125 posts in the category

Gone for a walk

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Autumn at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.

I moved up to Edinburgh from Sheffield at the end of September. (I lived here for the best part of four years previously, while I studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh.) My flat is no more than a ten minute walk from the outstanding botanic gardens, which are one of my favourite things about living here. I paid the gardens three visits with my camera in one week soon after I moved in. How about some autumnal photographs then?


28th September 2013

This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.

Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar - how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?

A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.

I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.

This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.

This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles - here so vibrantly illuminated - are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.


29th September 2013

This oak really stood out from the crowd!

A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.


3rd October 2013

Autumnal maple leaves.

On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?

The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!

I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). ... In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”


Posted in Gone for a walk





Panthercaps in Millstones Wood

A couple of panthercaps (Amanita pantherina) in Millstones Wood.

I went for a walk with my camera through Millstones Wood at the weekend to get some shots of the panthercaps which are presently abundant beneath the beeches (Fagus sylvatica) in the north-eastern part of the wood. I’d walked through the wood earlier in the week and seen all of the mushrooms but I didn’t have my camera on me, so a repeat visit was called for!

A very young mushroom – an ‘Amanita egg’. At this stage the developing mushroom is still completely contained within the unbroken veil.

This young mushroom has fully emerged from its veil, but the cap has yet to open completely. Fragments of the veil remain attached to the cap forming the distinctive ‘warts’ which are a defining feature of many Amanita species.

According to my copy of Roger Phillips’ Mushrooms, the panthercap’s habitat is “in coniferous or deciduous woodland, especially with beech; summer to autumn. Occasional to frequent.” My mushrooms were found in an area of almost exclusively beech woodland with the occasional oak thrown in. Indeed, I saw one panthercap growing right at the very foot of a mature oak, but all the others were growing from the ground litter typical of beech woodland: old rotten beechnut cupules, old rotten beech leaves, beech twigs – and precious little else. The beech and the panthercap are obviously in mycorrhizal cahoots.

The cap is “finely striate at the margin”...

The panthercap is poisonous, by the way; “may be deadly” according to Phillips.

Exiting Millstones Wood onto the grassy hilltop that commands views of the Little Don and Ewden valleys, marked on the map as The Height, another sort of fungus was common. I counted well over a dozen of these small puffballs dotted about – perhaps the mosaic puffball (Handkea utriformis)? I’m not really sure!


Posted in Gone for a walk





A beech at the height of its powers

They don’t come much better than this: an enormous beech (Fagus sylvatica) at the top of its game, yet net showing any sign of decline. It is one of a long row of mature beeches running mysteriously through the middle of Spout House Wood in the in delightful Ewden Valley. Who planted them, and when, and why?

In the bottom of the valley More Hall Reservoir is so full it’s overflowing. We’ve had a hell of a lot of rain recently, but the local reservoirs already filled in a short period in the autumn after spending most of last year half empty. It’s been so long since they’ve been properly full that it’s weird seeing them like this. I’d gotten used to seeing More Hall Reservoir as I photographed it in these posts from January and September 2011!

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), an ancient woodland indicator species, in Morehall Reservoir Plantation. I confess I hadn’t a clue what it was until I looked it up. I need to work on my herb ident!

Much of the plantation was clear-felled at the end of 2010 but it has since been replanted. I had a look inside a fair few of the tree guards and they all contained baby hazels (Corylus avellana).

This is one herb I do know: wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), another indicator of ancient woodland.

Downy birch (Betula pubescens) catkins. The drooping yellowish catkins are made up of male flowers and will soon be dispensing pollen. The upright green catkins are made up of female flowers, and will dispense seeds later in the year when they too will be hanging downwards.

The view north across Ewden, taken with my back to Spout House Wood. The hand of spring has given the landscape a welcome boost of greenery.

Back to that sublime beech…

A mind-boggling number of branches!


Posted in Gone for a walk





MacCulloch’s Fossil Tree

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:

DAISY CHEAPE
ACCIDENTALLY DROWNED IN THIS LOCH
15TH AUGUST 1896
”BELOVED”
”CASTLE DARE” HER FAVOURITE PLACE

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.

