• Remarkable ash trees further north than Rassal

    I have just returned from a trip to Scotland (beat the snows by a couple of days) to photograph some special ash trees for my forthcoming monograph "Ash", to be published later this year (exact dates to follow).

    For a long time Rassal Ashwood in Wester Ross has been heralded as the most northerly ash stand in Britain - even I gave it this accolade in my "Hidden Trees of Britain", but the owner of an estate in the Dundonnell valley, about another 50 miles further north insists that his ash trees have been overlooked by this claim. I went to investigate.

    Sure enough the valley is well stocked with plenty of fine specimens of ash - admittedly most of the denser concentrations of trees are old plantings along the riverside - probably placed there some 200 years ago, judging by their size, to strengthen the banks with their root systems. Dotted throughout the valley there are many fine ash maidens, but virtually no evidence of coppice or pollard management. Most of these trees are fairly evenly spread through birch/alder woodland, with occasional oaks and the odd beech. Many of the alders show signs of having been coppiced in the diatant past, but it does seem strange that the ashes were allowed to grow on. Perhaps there was another purpose in mind for the timber? One of the biggest ashes that fell a couple of years back was cut up and the rings counted - it had a diameter of about 70-80 cms, but contained over 300 annual rings. I compare this to an ash of very similar size that we felled on our land here in Herefordshire a few years back and that contained 160 rings - quite a difference! It vividly illustrates how variable growth rates can be depending on latitude, soil, aspect and climate (altitude not really applicable in this case). Given the number of deer and sheep in the valley it's pretty amazing that any ash trees were ever able to get away in the first place, but again looking after the livestock might have been another reason for promoting ash, as the leaves have been used for animal fodder since time immemorial. They simply must have had some sort of protection when they were first planted though.

    With the snowclad peaks, dominated by An Teallach, in the background and that low winter sunlight I love so much I was in love with the Dundonnell valley for a couple of very productive days.

    Scotland had a couple of other ash treasures to offer too, but you'll have to wait for the book for these...


Archie Miles photography

Archie's Blog

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