Michaelswood in Aith is a young woodland developed in memory of Michael Ferrie, a young musician from Aith, who died in 1996 from cancer,
aged just 21 years. Despite its tragic origins the woodland is a vibrant and lively place with many interesting and enchanting features to
entertain, educate and excite the young and the old.
Entrance to the woodland is through a rustic archway, which is adorned with an attractive and artistic
woodland sign announcing the woodland’s name, Michaelswood. The sign was carved out of a piece of
mature Swedish Whitebeam tree grown in Shetland, and crafted by local craftsman, Alan Moncrieff from
Tumblin, and the fiddle incorporated into the design gives you a clue as to what was the favourite
instrument of the young musician the woodland was named after.
A little further down the trail is the Teddy Bears Picnic Site. This secluded site nestles within a grove of
Rosa Rugosa where it contains a miniature picnic table, and some objects to enigmatically suggest the
presence of bears.
Other facilities to entertain the young consist of a small playhouse and Captain Blackbeard’s ship. Both the
playhouse and the pirate ship are designed to stimulate young brains in an imaginative way, and are sited
adjacent to a picnic site where adults can sit and enjoy al fresco food, but at the same time keep a watchful eye
on young children. The skull and crossbones flag, the authentic steering wheel and a cosy little foc’sle head on
the ship are enough stimulation to create a real blood-thirsty pirate adventure which could last a whole
The owners of the woodland have gone a long way towards making the woodland interact
with the community. Regularly, young people come to the woodland to become involved in
various projects, learn new skills and enhance their portfolio of volunteering work. Involving
themselves in the many woodland tasks, the young volunteers gain self-confidence, a
feeling of self-worth, and new skills to equip them for their eventual entry into the working
environment. In recognition of their regular involvement with young people, the owners of
the wood were awarded the Shetland Youth Volunteering Award for Organizations in 2010,
which can be seen proudly displayed in the bird hide.
Further interaction can be seen by the many trees dedicated to family members who have passed away, by the benches and arbours
donated by such families, and by the many charming little bird ornaments donated by local children.
The woodland consists of over 60 different species of trees and shrubs, carefully selected for their
hardiness to survive the raw, salt-laden air in the wild Shetland environment. Already the woodland
has successfully developed to a stage where wildlife is now benefitting from the shelter and
sustenance the woodland provides. From a steady supply of insects and caterpillars in the spring
to the abundance of rose hips in late summer the woodland’s bounty is rich and plentiful. In its
thick damp grass carpet live an abundance of frogs and hedge-hogs whilst in the dried out old grass
many wild bees choose to make their hives. The canopy now forming over the upper branches
creates a serene ambience punctuated with the sound of covert birdlife, and scented with the woody
aroma of roses, combined with Lodgepole Pines and Balsam Poplars. Inside the canopy the
environment is another world from the wild windy one you were experiencing before you entered the
woodland. Instead, inside you will find a peaceful protected environment with just a hint of the
wind as it rustles the leaves above your head.
The flora too is a little special, giving life sustaining nectar and pollen for insect life and to the
wild bees in particular. From the early primula in spring to the early summer orchids, and the
ubiquitous marsh marigold, and later the vibrant blue Devil’s-bit Scabious, the bees have a
charmed life at Michaelswood. Spring too offers them the highly sought after balsam resin on
the sticky resinous buds on the Balsam Poplars which they so industriously seek for
weather-proofing their summer hives. The pungent aroma of the balsam is easily detectable in
early spring even by less sentient human beings, causing you to pause and inhale deeply and
Suddenly, as with most things in the wood, you come upon a quaint little structure with a grass
roof, which, you are informed, is a bird hide. From the outside it looks deceptively small, but in
the inside it is a veritable Dr Who’s Tardis, with a table and chairs, books and magazines and
wall charts, a photo gallery, and a very touching account of the origins of the woodland and the
young man after whom it was named. A visit here turns out to be an interesting and time absorbing experience. Not only is the bird hide
a good look-out point, and an interesting little interpretative centre, but it makes a really good, comfortable shelter from the weather if
the day is particularly inclement. With little birds which, when squeezed, give you their bird calls, informative wall charts, bird books and
binoculars and even a clock that chimes bird noises on the hour, there is plenty to interest you for a considerable time. Don’t forget to
sign the visitors’ book before you leave, or take a look at the many visitors from around the world, who have signed in, or take the time to
view their many friendly comments.
This trail will contain educational legends which will inform the visitor about the origins of trees, their uses in society, when they came to
this country, and any interesting facts from ancient folk lore. This part of the woodland will be of particular interest to school groups and
other organisations interested in the knowledge of trees, and will extend the woodland to a full 5 hectares (12 acres). For the naturalist
this area, with its tussocks of wild grass, is a favourite nesting site for the local larks, and many families of larks are reared here. Their
spring song is very much in evidence as they soar in their territorial dance. From the western extremity of the woodland there are
superb views over the Loch of Vaara and the hills around Clousta, and when the sun is setting there are many wonderful sunsets to view.
The hills are very hummocky due to the glacial nature of the land, and also to past geological activity. The area is very interesting,
with much surface evidence of underground activity dotted throughout the landscape. Being the western extremity of the Walls Fault
Line, the area has significant geological importance, and is a veritable testing ground for amateur geologists.
The woodland is a haven for both fauna and flora, and habitats for both are being established more and more each year. Every year in
autumn the woodland too offers refuge to the many “accidentals” or migrating birds, which drop in for restful respite whilst on their long
migrations south. Often you might encounter really rare species of birds far from their chosen tracks or colourful exotic waxwings gorging
themselves on the last of the rose hips, trying to replenish those energy reserves which will take them all the way to Africa.
Every year groups of school children from all over Shetland, groups of toddlers, Special Needs Children, and Elderly Citizens’ groups all
enjoy the wonder of Michaelswood. The purpose of the woodland is to inform and educate the public on the benevolence and the
benefits trees bring to the environment and to allow the public to get off the tarmac, and experience wildlife and nature at first hand. If
you are looking for a day out, or a swashbuckling adventure for the children, or a nice challenging hike, or a day getting in touch with
nature, or in fact any other kind of a day you will probably find it at Michaelswood in Aith.
MICHAELSWOOD PHOTO GALLERY
If your children enjoy coming here (and you do too :) PLEASE donate. All funds go towards keeping Michaelswood open and as much fun as possible. Every penny helps. Thank you.
© Michaelswood 2015