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Guardian of the Gateway:
800 years of the Beauly Wych Elm

Over summer 2022, Circus Artspace will be working in collaboration with visual and socially engaged artist Isabel McLeish on a project to celebrate the ancient Wych Elm tree at Beauly Priory. 


About the tree

The ancient Wych Elm tree at Beauly Priory is nearly 800 years old and believed to be the oldest Wych Elm in Europe. Historic Environment Scotland describes the tree as “living archaeology” and an estate map from 1798-1800 shows an avenue of Elm trees in Beauly with this particular tree being the last one remaining from this avenue. The stature of elms has made them imposing landmarks and boundary markers. The Wych Elm of Beauly Priory has marked the entrance to the grounds for 800 years. Sadly, the tree is dying of Dutch Elm Disease with only 5% of it still living. The tree likely had its last buds in 2021 and will decline over the next 5-10 years.

Guardian of the Gateway_graphic_edited_e

About the project

We want to celebrate and showcase the heritage and cultural value of the Wych Elm tree at Beauly Priory. We hope to bring together the local community with artists, writers and partnership organisations to discover, celebrate and share their own stories, memories, archive material and research about the Wych Elm. We aim to gather old stories from people, create new ones through a series of engagement events and share them more widely through a publication. The project aims to encourage dialogue about the implications of climate change, disease spread and ecological loss in the Highlands as well as celebrate our relationships with an ancient native Scottish tree.

About the artist

Visual and socially engaged artist Isabel McLeish will deliver this project which has emerged from Isabel’s own research and artistic practice centred around trees. Isabel graduated with a BA (Hons) from Grays School of Art in 2019 and returned to the Highlands to do her MA Art & Social Practice at the University of Highlands & Islands (2020-2021).




Project supported by Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022  

We are pleased to be taking part in #YS2022 with Year of Stories Community Stories Fund support from #EventScotland, #MuseumsGalleriesScotland and National Lottery Heritage Fund. Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 is a celebration of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. Stories are a vital part of Scotland’s culture and every community has a different tale to tell. In 2022, a whole host of events will be held across Scotland – by community groups, museums, culture and heritage organisations and visitor attractions – showcasing our rich storytelling and literary heritage. 

Find out more about Year of Stories 2022 here.

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