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Posted on February 9, 2014 by Ash
I recently came across an interesting passage on a tree that groaned in a dusty tome called Old England: A Pictorial Museum (published by Charles Knight in 1845). The author recounts William Gilpin’s sketch of a rather singular elm from his older and dustier tome Remarks on Forest Scenery; and other Woodland Views (first published in 1791). Here is Gilpin’s original description:
The next tree I shall exhibit from New-forest, is the groaning-tree of Badesley; a village about two miles from Lymington. The history of the groaning-tree is this. About forty years ago, a cottager, who lived near the centre of the village, heard frequently a strange noise, behind his house, like that of a person in extreme agony. Soon after, it caught the attention of his wife, who was then confined to her bed. She was a timorous woman, and being greatly alarmed, her husband endeavoured to persuade her, that the noise she heard, was only the bellowing of the stags in the forest. By degrees, however, the neighbours, on all sides heard it; and the thing began to be much talked of. It was by this time plainly discovered, that the groaning noise proceeded from an elm, which grew at the end of the garden. It was a young, vigorous tree; and to all appearance perfectly sound.
Posted on November 28, 2013 by Ash
I recently came across a report entitled The Plantations on the Estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire in Volume 12 of the Transactions of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, published by that Society in 1888. (You can find a full copy of the book at archive.org.) The report provides a fascinating first-hand account of estate forestry at the end of the nineteenth century - and the proximity of Wentworth to my hometown makes this of especial personal interest. The devastating effects of industrial pollution are given prominence, and the innocuous line that “For underwood and game cover we find… none take so freely to the soil as the Rhododendron” should ring ominously for every conservationist.
The Plantations on the estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire. By George Dodds, Forester, Wentworth, Rotherham, Yorkshire.
Beginning with the Home Park, which extends to about 2000 acres, we estimate the area under wood, including some plantations that lie contiguous to the Park, at 1000 acres, of various ages. … Some of the trees in the Park have attained to large dimensions, chiefly oak, and it is currently reported here that some of the older and larger specimens are the remnants of the ancient natural forest, which I have no doubt once stretched across from Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire to this part of the country.
The earliest planting here of any note was done by the first Marquis of Rockingham [Thomas Watson-Wentworth, b. 1693 d. 1750], who lived about 180 years ago. It is rather a curious fact that even the trees that appear to be about 100 years’ growth, have not the least appearance of the older trees, as they are now showing symptoms of premature decay, by the stunted and sickly appearance of the foliage that they put on every season. This I attribute in a large degree to the prevalence of smoke and noxious fumes, which have arisen in this locality within the last hundred years or so.
This wood may be said to be one of the Home plantations, as it lies immediately outside of the Park, and extends to 200 acres, varying in age from 6 to 150 years. …
It is about 80 years old… Some very promising specimens of beech and Spanish chestnut are growing here. …
This plantation extends to 180 acres, and is about 150 years old. … This wood has suffered severely from being in the neighbourhood of iron-works, which, however, are now done away with. I have advised to clear the greater portion of the present crop away and replant the ground with the most suitable kinds of trees.
This district comprises a parish and township lying at a high elevation, and is consequently much exposed. The highest part is about 600 feet above sea-level, and lies very exposed to the west wind. The woodlands extend to about 600 acres, and the trees vary in age from 10 to 70 years. … The younger woods have been planted in narrow belts, and mostly on land which has been occupied by old pit workings… This is also a smoke infested district, one of the largest iron-works in Yorkshire being upon the land, and also an extensive colliery. We are kept continually felling dead trees, and I am of the opinion that, if the smoke continues, very few live trees will be found in the course of a few years.
The woodlands in this district extend to about 300 acres. The trees are chiefly oak. …
This is a large wood extending about 450 acres, and lies to the south-east of the town of Sheffield. Portions of it have already been taken up for building sites, and in a few years hence, I have no doubt it will be extensively used for that purpose, lying as it does within easy reach of such an important and progressive town.
This wood lies intermediate between the towns of Rotherham and Sheffield, and receives the full effect of the smoke, sulphur, and other fumes, no matter from which direction the wind may blow.
This wood extends to 510 acres… This is one of the most valuable woods upon the estate, and is no doubt a part of the remains of the Nottinghamshire Forests, as it is situate close to the borders of the counties of York and Nottingham. Some yews in the centre of the wood are of immense size and great age. The are still growing, and very healthy, and may at one time supplied Robin Hood and his merry men with bows and arrows.
