10 posts tagged with

Loch Tay

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Birthday Tour (Part 3): Loch Tay & the Ardeonaig Sycamore - Killin

…Continuing from Part Two, in which I visited the Glen Lyon Ash.

I don’t think I have ever seen Loch Tay looking so beautiful as it appeared on my 27th birthday – the whole scene was absolutely breath-taking. This is the view west towards the Killin end of the loch…

…and this is the view east. The town of Kenmore (which I had just driven through on my way from Fearnan) can be made out at the point where the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland, exits the loch en route to Perth and Dundee.

Blue skies, snowy mountains, and reflections in a still loch… lovely!

This monster sycamore grows close to the hamlet of Ardeonaig, beside the road which runs just to the south of Loch Tay along its full length between Killin and Kenmore. I’m calling it the Ardeonaig Sycamore, although a more fitting (but probably misleading) name may be the Ardeonaig Plane Tree, as that was the common name for Acer pseudoplatanus once in common usage in Scotland. I discovered this tree last June, being immediately struck by its immense size as I walked by on the Rob Roy Way with a couple of friends (although I had driven along this road at least a couple of times previously without spotting it).

The trunk – and these photos don’t do it justice – really is enormous. It’s just a solid wall of wood. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a measuring tape with me and so can’t provide an accurate size. As you can see, before long the trunk branches into three major stems. Each one would be a respectable sycamore on its own!

When the trunk is examined from the lane, as in the above photo, or when the whole tree is admired from down the lane in either direction, the Ardeonaig Sycamore appears to be in exceptional health. The crown is full and healthy and the stem is flawless – for a tree of such outstanding stature, the expected depredations of age are surprisingly absent.

However… This time I climbed up the little banking / decrepit wall to get a look at the back side of the tree, only to be equally surprised at the amount of decay visible back there! The back half of the tree tells a completely different story to the front half. It appears as though the Ardeonaig Sycamore once had four massive stems, but at some point the back stem broke off completely, probably falling harmlessly into the field behind. In the photograph above, taken looking up at one of the remaining stems, the bottom half of the picture is almost all decaying wood and the associated new growth (the fourth wall of CODIT). The presence of this significant amount of decayed wood right at the base of this huge stem has worrying implications for the tree. I cannot envisage this stem remaining upright for long. In fact, with this amount of decay where all three major stems join the main bole, I would say that in all likelihood this tree is close to disintegrating, with one, two, or all three of the remaining stems falling outwards.

This photograph of the eastern side of the tree shows part of the old wound created when the fourth stem snapped out. Presumably decay was already present to cause that stem to fall, unless it was broken by entirely mechanical forces; however, a wound of this size has undoubtedly promoted further decay, and now the enormous bole is actually mostly hollow at ground level. This is a massive shame. When I came across the Ardeonaig Sycamore last year I thought I had discovered something really special: an enormous veteran tree enjoying the good health of youth. Now I know that it was only putting on a brave face.

And here is one more view of Loch Tay – I can’t resist!

Having left behind the Ardeonaig Sycamore (and Glen Lyon Ash and Fortingall Yew), I made my way to Killin and stopped for refreshment at the Falls of Dochart Inn. The Falls themselves were in low flow and very tame. Unfortunately, before long I had to tear myself away from this enchanting part of the country and make a start on the drive back to Edinburgh… Still, I trust it shan’t be too long before I’m back up at Loch Tay. I am well and truly under its spell!


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Coming soon: a long-awaited update on the Set A grey alders…


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





Birthday Tour (Part 2): the Glen Lyon Ash – Loch Tay

…Continuing from Part One, in which I visited the Fortingall Yew.

Snow-capped Creag Roro (left) and the summit of An Stùc (1,118 m high) seen from Glen Lyon. Out of shot further right, the summit of Ben Lawers could also be seen - my third Munro, which I climbed in 2008.

