page title icon Roots & Shoots- 70 Years of Camas Outdoor Centre.

[Submitted for the ‘Coracle-Journal of the Iona Community’; Wild Goose Publications].


Like many others this year, i’ve been musing about what Camas reaching it’s 70th birthday means to me.

Of course, human settlement in this area stretches into the many centuries, as evidenced by the various palimpsests on the landscape and the Neolithic caches of roasted hazelnut shells springing up all over the place. Camas Tuath itself boasts a number of epochs, with various human populations that have worked the land and sea in different ways over the passage of time.

Part of the tradition I’ve inherited as a resident staff member here at Camas is the weekly oration of the heritage story to guests on their first night. It’s used as a means to orientate them to the history and heritage of Camas. This is a meaning making exercise which introduces the theme of community we explore during the week and, in cultural terms, its fair to say it has become part of our more formal greeting custom.

Of course, as an ‘incomer’ to the township of Ardfenaig and as a residential worker on behalf of the Iona Community, there are often gaps in my telling, and it is an enlivening and illuminating experience to meet folk whom are part of the Camas story, or possess a particular insight into our forbears that have called this place home. After a while in the telling, and the act of living in community week after week; their stories start to become your own. When fully embodied, the first night oration becomes alive and, with a bit of luck; flickers from the candle flame on the old granite walls to conjour connections from the past into the minds that come together on the circle of nets.

Minnie the Moocher.

One such lineage bearer/heritage keeper, whom I was fortunate to meet this year, was entirely due to the fact that my daughter was born and is being raised at Camas. This was something I shared with this particular sparkly eyed elder that arrived down the track in Spring. I have the sense that she wouldn’t wish her name committed to type; so i shan’t.

‘I don’t normally introduce myself…’

she exclaimed as we sat talking on a threadbare couch over a cup of tea in the room formerly known as ‘Pooh Corner’.

‘I normally just take the time to sit and reflect on the island and pay attention to the nature’.

Enjoying the art of questioning, i learned that this hitherto anonymous superheroine, is one of the many that break into tears of joy on rounding the corner of ‘that bit’ of the track where the skylark continues to sing. Year in Year Out. Like a Pattern.

I realized I was in the presence of a great human, someone who preferred to sit humbly with the enormous legacy she had left at Camas. The afternoon was spent cycling backwards and forwards through time, walking and talking and reminiscing around the centre as I learned peculiar nuances of the buildings use. I learned of a time when the curriculum for the young people was literally rebuilding the walls of the buildings themselves. That period was, it seems to me, a story that mirrored the early Abbey restoration, except with the remoteness of location, better gender balance and with young people. I was enthralled.

The Old Landmark.

Since those days, Camas has seen major renovation. Notwithstanding the recent physical ‘improvements’, there have also been some major ontological changes to the spiritual compass that aligns Camas Tuath to the North Star. Perhaps even more so even than the move away from formal Christian worship outlined in Kathy Galloways ‘Camas- A Faith Reflection’; was the introduction of the Camas Mission in 1993 by co-coordinators and Moray House students Neil Harvey and Craig Ross:

‘Together we seek to enable growth in Love, Respect & Awareness of Self, Others, God & the Environment’.

One cant help but notice that the Camas mission is, aside from the addition of the word ‘God’;  Colin Mortlock’s central maxim in his treatise known as ‘The Adventure Alternative’. In the book he outlines our mission as the goal to be realised from walking the edge of various stages of adventurous experience; and coming home again. Colin, an important figure in my life, was the university lecturer & mentor who first insisted that i pay respect to the probability that rocks are sentient beings in their own right. His insights were, and continue to be, to paraphrase the man himself: ‘Mindblowing!’

The Camas Mission Statement today is the wheeled cross which the resident team composed of staff and volunteers rally around and attempt to fathom relationships between the aquatron, Bertie’s Apple tree and the mysteries of the auroborealis. ‘Theological Hospitality’, is bloody hard work, but generations of transient communities have been attending to it together here at Camas Tuath over the years. It’s our mission… together.

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

This embodied approach, with it’s roots in adventure education, ensures the accessibility of the centre to folk from all faiths and none. I am left wondering sometimes how this rather radical take is felt by our Christian visitors, where a residential week can go by without any formal reference to Jesus or the teachings of the gospels. Of all the multi-faceted feedback this year, this one takes the biscuit:

“It was a full on ‘eucharistic’ experience shared with 25 or so other people. Eucharistic, because we shared what we had with each other, above all we shared ourselves. This community is off-grid and broadly self-sufficient, and it opened my eyes to how little we humans really need.

But what we did genuinely need for our physical well-being in terms of food, clothing, friendship, dignity, compassion, was given in abundance, and was really powered by the loving intention of the group as a whole.

It made it real for me that ‘All You Need Is Love’… it really is as simple as that, because from Love/Connection flows all else in life, including our physical needs.

I virtually lost all sense of ‘needing’ though, due to the generosity of the environment. I also had a deep feeling of safety, knowing that if I did need something, the community would enable it.

There’s something really wonderful about simplifying our lives like this. Without the usual excess you can see what you have with so much clarity… and from that flows gratitude, and from that flows joy and trust…. and from these things flows even more love!”

[Participant Feedback, Garden Week Oct 2018]

She Caught the Katy.

It was in this, our daily practice of acknowledging the immanence of spirit in the mundane, that i felt compelled to pay my respect to my elder, and as mind raced back and forth through our meagre possessions, I remembered a craft project I’d been working on, one of the boons of maintaining the small copse. Having cut the rods in the depths of winter and sorted them for differing uses; some were straight enough for walking sticks. This particular one, having been recently steam bent, was still tied; as it was to remain in this state several months before the handle would hold it’s own form.

It felt meaningful to me as there was a tangible link to the past, there was wisdom and tenacity of our elders in planting those first trees in the Camas garden; a place they were told where ‘nothing will grow’.

Much of the 2.5 hectares that delineate the Camas boundary from the common grazings was deer fenced this year and therein was over two thousand trees planted, with more coming up in the nursery to ensure stocking density; ‘Abbi’s wood’ has become a reality. The courage of the early pioneers is what inspired us to undertake the project.

It was a delight to pass it to her. A delight to see tears of joy well up in those beautiful, alive eyes. She’d omitted to bring her own staff from the car so the gift was opportune. We parted well and I watched her walk up the track through the future forest. Passing the baton backwards, as well receiving one forwards in time, is, to my eyes; a genuine act of healing.

Shake a Tailfeather.

During August 2018 we held a ceilidh at Bunessan Hall to celebrate Camas’ 70th Birthday. It was well attended, a sea of faces, and; having recently sailed from Barra early that morning; i was overwhelmed by such a large crowd and could hardly recognise a soul. It was with great relief then, when one of the Camas daughters reintroduced herself to me, whilst my own daughter and i were playing with the running water from the tap of the kitchen sink.

We talked for ages and over the course of the conversation, the subject of the gift of the stick from the Camas copse came up.

‘It Sprouted’ she said.‘What? Get off!’ I Said,
‘No Aye, She hung it on the van, still tied up like you said, it sprouted new leaves out of the top’.

So here we are.

Life is tenacious, it springs forth, anew; finding new and emergent ways that we cannot predict. Happy Birthday Camas, here’s to the next seventy years.


1 thought on “Roots & Shoots- 70 Years of Camas Outdoor Centre.”

  1. Hey Rhyddian,

    What a beautiful tale of sprouting! A wellspring of intergenerational Camus relating. Thank you for sharing. Would love to see you all- I’m in Glasgow now so get in touch should you ever be passing through.

    Hazel hugs,


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