My name is Jo Woolf and I live in Argyll, in a beautiful cottage overlooking the sea. I’m a writer, and my husband, Colin, is a wildlife artist. In our free time we head out to the wilder places: mountains, islands, rocky coastline, sandy beaches… Scotland is an amazing, breathtaking country, and I have visited some places that are as close to heaven as I’ll ever get in this lifetime.
Here under the Hazel Tree you’ll find posts about ancient sites – the landscape near our home is peppered with them, so expect lots of excitement! – as well as wildlife, wild flowers, occasional book reviews, and some feline silliness in the shape of my cats Purdey and Clyde. (If you haven’t met Clyde, you will do so very soon!)
I love hearing from my readers, and I welcome your comments and suggestions. It’s wonderful to meet people who share the same interests as me. I want The Hazel Tree to be the kind of blog that I would like to read myself, so I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
Why ‘The Hazel Tree’?
I think I’ve always had an affinity with hazels. Every spring, I love looking for the first catkins braving the cold winds; I love the smooth, silvery bark of the trees, the brilliant green of the first flush of leaves, and I love the pure air, the gentle restfulness that abides in the canopy of an ancient hazel wood.
In Celtic folklore, hazel nuts represented wisdom and poetic inspiration. Hazel shafts were used for water divining, and this practice evolved into the making of pilgrims’ staffs, shepherds’ crooks and walking sticks. Known as the Tree of Knowledge in Norse mythology, the hazel was sacred to the god Thor; in Irish and Welsh folklore, the hazel was believed to be a fairy tree, and it still grows near many holy wells. Tara, the seat of ancient Irish kings, was located close to a hazel wood; and it is said that members of the Fianna, a legendary band of Irish warriors, learned to defend themselves with only a hazel stick and a shield.
According to the legends of the Fianna, a hazel tree grew beside the Well of Wisdom. Nine hazel nuts fell into the pool and were eaten by salmon, a fish revered by the druids. The fish developed bright spots on their scales according to how many nuts they had eaten. Later, while cooking one of these fish for his druid master, a young lad called Fionn mac Cumhaill ate some of the salmon’s flesh; in doing so, he gained the salmon’s magical knowledge and grew up to become one of the most heroic figures in Irish mythology.
So… whether you liken yourself to a druidic salmon, consuming the nuts of wisdom, or whether you just share my interest in the natural world, I hope you’ll find something to inspire you under the branches of The Hazel Tree!
Other things I do…
I’m honoured to be Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and I visit their headquarters in Perth on a regular basis in search of fascinating stories of exploration which are held in the Society’s archives. I contribute to their quarterly newsletter, ‘The Geographer’, and to their monthly email newsletter (both available to members); and I’ve written a book called ‘The Great Horizon‘ which tells the stories of 50 amazing explorers over the Society’s 130-year history. At the time of writing (spring 2018) I’ve just completed a lecture tour for the RSGS, speaking about the people who inspired the book. I also write a column about Scottish explorers at History Scotland.
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‘The Hazel Tree’ logo design by Leonie Mead, Art & Sea