An extensive tract of moorland extending to about 1800 acres. This district lies at an altitude of about 900 feet above sea-level… A ravine traverses a great portion of the wood, and upon the slopes, on both of its sides, the trees have done well.
I cannot say that the woods upon this estate have been managed upon the most scientific principles, still they will compare favourably with most other extensive woodlands in the district.
Posted on May 19, 2013 by Ash
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Posted on April 15, 2012 by Ash
The Ardmeanach Peninsula with Loch Scridain on the left.
I went on my own up to Mull for a few days at the end of March. On my first full day there I climbed Ben More, 966 metres tall and the island’s only Munro - my seventh. On my third day there I took the ferry across to Iona and visited the ruined nunnery and restored abbey, and the next day I had an eleven-hour drive back to Sheffield. On my second full day on Mull – the 31st of March - I went for a walk to see MacCulloch’s fossil tree.
I left the car at the National Trust car-park just past Tiroran on the Ardmeanach Peninsula and set off west along a Landrover track. It was a beautiful day, warm enough for shorts and t-shirt for the most part. The previous day I’d climbed Ben More in dense fog, relying on map and compass to reach the summit and descending in chilly rain. The day after, on Iona, the weather was miserably overcast and drizzly. But the day I chose to visit the fossil tree was absolutely lovely. Lucky me!
Looking back at the farmhouse at Burg, the last inhabited house on the peninsula and home to the only person I saw on my whole six-hour walk – an old man who stood looking after me once I’d passed by. Today this farmhouse and a small bothy are about all that’s left here, but over fifty people lived at Burg before the Highland clearances in the 1840s. East of Burg, there were also settlements at Culliemore and Salachry, but these too were cleared in the 1800s for sheep-farming. I saw a lot of ruins of small buildings along the track.
This 19th-century monument stands in the centre of a ruined iron age fort – you can see the thick, curved wall in the right of the picture. This “probable D-shaped semibroch or a sub-oval dun” is known as Dun Bhuirg. Archaeological notes are available at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland’s website.
It was also called Castle Dare at one time. A plaque on the other side of the monument, erected by Mr. John Hamilton Turner, reads:
Puir wee lassie. According to Walking on the Isle of Mull by Terry Marsh, Daisy’s family owned the Tiroran and Carsaig Estates. She died, aged twelve, when the small boat she was in with her brothers Ronald and Leslie was overtaken by a storm as they sailed to Carsaig. The boat capsized and sank with Daisy caught in the rigging; the boatmen and her brothers survived. Her proper name was Helen Margaret Cheape. [I found this further information here.]
Looking east, back along Loch Scridain.
At one point in my walk, I rounded a corner and was surprised by this sight: two stags (red deer or roe?), a family of feral goats, and a buzzard!
This mad wheel of basaltic cooling columns is in the sea close to MacCulloch’s fossil tree. I have read that this wheel itself was formed by lava cooling around a tree – we’re seeing a horizontal cross-section of the tree and the surrounding lava, whereas MacCulloch’s tree is seen in vertical cross-section. It seemed to me that this wheel was the terrifying maw of a gigantic kraken.
The wheel and a collection of more regular vertical cooling columns.
Even closer to MacCulloch’s fossil tree, the path takes you to a rusty old ladder that leads down onto this stony beach. The ladder looked very old and seriously corroded, so it was an act of faith to climb down it. An even older and rustier ladder still hangs on beside it!
And so, finally, to MacCulloch’s fossil tree – after a four hour walk which I reduced to two hours on the return leg simply by taking next to no photographs.
The tree was probably swallowed up by a lava flow from Ben More, then an active volcano, between fifty and sixty million years ago during the Paleogene period. Although the fossil today is mainly just an imprint, at the time its discovery by John MacCulloch in 1819 the imprint was lined with a two-inch deep layer of charcoal which has since been removed by souvenir hunters and unscrupulous geologists. The remains of the stump are capped by concrete to preserve what is left.
Perhaps a more pertinent example [of quenching] is MacCulloch’s Tree in Ardmeanach of the western Mull magmatic comples of Scotland. Here a large (~2 x 15 m) upright Eocence (~55 Ma) conifer (Taxodioxylon) has been encased in a columnar basalt lava flow. The clearly defined quenched margins are of a thickness approximately that of the radius of the tree (see Figure 7). In addition to the distinct quenched margins, also clear in this example is notable horizontal columnar jointing or fracturing due to contraction upon cooling. Columnar jointing is an indicator of the direction of cooling, with the trend of the columns being in the direction of the local strongest influence on cooling. This pattern of jointing shows the major effect of this tree in quenching massive flowing basalt.
