Words: Lucy Grewcock (Wild Guides Author)
Scotland is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the UK. Native species like oak, birch and Scots pine have grown here for centuries, while the world has changed and evolved around them. Some cloak mountainsides and fill valley floors, while others sit quietly on the shores of Scottish lochs or stand alone in churchyards.
After the last Ice Age, almost a fifth of Scotland was covered in Caledonian forest but changing climates and human pressure have reduced this cover significantly. Luckily, a few fragments of these original forests still remain, and exploring them is like stepping back in time. Here are five to get you started.
Inshriach Forest – Northern Cairngorms
Rich in red squirrels, pine martens and insect life, Inshriach Forest is a small but pristine remnant of ancient Caledonian forest on the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains. Follow the footpaths, cycle routes or cross-country ski trails, noticing how the landscape changes from forest to wind-sculpted trees as you venture through the woodlands and out towards the bare Cairngorm mountain tops. To explore more, head south to the rewilded area of Glen Feshie, and spend the night in Ruigh Aiteachain bothy.
Fortingall Yew – Perthshire
Probably Britain’s oldest tree, the Fortingall Yew is thought to be around 3,000 years old. Find it within the churchyard of Fortingall village and, in autumn, see if you can spot the branch that changed sex to bear fruit. Fortingall hotel does great local grub, or you could head over to Glen Lyon Tea Room for home-baking amid the stunning scenery of Scotland’s longest glen – in autumn, Glen Lyon’s ancient Caledonian forests are ablaze with colour. The wigwams, domes, lodges and bunkhouse at Loch Tay Highland Lodges are a good place to soak up the scenery.
Black Gates Forest – Argyll
Follow the circular Big Tree Walk (waymarked) and crane your neck at grand Douglas firs, Californian redwoods and western hemlocks. Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels, or wait until spring for the rhododendrons. Nearby, you could also explore the enchanting gorge of Pluck’s Glen with its rocky walls, leafy tree canopy and sparkling forest undergrowth. Pitch your tent on the shores of Loch Fyne.
Ariundle Oakwoods – Lochaber
Also known as ‘Scotland’s rainforest’ this tranquil woodland has remnants of an ancient coastal forest that once spanned Europe’s Atlantic coasts. A reminder of some of the oldest vegetation in the world, the woodland floor is rich in lichens, liverworts, mosses and ferns. There are miles of walking routes to explore, and countless butterflies in summer. Stay nearby at Tioram House on the wooded island of Eilean Shona, by Loch Moidart – it’s truly magical.
Urquhart Woods – Loch Ness
One of the best examples of surviving ancient wet woodland in Europe, Urquhart sits on the banks of Loch Ness. Find the woods in the bay to the north of Urquhart Castle, then follow the footpaths on a rough figure of eight beneath the trees. Make your base at Loch Ness Backpackers Lodge and spend your days venturing into other Ness-side forests, like the pines and birches at Allt na Criche.
Every season brings fresh appeal to Scotland’s forests, from burning autumn colours and silent winter snow, to spring bluebells and summer butterflies. Bring your boots, bike or skis and follow the trails beneath ancient trees to discover primaeval plant-life, hidden ruins and elusive wildlife that scuttles through the canopy or stalks through the undergrowth at night. To enjoy these forests in all their glory, come early for sunrise, stay for sunset, or bring a hammock and stick around after dark.
For more inspiration on wild adventures this Autumn take a look at Wild Guide Scotland and other Wild Guides.
About the Author:
Lucy Grewcock - Travel Writer & Author
Lucy Grewcock is an award-winning travel writer and author of Wild Guide – Southern and Eastern England, which won ‘Travel Guide Book of the Year’ at the 2015 Travel Media Awards. She has worked on several other books in the Wild Guide series as a researcher and proofreader.