catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 23 :: 2007.12.14 — 2007.12.28


A castle community

Monique Sliedrecht is the acting hospitality and arts director, as well as artist-in-residence at Freswick Castle, a space in northern Scotland that is being cultivated to serve artists and culture in a variety of ways. Freswick Castle, is built upon the foundations of a 12th century Viking settlement, which is one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland.  The Castle, ranging from medieval to eighteenth century architecture, dominates the coastline which is a haven for wildlife: seals in the bay, otters in the burn, and a vast variety of sea birds.  And apparently, a haven for artists, as well…

Freswick Castle
Photo by Derek Prescott

To begin, what is the vision for Freswick Castle?

The vision of The Wayfarer Trust at Freswick Castle is to empower an international community of artists to engage with culture and its renewal through creative excellence, professional integrity and spiritual inspiration.  Freswick will be a place of creative advance for artists and others from every walk of life.


And what is the story of how that vision came about?

When Murray Watts was a teenager his father was always developing holidays around his passion for birdwatching.  His father was a distinguished ornithologist and one of those holidays was in the Highlands in the far north of Scotland.  Murray was so struck by the beauty and grandeur of this part of Scotland that he began to dream of living and working here one day. 

About 15 years ago Murray began to consider developing a project/place he could create which would be a source of great encouragement for other people—a haven, if you like; a place of inspiration which might enable creative people to regain strength.  Ten years ago he found that place: Freswick Castle.  He is keen to call it a place of advance, not a place of retreat, where people can move forward creatively, spiritually, emotionally.  There’s certainly always some significant movement here—baby steps and/or bigger steps!

Murray Watts is the visionary behind all that is happening at Freswick Castle.  Myself and others share in that vision, and more people continue to join along the way as awareness and realization of its importance and impact increases.


How did you end up in Scotland being involved in this project?  How has your journey to Freswick Castle been intertwined with your journey as an artist, as well as an agent of hospitality? 

(Phew!  Big question!)

I was attending an aesthetics class in Toronto.  At some point we were invited to a talk given by guest speaker, Murray Watts, founder of Riding Lights Theatre Company in York, England.  He came to the University of Toronto and spoke on film-making.  In his talk, he made very brief mention of this place in the far north of Scotland and my ears perked up at this.  

Perhaps like

many North Americans I had this impression of Scotland as being a far-off land of castles and rainbows—a place you only read about in fairy tales, slightly untouchable—so I just shelved the idea of going in the back of my mind, only to pick it up a year later when I came to a crossroads in my life.  Sooner rather than later, I found myself on a plane to Glasgow, Scotland and then traveling on a train from there to the end of the line in Wick!   It felt like the end of the world at the time, and it all happened rather quickly. 


My initial plan was to be at Freswick for six weeks, to have some time to think.  Six years on…well, here I am!  Haha!  I guess I kind of merged into a role here.  The whole vision behind the place and the landscape met me with full resonance.

Initially, I thought of Freswick as a place of space to explore and develop my art.  It still is that, and as my art is slowly developing, it has also come to be a place where I’ve built upon other gifts I came to realize more fully.  I started to exercise other parts of myself through the organically-grown role of host on the site and coordinator for various arts events and programs. 

Of course, life has a way of following us, and Freswick is not a place of escape for me, even though it might have been a place to step

away to for a while initially—to step out to the margins.  It is now where I live. This has been effectively a pioneering role for me here.  My position sort of grew and developed to fit the need and gradually evolving ideas of what this place was about.

The balance of working for the Wayfarer Trust, meeting with people, connecting with the Caithness community and then getting to the studio is a struggle, and I am currently re-evaluating it (again!), trying to re-set some kind of discipline and routine.  But then, ‘balance’ is a pretty overrated term anyway, I think.  Passions, sensitivities, surprises, happy accidents and divine interruptions have a wonderful way of tipping the scale. 


You recently did some touring in North America to talk about the Freswick Castle project.  Where did you visit and what kinds of responses did you receive?

We started off in Toronto, then made our way down to Kerrville, Texas via a 5-day stopover in New York City.

It’s been very interesting to experience the response from people when we talk about Freswick.  It seems to strike a chord with folk—and fill a need.  Freswick is actually very much about the city.  Murray talks about cities needing reservoirs.  I guess Freswick can serve as a kind of reservoir supply to many people.


If artists would like to get involved with the program at the castle, what are the requirements and how should they get in touch?

Please check out our website for additional information.

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