I’ve annotated my photo to match Figure 7 in Marsh & Coleman’s paper, which they caption: ‘Upright Paleocene conifer caught in a thick basalt flow in Scotland. The distinctive quenched rinds have been noted along with the strong horizontal columnar jointing reflecting the overall effect of quenching and local rapid cooling. Also notice the man for scale. (after Emeleus and Bell, 2005).’ Emeleus and Bell are the authors of The Paleogene Volcanic Districts of Scotland. I provide the scale!
Posted on March 13, 2012 by Ash
Impressive ash on the way to Dale Dike Dam.
On Sunday I went walking with a couple of buddies in perfect weather through some beautiful countryside. Even though we’re not yet halfway through March it was a very good impression of summer: hot and cloudless and lovely. We set out from Lower Bradfield in the morning and walked along the south-eastern shore of Dale Dike Reservoir, looped around Strines reservoir via Boot’s Folly and the Strines Inn, then followed the north-western shore of Dale Dike back to Lower Bradfield, before climbing the hill to Upper Bradfield where we enjoyed a pint and some pub grub in the afternoon sun. It was a great way to spend a Sunday.
I’m 99% sure that this is Daldinia concentrica, a fungus going by the common names of King Alfred’s cakes, carbon balls, and cramp balls. There were a few of them growing on a dead tree by the dam wall at Dale Dike Reservoir.
This is a seriously ancient oak. It grows between the two reservoirs and when I first spotted it I was amazed – amazed because this is the first veteran oak of this class I have found in my local area. Then I was excited. It looks smaller it really is in this photograph – my photos never seem to do big trees justice – but you can see it is a tree of great antiquity; an old pollard, from the look of it. 400 years old? 500? I look forward to putting it to the tape measure!
A nice little hawthorn.
A pause on the climb up to the folly for a look back over Dale Dike Reservoir.
Boot’s Folly! This 45 foot high tower was built in 1927 by Charles Boot of nearby Sugworth Hall (son of Henry Boot, founder of the eponymous LSE-listed company) to keep his workmen occupied during the Great Depression. There are stairs inside the tower but only at the very top – the story goes that they were mostly removed in the 1970s after a cow got itself stuck up there. The folly is a well-known local landmark that can be seen from much of the surrounding country, to which it adds character. It’s my opinion that it looks most impressive when viewed from up close, with the countryside as a backdrop.
This big ash grows just south of Strines Reservoir. The two branches on the left sure reach a good distance from the stem.
Another ancient oak pollard! This one is more squat and not so tall as the oak already passed, but it’s still a reverential veteran that has witnessed the passing of more than a couple of centuries. It’s part of a line of old trees that follow the stone wall on the left.
Posted on December 16, 2011 by Ash
Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in the Ryvoan Pass, near Glenmore.
At Glenmore, near Aviemore, there is a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. Today, only 180 km² of the Caledonian Forest remain – a pathetic 1% of its estimated maximum extent. As is usually the way, Homo sapiens is to blame for the loss. If you’d like to find out more about the Caledonian Forest, let me point you in the direction of Trees For Life, an inspirational organisation ambitiously dedicated to restoring a 2,300 km² area of the Forest. This description of the Caledonian Forest is taken from their website:
The Caledonian Forest originally covered much of the Highlands of Scotland… the native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the boreal forest in Europe, are estimated, at their maximum extent, to have covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pines, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. On the west coast, oak and birch trees predominated in a temperate rainforest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens. Many species of wildlife flourished in the forest, including the European beaver, wild boar, lynx, moose, brown bear and the wolf, as well as several notable species of birds - the capercaillie, the crested tit, and the endemic Scottish crossbill, which occurs nowhere else in the world apart from the pinewoods.
A large witch’s broom on a large downy birch (Betula pubescens) – a common abnormal growth caused by the fungus Taphrina betulina.
After staying at Fearnan by Loch Tay for a couple of nights, from where I visited the Birks of Aberfeldy and Britain’s widest conifer at Cluny House Gardens, I drove north to Glenmore (climbing Schiehallion – Munro no. 5 - en route) and checked into Cairngorm Lodge, a SYHA hosel, for four nights. The next day (Nov. 20th) I meandered (really meandered) part-way up the Ryvoan Pass to An Lochan Uaine – the Green Lochan. I’d walked down the pass and past the Lochan to camp near Glenmore three years previously with two friends, towards the end of a hike from Blair Atholl to Aviemore, but that’s another story.