The best and most technical description of the fossil I could find was in a paper by Marsh, B. D. &. Coleman, N. M., published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (volume 182, issues 1-2, pp. 76-96) in 2009, entitled ‘Magma Flow and Interaction with Waste Packages in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada’:

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 in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





Summer in March: A walk on the moors

A couple of days ago I returned home from half a week on Mull & Iona, where I saw an enormous fossil tree… but that’s another post! The weather up there was for the most part dull and drizzly, and in Sheffield today it put down a few inches of late snow. Yet before I went away we had some incredible weather at home. It was like high summer, but in March…

Holt House, an abandoned farm on the other side of the Ewden valley, stands close to some quite old and fairly gnarly trees. In the foreground, Rhododendron ponticum is colonising the moorland – it has already claimed the valley side down to the river. It would be the mother of all nightmares to eradicate at this stage, and it gets worse every year.

Park Cote, the walled area, is on the same side of the valley as Holt House. With another abandoned building or two (they draw me in!), it’s been on my list of Places To Visit for a while now.

A typical Oaken Clough scene: a lovely, big, lichen-encrusted birch, plus rowan, more birch, bracken, moss, holly, heather, lichen-encrusted rocks, a wee burn… it’s paradise.

Birch.

A rowan in its prime leans out over Ewden Beck high up the valley. The river was very low; much of the riverbed was exposed and dry. This section is bare bedrock.

A close-up of one of the exposed stumps you sometimes stumble upon out on the moors, usually in groughs: relics from a time long ago when the moor was not a moor but a wood. The peat preserves the timber really well.

A larch rose in the making! I love larch roses. They can’t fail to put a smile on your face.

Holt House again, surrounded by mature sycamores. Today it’s just a deteriorating shell, but when I win the lottery (once I’ve started playing the lottery) I’ll do it up and turn it into treeblog HQ. That’s the dream!


Posted in Gone for a walk





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 3)

This post continues from Part 1 & Part 2.

The woodland floor is coming back to life (nearly a fortnight ago now). Perhaps these are bluebells?

Another toad has found a good hiding place in amongst the leaf litter.

A nice holly (Ilex aquifolium) that actually has a decent ‘tree’ shape – which is fairly unusual for holly.

Reflections on Dale Dike Reservoir. The current dam was completed in 1875, but there was an earlier dam on the site which was completed in 1864. Tragically the original dam collapsed on the night of March 11th 1864 causing the catastrophic Great Sheffield Flood in which 244 people were killed and terrible destruction was wrought all down the Loxley valley and into the centre of Sheffield. The story of the disaster is one I remember well from my childhood.

Briefly: On the night of a storm, a crack was discovered in the earth embankment and the chief engineer, Mr Gunson, was sent for from Sheffield. When Stephenson Fountain, the son of one of the contractors at the dam, was dispatched to fetch Mr Gunson, the crack ran for fifty yards along the embankment. When he arrived at Dale Dyke, Mr Gunson was met by the contactors Mr Fountain and Mr Swinden. The crack was inspected and was wide enough to admit the engineer’s hand; it was in the centre of the embankment. Mr Fountain ordered gunpowder to be brought to blow a hole in the masonry of a weir (this must be the overflow) in order to lower the water level in the not-yet-filled reservoir; the valves were already fully open. The gunpowder was lit, but it failed to go off.

[The following paragraphs are an excerpt from The Dramatic Story of the Sheffield Flood by Peter Machan (1999).]

