The Cairngorms Kist: A Commonplace Book of the Cairngorms in 2023

Between 2021 and 2024, Cairngorms Connect collaborated with artists Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson and local communities, to create a Commonplace Book for the Cairngorms.


The idea for this project is a simple one: this incredible area is one that so many individuals experience and see in different ways. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a snapshot of this place to share that with others in future years? The pieces in this Kist are created by people who live, work, or visit here and want to share what they see and know.

Commonplace Books, historically, are more like collages than bound books. They usually hold different documents and items together: maps, land registries, folk tales, music scores, records of flora and fauna and medicinal uses or folklore around them. Sometimes they contain recipes, and we like to think that they would have also include knitting patterns or guides about how best to sharpen an axe. By bringing together all these observations, records, documents, and images made by people who know a place deeply, Commonplace Books express a place both intimately and broadly. The idea is evocative: that a whole can be created of disparate parts.

This Kist is a glimpse of this place at this point in time, but it is also an open invitation for people of the Cairngorms to create future Commonplace Books too. We set one rule: each submission is a maximum of two sides of A4. Other than that, participants had carte blanche to format their submission in any way they saw fit. We received a wonderfully diverse, heartfelt, and beautifully made set of contributions, from across the generations.

This Kist also serves as an invitation to people in the future, who might want to return to these locations, as well as including new ones, helping to mark changes in ecologies, people, communities and hopes.

This project – conceived by Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson – was born from an Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Artists Residency with Cairngorms Connect, between 2021 and 2024. The idea of a Commonplace Book is something we hope can be ongoing and replicated in 2, 5, 10, 20 years’ time. If you live here, you might be inspired to start to gather images and notes and think: what will I submit to the next Cairngorms Kist?

Part of our inspiration is the hope inherent within Cairngorm Connect’s 200-year vision. 200 years is longer period of time than most future planning scales, but it is small in ecological terms. We won’t be so bold to think that this book or project will still be here in 200 years or be replicated in 200 years - as this planet and this place might change beyond what we can concretely imagine now. However, we want to believe that this place and the creatures who make it home will still be inscribing the landscape with life, and we’ll still be recording it in fieldnotes, diary entries, poems and songs, words and images. The Cairngorms Kist 2023, this Commonplace Book, is a record of here and now and it is partial and it is beautiful. This glimpse of where we are now is also a question and prompt for those in the future: ‘What do you see and hear and experience of the Cairngorms and what does this place mean to you?’

– Elizabeth Reeder & Amanda Thomson


1_CCPeople viewing the exhibition showcasing all the submissions to the Commonplace Book at the launch event in the Spey Bank Studio. Photo © Catriona Parmenter Photography 

How will the Cairngorms Kist be shared or accessible?

Throughout the spring and summer of 2024, an exhibition showcasing all submissions to the Commonplace Book is touring local venues:

•          Boat of Garten Community Hall, 15th – 25th April

•          Eden Court Inverness, 29th April – 24th May

•          RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes hides, 3rd June – 16th July

•          The Iona Gallery, Kingussie, 22nd – 29th July


The Cairngorms Kist, made up of the originally submitted work, will be kept as archived hard copy, contained within a willow container, woven collaboratively in March 2024. We have also created an online version which will be held on the Cairngorms Connect shortly.

A physical copy of the Cairngorms Kist, will be held by local community venues. Locations to be announced soon.



Elizabeth and Amanda would like to thank the brilliant, creative and seemingly tireless team at Cairngorms Connect: Sydney, Lizzie, Sarah and Chiara. They have supported us in the residency in too many ways to name and it is the open, curious, practical and so very skilled ways they approach everything that has meant this residency and this project have run so smoothly. Particular thanks goes to Lizzie Brotherston who designed and formatted the digital versions of the book. Thank you to Helen Jackson who helped us make the woven willow container for our Cairngorms Kist 2023.

Thank you to Robbie Synge, a third member of this residency. Robbie ran creative movement workshops out in the landscape and made films of these expansive and inspiring collaborations with school children and others.

Thank you to the Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Programme and Cairngorms Connect for supporting this residency and project. And the biggest thank you goes to everyone who attended our writing workshops and events and who crafted a piece and contributed to the Cairngorms Kist 2023.


About the Artists in Residence

Elizabeth Reeder is a writer whose novel An Archive of Happiness was longlisted for the Highland Book Prize (2021). Her work explores ideas of identity, community, home and place. She runs workshops on a range of subjects and is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Originally from the States and having lived in Scotland for over 25 years, Elizabeth loves having a hybrid relationship to places.

Amanda Thomson is an interdisciplinary artist and writer. Her artwork and creative non-fiction are often about the Highlands and notions of home, movements, migrations, landscapes and the natural world. Her doctoral studies included fieldwork with the RSPB in Abernethy Forest. She lectures at Glasgow School of Art and is author of A Scots Dictionary of Nature and belonging: natural histories of place, identity and home.


Feature Image: Commonplace Book entry by Ellie Dimambro-Denson

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