Looking up at one of the giant Scots pines of the Caledonian Forest.
To provide you with a very brief history of Glenmore during the past century, I’ve just skimmed through the excellent little book I bought from the Glenmore Forest Shop during my stay. The book is called ‘No rivalry but different’; Glenmore and Rothiemurchus in the 20th Century, the third publication in the Touchwood History series. It was written by Mairi Stewart and first published in 2010.
Pine foliage against a clear, blue sky – it was a lovely day for late November in the Highlands!
One hundred years ago, the estate of Glenmore was owned by the Dukes of Richmond, who used it as a hunting ground. Between 1916 and 1918, during the First World War, just over a hundred thousand trees on the estate were felled to provide timber for the war effort – to make pit props, trench supports, crates, etc. Thankfully, the 7th Duke, Charles Gordon-Lennox, is said to have stipulated that some trees were retained to allow the forest to naturally regenerate – trees to be spared had the Duke’s stamp burned onto them. In 1923, the Duke sold the 12,474 acre estate to the newly-created Forestry Commission. Although the Commission decided that three-quarters of the estate were unsuitable for forestry, it had planted around 1,300 acres by 1934 – favouring the faster-growing but non-native Sitka spruce, Norway spruce and European larch over Scots pine.
Looking up at an absolute monster of a Caledonian pine. I have never seen Scots pines like these – they really are jaw-droppingly, breathtakingly, heart-stoppingly awesome.
Glenmore escaped the forester’s axe during the Second World War because it was considered more important for training soldiers than for supplying timber (although neighbouring remnants of the Caledonian Forest, at Abernethy and Rothiemurchus, were not so lucky).
A large fragment of scaly pine bark.
Glenmore was run as both a sporting and forestry estate until 1947, when it was designated a Forest Park. This re-branding officially recognised the popularity of parts of the estate with outdoor activities enthusiasts. Extensive planting continued throughout the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, however. In the 1960s recreation at Glenmore, particularly skiing, really took off, and a lot of new infrastructure was built. By the early Eighties the campsite at Glenmore was accommodating a thousand people at its busiest, and the main focus had shifted from forestry to recreation.
In the foreground – juniper (Juniperus communis). I have never seen so much juniper! In many places it formed an almost continuous shrub layer beneath the pine trees. Very pretty, very necessary for gin, but very prickly when wading through a waist-deep sea of the stuff to get to the next big pine.
During the 1990s the Forestry Commission underwent a significant change in its outlook and policies, with the old approach of “create as much timber as possible” replaced with a more responsible approach to forest stewardship. At Glenmore this meant felling the non-native trees planted in earlier decades, resulting in the decimation of two-thirds of the forest. These areas are being replanted with the native Scots pine.
Huge. Beautiful. Ancient.
Posted on July 6, 2011 by Ash
Not yet in the Ewden Valley – this is my favourite hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).
One hell of a bull at Hunger Hill.
Leaving Heads Lane, I walked through an old farm and started down to the bottom of the valley…
The pleasant, pastoral view back across the valley from the other side (near Snell House).
Lamb’s eye view?
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
More Hall Reservoir is looking empty again. It was about this empty at the start of the year, before briefly filling up in spring.
I passed this imposing and impressive ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in Wantley Dragon Wood. The tree would have been twice as big in its heyday when its stem forked into two equal stems a couple of metres off the ground, but one of them has been removed. The size of the trunk at ground level was incredible! It must be one of the largest ash trees in the local area.
Nearby a dragon slithers into a grassy clearing. According to the information board (sited close enough to ruin any photo from this angle) it was created by wood carver Mark Bell and dry stone waller John Alston, with the head made of elm. The sculpture represents the eponymous monster of the ancient satirical ballad The Dragon of Wantley, first published anonymously in 1685. The dragon lived across the Don valley in a cave on Wharncliffe Crags and devoured children, cattle, buildings and trees. The locals called upon More of More Hall to rid them of the dragon. After donning a special suit of Sheffield armour bristling with six-inch spikes, he hid in a well and kicked the dragon in the mouth as it went to drink, killing it. According to the information board, a “later version [published in 1765] included an explanation that it was based on a lawsuit against Sir Francis Wortley (the dragon) by other landowners, where the lawyer was More (the knight). It is difficult to know if this is true. Some of the elements could be a satire about a lawsuit; others are classic to dragon myths in this area. It is possible that this story is a combination of several tales.”