He [Gunson] and Swinden returned to examine the crack once more, Gunson still unsure about its cause. He wondered if the cracking extended into the puddle clay core, so the two men set about measuring the distance to the top of the wall to establish if the water in the dam was at the same level. Intent on making careful measurements Mr Gunson was stooping over his lantern at one end of the crack. On glancing up again he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. A foaming white sheet of water was flowing over the embankment. It rushed towards him and plunged down into the widening gap. Thinking quickly he shouted to George Swinden. “I’m going to the valve house to see how much water we’re losing.” He made his way, more cautiously now, down the embankment and into the small building. The others were following down the slope but realised they were no longer safe. Swinden shouted a warning to Mr Gunson to come out and, as the engineer emerged he looked up, his whole life of fifty five years seeming to have led up to this moment. As if in slow motion a central segment of the top of the wall, about thirty feet wide, was collapsing and with a great rumble a white torrent taking its place. Gunson stood transfixed. Swinden was fortunately close enough to grab his arm and pull him out of the path of the surging water and, as they fled across the base of the embankment, the ground shuddered and the whole central portion was swept away.

As they ran another loud explosion above them revealed that the gunpowder had ignited, blowing a now pointless hole in the waste weir. The volume of water crashing through the breach in the dam was awesome. It was as if the great basin of high Pennine moorland was tilting, tipping its contents down into that narrow wooded channel. … John Gunson, as he stood now gazing on the widening breach in impotent horror, was only too aware of the menace that now roared down the valley. He felt the blood draining from his face and released a gasp, experiencing a sickening churning in the pit of his stomach. “It’s all up! The embankment is going,” was all that his dry lips could utter. …it was exactly midnight.

Tangled birch roots.

A couple of oaks lean dangerously over the reservoir, mesmerised by their own reflections.

A fine oak growing on the other side of the path…

…and another oak, dipping its branches in the water.

After the walk, a pleasant meal at the Old Horns in Upper Bradfield to nicely top off a perfect Sunday.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 2)

This post continues from Part 1.

Razor strop (Piptoporus betulinus) on a dead birch.

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) on the wing over Strines Reservoir.

Male catkins on a common alder (Alnus glutinosa).

Male catkins with immature female catkins, the purplish ‘match heads’ attached to the twig above the male catkins which will mature into woody cones that remain on the tree the year round.

Common toad (Bufo bufo) doing the breast stroke in a wee streamlet (in Pears House Clough* I think) that flows into Strines Reservoir from the south. [* Apparently Boot’s Folly was built from stone taken from the disused Bents Farm and Pear House Farm when they were demolished.]

Looking north-east from tussocky Broad Carr.

The view across Strines Reservoir to Boot’s Folly (post ice-&-a-slice-enhanced refreshment at the ancient Strines Inn). Sugworth Hall, the home of Charles Boot, is hidden by the eminence on which his folly stands.

A long-dead tree that improbably remains standing, propped up by a birch.

Continued in Part 3.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 1): ancient oaks & Boot’s Folly

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.

Continued in Part 2 & Part 3.


Posted in Gone for a walk + Notable trees





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

A feisty River Braan flowing through the Hermitage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a lovely old tree.

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

Downy brrrrrch.

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


Posted in Gone for a walk





Up the Little Don to Mickleden Beck (with a dusting of snow)

Upstream of Brook House Bridge, the Porter or Little Don meanders beneath a landslip of its own making.

On Saturday I went for a walk with a couple of friends, fellow natives of the area who were both back for the weekend. We received a light fall of snow on Friday evening, and there was still a dusting up on the moors in the morning. I drove us to Langsett, and we set off walking anti-clockwise around the reservoir until we reached Brook House Bridge. From there we followed the Little Don upstream, keeping on the left, squelching through bogs and making scrambley diversions around little landslips. At the confluence with Mickleden Beck – where I spied several yews and what looked like three or four ancient alders on the opposite bank, which I’ll be back to take account of soon - we followed this tributary of the Little Don for a bit before clambering up the heathery valley side to meet with the Cut Gate path. At sign No. 50 we took the “path to the right” and walked back to Langsett via North America and the dam wall, arriving in time to eat a little dinner at the Wagon and Horses.

A look back after descending to the flood plain from negotiating one of the landslips.

Downy birch laden with witches’ brooms.

Looking down on Mickleden Beck and another wee landslip. This is only a young stream, not so very far from its source.

By the time we reached the Cut Gate path the sun was out and warming us nicely.

