Scotland is a wonderful place, with history and myth woven into a landscape of cairns, stanes, trees, rivers, hills, springs, and wells. These special places comprise our community folk heritage.
We want you to enjoy the amazing access Scotland’s land rights provide to our community folk heritage, but encourage you to tread with awareness and respect for these places. Whether you are a regular visitor, a pilgrim, or a tourist, we invite you to take a few moments to connect with the land around you, learn a little about the history, and enjoy your time whilst you are here. During your visits to these sites in Scotland, we ask you to be respectful of their history and meaning within our communities, and to help contribute to their future conservation.
Many sites of community folk heritage have special significance to our communities through oral and written folklore, traditional stories, and archaeology. Some sites may have few, if any, visible signs of their significance to the casual observer, except perhaps an information board – and many don’t even have that much. Although the meanings of some of these places may have been lost over time, they still have special significance to the wider community of people on this land. What follows are guidelines for the respectful treatment of these places, developed by a voluntary collective called The Woven Land Network.
Volunteers from The Woven Land Network give up their free time to work with landowners, historical societies, communities and individuals to help conserve, honour, advocate for and celebrate these special places. (find out more about us here) We hope to breathe new life into these sites, weaving them back into folk memory and into present-day communities.
So how can I best interact with the sites I visit?
These sites are shared treasures that are part of Scotland’s heritage and culture. We are lucky to be blessed with so many wonders from our past, but many are not understood or actively cared for. This means…
Please remember many people visit community folk heritage sites every day. So, whilst these guidelines might seem very restrictive to some, consider the cumulative effect of many people visiting a single site in a day, month, or a year. One person leaving a small ribbon tied to a tree branch might seem harmless, but a thousand people doing this in one week or over many months soon has a devastating impact on the surrounding environment. When seen through this lens, we hope you can understand the need for each of these guidelines.
We kindly ask those who visit sites of community folk heritage to tread lightly, leave no trace, and do no harm.
There is an old spoken charm: “Do as you would be done by…” which we urge you to be mindful of when visiting Scotland’s community folk heritage sites. The best option is to avoid leaving anything behind at all and to save your offerings for when you get home. Perhaps take a photo of the site, knowing you have visited respectfully and have taken some of the atmosphere of the place back with you.
Please do not:
- Disturb or remove plants, animals, or historic or natural features
- Carve into or otherwise deface stone or wood
- Create artistic installations using site materials
- Set fires of any kind or burn incense
- Climb on the site
- Tie anything, even natural materials, around trees or branches
- Forage for plants or other materials
- Leave any sort of litter or offerings behind, including plastic, metal, or glass
- Introduce natural materials, including wood and plants, from elsewhere
- Bury offerings or otherwise dig holes at the site
- Hammer coins into stone or wood
So what can I do?
If you feel that you must leave something at a community folk heritage site, these are the LEAST HARMFUL options:
A very small offering of liquid:
Water is perfect, but if you have something else in mind you can follow Scottish folk tradition and offer nothing more than a tablespoon full of milk diluted in water mixed with a small amount of honey. Mix up this small amount before you arrive at the site. Alcohol is not suitable because it kills wildlife over time and can attract wasps and other things of bad temperament. Please think what would happen if everyone left glass full of milk or alcohol poured onto the ground… it’s that numbers game again! Please DO NOT leave any other food items.
A song or a poem:
Something meaningful that folk can do is to sing to a place or offer it your praise in the form of poetry or song. A little flute or drum might also be appropriate. Of course, even aural and musical offerings should be respectful of the site itself and all others visiting or living in the area, and this includes both human and non-human visitors and residents. Please be mindful of others using the site who might not share your belief or approach.
Stillness or movement
It is traditional on arrival to circle a site deosil (clockwise), as a blessing is supposed to be given to those who do this or it might be part of the site protocols and traditions. So feel free to circumambulate as our ancestors may have done. You can also sit with the site in stillness. Use any way of doing this that feels right within your chosen tradition: prayer, meditation, or breath work are all welcome.
The best offering you can leave is to take away other people’s rubbish.
Leaving the site in a better state than when you arrived is a gift. Being seen to do so can encourage other visitors to do the same. If you remove the offerings of other visitors which are not biodegradable or which pose a risk to the health of humans, trees, or other beings, then please do so respectfully, as well as safely with due care to your own health.
Clootie or Rag Wells
If you feel you must leave a cloot ( a small torn piece of rag) at a clootie well site, (a well where these rags are offered) please ensure it is made of biodegradable material such as linen or pure cotton. A small piece of light muslin cloth draped loosely around the branch to prevent ringbarking or other damage is ideal.
We thank you for reading through these guidelines and hope you will share them with others. In the words of the Ancient Sacred Landscape Network (ASLaN):
You can read about these guidelines in more detail on here- Tread lightly Leave no Trace