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February 2012

It’s never too cold to go looking at ancient alders

On Friday afternoon I took my father on a little walk to check out some ancient-looking alders I’d spotted last weekend, when I was unable to get close enough for a good look because the Little Don was in the way.

It was so cold that the Little Don had actually started to freeze over! At work in the morning one of the vans had given the outside temperature as -5 °C, but that was in the middle of Sheffield where it was almost certainly warmer. Proper face-numb-er!

I love these two Scots pines. I love this whole area! It’s brill!

These icicles highlighted the bedding planes in one of the little land-slips.

Looking down on one of the old alders (Alnus glutinosa)…

Here’s another. It’s certainly an old one – look at the girth around the bottom of the trunk. Still, I was hoping they would be a bit bigger. If my memory is correct, the one I found in the autumn a short way away up Mickleden Beck is much bigger and more ancient (in appearance at least).

As well as old alders, five or six yews (Taxus baccata) grow on this side of the river. All of them have thriving, healthy crowns, although none have any serious trunk girth. The smallest of the yews (not the one in the photo) is interesting in that almost the entire tree had died off in some catastrophe, but it has regenerated with a vengeance and the crown is so well-formed and hale that from a distance you wouldn’t believe what a disaster befell it. Up close, you can see the old dead stems and branches and see how only a small line of living bark runs up the back of the trunk, although this appears to be doing its best to encircle the rest of trunk. No wonder yews live forever if this is what they can do!

This, the alder seen from above a few photos back, is the biggest of the handful of alders here. They all look to be coppices – but whether they are naturally coppicing themselves as old stems die off and new ones grow, or whether they have been managed in the forgotten past, I couldn’t possibly know.

It’s a lovely old tree.

When I turned around this hawthorn was trying to limbo or something.

Downy brrrrrch.

This is my absolute favourite kind of light – the late afternoon, pre-sunset light you get on a cloudless day that bathes the landscape in a golden glow. It has the power to make a photograph feel warm even despite it having been taken in Baltic conditions!

Posted in Gone for a walk

Prince Andrei and the oak

In the spring of 1809 Prince Andrei set off to visit the Ryazan estates which his son, whose trustee he was, had inherited.
Warmed by the spring sunshine he sat in the calèche, looking at the new grass, the young leaves on the birch-trees and the first flecks of white spring clouds floating across the clear blue sky. He was not thinking of anything, but looked about him, carefree and absent-minded.
The crossed the ferry where he had talked with Pierre a year before. They drove through the muddy village, past threshing floors and green fields of winter rye, downhill by a drift of snow still lying near the bridge, uphill along a clay road hollowed into runnels by the rain, past strips of stubble land and a copse touched here and there with green, and into a birch forest extending along both sides of the road. In the forest it was almost hot; there was not a breath of wind. The birches, all studded with sticky green leaves, did not stir, and lilac-coloured flowers and the first blades of green grass lifted and pushed their way between last year’s leaves. Dotted here and there among the birches, small fir-trees were an unpleasant reminder of winter with their coarse evergreen. The horses began to snort as they entered the forest and the sweat glistened on their coats.
The footman, Piotr, made some remark to the coachman; the coachman agreed. But apparently this was not enough for Piotr; he turned round on the box to his master.
‘How mild it is, you Excellency!’ he said with a respectful smile.
‘Mild, your Excellency.’
‘What is he talking about?’ wondered Prince Andrei. ‘Oh, the spring, I suppose,’ he thought, looking about him on either side. ‘And indeed everything is green already… How early! And the birches and the wild cherry and alder too are all beginning to come out. …But I don’t see any sign of the oak yet. Oh yes, there’s one, there’s an oak!’
At the edge of the road stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the bulk of the forest, it was ten time as thick and twice as tall as they. It was an enormous tree, double a man’s span, with ancient scars where branches had long ago been lopped off and bark stripped away. With huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, with gnarled hands and fingers, it stood, an aged monster, angry and scornful, among the smiling birch-trees. This oak alone refused to yield to the season’s spell, spurning both spring and sunshine.
‘Spring, and love, and happiness!’ this oak seemed to say. ‘Are you not weary of the same stupid, meaningless tale? Always the same old delusion! There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those strangled, lifeless fir-trees, everlastingly the same; and look at me too, sticking out broken excoriated fingers, from my back and my sides, where they grew. Just as they grew; here I stand, and I have no faith in your hopes and delusions.’
Prince Andrei turned several times to look back at this oak, as they drove through the forest, as though expecting some message from it. There were flowers and grass under the oak, too, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen and grim as ever.
‘Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right,’ mused Prince Andrei. ‘Others – the young – may be caught anew by this delusion, but we know what life is – our life is finished!’
A whole sequence of new ideas, pessimistic but bitter-sweet, stirred up in Prince Andrei’s soul in connexion with that oak-tree. During the journey he considered his life as it were afresh, and arrived at his old conclusion, restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for him to begin anything new, but that he must live out his life, content to do no harm, dreading nothing and aspiring after nothing.