Finally, the approach to Bolsterstone from a footpath just uphill of Sunny Bank Road. Broomhead Park and Moor are seen in the background.
Posted on June 15, 2011 by Ash
A powerful waterfall above Bucktooth’s Meadow in Glen Golly. We were going to camp in the meadow on our third night, but nay sooner than we’d selected a passable pitch a swarm of midges materialised and we legged it sharpish.
Two weeks ago I was on a hike in the extreme North-West of Scotland with two friends from uni. This was Team Seatle’s fourth big walk together, having previously done Lake Windermere and Coniston Water in the Lake District in 2007, Blair Atholl to Aviemore through the Cairngorms in 2008, and the Skye Trail in 2010. This year, because of some spectacularly wet weather, we had to cut short our planned route. Yet despite our perpetually saturated boots (leading to some impressively sore feet on my part), we still managed to enjoy four days of walking and three nights of camping in an incredibly remote and beautiful part of the country.
We passed this rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) on Day One soon after crossing over the Kyle of Durness on the ferry (which was just a really small boat). It was just coming into flower.
The Kyle stretches out behind the rowan. In the distance we saw a group of seals chilling on a sand bank.
On Day Three a landrover track we had been following ended abruptly at a loch. We followed deer tracks around the edge of the loch and had to cross over this boisterous stream which was at the foot of a very impressive waterfall… (The tree in this photo is another rowan. The vast majority of trees we saw were rowans or downy birches (Betula pubescens)).
…this waterfall. Seeing the waterfalls in full flow was definitely a worthy pay-off for suffering with incessantly-soaking boots. We filled our water bottles at this one. The water was good.
This is another ‘tree’ that we saw a lot of. It was common on the boggy moors and grew no taller than the grass and heather. I’m fairly sure that it’s some dwarfish species of alpine willow, but I can’t make a positive ID. Can anybody help me out with this one?
We walked past this broch in the rain on Day Four (the stone structure by the river). We passed it again driving back to Edinburgh so we stopped to take photos in better weather. According to the information board: ”When built about 2000 years ago, Dun Dornaigil (or Dornadilla, as it is also called) would have stood about twice as high. Its drystone walls formed a complete circle, pierced only by a single narrow entrance. The walls were hollow, and within their thickness a stone stair gave access to several narrow galleries, probably used for storage. The inner courtyard would have held a thatched wooden dwelling which housed the small farming community who had built the broch as a shelter against marauding raiders.” The Strath More river is calm in this photo, but when two days earlier it was flowing frighteningly fast.
We stopped for a bit at Glenmore near Aviemore on the way back to Edinburgh. This is the view across Loch Morlich to the Cairngorms; those leaves in the foreground are common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The weather was phenomenally nice, so it was a bit weird to be seeing snow on the tops. After resting by the loch-side for a while, we headed to the café adjoining the visitor centre for cake and a drink… which was exactly what we did as we passed through near the end of our big hike in 2008! I thought that was a nice touch.
Posted on January 10, 2011 by Ash
In the Ewden Valley at the turn of the twentieth century.
Once upon a time there was a pristine, wooded valley in the middle of England. Over time ancient humans cleared away most of the trees to create fields for their animals and crops. At the end of the 19th century the lower reaches of this Ewden Valley were covered with fields and not trees but it was still a beautiful and lovely place, from the top of the hills to the river flowing down in the bottom. Nearby was the city of Sheffield, growing rapidly as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. The industries and populace of Sheffield were thirsty for water, so the Corporation embarked upon an ambitious programme of dam-building in the valleys to the north. Two reservoirs were constructed in Ewden: Broomhead and More Hall. Work started on More Hall Reservoir in 1913, but the First World War caused delays. It was officially opened in 1929.
More Hall Reservoir, winter 2010/2011.
The water level in More Hall Reservoir is very low at present, and has been since at least the autumn. I walked around the reservoir on Sunday on land that would normally be completely submerged. There wasn’t a lot to see: lots of mud, a few remnants of old dry stone walls, and a few dozen old tree stumps - trees that were felled almost one hundred years ago, before the reservoir was filled. These stumps have spent the best part of a century underwater and are fairly well preserved. In many places the stumps sit alongside the old stone walls or on the now-desolate banks of the old river, where the water still flows when the reservoir is low. It was quite a sad and eerie walk alone in the drizzle, slipping on the miserable mud and stones that normally lie well below the surface of the reservoir. I tried to imagine the trees that used to grow where today only ghostly stumps remain. I tried to imagine a beautiful alder leaning out over a babbling brook that wound its way merrily through grassy fields. But all I could see was a charred-looking stump jutting from the stony earth beside a dead river.
