My name is Jo Woolf and I live on the Craignish peninsula in Argyll. I’m a writer, and my husband, Colin, is a wildlife artist. In our free time we explore the mountains, islands, rocky coastline, sandy beaches… Scotland is an amazing, breathtaking country, and I’ve visited some places that are as close to heaven as I’ll ever get in this lifetime.
I love hearing from you, 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.
You can read more about hazels in this post on The Hazel Tree…
Other things I do…
I’ve just written a book entitled ‘Britain’s Trees – A Treasury of Traditions, Superstitions, Remedies and Literature‘, to be published in March 2020 by Pavilion Books for The National Trust. This book looks at some of Britain’s best-known species of tree (both native and introduced) and reveals the often curious and colourful traditions that are attached to them, together with practical uses, herbal remedies, literary references and all kinds of weird superstitions! I’m now working on another book in the same series, about Britain’s birds.
I’m honoured to be Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and I’ve written a book called ‘The Great Horizon‘ which tells the stories of 50 amazing explorers over the Society’s long history. Many of the ‘greats’ are in here – Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Nansen, Hillary – but also some lesser-known names, among them some inspiring and courageous women. In my research I was privileged to interview some modern-day explorers including Sir David Hempleman Adams, Karen Darke, Borge Ousland and Craig Mathieson. I continue to write blog posts and magazine articles for RSGS on the theme of exploration.
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‘The Hazel Tree’ logo design by Leonie Mead, Art & Sea