* * * * *

It was already the beginning of June when, on his return journey, he drove into the birch-forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness-bells sounded still more muffled than they had done four weeks earlier, for now all was thick, shady and dense, and the young fir-trees dotted about here and there did not jar on the general beauty but, yielding to the mood around, showed delicately green with their feathery young shoots.
The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small rain-cloud had sprinkled the dust of the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest lay dark in the shade, the right side gleamed wet and shiny in the sunlight, faintly undulating in the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled and carolled, now near, now far away.
‘Yes, that old oak with which I saw eye to eye was here in this forest,’ thought Prince Andrei. ‘But whereabouts?’ he wondered again, looking at the left side of the road and, without realizing, without recognizing it, admiring the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spread out a canopy of dark, sappy green, and seemed to swoon and sway in the rays of the evening sun. There was nothing to be seen now of knotted fingers and scars, of old doubts and sorrow. Through the rough, century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted, so juicy, so young that it was hard to believe that aged veteran had borne them.
‘Yes, it is the same oak,’ thought Prince Andrei, and all at once he was seized by an irrational, spring-like feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life of a sudden rose to his memory. Austerlitz, with that lofty sky, the reproachful look on his dead wife’s face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon and… everything suddenly crowded back into his mind.
‘No, life is not over at thirty-one,’ Prince Andrei decided all at once, finally and irrevocably. ‘It is not enough for me to know what I have in me – everyone else must know it too: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky; all of them must learn to know me, in order that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others, like that young girl, live so apart from it, but may be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony together.’

From War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Posted in Quotes

Five years of treeblog

Low cloud glides over a forest of Scots pine and on up the Ryvoan Pass (November 22nd, 2011).

Today is treeblog’s fifth anniversary! Here’s to the next five years!

* * * * *

And to coincide with the anniversary, I’ve given the layout and design of the blog a little update. There’s a new row of links above the header which remove a lot of the clutter from the sidebar. The archive table now has its own page, so you can revisit any old month you fancy. The list of tags has been refreshed and relocated to a new page which it shares with a new list of categories. There are only nine categories (which I intend to refine, and I welcome your suggestions on this) – think of them as ‘super-tags’. The blogroll and list of links also has a separate page now, with some new additions that you might like to try out. Aside from that, not a lot has changed.

Although photographs are now 64% bigger. I think that’s a decent improvement!

Posted in Miscellany

The Hermitage, Dunkeld, and one of Britain’s tallest trees

A feisty River Braan flowing through the Hermitage.

More from my Scotland trip in November! The day after my tarriance in the Caledonian pinewood at Glenmore, I drove south to Dunkeld and met up with a good friend from university who I’d not seen in almost a year. Things worked out well because I wanted to visit the Hermitage to see one of Britain’s tallest trees, and he used to work in Dunkeld and was familiar with the area.

Just before the supertall tree I wished to see was this fine Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), itself an impressive enough sight with its towering, ramrod-straight stem.