I didn’t mistake this stump for a lobstrosity, no sir.
This tree’s root still occupies the gap it drove between these two stones (part of a kerb? part of a wall?) over a century ago.
This stump had the remains of a couple of old mushrooms beneath it. A stump spends decades submerged, but no sooner is it left high and dry then the fungi move in!
To be fair, when it’s full up More Hall Reservoir is a nice place on a sunny day. And higher up the Ewden Valley the country gets as wild as one could wish for so close to Sheffield. I love it.
This post is continued in Part Two.
I will be hosting next month’s edition of the Festival of the Trees. Please send your submissions to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk before the 30th of January, ensuring that you include Festival of the Trees or FOTT within the header. Thanks!
Posted on October 31, 2010 by Ash
After a night in town dressed as a zombie steel-pirate, I required a dose of fresh air to purify my brain. There’s an old barn I found photographs of on Flickr that I’ve been wanting to visit for a couple of weeks now, so that’s where I headed: Swinden Barn. It was a very foggy day.
My eyes were drawn by a young field maple (Acer campestre) standing out from the misty gloom with an impressive display of yellow autumn leaves.
This auld track goes by the name of Badger Lane. It is home to a rather haphazard avenue of oak trees.
Each cobweb drooped under the weight of a thousand tiny jewels.
Part of Badger Lane is lined with some really strange trees that look as though, at some point in the dim and distant past, they were trained to become a hedgerow. But these trees aren’t the species to make a hedgerow: downy birch (Betula pubescens), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). What is the story here?
This sycamore grows immediately to the right of the one in the previous photo. They might well be the same tree. Viewed as a whole, it is one long tree.
Swinden Barn. It is the only remaining building of Swinden Farm, which was apparently occupied until the 1930s or 1950s and demolished in 1991. The barn is in good condition. It’s hard to see from my photograph, but the end wall on the left shows that a smaller building was once attached to it. The end wall on the right, which cannot be seen at all in my photograph was very interesting in that it is covered with another wall built of uncut stone in the style of a dry stone wall. It didn’t look as though this was once the end wall of another building, so what was it built for? Another wall close by the barn has stone shelves built into it. A very interesting place indeed – how I wish I could see how the place looked when the whole farm was there (working time machine required). From the Peak District National Park Education Website:
Farms in the water catchment area of the reservoirs were seen as a danger to the purity of the water… The water catchment area was ‘sterilised’ by eliminating any cattle from the land around. Sheffield Corporation Waterworks therefore allowed a policy of depopulation of the farmed land around the reservoirs to control pollution of the water catchment area.
In this part of the woods fallen larch needles had coloured the floor a strange butterscotch hue. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
After descending down a steep slope I was pleasantly surprised to come out on the banks of the Little Don River, only a few hundred metres upstream of… (To be continued).
Posted on June 20, 2009 by Ash
Continuing this series of photos from a walk in the sun on the glorious first of June… carrying on down the salt path to reach Mortimer Road.
Flowering hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).
A big old yew tree – in the Ewden valley. Is Ewden a corruption of Yew Dene, dene being an old British word for a wooded valley? There aren’t very many yews in Ewden today at any rate!
Yew (Taxus baccata) leaves.
The green roof overhead.
From woodland the path opens into this sloping grassy field. I bet it would be perfect for cheese rolling.
Which one do you prefer?
Bear in mind that this photo was taken three weeks ago, but look how far behind this ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is lagging in the leaf stakes. Ash is the last tree to come into leaf in these parts, but the majority of the local ashes were by this time halfway through flushing.
Shady woodland on the bank of a tiny stream, a tributary of Ewden Beck
Mortimer Road just above where the path comes out. From Jack Branston’s History of Stocksbridge:
[Mortimer Road] was named after Hans Winthrop Mortimer, Lord of the Manor of Bamford who died in 1807. He had the idea of linking the Peak with the woollen manufacturing districts of the West Riding and so reap a profit from the road-tolls. This road was to run from Penistone Bridge to Grindleford Bridge, starting from Penistone, over Midhope Bridge to Bardike and Agden Bridge, past the Strines Inn and so on. In the wall at [I think he means outside the Strines Inn] you can see a stone built in which reads “Take Off”. This was another of Mortimer’s ideas; whilst wagon horses were resting he used chain horses to pull the wagons to the given point, then took them off and returned for another wagon.