Leaving Bridge of Balgie I retraced my route a little way until I came upon the Glen Lyon Ash, which I’d already driven past in the opposite direction. I would have stopped the first time but I knew that the Ben Lawers pass, the mountain road between Bridge of Balgie and Loch Tay, was blocked with snow and impassable by car (I’d walked up from the Loch Tay side as far as the Lawers Dam with friends a few days before and it was definitely blocked!). This meant Glen Lyon was effectively a giant cul-de-sac, so I’d have to backtrack as far as Fortingall to continue my tour.

The Glen Lyon Ash.

In the summer of 2008 I stayed with my parents for a week at Pubil, an absolutely tiny settlement at the far end of Glen Lyon. One day we were driving down the road when I noticed an ash tree of exceptional girth. I knew it was something special and had to get out of the car to have a look and take some photographs, which you can see in this vintage Treeblog post. That was the first I knew of the Glen Lyon Ash.

This Highland Perthshire website labels it the greatest-girthed ash (Fraxinus excelsior) recorded in Scotland, although it isn’t mentioned in my Tree Register Handbook. I wish I’d taken a tape measure along to see how it compares with the recognised champions. According to Highland Perthshire, “Close to the ash tree there is an ancient cross carved on a stone by the road. This is ‘St Adamnan’s Cross’ [shown on the OS map] and nearby is a stone with a deep hole where, so the legend goes, the saint banished the plague from the glen.” As if I needed an excuse to go back again!

The Ash grows but a field from the River Lyon. Here’s the view across the river and through the trees to Creag Roro and the summits of An Stùc and Ben Lawers.

The Glen Lyon Ash does get a mention in a Forestry Commission document titled Scotland’s Trees, Woods and Forests (available to download as a .pdf): “The Glen Lyon Ash can be found midway up this beautiful Perthshire glen. Ash trees are not noted for their longevity, but this tree is the exception. Thought to be 400 – 500 years old, this ash was once more than 100 feet high. It has recently been cut back to produce new growth, which should see it survive for another century or two.” You know, I would kill to see a photograph of this ash standing proud at its full height. The tree is also name-checked by the Woodland Trust’s Tree Disease website.

The Glen Lyon Ash seen with more of its surroundings. We’re facing north here, with our backs to the river.

You can clearly see that our ash was once a much taller tree. Its ‘pollarding’ was severe, but the Ash today is flourishing and it has already established a fine new crown. I hope the wood-rotting fungi take it easy on the bole and roots so the tree can live out the FC’s optimistic prediction of another century or two, but there are dark clouds on the horizon in the form of Chalara fraxinea - the dreaded ash dieback that has run rampant across Europe.

Anyway, after tearing myself away from this awesome veteran I made my way back down Glen Lyon to Fortingall, then hung a right to Fearnan… and Loch Tay!


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Continue to Birthday Tour (Part 3): Loch Tay & the Ardeonaig Sycamore - Killin.


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





Birthday Tour (Part 1): Loch Rannoch - the Fortingall Yew – Bridge of Balgie

I woke up in a tent on my 27th birthday. It was early April, I had slept at the Forestry Commission’s campsite in Rannoch Forest, and it was as perfect a spring day as ever there was. I hatched a plan to photograph three big trees in the vicinity of Loch Tay while taking a motor tour through this part of the Highlands like a tourist of old: the Fortingall Yew, the Glen Lyon Ash, and a monster sycamore near Ardeonaig.

My campsite was just a short distance from both Loch Rannoch and the Black Wood of Rannoch, a remnant of the great Caledonian Forest, through which I’d walked the previous day.

Driving east along the road that follows the shore of the loch I passed the wee village of Kinloch Rannoch and soon met with the singular sight of a very shiny, snowbound Schiehallion. I climbed this mountain in November 2011 – my fifth Munro! – when I was lucky enough to see a faint Brocken spectre with double glory.

Following the Schiehallion road brought me up to Loch Kinardochy, which in contrast to the warmth of the day was still half frozen over. Back in the car I took the road south before turning right at Coshieville to follow the River Lyon upstream to Fortingall.

This is Fortingall parish church with the famous Fortingall Yew on the left. I’ve visited the yew five or six times over the last half-decade, but I’m now ashamed to admit that I never paid the church or churchyard any attention. Researching the church to say a little about it for these pictures has made me realise what I’ve been missing out on - antiquities that were right under my very nose half a dozen times! I only had eyes for the old tree, but my ignorance is inexcusable over so many visits… I must make amends on the next one.