The tree I came to see – the supertall tree – is the one on the right. In February 2009, a team of arborists from Sparsholt College in Hampshire were tasked with making official measurements for the Tree Register, who pointed them at four candidates for Britain’s tallest tree. The tallest was the Stronardron Douglas fir near Dunans Castle, Argyll, which measured 63.79 m (209 ft). Second place went to the grand fir in Diana’s Grove at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl (62.70 m) – which I visited at the end of my trip – while third place went to the Dughall Mor Douglas fir at Inverness (62.02 m). The fourth tallest tree was the supertall Douglas fir in my photograph, which was found to be 61.31 m tall. It is now the third tallest tree since the Blair Castle tree came a cropper in 2010 (which I’ll cover in the next post!), assuming no other reshuffling of the champs, which are raising the bar all the time.

The tallest Douglas firs in the world are found in their native range in North America. They are about the 100-metre mark! The only other species of tree with individuals taller than 100 m is Sequoia sempervirens - the California or coast redwood. The world’s tallest known living organism is a coast redwood called Hyperion – it was discovered in 2006 and has been measured at a whopping 115.6 m (379.3)!

The Black Linn Falls – seen under the bridge in the first photo - were fair roaring. I remember my mate telling me he’d seen salmon leaping up the falls before. I was well jel!

After crossing the bridge and checking out Ossian’s Hall and Ossian’s Cave we walked upstream...

We crossed back over the Braan at the Rumbling Bridge, where there are more falls, and looped back to where we started, on the way passing these mushrooms sprouting from a heavily decayed birch. Then back to Dunkeld for dinner in the Atholl Arms Hotel!

Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Tall trees at Diana’s Grove, Blair Castle (with a note on Britain’s tallest trees)

A fantastic avenue of lime trees running towards Blair Castle from the front gates.

The day after I walked around the Hermitage at Dunkeld I climbed Cairn Gorm - my sixth Munro - on a beautifully clear but cold day, and the day after that I set off on the long drive home. My great Scottish excursion had just about come to an end, but I still had something left to look forward to in Blair Atholl.

In May 2008 I arrived at Blair Atholl station with a couple of friends from university. We’d caught the train from Edinburgh and were just setting off on five days of walking and camping, going to Aviemore via the Minigaig Pass, the Linn of Dee, Loch Etchachan, Loch Avon, and Glenmore. From the station we walked up past Blair Castle and entered a small wood called Diana’s Grove. An information board by the gate got me pretty excited. Under the heading ‘Some Notable Trees’, it listed ‘Tallest Japanese Larch in Great Britain’, ‘5th tallest Douglas Fir in Great Britain’ and ‘Tallest Red Fir in Great Britain’! We had only just started our hike, so didn’t hang about, but I remember being impressed by a grove of very tall conifers.

Three and half a years later and I was back. The same information board tells how Diana’s Grove was set out in 1737 and takes its name from the statue of the Roman goddess of hunting that stands there; that it is renowned for its exotic conifers; that some of the first European larch (Larix decidua) to be grown in Britain were planted there in the 1730s by the second Duke of Atholl; and that the seventh Duke introduced Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) in 1884 and replanted much of the grove.

Many of the trees in the grove are numbered. On the left in this photo: No. 47 – a grand fir (Abies grandis), which was 62.7 metres tall with a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 180 cm when climbed by a team of arborists in February 2009, making it one of the tallest trees in Britain. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland by Owen Johnson (The Tree Register Handbook – published 2011) gives the grand fir national champion for height as a tree at Ardkinglas, Argyll, which measured 64.3 m tall with a dbh of 210 cm in 2010 (it was planted in 1875).

On the right: No. 45 – a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), now the tallest tree in Diana’s Grove. It measured 60 metres tall with a dbh of 131 cm in 2007 according to my Champion Trees, which lists the tallest Douglas fir in Britain as a 63.8 m tree with a dbh of 180 cm (measured in 2009) at Stronardron, Argyll.

