The landscape of the Scottish Highlands is undeniably spectacular and trees are a very dominant part of it. So an enquiry about tree assessment and protection can come from an estate owner near Spean Bridge planning to construct their own private hydro electric scheme, or from a major hotel chain overhauling the layout of a resort in the Cairngorms, or from a prominent Scottish house-builder with a new estate to manage and a gully full of semi-ancient woodland snaking its way between dwellings.
Sometimes it’s a case of leaving my home in the centre of Inverness for a 5 minute drive to the outskirts, but more often the required site visit can involve anything up to a 6 hour round trip.
Preparation is essential. It’s no good forgetting the stem diameter tape, or the binoculars, and stuff like walkie-talkies and the all-important laser theodolite have to have their batteries fully charged or you find yourself stuck on an impossibly boggy hillside miles from civilization with nothing actually to do – except curse your total inability to organize.You need your water bottle, a reasonable supply of nourishing marmite sandwiches and the trusty collection of clothing options that lurk forever in the boot – spare leggings and socks (the undergrowth’s always wet), extra jumper, waterproof jacket, gloves, woolly hat, umbrella big enough to shelter the theodolite if necessary.
I’m not going to talk about survival blankets and first aid kits. If you’ve gone that far up a mountain, honestly, you’ve missed the trees…
The expansive and varied swathes of tree cover go hand-in-hand with the presence of water. In all its forms.
Scotland’s rivers and Lochs contain 90% of the UK’s surface freshwater, and we have 19,000 km of coastline – that’s 8% of Europe’s total. Just off the mainland coast there are over 790 islands. So on any medium to long-haul trip, for part of the journey at least, I have sea either on my left or on my right, or I’m crossing the sea, or an estuary, or I’m circumnavigating a sizeable Loch, or looking through the mist at the glassy surface of a Lochan, or clambering up the damp, verdant sides of a steep river gorge.
I have to touch on camping – that’s all I ever do, touch on it – I never actually
camp. I refuse to do camping. I simply don’t do jobs that involve sleeping in something made of fabric that I’ve flung up, haphazard, in a clearing. I know, some of you will say I’m missing out terribly but I can’t cope with the ephemeral nature of tented structures. As far as I’m concerned, and despite plenty of historical evidence to the contrary, they’re unsuitable habitation for humans. You can’t cook in them, everything gets mildewed, and the midges are vile.
The considerable up-side to my intransigence on this issue is that I’ve stayed in some really interesting Highland accommodation instead. From the gloriously eccentric Ardtornish Towers to Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum and many another intriguing place besides. It’s been, and continues to be, a wonderful adventure.
There’s so much more to be said about the journeys I’ve made to meet fascinating trees in fascinating locations, not least of all concerning the ferociously
unpredictable weather conditions in which I’ve been forced to travel. I’ve had to pepper this tiny tale with photos just to give you a feel for things, because dammit this is just a blog, and the format forbids story-telling of any length. One day though, I think I’ll find a way to put that right.