The present church was built about 1900 on the site of its pre-Reformation predecessor. Three photographs from 1884, showing this earlier church and the yew (with a much smaller crown than today), can be found on the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland’s Canmore website.

According to this page on Undiscovered Scotland, the site may have been occupied by a monastery before the 1100s. Gravestones dating back to the 7th century, a stone font from around 700, and fragments of three Celtic crosses dating from around 800 were all found when the previous church was demolished in 1901. A 7th-century bronze-plated iron hand-bell is also on display within the church. As Undiscovered Scotland say, “Fortingall appears to have been an important Christian centre from a very early date.”

Today the Fortingall Yew is enclosed by a sturdy stone wall with sections of iron railings to allow a glimpse of the inhabitant’s trunks; only the healthy crown can be seen from farther back, a golden-green cloud resting upon a plinth. Peering between the railings, the uninformed would be forgiven for believing that they were looking at a pair of quite unremarkable trees. In fact these are but two fragments of a once immense trunk of almost unbelievable proportions, but being fully shrouded in healthy bark and showing no sign of decay, they could pass unrecognised as two yews of far less ancient provenance. The truth is nothing short of mind-blowing!

The Fortingall Yew is one of the oldest known trees in Europe. Allen Meredith (whose estimates according to The Tree Register Handbook “are as well-informed as anyone’s”) has suggested it could be as old as 5,000 years (along with the yews at Discoed in Powys and Llangernyw in Conwy), which is certainly something to think about. But what I find truly incredible is the gargantuan size it once reached. Forget the Yew as it stands today, so small, so utterly destroyed by ‘tourists’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, and try to wrap your mind around this: in the mid-1700s the Fortingall Yew had a girth of 56 and a half feet (17.2 m): a diameter of 5.5 metres (18 ft)! Consider that the thickest tree in Britain today is probably the Marton Oak with a dbh of 446 cm when measured around the three remaining sections of its trunk (although there are giant sequoias 7 m thick where their flared boles meet the ground). A five-and-a-half metre thick yew is phenomenal!

So how did such an enormous and enormously important tree end up looking like two smallish trees? I’ll let four old books tell that sorry tale (forgive a touch of overlap).

This sketch of the Fortingall Yew is taken from Thomas Pennant’s A Tour in Scotland; 1769, first published in 1771. The accompanying description runs: “A View of the gigantic Yew-Tree in Fortingal Church-Yard. The middle part is now decayed to the ground; but within memory was united to the height of three feet: Captain Campbell of Glen-Lion having assured me that when a boy he has often climbed over, or rode on the then connecting part.

In this book Pennant describes his visit to Fortingal on the 31st of July, 1769:

Rode to Glen-lion; went by the side of the river* that gives name to it. It has now lost its antient title of Duie, or Black, given it on account of a great battle between the Mackays and the Macgregors; after which, the conquerors are said to have stained the water with red, by washing in it their bloody swords and spears. On the right is a rocky hill, called Shi-hallen, or the Paps. Enter Glen-lion through a strait pass: the vale is narrow, but fertile; the banks of the river steep, rocky, and wooded; through which appear the rapid water of the Lion. On the north is a round fortress, on the top of the hill; to which, in old times, the natives retreated, on any invasion. A little farther, on a plain, is a small Roman camp†, called by the Highlanders Fortingal, or the Fort of the Strangers: themselves they style Na-fian, or descendents of Fingal. In Fortingal church are the remains of a prodigious yew-tree, whose ruins measured fifty-six feet and a half in circumference.

* This river freezes; but the Tay, which receives it, never does.
† It possibly might have been made during the expedition of Severus, who penetrated to the extremity of this island: it was the most northern work of the Romans I had any intelligence of.

