open country

A few years ago I sat in a meeting listening to the enthusiasm of an artist for a project he wanted to link up with the Tweed Valley Forest Festival. I remember there was discussion about it being high tech, creating a sort of X-files atmosphere: buses of people would be brought to forests and led into a point where a mystery would become clear.

The costs were predicted as being huge. Somehow the idea seemed too large for this rural region; where would the people come from? The core idea of having giants in some form in the forests was not forgotten, however. It was picked up again in a more manageable form – and they are now with us.

The Giants in the Forest are in Bowhill and Glentress woodlands. The project was brought to us by Vision Mechanics. The ethos behind this creative work was to bring people into forests and encourage them to interact with the natural environment in a new way.

The giant wicker masks have been on view since April and will remain until November. You can visit them on your own and contemplate the huge faces in the peace and solitude under the tall trees, or you can join in on one of the many workshops available.

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop at Bowhill at the weekend. The strong sunshine I expected was dulled by an overcast sky, but it was warm. Only a month before, the stunning three beeches below the upper loch met with disaster in the wild weather – they shed a huge limb. The foresters deemed them unsafe. The masks were on the move for some weeks before being settled on other trees facing the magnificent pale grey trunks of the beeches that have now lost their far-reaching crowns.

They are like amputees, almost skeletal, but still I am in awe of their massive stature and girth amid the dark pines. They are verging on the ethereal. They still inspire all the creative feelings that I had when working full time at Bowhill when the policies and the theatre combined to stimulate my mind.

I am not the only one to be moved by this spot. On Saturday afternoon as the sun began to burn light windows in the cloud cover, I set the scene for my workshop. The night before, a witch entered the woodlands around Bowhill. Thankfully, Lynsey and I caught her and took her broom, which I proudly held in my hand. However, the witch had stolen precious buttons belonging to the giants. Our job that day was to find the buttons and decorate them with words and pictures.

Below are the messages written by my group: Anne, Grahame, Fraser, Emily, Douglas, Lisa, Olivia, Samuel, Keith Veitch and Amanda, Rebecca and Eilidh Irvine and Jacqueline Hume and Duncan, Lucy, Benjamin, Emma Tait.

First they thought about their emotional response to the giants and how they thought the giants themselves were feeling. “Scared, soothed, awe, kind, mean, haunting, intimidated, raw beauty, chaotic, talented, giant nests, trees are alive and looking at me.” (The Taits) “Safe, jaggy, hard, tall, mad and angry.” (Veitches) “Safe, shocked, bumpy, smiling, mad.” (Irvines)

One quiet young man took himself away from the group and considered this: “The giants are born from the trees, they overlook the woodland animals and creatures. Being among the trees makes me feel peaceful, and close to nature, where I want to be. I feel inferior among this vast height and size; the great colours and sounds of the forest.” (Keith)

One of the group wrote this retrospective piece, “Once there were seven, only surprise, happiness and anger remain; guardians of the once great Forest of Ettrick.”

The Tait family drew on the wee stories I had told on the way, writing, “It feels like ancient skin. The witches have pulled the leaves off the trees, now they look bare.”

After visiting the living giants (two giant sequoias) we returned up the shaded lane by the vista, the rising mown terraces in front of the house and across the gravel back to the courtyard. Hopefully we will hold the images forever in our mind.

Visit www.giantsintheforest.com for more information.