A wee tim’rous beastie in the wild wood

Mar Lodge, Braemar
Mar Lodge, Braemar

A vacation sounds exotic and exciting but a wee jaunt to the mainland is a more apt description of our annual excursion to the Highlands. I must have a very good reason to leave my island retreat and prefer to travel no further south than the Cairngorms. This involves a 2 hour ferry trip and 5 hours driving, but it gives me time to acclimatize to traffic and people. So have I become a wee Hebridean timid beastie? Most definitely! It takes more than sprinkle of fairy dust and a flick of a wand to turn me into an urban sophisticate.  However, after a couple of days I can just about cross the road without having an anxiety attack.
A masterclass on corticiod fungi (crust like fungi which grow on dead wood) was enough to entice Himself to the mainland but for me the main attraction had to be four days in the Caledonian pine forests of Mar Lodge Estate on the Deeside.
As I live in a virtually treeless landscape the opportunity to walk in ancient forests or any woodland is irresistible. In the winter the bare bones of these gnarled, weather sculpted trees reveal the economic simplicity of form and function. This Highland landscape is a visual essay on the interaction of time, geology, climate and nature, and beyond the artifice of any landscape architect.
As a gardener I am both inspired and educated just by looking at these ancient hills and river valleys. My response is not just intellectual, it is also sensual and at times almost spiritual. Even in winter the colour palette is rich: the magenta of the birch twigs contrasting with the deep green of the mosses and sienna of the dried bracken, highlighted by the differing hues of grey in the bark and lichens. Underfoot the wet mosses squelch, the branches creak in the wind and over head a buzzard mews.
These are places for solitude and contemplation, their magic is fugitive. It is easy to understand why trees have a powerful presence in mythology and folklore. These are places to be cherished.


9 thoughts on “A wee tim’rous beastie in the wild wood

  1. Your prose is so melodic, I have no trouble imagining it spoken in a light brogue-ish lilt. What variety of pine are those? The bark has so much character, very similar to our Douglas fir in appearance. I know the open conifer forest and the wildness of your croft (having now done some research so I know what one is) are rather far apart, but together they make me think we must live at roughly the same latitude (now to the atlas!).
    Both landscapes remind me very much of the land and plants of the San Juan Islands here in the furthest Northwestern reach of the U.S.–a sunny playground in summer but a place of solitary, terrible beauty otherwise. I just love your site and so enjoy visiting. I am pretty sure if there was a place called Cairngorm within a day’s travel of here I would go no further myself..Do not pass Cairngorm! Sic est dracon!

    • Just a few minutes later, feeling a bit of a dolt. They are obviously Scots (Scotch) pine, aren’t they? I have never seen them so large. Some plantsman, I.

      • Sorry to disappoint you Calvin, I’m English with no trace of a lilt.
        We are 57.38N and Braemar is similarly on the 57N line, I am further north than my sister who lives just north of Vancouver, so you may be further south. However because of the gulf stream we are warmer than our latitude would predict, but mainland Scotland at this latitude is much colder, particularly places like Braemar which start at 1100 feet. We are only just above sea level – my garden is 15 feet above the high water mark hence the decision to build the new house on the headland at a lofty 35 feet. However putting the details of climate and geography aside I’m sure that what remains of our ancient forests is very similar to the forests of the Pacific NW (I’ve seen the forests on the west coast of California but never got further north than San Francisco, which I’ve always regretted) although our trees are dwarfs (I can’t really say vertically challenged) in comparison. Since the last ice age we’ve managed to destroy most of our forests, at one time even the islands would have been covered with birch woodland.
        Most of the big trees in the photo are Scots Pine, but there are other conifers and broadleaves present in this particular area as it is at the heart of a Victorian sporting estate. Mut admit that my conifer id is not great!

  2. A lovely post – you have a beautiful style of descriptive writing, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • Thank you. Waved as we passed your gate, alas no time to stop – we always under-estimate how far it is from Inverness to the ferry terminal at Uig.

  3. Delighted to have found your blog. Now I just need to make sure I can find my way back!

    • There are worst fates than getting lost in the wild woods, so linger and enjoy.

  4. Leili

    I haven’t been back to Scotland in 20 years, but your trip to the Cairngorms takes me back to my rambles on the Rothiemurchas Estate and along the shores of Loch Eilean. I look forward to reading more of your gardening and other ventures. I putter around a suburban garden, just far enough from Chicago so that I can pretend I’m in the countryside. Leili

    • Scotland is as beautiful as ever and getting better as we repace the hideous conifer plantations with native trees.
      One of the joys of garden is that you can create your own version of Eden even in the most urban of settings.

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