Unfortunately a storm in March 2010 blew the top out of the grand fir. I think it still has a far more impressive trunk than the Douglas fir it now has to look up to.

The statue of Diana, Roman goddess of hunting. A small plaque on the plinth states that the original statue by John Cheere was erected by the second Duke of Atholl in 1737. It was replaced (by the seventh Duke) in 1893 after the ‘Great Storm’; the replacement was restored in 1997.

Champion Trees lists a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) growing in Diana’s Grove, on a mound of earth called Mount Strange, as the national champion of its species for height; it was 54.5 m tall with a dbh of 151 cm in 2007. (A few days earlier in my trip I’d visited Britain’s widest conifer, another giant sequoia at Cluny House Gardens near Aberfeldy - Champion Trees lists that one as being just 41 m tall but having a massive dbh of 360 cm!) I did see the Mount Strange sequoia but I didn’t take a decent photo so you’ll have to make do with the mushroom.

According to an information board there, the Mount Strange tree was grown from seed collected from the Grizzly Giant, the largest redwood growing in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park, California. The mound on which it grows was reshaped in 1884 to match the diameter of the trunk of the parent tree (according to Wikipedia the Grizzly Giant has a dbh of 780 cm these days!) - it initially commemorated “the 2nd Duke of Atholl taking his seat in parliament. He had recently inherited the title Barony of Strange through his paternal grandmother and went under this to parliament in 1737, the year in which Diana’s Grove was originally laid out.”

Of the red fir (Abies magnifica), which I don’t believe I could find, Champion Trees lists the Diana’s Grove tree as being 41 metres tall with a dbh of 163 cm in 2007 (and gives its date of planting as 1878). It is the red fir national champion for girth, but there is a taller red fir listed at Dunkeld House (43 m tall with a dbh of 127 cm when measured in 2007).

This is the national champion Japanese larch for height. According to Champion Trees it was planted in 1886, and in 2007 was measured at 44 m tall with a dbh of 97 cm. There is, however, a Japanese larch with a greater girth at Barton House, Warwickshire – that tree is listed as having a dbh of 115 cm in 2007.

This excellent noble fir (Abies procera) was growing in the castle grounds outside of Diana’s grove. It’s neither the tallest nor the broadest of its species, but it is nevertheless an imposing beast.

Fungi growing from the base of one the limes on the grand avenue.

In my last post I wrote that the tallest tree in Britain was the Stronardron Douglas fir near Dunans Castle, Argyll, which was measured by a team of tree surgeons in February 2009 and found to be 63.79 m tall. You may however have noticed that in this post I have mentioned a 64.3 metre tall grand fir at Ardkinglas, Argyll, but this tree was measured more recently, in 2010. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland was only published last year, and it is a definitive guide (and well worth investing in). I give it the last word:

The Ardkinglas grand fir grows in a fairly exposed spot beside Loch Fyne and, since 1991, has died back twice but regrown vigorously. In April 2010, it was climbed by a team of tree surgeons led by Iain Campbell Duncan and found to be 64.3 m tall. Its closest rival was a Douglas fir at Stronardron, Argyll, which was climbed in 2009 and was 63.8 m tall (and growing steadily); a Douglas fir of identical height at Lake Vyrnwy, Powys, split and was felled in 2011. Heights of 64 m have been claimed for ‘Dughal Mor’, a Douglas fir in Reelig Glen Wood near Inverness, Highland, but it is probably nearer 62 m. Another Douglas fir at the Hermitage, Dunkeld, Perthshire, grows on the steep bank of the Braan burn and is 65 m from its tip to the lowest exposed roots, but only 61.3 m to the ground on the top side when climbed in 2009.

The best trees in several stands of Douglas fir and grand fir in Snowdonia, planted by the Forestry Commission from 1919, passed 60 m around 2005 and seem likely, within a few more years, to provide all of our tallest trees.

…And that, I promise, was the last post from my November trip!

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

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