Looking across Mickleden. Just below the centre of the picture are the ancient holly and alder I discovered in October, which was the last time I was here.

One half of a pair of MTBers out for a razz.

Mickleden Beck flows away to meet the Little Don where the first trees are… There are actually sixteen wind turbines in this photo, but you’ll need to view it full-size to find them all. They were clearly visible from where I was standing – me just within the Peak District, they just outside – but were they ruining the view? In my opinion, not a bit. They aren’t really much more unnatural than the rest of the landscape

Langsett Reservoir – filled right up, despite having really quite a low amount of water as recently as my last visit in October. The other local reservoirs I pass regularly (Broomhead and Moor Hall) have also filled surprisingly rapidly over the last month – I thought they’d remain low for a long time. At Langsett this means my ‘beach’ where I sat and read a couple of times in late summer is now completely submerged.

A familiar peaceful pool - recorded by the Ordnance Survey but not given a name. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it was created by the Luftwaffe during WWII. There are a few craters in the area from the bombing of Sheffield, but that’s another story.

A happily brimmed Langsett Reservoir, serene and tranquil, peaceful and calm. But is that plantation living on borrowed time...?


Posted in Gone for a walk





Caledonian pinewood in Ryvoan Pass, Glenmore (Part Three)

Following on from Part One & Part Two

Scots pine – probably my favourite photo of the trip.

Another fine pine, but you may have noticed that the lower trunk is dead and barkless on the left-hand side. The crown still looks healthy though.

Orangey Scots pine bark caught in the late afternoon sun must be one of the nicest colours a tree can possibly be, don’t you think?

A hydra-like downy birch (Betula pubescens).

Downy birks and a pointy holly (Ilex aquifolium). Down in the bottom, the Ryvoan Pass runs gently uphill from Glenmore, which is off to the right / south-west. You can get across to Nethy Bridge if you follow the Pass, but I looped back to my base at the youth hostel in Glenmore.

The lower slopes of Cairn Gorm occupy the distance. I climbed to the top a couple of days later, it becoming my sixth Munro bagged to date. Only another 277 to go then.

The junipers sure looked lovely illuminated by the setting sun.

This pine was an absolute monster! The stump and wound at the bottom of the tree coupled with the lack of any branches on this side of the trunk show that this monster was, until recently, a twin-stemmed monster – i.e. it was twice as big as it is now!!

Here it is from a distance: look at the crazy spread of those lower branches! It’s three trees in one, arranged like the ace of clubs! And to say half of the tree is missing… Wow.


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





Caledonian pinewood in Ryvoan Pass, Glenmore (Part Two)

Juniper (Juniperus communis).

After a wee intermission I’m back with more photos from November’s Scottish excursion. Part Two continues where Part One left off, and I’m sure there’ll be a Part Three along soon - and afterwards a little post about my visits to some of Britain’s tallest trees. Did you know that it’ll be treeblog’s fifth anniversary next month?

Looking down the barrel of a big, old Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

A typical Caledonian pinewood scene. Heather, bilberry (blaeberry) and juniper form the shrub storey while Scots pine forms a rather open canopy, with a few downy birches for company. Other trees I saw in the Ryvoan Pass, but in miniscule numbers, were willow, rowan, holly and alder.

This downy birch (Betula pubescens), a silvery island in the sea of juniper, has a sort of ethereal feel about it, glowing as it does in the sunlight. Imagine coming across it glowing like this in the moonlight.

The Caledonian pinewood is a thing of such beauty!

The exposed roots in these photos all belong to pines growing out of a banking beside the shore of the Green Lochan – An Lochan Uaine – a small tarn whose waters have a strange turquoise hue.

An Lochan Uaine – not looking green at all in this picture, unfortunately. I didn’t see any leeches either, but I didn’t know to look!


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





Caledonian pinewood in Ryvoan Pass, Glenmore (Part One) – including a brief history of Glenmore

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.