The Sanderson – Bradfield and Beyond site says that the road was built in the 1770s and that Mortimer died in poor circumstances after failing to comply with the Authorising Act of 1770. And from this Flickr page, part of a comment by ‘evissa’, who mentions a small book called Mortimer Road: the turnpike that failed:
[Mortimer] owned property in Essex, Derbyshire and London and was MP for Shaftsbury. Alas he died bankrupt.
Hawthorn flowers in their prime.
Posted on May 29, 2009 by Ash
The Porter or Little Don river just above Brookhouse (or Brook House) Bridge. This little section looks nice in the photo but I tell you it’s ten times better when you see it in the flesh on a sunny day. Every time I’ve been there on such a day, as last Sunday was, there’ve been people sunbathing on the flat grassy area and kids playing in the river. I sat myself down on a large, flat stone poking above the water and let the river cool my feet. The babbling of the burn and the beautiful surrounds were highly relaxing and I reposed for almost an hour. The presence of all the people playing and chilling out (there were more than in the photo when I arrived, and there were many more behind me) added to the carefree, summery atmosphere, whereas normally I’d rather be away from the general public while enjoying the countryside.
A lovely, pebbly bit of riverbed next to my rock.
A large sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – just right of centre in the first picture – and Brookhouse Bridge. All the stones in the lower right have built up behind a large weir, built to prevent such sediment from entering Langsett Reservoir, which isn’t much farther downstream. The bridge takes its name from Brook House farm, which had to be abandoned to prevent its livestock polluting the reservoir – Langsett was built to supply the rapidly-growing population of Sheffield with drinking water. There are old books and magazines describing the farm’s unusual rent, payable to the lord of the manor (a modern book has it being paid in 1588, but the older books imply it was a annual arrangement over several years):
BROOK HOUSE, Yorkshire.--A farm at Langsett, in the parish of Peniston and county of York, pays yearly to Godfrey Bosville, Esqre., a snowball at Midsummer, and a red rose at Christmas.
Estates have often been held by the tenure of a rose – a red one – at times being stipulated for, and these floral tributes generally had to be paid on St. John the Baptist’s Day… For Brook House, Langsett, Yorkshire, it is said that a rose had to be provided at Christmas, and a snowball at Midsummer, and as evidently there would often thus be much difficulty in paying the rent, we are probably correct in surmising that in this case a money fine was the alternative.
The weir and the sycamore.
A wych elm (Ulmus glabra) leaf backlit by the sun. Wych elm is the only elm that is undisputedly native to Britain.
A cluster of unripe wych elm samaras (a type of winged fruit). Each samara has a seed centred between two symmetrical wings.
These leaves belong to a field maple (Acer campestre), another tree native to Britain. They always make me think of extra-large hawthorn leaves.
Bluebells are a classic British wildflower, the kind of plant that almost everyone can recognise. But there isn’t just one species in Britain anymore; there are two species and a hybrid. Our native bluebell is the common or English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), but there is an alien species about too: the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), popular with gardeners and introduced around 1680. Both species hybridise to give the hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana a.k.a. Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta) which was first noticed growing wild in 1963. The genetics of our native bluebell are therefore threatened by dilution, and a lot of ecologists aren’t happy about that at all. According to Plantlife International, a recent study conducted by their volunteers found one in six British broadleaved woodlands surveyed contained hybrid or Spanish bluebells.
I think that these are hybrid bluebells. Why? Our native species have their bells all on one side of the stem, which droops over with the concentrated weight. Spanish bluebells have a thicker, straight stem with bells all around. The hybrid has bells around a slightly drooping stem - which is an accurate description of the bluebells in this photo.
In case you missed it, here is a link to Part 1 of this four-part series of posts. And here is a link to Bluebells for Britain: A report on the 2003 Bluebells for Britain survey, a leaflet in .pdf format by Plantlife that sheds more light on the subject and gives some simple advice to gardeners.
Posted on March 25, 2008 by Ash
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!
The provenance trial from afar (viewed from the other side of Loch Tay).
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.
A typical view over Loch Tay from the trial (only typical when the Sun was shining!) - isn't it beautiful?
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. This pleasant scene was seen as we were leaving the trial site at half six on the second day, Tuesday the 18th of March.
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.
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.
