away, when I set out from the Lake District on a slow travel adventure.

On my journey to Outlandia, I walked three hundred miles, wild camped beneath the stars, whilst researching into land ownership and access - discovering contemporary land based projects, alongside historical poets and land activists who had walked these paths before me.

How many inspiring people have walked these paths before: William & Dorothy Wordsworth, who inspired future generations to fight for public access to the Lake District, including Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founding members of the National Trust; the poet Hugh MacDiarmid and his passion for Scotland’s national identity; Sir Walter Scott’s poetry depicting the mythic and documenting the folk culture of the Scottish Borderlands from his privileged position within the Scottish gentry; the Langholm Initiative Community Land Buyout, making waves in Scottish land reform - and so many other artists and activists shaped by and shaping the landscape.

Inspired by this research I created a series of poems, which I recorded and shared to social media. This research included exploring formal poetry structures - a new process, which, as a spoken word artist, opened a hitherto undiscovered language for expression.

During the journey I adapted to a new lifestyle, carrying everything I needed to survive and to create work on my back. It challenged me both physically and mentally, whilst giving me an elemental connection to the land and pushing me to be more spontaneous with the output of my work.

As I reached the West Highland Way, the path became busier. I missed the remoteness I had found previously on my journey - the secret solitude of being the only person for miles. This inspired me to write ’An Ode to the Way’, which formed the basis of a collaboration with a fellow artist-in-residence - exploring how poetry can translate into music and sound.

During my residency at Outlandia my main focus was exploring the myth: Deirdre of the Sorrows, connected to a local hill fort. The Irish myth tells the story of a girl banished to the forest, who later escapes to Scotland when she falls in love with the wrong man. A myth that resonates with the remote and challenging landscape surrounding the glen.

Whilst conducting interviews with local people about land issues one interview, with a local boat builder and poet, stood out. He had spent a lot of time wild camping in the highlands, sometimes for months at a time. This led me to reflect and incorporate my own experiences from my slow travel, such as: the relationship I built with the things I carried with me, seeking belonging in unfamiliar surroundings, the shock of witnessing a landscape scarred by the aftermath of forestry.

I delved deeper into the myth using and developing embodied techniques from my training in oral storytelling, including ’walking the story’ and ‘becoming Deirdre’, which involved creating a costume woven with natural materials and placing the story and my body within the landscape. This was the first time utilising these techniques together in this way, and it revealed revelations of both the myth and of my own practice.

I created a series of photographs, inspired by the aesthetic of romanticism - an artistic movement pivotal in reviving our connection to the natural world and the mythic. I used these images to illustrate my poetic telling of the myth:

In previous projects my poetry often relied on interviews and the words of others, during this residency I have developed a more autonomous practice. Through walking, carving out my own path, relying on my own strength to carry me through and discovering the stories of others who have done the same, I have found a confidence and validity in expressing my own experiences and viewpoints, which I am excited to develop in future projects.