On Saturday 5th May, our sponsored Treelay event began – two weeks of walking and cycling around our Project Area – the 1,000 square miles west of Inverness and Loch Ness where we’re working to restore the Caledonian Forest. The first leg on Saturday, from Dundreggan to the RSPB’s Corrimony Reserve, was walked by Fay Blackburn (long term Trees for Life supporter and volunteer group leader) and Jill Hodge, our Dundreggan Project Coordinator. The second leg, on Sunday, was from Corrimony to Coille Ruigh na Cuileige in Glen Affric – the site of our first significant project in 1990, when we paid for the fencing of 50 hectares (125 acres) of land for natural regeneration of the forest there. It was walked by Fay and Fiona Limbrey, the coordinator of our Millionth Tree events, and three guests on programmes at the Findhorn Foundation.
The third leg, on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th May, was from Coille Ruigh over the hills to the north, down in to Glen Cannich, and then north again over the next hills to Glen Strathfarrar. It was this leg that I had opted to do, and for the first day I was joined by my 17 year old son, Kevin. In the morning we were also accompanied by Helen Needham a senior producer at BBC Radio Scotland, who interviewed me along the way for the radio programme, Scotland Outdoors. Helen had done a previous radio piece about our volunteer programme some years before, and interestingly enough, it was Fay who had featured in that programme, as she was leading the volunteer week then, on West Affric.
Helen was very enthusiastic and interested in our work, and we had a good conversation along the way. This part of the walk took us longer than expected, because of all that we discussed, and it was almost three hours until we reached the top end of the Coille Ruigh exclosure! The interview is scheduled to be broadcast on Radio Scotland on Saturday morning, 19th May.
We left the exclosure at the top end and crossed the Allt na Imrich burn, at which point Helen headed back down to the Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin car park. Kevin and I continued on from there across the face of the hill known as Doire Mhor, which means ‘big wood’ in Gaelic, although it is completely tree-less today, because of past forest clearance in the area. Climbing up to the watershed divide at 789 metres between Glen Affric and Glen Cannich, we were greeted there by hail, which soon turned to wet snow and then intermittent rain, as we descended into Glen Cannich.
The descent went quite quickly, as we followed the course of the Allt Fraoch-choire burn down towards Loch Mullardoch, to the west of dam. Not far below the pass, we came upon an interesting sight – large icicles in an eroded overhanging patch of heather. These looked to me like the teeth of the earth, exposed in a giant grin where the peat had been exposed by the erosive power of the elements of wind and rain.
Continuing down to lower ground, we came in close beside the burn itself, and there’s a good native pinewood remnant there. This is part of a much larger extent of pinewood that covered most of the south side of Glen Cannich, but a large section was burnt in a fire about 70 years ago, and the skeletons of the dead pines are still standing, stark in the landscape, today. They are very slow to decompose because of the high resin content in the trunks of the pines.
This is the area where the very first work of Trees for Life took place, in the summer of 1989, when a couple of volunteers and I placed tubes over a number of pine seedlings, to prevent them from getting eaten by deer.
Subsequent to that, the landowner had several fenced exclosures established to facilitate the regeneration of the forest, and we walked through one of those, down to the dam. There’s an area of old pinewood immediately below the dam as well, which belongs to the power company. I had approached them in 1990 about some protection to help it regenerate, and worked up a project for funding under the then Woodland Grant Scheme. The company took over the project themselves and a smaller area was fenced for regeneration, with another section of open ground planted densely with Scots pines. The largest part of the old pinewood there is still unprotected, and the understorey is heavily overgrazed by the large numbers of deer that are maintained by private landowners in the glen. Nevertheless, it was good to see natural regeneration occurring inside the fenced area.
Most of the trees there had obviously grown up closely together at the same time, as they had straight trunks with very few lateral branches and were clustered close together. In a few places though one or two trees had grown in more open situations, and they therefore had more interesting shapes. We camped near the edge of the pinewood for the night, close to Loch a Bhana. In the evening the temperature dropped considerably, a cold wind picked up from the east and it started to rain, so it felt very wintry.
The rain intensified in the night, but the next morning was still and clear, although overcast. There were good views over the nearby Loch Sealbhanach, and a red deer (Cervus elaphus) passed within about 50 metres of our tent.
Kevin decided not to continue the walk on the second day, as his footwear was very wet, so Fay came out to collect him. I did the second part of my Treelay leg alone, walking east in Glen Cannich to the Liatrie Burn, where there is a very good old pinewood remnant – the only significant one on the north side of the glen.
Continued in Part 2 …
If you’d like to sponsor me on the Treelay, you can still do so by going to my sponsorship page here.