However, there has been a long history of deforestation in Scotland, and clearance of the land began in Neolithic times. Trees were cut for fuel and timber, and to convert the land to agriculture. Over the centuries, the forest shrank as the human population grew, and some parts were deliberately burned to eradicate 'vermin' such as the wolf. More recently, large areas were felled to satisfy the needs of industry, particularly after the timber supply in England had been exhausted. The widespread introduction of sheep and a large increase in the numbers of red deer ensured that once the forest was cleared, it did not return.

Today only a tiny percentage of the original forests survive, and the native pinewoods have been reduced to 35 isolated remnants. Gone with the trees are all the large mammals, with the exception of the deer. Species such as the brown bear and the wild boar had become extinct by the 10th and 17th centuries respectively, while the last to disappear was the wolf, when the final individual was shot in 1743.

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





The Birks o’ Aberfeldy

Moness Burn.

I recently spent a fantastic week on my own in Scotland making pilgrimages to big trees and climbing a couple of Munros. At the beginning of my week I walked around the Birks of Aberfeldy on a rather dank and overcast day. The Birks is a small, wooded valley through which flows the Moness Burn. It was originally known as the Den of Moness but the name was changed after Robert Burns visited and wrote the song ’The Birks of Aberfeldy’ in 1787 (‘birks’ is Scots for ‘birches’).

This is a European beech (Fagus sylvatica), although you can’t tell from the moss-covered trunk. Down here in the countryside on the edge of the Peak District, beech trees have beautiful silvery trunks more or less free of moss and lichen. I know our trees would probably have been dripping with lichens before the Industrial Revolution, but I reckon a beechwood is better-looking with its silverware on display.

A statue of Rabbie has been seated by the burn. Someone had attached a Remembrance Day poppy to his lapel.

An oak leaf amongst beech leaves.

I passed a few small waterfalls as I walked up the valley. There was a fair bit of water going over them – it had rained like billyo in the night.

The waterfall on the left drops into the burn just upstream of a wee gorge.

It’s funny how this oak burr is made up of segments that are trying to be hexagonal, as if it has formed like a big, wooden crystal. It kind of looks a bit like a turtle-shell.

Another oak tree – an overgrown coppice.

Eventually I reached the big waterfall, the star attraction of the Birks. This photo doesn’t really do justice to its size and power, but I assure you it was quite impressive in the flesh. There’s a really tall Scots pine growing from the bottom of the braes – you can see part of the trunk running up the left of the photo.

A footbridge over the top of the fall allows for a closer look at the action and the opportunity to walk back down the valley on the other side of the river.

The oaks in their winter coats of lichen really stood out from the bare birks.

A giant old stump exhibited fantastical patterning and had pretty groovy colouration to boot.

Abstract.

If you’re going to encircle a young tree with a metal bench, the tree would probably appreciate if you removed it before… this.


The Birks of Aberfeldy, by Robert Burns

Chorus:
Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go;
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy.

Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o'er the crystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

While o'er their heads the hazels hing,
The little birdies blythely sing,
Or lightly flit on wanton wing,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers,
White o'er the linns the burnie pours,
And rising, weets wi' misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

Let Fortune's gifts at random flee,
They ne'er shall draw a wish frae me;
Supremely blest wi' love and thee,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





Woodland restructuring at Langsett Reservoir

Four weeks ago I went for a walk to Mickleden Beck to see what kind of trees grew there; I’d heard a rumour of aspen. My route took me past Langsett Reservoir, where some pretty big changes have been taking place over the last year or two. Much of the conifer plantation on the south-west side of the reservoir has been clearfelled and subsequently replanted with native species.

According to an information board erected by the owners, Yorkshire Water, the woods are being restructured as part of the East Midlands Woodland Bird Project:

Planted in 1962, comprising approximately 25 hectares of coniferous woodland, the North America plantation including Delf Edge and Mauk Royd is being managed to help native woodland birds… We’re felling most of the coniferous trees whilst saving and protecting key native trees. The area will be re planted with oak and birch trees to develop new upland oak woodland, with woody shrubs like hazel, blackthorn, alder, willow and rowan.