Walter Johnson’s Byways in British Archaeology, first published in 1912, also mentions the Fortingall Yew. Johnson includes Pennant’s 1769 measurement (though mistakenly describing it as having been recorded “a few years later”, an error repeated from Loudon as you shall soon see) alongside another measurement taken in 1769 by Barrington, a judge – unfortunately there is a four-and-a-half foot discrepancy, perhaps accounted for by the measurements having been taken at different heights. Johnson writes:

From a long descriptive list of aged yew trees, slowly accumulated in a note-book, a few examples only need be extracted. At the head, in regard to antiquity, stands probably the yew in the graveyard of Fortingal (Fortingale, or erroneously, Fotheringhall), Perthshire. Sir R. Christison estimated this tree to be 3000 years old, and deemed it “the most venerable specimen of living European vegetation3.” De Candolle’s determination was about the same as Christison’s. The hollow stump, which has been carefully railed in, is now the merest wreckage. The Fortingal yew was measured by Daines Barrington in 1769, when the circumference was set down as 52 feet1. Pennant, a few years later, gave the result as 56½ feet… It is worthy of notice that a very old ecclesiastical establishment once existed near the Fortingal yew3. Loudon gives us a woodcut representing the tree as it appeared in 18374; beyond this we have to rely on the figures quoted, and on oral tradition.

Competing with the Fortingal yew for the premier position, there formerly existed that of Brabourne, in Kent. It was alluded to by Evelyn in his Discourse on Forest Trees (1664), as already “supperannuated,” and it disappeared about a century ago5. De Candolle put its age at more than 3000 years6, and while this was doubtless an over-estimate, yet, if the recorded circumference, 59 feet7, be correctly stated, the tree was actually more ancient than its Scottish rival.

A third claimant, from Hensor (Bucks), must be introduced with a wavering pen. Its circumference, according to Mr J. R. Jackson, of Kew, was 81 feet8, hence, if this measurement be accurate, the yews already mentioned are hopelessly out-ranged, for here we should have a tree 2000 years old. Unfortunately, this yew no longer remains to tell its own story, or to allow the measurement to be checked.

3 Life of Sir R. Christison, II. p. 264. Physiologie Végétale, t, II. p. 1002.

1 Philosoph. Trans. 1770, LIX. P. 37.
3 Notes and Queries, 5th Ser., V. p. 477.
4 J. C. Loudon, Arboretum Britannicum, IV. p. 2079.
5 Murray, Handbook for Kent, 5th edition, 1892, p. 37.
6 Physiologie Végétale, t, II. p. 1002.
7 Handbook for Kent, l.c., Black’s Kent, p. 143.
8 Notes and Queries, 5th Ser., V. p. 376.

So there once existed an even larger yew than the one at Fortingall! Later in his book, Johnson touches on one of the reasons for our yew’s present diminished state:

The Fortingal yew had its career shortened by the lighting of Beltane fires against its trunk1. The origin of Beltane fires is on all hands admitted to be at least pre-Roman. Another illuminating fact is that when this aged tree had become separated into two portions, funeral processions were accustomed to pass between the limbs2.

1 Naturalists’ Journal, 1895, p. 99.
2 Nat. Jour., l.c.; J. G. Strutt, Sylva Britannica, 1826, p. 28. Strutt gives a fine illustration of the Fortingal yew.

Jacob George Strutt does indeed give “a fine illustration of the Fortingal yew”. Here it is, taken from his Sylva Britannica; or Portraits of Forest Trees, first published in 1822 (an expanded edition followed in 1830). It is a far more life-like representation than the sketch made by Pennant in 1769, and I think we can safely consider it a fairly accurate likeness of the tree as it was in the 1820s.

Strutt provides us with an updated description of the yew:

THE FORTINGAL YEW is one of the largest and oldest trees in Scotland: it stands in the Church-yard of Fortingal, or the Fort of the Strangers, so called from its being in the vicinity of a small Roman camp; a wild romantic district lying in the heart of the Grampian Mountains, comprehending Glenlyon and Rannoch, abounding in lakes, rivers, and woods, and formerly inhabited by that lawless tribe of freebooters, who, setting the civil power at defiance in the intricacy of their fastnesses, laid all the surrounding country under that species of contribution so well known at the time it was exacted, by the name of Blackmail.