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 on February 3, 2008 by Ash
Everyone is familiar with the term 'nutter', but I bet not many people know how the word originates. The book Sheffield's Woodland Heritage by Mel Jones explains (the context is woodland management from the Middle Ages to the 1800s):
There were particularly sensitive times of the year in the woods. In autumn when berries and nuts were ripe, and in winter, when firewood and food supplies were low, thefts were particularly common. The practice of collecting hazel nuts in local woods caused widespread damage to wood boundaries and the underwood and prompted the Pegges of Beauchief in 1809 and the Duke of Norfolk in 1812 to post warning notices around their estate and woodland boundaries.
The text below is included as a figure, labelled as 'Warning to hazel nut gatherers, Beauchief estate, 1809.'
Posted on October 28, 2007 by Ash
The Highlanders of Scotland make everything from it, they build their houses, make their beds, chairs, dishes and spoons; construct their mills; make their carts, plows, harrows, gates and fences; and even manufacture ropes of it. The branches are employed as fuel in the distillation of whisky; the spray is used for smoking hams and herrings, for which last purpose it is preferred to every other kind of wood. The bark is used for tanning leather, and sometimes, when dried and twisted into a rope, instead of candles. The spray is used for thatching houses; and dried in summer, with the leaves on, it makes good bed when heath is scarce.
- J. C. Louden, An Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, being the Arboretum Fruiticetum Britannicum, 1842 (London).
Posted on October 11, 2007 by Ash
What follows is taken from John Wainwright’s Yorkshire (published in Sheffield in the year 1829), or to give the tome its full title, Yorkshire. An Historical and Topographical Introduction to a Knowledge of the Ancient State of the Wapentake of Strafford and Tickhill; with Ample Accounts of Doncaster and Conisbrough: and of the Villages, Hamlets, Churches, Antiquities, and Other Matters connected therewith.
That the plot was not originally in that drowned condition, is sufficiently manifest from the large quantity of wood which everywhere lies buried under the surface of this fenny tract, and which has been deemed a strongly corroborating proof of an universal deluge; while the celebrated Dugdale supposes the fall to have arisen through the humidity of the soil. That this was not the case with these levels is, however, plainly evident to the most superficial observer; for the trees did not decay by parts, as would have been the case, had they fallen by a gradually operating cause; but fell in the full vigour of vegetable life, as would appear from the circumstance of acorns, nuts, fir-cones, &c. being frequently found attached to the parent tree. Marks of the axe are also borne on the face of some, while others manifest their fall to have been through the agency of fire.
Wainwright writes further of stupendous trees, relics of the ancient forest, which had been dug up from the ‘fenny tract’ (notes within square brackets are my own):
The trees which covered this valley in the British era, had in several instances attained to a gigantic stature; so large, indeed, that the revolution of several centuries alone could produce them. Oaks have been found, twenty, thirty, and even thirty-five yards [32 metres] long, all of which had lost much of their top. Pryme informs us, that about one hundred and eighty years ago, was found, under a very large tree in the parish of Hatfield, an old-fashioned knife, with a haft of a very hard black sort of wood, which had a cap of copper or brass on one end, and a hoop of the same metal on the other, where the blade went into it. There was also found an oak tree in Mr. Candby’s parcel of moors, “forty yards [36.6 metres] long, four yards [3.7 metres] diametrically thick at the great end, three yards and a foot [3 metres] in the middle, and two yards [1.8 metres] over the small end; so that, on a moderate calculation, the tree must have been nearly twice as long [about 70 metres! – the current tallest tree in Britain is a 61 metre grand fir (Abies grandis) in Argyll].” On another occasion, was found, a fir-tree. “thirty-six yards [32.9 metres] long, exclusively of what it had lost from the small end, which might probably have been fifteen yards [13.7 metres] more [so about 46 metres].” We also have seen trees of more ordinary magnitude taken from the sombre bowels of this waste, but never had an opportunity of measuring them.
I personally find it hard to believe that oak trees of the dimensions stated by Wainwright have ever grown in Britain (yet I want to believe). The tallest oak in Britain today is a sessile oak (Quercus petraea) at Whitfield, Hereford. It is a whopping 43 metres - a mere shrimp, relatively speaking, compared with the 64 and 70 metre tall beasts described in Yorkshire.
This to-scale diagram displays the relative heights of different trees (and a man): the Mother Beech on the shore of Loch Tay; the Capon Tree at Jedburgh; the tallest oak in Britain at Whitfield, Hereford; and the two gigantic oaks described in Wainwright’s Yorkshire.
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