I wrote a post here about the same time last year, while the conifers were still being felled.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the new woodland develops!

Larch. Whether European, Japanese or Dunkeld (hybrid), I wouldn’t like to say. I am not confident telling the three apart.

I failed to find any aspen at Mickleden Beck, but I didn’t search for long. What I did find was this incredible veteran alder (Alnus glutinosa) growing beside the stream. It is truly ancient, and is perhaps an old pollard. And keeping it company through the years is an ancient holly (Ilex aquifolium)! Both trees were in shade by the time I got to them, so I didn’t get any great photos – but I’ll be back!

On the return leg, Langsett Reservoir and the surrounding moors were lit by the late afternoon autumn sunlight.

That’s Hartcliff Hill in the distance there.

A peaceful pool on Midhope Moors. I hope those clouds lend some symmetry!

The reservoir was still illuminated as the day slid into twilight.

A lonely, half-dead birch that had once grown amongst the conifers has been left standing after all the felling. It’s in a bad way, but it is possible that next year it will produce seed and its offspring will be a part of the new wood. The three bracket fungi are Piptoporus betulinus – razor strop or birch polypore.

The birch has managed to outlive the conifers that suppressed it all its life, but for how much longer?

Langsett Reservoir at dusk.


* * * * *

This month’s Festival of the Trees is hosted by Georgia at local ecologist. There are a ton of great links, as always – something is bound to pique your interest!


Posted in Gone for a walk + Notable trees





Around Broomhead Reservoir

A couple of weekends ago I was down at Broomhead Reservoir, taking advantage of the low water level (though it isn’t as low as the neighbouring More Hall Reservoir) to see if I could find any remains of Broomhead Mill. I couldn’t.

In the foreground is the old course of the Ewden Beck, the river that flows into the reservoir. Normally this section is submerged beneath the waters of Broomhead, but while the reservoir is low the old channel gets to remember what it was like to once have been a river.

This old stump and dry stone wall are also normally submerged in the reservoir. The wall runs along the edge of a tiny valley where Allas Lane Dike, a small stream, once ran down to join Ewden Beck.

At the reservoir’s high water mark, a bit of erosion has exposed the roots of two trees. On the left, a common alder (Alnus glutinosa); on the right, an oak (either pedunculate or sessile).

Looking across the reservoir to the northern shore. The water surface was very calm, but it wasn’t quite still enough to produce a perfect mirror image of the trees over there.

As I stood gazing admiringly across the water, I heard a splash and automatically went for the camera. A fish had surfaced and triggered a series of ever increasing circles.

In a bit of woodland next to the reservoir I spotted a couple of huge brackets on a dead birch stem just as the light was beginning to fail.

They were: Piptoporus betulinus - razor strop or birch polypore.

Something – a woodpecker, I presume – had drilled a hole in the rotten stem, and wee flakes of dead wood had rained down upon both brackets. Nature’s brilliant, eh?


Posted in Gone for a walk





A glorious Indian Summer: aspens in Ewden!

Looking back at the Salter Hills.

These photos were taken in the midst of our fantastic autumn heatwave. To make the most of the perfect weather, I went for a walk up in the upper reaches of the Ewden Valley. I can’t believe a fortnight has passed already!

Looking across the valley to Park Cote, as it is marked on the map. ‘Cote’ is an old Middle English word meaning ‘small shed or shelter for livestock or birds’, or ‘small cottage’. There is clearly a ruined stone building there (see the bigger version of the photo), and I think I have spotted a second ruin hidden amongst the trees to the right of the former. I’ve never been over there but they are on my list of places to investigate.

A small pool on the tributary of Ewden Beck that flows down Oaken Clough. All the becks were in very low flow.