This prodigious tree was measured by the Hon. Judge Barrington, before the year 1770, and is stated by him to have been at that time fifty-two feet in circumference; but Pennant describes it as measuring fifty-six feet and a half. The same elegant tourist also speaks of it as having formerly been united to the height of three feet; Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, having assured him that when a boy, he had climbed over the connecting part. It is now however decayed to the ground, and completely divided into two distinct stems, between which the funeral processions were formerly accustomed to pass. It is impossible to ascertain its age; but judging from its present state and appearance, it is not too much to suppose that its date is contemporary with that of Fingal himself, whose descendants the Highlanders in the vicinity are fond of styling themselves.

Johnson, in his Byways in British Archaeology, also wrote that “Loudon gives us a woodcut representing the tree as it appeared in 1837”. Here is it, taken from John Claudius Loudon’s Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, which was originally issued in sixty-three monthly parts from January 1835 until July 1838. Loudon’s illustration matches up nicely with Strutt’s.

Loudon gives our best insight yet into the appalling fate of the Yew:

The Fortingal Yew (fig. 1989) stands in the churchyard of Fortingal, or the Fort of the Strangers, so called from its being in the vicinity of a small Roman camp, lying in the wild romantic district at the entrance to Glen Lyon, in Perthshire. Its age is unknown, but it has long been a mere shell, forming an arch, through which the funeral processions of the highlanders were accustomed to pass. It was first described in the Philosophical Transactions (vol. lix.), in 1769, by the Honourable Daines Barrington, who found it 52 ft. in circumference; and some years afterwards, by Mr. Pennant, when the circumference had increased to 56 ft. 6 in. Dr. Neill visited the tree in July, 1833; and a notice of it by him will be found in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal for that year, from which we make the following extract; premising that, when Daines Barrington measured the tree, he found one side of the trunk a mere shell of bark, all the interior having decayed. “Considerable spoliations,” Dr. Neill observes, “have evidently been committed on the tree since 1769; large arms have been removed, and masses of the trunk itself carried off by the country people, with the view of forming quechs, or drinking-cups, and other relics, which visitors were in the habit of purchasing. What still exists of the trunk now (1833) presents the appearance of a semicircular wall, exclusive of the remains of some decayed portions of it, which scarcely rise above the ground. Great quantities of new spray have issued from the firmer parts of the bark, and a few young branches spring upwards to the height, perhaps, of 30 ft. The side of the trunk now existing gives a diameter of more than 15 ft., so that it is easy to conceive that the circumference of the bole, when entire, should have exceeded 50 ft. Happily, further depredations have been prevented by means of an iron rail, which now surrounds the sacred spot; and this venerable yew, which, in all probability, was a flourishing tree at the commencement of the Christian era, may yet survive for centuries to come.”

This is the larger of the two fragments of trunk still surviving today.

According to Undiscovered Scotland, a wall was first built around the Fortingall Yew in 1785, “though as already noted this seems to have done little to prevent further damage. The wall was rebuilt with gaps for viewing protected by railings in 1842…” This protective enclosure still surrounds the tree, and without it I sincerely doubt that there would be anything left of the yew today. Fortunately, the regenerative abilities of the ‘immortal’ yew have allowed the pathetic remains of this once-gargantuan tree to flourish within their sanctuary, and today they could pass as two healthy but entirely separate trees, five metres apart. A ring of wooden pegs on the ground marking out the extent of the old trunk connect the two fragments, and the twin crowns blend together as one.

This is an old postcard of the Yew and the church from my collection. I’m not sure of the date it was taken. It is unused postally, which doesn’t give any clues, but the church is clearly the one built after 1900. The Fortingall Yew itself had a much smaller crown then, when its previous appalling treatment was a less distant memory. The gravestones are our best bet at fixing a date for this photograph. The bright white one on the right must have been erected only recently here: in my present-day photo below, it has been discoloured by the passage of time. There are other changes to the graves too.

A familiar scene, April 2013.

