Trees of the Cairngorms

Pine seedlings in Glen Lui, Cairngorms

Just away from the bothy and already the trees were standing out, young seedlings catching the morning sunlight

It had started out a day for the tops. Beinn a Bhuird to be exact. But having emerged into Glen Quoich from Clais Fhearnaig and seen the south top with its head in the clouds, I decided to set my sights lower. After toying with various ploys, I decided to have a return to my childhood and follow a route I’d first done with my father as a bairn – and probably not done since.

I came down to the jeep track up Glen Quoich and crossed the Allt Clais Fhearnaig to take the path which just a few yards on leads diagonally through the woods and on over Creag Bhalg.

The woods, standard plantation fare, were quiet save for the odd bird, but there were tracks of a red deer which had recently wandered up the path ahead of me, prints still sharp in the wet ground. The woods ended suddenly, as is the way with traditional plantations, and there was a sudden feeling of release, with views across the wide glen of the Quoich and west into the main Cairngorms giving a sense of limitless space.

Looking from Creag Bhalg into the central CairngormsThere’s an attractive quality to this bare hillside under the right light.

Looking across woods on the south flank of Creag Bhalg and on up Glen DeeBut it was good to swing round to the left and see the open woodland on the Glen Dee slopes of the hill. It looks like a natural tree line you see in the picture above, but the lack of growth on the moorland may just be because it is so wet, for as I climbed into drier ground nearer the summit I came among more young pine seedlings, now being given a chance to grow since the removal of the deer. In fact there were seedlings all the way to the summit at 668 metres.

Scots pine sapling near summit of Creag Bhalg, CairngormsLarge, long-dead tree on Creag Bhalg, CairngormsFrom new life to old. This must have been a grand old tree in centuries past.

The variety of shapes in Scots Pines is amazing

Solitary pine on Creag Bhalg, Glen Dee, CairngormsThis one had a touch of the Japanese Bonsai in its shape.

Pine tree in CairngormsAnd here I was reminded of acacia trees in the African Savannah. All it lacks is a leopard over that lowest limb or a giraffe nibbling its needles.

Spreading Scots Pine, Caledonian Pine, CairngormsAnd this, as I moved along the hill onto the Glen Lui flank, reminded me of a great old oak.

As I moved along into the more mixed woods above and north of the Black Bridge across the Lui, I began to get the full benefit of the bright autumn gold of the birch trees, standing out like beacons against the dark of the pines.

Birch trees on end of pine plantation, Glen Lui, CairngormsMixed tones of green, russet and gold.

Floats of golden birch leaves, CairngormsDrifts of golden leaves look like they’re floating independently of their trees.

Birch tree in autumn gold, CairngormsAt any season Birch are bonny trees, but who could resist them in autumn?

Birch and pine above the River Lui, CairngormsLooking down a row of birch towards the Black Bridge, which takes the Derry Lodge road across the River Lui.

Golden glow of birch in autumn, CairngormsThis young birch positively glowed.

Birch and pine in autumn, Glen Lui, CairngormsFlame in the forest.

Birch and pine wood, Glen LuiA cascade of fluttering gold.

This final plantation, the one above the Derry Lodge track just before the Clash, is thickly planted and movement was awkward at times, but the joy of the colours and textures made it a fitting finale to a wander that had been nothing to do with tops and all to do with the pleasures of stravaiging and remaining open to sensation – on this day dominated by the glory of autumn trees.

Plantation in autumn, Cairngormsmixed plantation on steep slope in autumn, Cairngorms

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15 Responses to Trees of the Cairngorms

  1. john vaughan says:

    As usual, high quality delivered with high sensitivity for your/our subject. The most minor quibble from postings past – please stop using the English corruption Ghru for the Lairig Dhru! Thanks and keep it up. John Vaughan (aka The Headingley Bugle)

  2. piper says:

    Pinus silvestris……The scots pine , In my eyes, the finest Tree around ! Great views looking West as you tramp from Ben a bhuird, a favorite of mine .

    • Stephen Kerr says:

      Got to agree with that, the finest tree around. There is no better sound than hearing the breeze blow through it.

  3. Hugh S. says:

    What a brilliant and original essay. I have often wondered if this track on the map still existed. Will catch it before Autumn ends. Ever thought of publishing a collection of your essays ???

  4. Really enjoyable thanks Neil, bloody great pics!

  5. Those are lovely. We don’t seem to get many autumn colours nowadays but we don’t have that many birches really. The beech do about the best here if the gales don’t blow the leaves off before they change properly.

    I thought the rounded-topped pines were ‘Caledonian Pines’ and the ‘bonsai’ one was a Scots Pine?

  6. I wonder if any of your young ones came from the area at the top of the tree line about a mile N-N-E of Derry Lodge. Four years ago the NTS had the JMT pulling out big patches of heather and hacking the ground to encourage seeding from the granny pines up there. The oldest one they reckon started life in the 1450s, and grew only slowly at high altitude.

  7. Will says:

    Wonderful stuff. Thank you.

  8. Kenny Ferguson says:

    Thanks Neil. quality writing as usual

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