Walking up the side of Ewden Beck, you’ll eventually reach a section with steep cliffs to the right of the river all grown over with trees. When I suddenly caught sight of a lot fluttery, trembling leaves, I realised with some excitement that there is actually aspen (Populus tremula) growing in the valley! There were quite a few of them on the cliffs, mixed in with downy birches (Betula pubescens) and oaks. Aspen is a fascinating species; while it has a huge range across Europe and Asia, it’s not a common tree in Britain. Seed production rarely occurs here, the reasons for which are poorly understood. It can spread freely by vegetative reproduction, however, sending up suckers from roots that grow into trees that are clones of the parent (ramets). Self-perpetuating clonal colonies are thought to be capable of living 10,000 years or more (but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t theoretically live far longer than that). Anyway, the aspen here in this tiny section of the Ewden Valley is perhaps a miniscule remnant population, clinging on in an area inaccessible to sheep, deer and axe-wielding humans, that has survived from the days (upwards of 2,000 years ago?) when this whole area was clothed by forest not moor. That just blows my mind.

A search on the internet for other aspens in the vicinity threw up a mention by Mickleden Beck (about 4 km away) – but a quick reccy there this arvo drew a blank. (Although I did find a massive veteran alder right beside a huge holly… but that’s another story!)

The best of the autumn aspen colours.

Looking toward’s Thorpe’s Brow in the late afternoon golden sunlight.

The lower Ewden Valley – less wild, but still beautiful.


Posted in Gone for a walk





In the Valley of the Beeches

XL European beech (Fagus sylvatica).

Somewhere in the Ewden Valley there is a special piece of woodland full of absolutely enormous beeches. (No, not Spout House Wood. These are bigger…) Beeches with massive-girthed trunks that seem to go up for miles. Beeches with almost ramrod straight stems. Beeches that even though of gargantuan stature are still in the prime of life. No grizzled dotards here; well, maybe a couple. Just beautiful, jaw-droppingly large trees.

I’m pretty confident this one is the biggest of the lot. I’m calling it the King of Ewden. I think that’s suitably grand. It’s a shame my photo really doesn’t do justice to this titan’s size – it’s a hundred times more impressive in the flesh. There is a car-sized wound on the other side of the trunk, seriously! I’m going to have to go back with a tape measure and take some DBHs as proof!

One of the smaller ones?

Another giant. How many are there? I’m not sure. Thirty? Forty?

Imagine climbing that! Imagine the view from the top!

I wish I had more photographs to share, but being under those monster canopies, in the bottom of a valley, late on an autumn afternoon… the light wasn’t great. I’ve got a mind to go back and carry out a more comprehensive study. These are trees worth getting excited about. If only the person / people who planted them could see them now!

Several Piptoporus betulinus (razor strop or birch polypore) fruiting bodies on a dead downy birch (Betula pubescens).

This big oak (probably Quercus robur) looked stunning as it caught the late afternoon sun. I love trees.


Posted in Gone for a walk





A glorious Indian summer: Five familiar friends

A familiar rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) on Whitwell Moor.

The weathermen forecast a startlingly hot few days last week – 25°C for the end of September in Sheffield certainly made me open my eyes – so I took measures to make the most of this unexpected resurgence of summer by taking a couple of days off work. Instead of sweating buckets trapped in a pair of chainsaw trousers, I was out roaming the moors and woods having a whale of a time. Wednesday was incredible but Thursday was truly the epitome of an autumn day; it’s just a shame that the sun sets so much earlier now than it did in the height of summer.

A familiar downy birch (Betula pubescens) of extraordinary girth, also on Whitwell Moor…

…and growing beneath its spreading branches, this little bolete (some kind of Leccinum, I think).

Hallo! It’s the famous Lonely Oak!

Last year I couldn’t find any acorns on the L.O., but there were a few on one side of the crown last week. I confess I collected some. Perhaps there will be a treeblog Set E next year?

One of my acorns. The Lonely Oak is an English or pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), so the acorns are attached to the tree on little stems.

Looking north from the ‘back’ of the L.O. towards Hunshelf Bank. Looking over its shoulders?

A familiar pair of Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) between the Salter Hills.

Chilled-out cows in the next field.

The eastern Salter Hill, complete with solitary hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).

Gorse (or furze or whin: Ulex europaeus) - one yellow drop in the ocean.


Posted in Gone for a walk





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