…So after bidding the yew a fond farewell I took the picturesque Glen Lyon road as far as the Bridge of Balgie, where I’d hoped to enjoy a birthday scone. Unfortunately, as I had very little cash on me and the wee post office / tearoom didn’t accept card payments… I had to settle for a tin of Irn Bru and a Double Decker instead!


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Continue to Birthday Tour (Part 2): the Glen Lyon ash - Loch Tay.


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





Loch Tay and the Falls of Acharn

The beautiful, beautiful Loch Tay, seen through my sunglasses. Seven of us stopped in a log cabin up there for three nights last weekend (April 15–18). On the Friday we hired a couple of boats and spent the day motoring around and fishing. It was a good time, even if our trawling wasn’t successful.

The harbour at Milton Morenish. The mountain in the background is Beinn Ghlas, a Munro in the Ben Lawers Range.

The big tree in the centre of the foreground is the famous Mother Beech - a tree with a special place in my heart.

This mahoosive Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) stands by the road between Milton Morenish and Killin. What a tree.

Not far away was this curiosity: a perfect ring of tree stumps. Who planted a ring of trees and why? Who cut them down? I do love being intrigued by these little mysteries.

On the Saturday we had a walk up to the Falls of Acharn, a series of small waterfalls and pools around one giant waterfall. This photo shows one of the pools. As you can see, there wasn’t much water coming down the falls, so all the interesting rock formations were revealed.

This is the same pool on the 4th of August 2009, the last time I was up at Loch Tay. What a difference!

Another section of the falls in low flow…

…and the same view in August. Back then it was a noisy, scary, raging beast of a river; now it’s a gentle trickle!

And here’s the main waterfall, seen from across the gorge. More rock than water...

…but a totally different animal in spate!


Posted in Holidays and field trips





More photos from the Highlands jaunt

3rd August ‘09. Looking down on Loch Tay from the Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial. I collected data for my dissertation there in March 2008.

3rd August ’09. Me and my father were skimming pebbles on Loch Tay from a little jetty at Fearnan. This is one of his that hit the water at too steep an angle.

5th August ’09. A hoary old rowan in Glen Lyon with a massive, hollow trunk.

5th August ’09. A complete wreck of a rowan. The only sign of life was a handful of dying leaves out on that snapped limb. A tree crossing the very threshold of death.

5th August ’09. A characterfully windswept Scots pine below Loch an Daimh...

… and nearby, a bit of old Caledonian pinewood.

21st March ’08. Three logs near the silver birch provenance trial, taken on my phone during a snow shower when I was up there collecting dissertation data.

3rd August ’09. The same logs a year and a half later. See how they’re decomposing, and see how the surrounding vegetation has changed.


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The thirty-ninth Festival of the Trees, “Hidden Among The Trees”, is up at Arboreality. Go read!


Posted in Holidays and field trips





A huge ash in Glen Lyon. The Falls of Acharn.

One really, really big ash.

Somewhere in Glen Lyon grows a bloody huge veteran ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Though it has a girth of truly enormous proportions, it is sadly lacking in the height department after a recent pollarding. I reckon this major piece of tree surgery was carried out about ten years ago in order to make the tree safe – it stands at the side of a road – by removing a diseased / rotten / dying crown. Happily, the tree is looking super healthy and vigorous today and has put on plenty of new growth since it was pollarded, forming a nice ball-shaped crown.

All photos taken on Tuesday the 4th of August.

Two ashes.

A look round the other side.

The longest drop at the Falls of Acharn.

Later in the day after a drive around the eastern end of Loch Tay we parked the car in Acharn and went for a walk up by the burn to see the Falls of Acharn. July was very wet and the few days prior to our visit had been quite rainy, so the Falls were an impressive sight with Acharn Burn in good spate. There isn’t just a single fall, but rather a series of spectacular falls; the photo above shows the biggest drop, which can be admired from a wee viewing platform accessed through a “hermit’s cave” (read small T-shaped tunnel apparently built in the 1760s). Further upstream are a series of smaller yet equally (if not more so) impressive waterfalls in a rapids-stylee. If you’re up in the Loch Tay area they are definitely worth a visit.

This page on the Walking Highlands site and this Wikipedia page have a few of photos that show the same views as a couple of mine, but with the burn in a much reduced flow.

Part of the series of smaller falls further upstream of the big drop. Note the daredevil tree (centre top of the photo) growing right out of the rock and leaning over the churning pool.

Even further upstream. If you like waterfalls, treeblog will soon be treating you to more watery goodness in the form of Killin’s Falls of Dochart and the Lake District’s Aira Force.

Rogues and beeches.

And still in the vicinity of the Falls, a luscious young hazelnut (Corylus avellana) is coming along nicely.


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





Habitat restoration in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve

Flowers of the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia).

I recently returned from a week in the Highlands where I stayed in a cottage in Glen Lyon, just over an hour’s drive from Killin and Loch Tay. On Sunday the 2nd I walked up Beinn Ghlas (1103 m / 3620 ft) and Ben Lawers (1214 m / 3984 ft), two of the local Munros (mountains over 3000 feet). Most of the main path is within the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, a 4,722 ha area of land encompassing the southern slopes of the Lawers and Tarmachan ranges owned and cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

Adapted from the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve page:

… [The] Reserve [is] especially important for the arctic-alpine flora, and is also of international importance. We manage it in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, to achieve a wide range of conservation objectives [including] the long-term survival of the native species of plant and animal and their habitats… some of the habitats are now so rare and vulnerable that extinction is either imminent of inevitable if we do not act to prevent it. Much of our work is designed to reverse such a process, with ‘species recovery’ and ‘habitat restoration’. For example, you can se the first British attempt to restore montane willow scrub, a rare and declining habitat in Scotland, as part of a continuum also including herb-rich birchwood. [A] Nature Trail is mostly within an ‘enclosure’ fence, within which the vegetation is recovering from the heavily grazed condition still seen outside the fence. Many of the trees and shrubs have been planted during the 1990s, but some of them, and the herbaceous plants, have regenerated without such intervention.


This photo shows the enclosed area mentioned in the above passage – it’s the reddish-brown patch in the centre of all that green. The green is mainly grass and low-growing herbs that are tolerant of being grazed by sheep and deer. The enclosed area is a different colour because a more natural flora has been allowed to regenerate thanks to the deer fencing – it appears reddish-brown from a distance because a lot of the ground cover is currently made up of heathers and flowering grasses. The mountain in the background is Beinn Ghlas; it obscures Ben Lawers.

The concentrated sheep grazing since the 18th century, and increasingly large deer populations now [deer have no natural predators since the wolf was hunted to extinction in the 17th or 18th century], have had a profound effect on the vegetation. Trees, shrubs and tall herbaceous plants cannot survive and regenerate and are now confined to cliff ledges. Farmers have rights to graze their sheep on Trust land on the Ben Lawers range, but the red deer is a native of the hills and its presence is important to the land. However, numbers are such that seedling trees cannot escape the many hungry mouths, so culling of deer is carried out on the reserve.

[Taken from a leaflet available to download from the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve page.]


Several birch (Betula) saplings and a rowan sapling (Sorbus aucuparia) – far right – growing amongst heather, ferns and lichen (the creamy-white patches) inside the enclosure. Much nicer than a vast, monotonous expanse of overgrazed grassland, innit. As well as birch and rowan, I saw plenty of willow growing; the Burn of Edramucky flows through the enclosure and you know how willow loves its water.

A wee rowan rising above tall, flowering grass; something you just don’t see outside of the enclosure.

The view south over the beautiful Loch Tay from the enclosure. I ♥ the Highlands.

This horsetail (Equisetum sp.) – a “living fossil” - is also benefiting from the habitat restoration scheme. I found this one growing with its friends by a waterfall.

Looking back through the enclosure towards Beinn Ghlas. The day started off overcast and drizzly, but by late afternoon the weather turned lovely for the ascent.


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Featuring in the next few posts: photos of the Set A and Set C trees; a huge spruce and a money tree; a huge ash and a hoary rowan; & some big mushrooms and a big bracket fungus!


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

I spent the last week up in the Highlands by Loch Tay, collecting data from the Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial at Boreland (Drummond 34). About three weeks previous to my Highlands trip, I'd been down in Thetford for a week at another silver birch provenance trial (see this post and this post). Whereas the Thetford site was a model provenance trial, all perfect neat rows and level ground, the Drummond Hill trial was a bit of a 'mare. Not as bad as the provenance trial in Ormsary (Kintyre 20) that I visited in September, but still a bit of trouble. The site was split in two by a forest road, and the lower portion was a right weird shape. The ground was all stoney and uneven, and holes made during mounding were often hidden by dead vegetation. It was a pain to traverse, and was real ankle-spraining country. Luckily no injuries were sustained, and I was accompanied at all times by my assisstant forester in case any such sprainage should have ocurred. The upper section of the site was less stoney, but was still full of stumps and holes. And the trees were planted all higgledy-piggledy! Some of this was understandable because of all the stumps and stones and whatnot, but some of it seemed a bit unnecessary. As a result, whilst in some parts of the trial clear rows of birches could be seen and we knew exactly where we were, in other parts we were a bit lost, especially when trees were missing, out of line, or just plain not planted in a nice five-by-five square!

Nevertheless, these difficulties were overcome and I now have all the data I require for my dissertation!

the provenance trial from afar

The provenance trial from afar (viewed from the other side of Loch Tay).

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial from a much closer perspective. The birches are behind the deer fence, and in the background you can see a spruce plantation.

view over Loch Tay from the trial

A typical view over Loch Tay from the trial (only typical when the Sun was shining!) - isn't it beautiful?

an old shieling within the trial

I think this is part of a ruined old shieling. There were a few ruins in the lower portion of the trial site, and I think they were all once shielings. The OS map for the Loch Tay area shows an abundance of old shielings all over the place, but the ones in the provenance trial aren't marked on. I wonder whether or not these ruins are known to archaeologists? This page at 'Comunn Eachdraidh Nis' has a good description of what shielings were.

Loch Tay at sunset

Loch Tay. This pleasant scene was seen as we were leaving the trial site at half six on the second day, Tuesday the 18th of March.

fallen ash

When all the hard work was done, it was time for a little sight-seeing. The map showed an incised cross very close to the provenance trial, so I went to look at that. A plaque on the back identified it as the Fernan (or Fearnan) Fair or Market Cross. Right next to the cross a huge ash tree had fallen over, its upper branches reaching over the cross.

wooded isle

In Killin, on an island in the middle of the River Dochart just below the impressive Falls of Dochart, is the Clan Macnab Burial Ground. There was a nice spot of woodland on the island.

farm with snowy mountain in distance

And finally, a view of the farm complex on the Kinnell Estate where I stayed for the duration of my visit.

One last thing. We also made a visit to the nearby Fortingall Yew, the oldest tree in Europe, which is estimated to be between two and five thousand years old! The Wikipedia page gives a basic description.


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





The Mother Beech (September 2006)

the Mother Beech (7th September 2006)

I took this photograph from the cosy confines of a rowing boat on the still waters of Loch Tay (less than 2 hours after this one was taken). See the Mother Beech in the centre, her crown raised above the other trees crowding the shoreline. Ain't she a beauty? 35 metres tall with a girth of 3.8 metres at breast height were her measurements. For the record, the trees dwarfed by the big beech are mainly silver birch, alder and some immature oak and ash.


Posted in Holidays and field trips





The Mother Beech


This fine figure of a beech is on the southern shore of Loch Tay in the central Highlands of Scotland. I spent the first week of September 2006 at the Firbush field centre there as part of my Ecological Science course with the University of Edinburgh. It was an awesome time, and we all had good fun. The titular beech was the focus of a project I worked on with three friends. Our field work was aimed at measuring and recording all offspring of the Mother Beech in the surrounding hectare. The diagram below shows the offspring around the parent, which is the centre point of the hectare. Solid dots represent offspring with a height below eye level; hollow dots represent offspring with a height above eye level (where eye level is defined as 160 cm). The upper bold dashed line represents the high-water level of Loch Tay, and the lower bold dashed line represents the northern boundary of a road and conifer plantation.



Posted in Holidays and field trips





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