Getting back to our roots – walking among the tall trees

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
–  John Muir

Scots pines rise majestically around Dornoch Bay

Is there any one of us who hasn’t, like Maria from The Sound of Music, ‘climbed a tree and scraped a knee?’ Or swung from a rope tied to a sturdy branch? Or tried to build a tree-house? Or collected conkers?  Or looked tree-wards to listen to birdsong?

Trees are all around us and there’s not much that they don’t give us – or our planet. They help our climate by removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under their protective canopy animals and plants thrive. They help combat erosion. From time immemorial they have given us shelter and shade. Timber to build our homes. To build ships for fishing and exploring. Wood for the fires to cook our food and to keep us warm. And think of all the fruit trees that give us nourishing, healthy food.

Trees can outlive any other living thing. Ancient and wise, patient and long-suffering, they have inspired awe and reverence. Like springs and pools they have long been regarded as sacred.  Myths and legends have grown up around them.  Folklore is full of them.

In the Bible God plants The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. In Norse mythology Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree, sends its roots and branches off to other worlds. In many cultures trees are believed to have their own individual spirits. For centuries they have inspired the works of poets and writers: even today appearing as characters in films, as any of us who have watched The Lord of The Rings trilogy will know!

Benmore Botanic Gardens, Cowal, Argyll

The landscape of Scotland has changed many times. The fortunes of our trees and forests have waxed and waned. And there’s no doubt that there have been times when Scotland’s forests and woodlands have indeed suffered at the hands of John Muir’s fools!

Today, however, more and more of us understand the need for a vision for our forested landscapes.  Attitudes have changed and work is now underway to actively protect, extend and restore our forests. And thankfully we have greater freedom to enjoy them than ever before.

They fuel our imaginations. They bring us pleasure. They bring us health, peace and relaxation. They are ours to enjoy and to protect and to grow.  Go find a nearby forest – or even a single tree – and discover just how much our trees have to offer!

Great Trossachs Forest

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Forestry Commission Scotland

Woodland Trust Scotland

Landmark Forest Adventure Park

Benmore Botanic Gardens

 Scottish Wildlife Trust 30 Days Wild

“If you go down to the woods today…” The Lochan Spling Trail

“If you go down to the woods today…”

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir (1838 -1914)

Wise words from a wise man, and as true today as back then. If fact, probably truer today than ever before. A survey undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in 2014 reported that 90% of people found that visiting the outdoors helped them to relax and reduced stress, while 80% felt that being outdoors not only improved their physical health, but also left them feeling both energised and revitalised.  No mean achievement! We are very fortunate that Scotland is rich in forests and forest walks: so just what awaits us if we go down to the woods today?

The aptly named Old-Man's-Beard

The aptly named Old-Man’s-Beard

Lichen abounds in the fresh, clean air of the forest

Lichen abounds in the fresh, clean air of the forest

For a start fresh, clean, unpolluted air. Take a look around and marvel at the abundance of lichen draped over the branches of trees: in particular the aptly named Old-Man’s-Beard!  Then there are all the wonderful smells and sounds of a forest.  Birds and bird song all around, the glimpse of animals through the trees, while strange mushrooms and toadstools thrive on fallen trees. A forest creates its own world, its own rich eco-system from the top of the tallest trees to the smallest creepy-crawlies and strangest looking fungi! A gentle poke in the undergrowth will quickly reveal all sorts of life – much of it scurrying hastily away!

Weird and wonderful growths

A grumpy looking fungus!

A grumpy looking fungus!

At the weekend we set out from Aberfoyle, ‘the gateway to the Trossachs’, along the Forestry Commission’s Lochan Spling Trail.  Spling is a strange name and may come from the Gaelic word splàng, which means to sparkle. In Sunday’s sunshine, with its welcome warmth, that certainly seemed an appropriate name! As we walked through the forest and across the Duchray Water we met other walkers and cyclists, as well as groups of young people learning outdoor skills through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

The Lochan Spling Pike

The gigantic Lochan Spling Pike

Reaching the lochan, we suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with some very unexpected, and very out-sized, creatures! The Lochan Spling Pike, Dragonfly and Osprey were all created by artist Rob Mulholland in 2008 and form part of the Loch Ard Family Sculpture Trail, which runs not only around this delightful lochan but also along the shores of Loch Ard, Little Loch Ard and Lochan a’ Ghleannin. The three we saw are quite remarkable objects and reflect the creatures that live in the lochan and surrounding forest.

The Lochan Spling Dragonfly

The Lochan Spling Dragonfly

There is so much to see, do and enjoy in a forest, and at the same time it is so good for us. Like John Muir, Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, was also keenly aware of the benefits of taking time to be outdoors, and in particular walking, until our problems take on a more manageable perspective. In 1847 he wrote: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Coming from the man widely regarded as the world’s first existentialist philosopher, that’s good advice indeed!

All of which just goes to show that if you go down to the woods today you really will find plenty of surprises, plenty to enjoy and come back feeling refreshed and revitalised! And that’s got to be a good thing!

Links:

Lochan Spling Trail: Forestry Commission Scotland

John Muir, Scottish environmentalist and naturalist, and ‘Father of the US National Parks’

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Brig O’Turk Tearoom – a unique restaurant in a village with three names

The world-famous Brig O'Turk tearoom!

The world-famous Brig O’Turk Tearoom in the heart of the Trossachs

What’s in a name?  Plenty, when it comes to the village of Brig O’Turk in the heart of the Trossachs! This small rural settlement has two older Gaelic names; Ceann Drochaid (end of the bridge) and Aird cheannchnocain (the height at the end of the hillock), while the present-day name of Brig O’Turk, despite how it may sound, has no connection with a distinguished Turkish gentleman!  Instead it combines the Scots word brig (bridge), with the Gaelic word torc (wild boar) to give the dramatic sounding Bridge of the Wild Boar.

Just some of the appetizing dishes on offer at the tearoom!

Just some of the appetizing dishes on offer at the tearoom!

But however many names the village has, it boasts one very unique eating establishment! And that is the delightful Brig O’Turk Tearoom, well-known both for its wonderful food and as a key location in the 1959 remake of John Buchan’s classic The 39 Steps. Starring Kenneth More, much of this version was filmed in and around the Trossachs with the fictional tearoom bearing the name The Gallows Cafe. It’s portrayed as a popular stopping point for cyclists (as it was in reality), and it’s from here that we see our hero make his escape by peddling off, hidden amongst a group of other cyclists, dressed in rather improbable cycling gear!

The 29 Steps, 1959, with Kenneth More and Taina Elg

The 29 Steps, 1959, with Kenneth More and Taina Elg

There are wonderful cycle and walking routes all around this area, up through Glen Finglas and along the new Great Trossachs Path, which was opened in 2015. The Path links into the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way, and runs from Kilmahog, just outside Callander, to Inversnaid on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, passing en route the lochs Venachar, Achray, Katrine and Arklet.

The Great Trossachs Forest is a vast, long-term woodland regeneration project, devised jointly by the RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust Scotland, and offers a growing number of routes, with something for every age and ability, and is packed with information about the history of this ancient landscape.

Built in 1923 , the tearoom retains its original feel

Built in 1923, the tearoom retains much of its original atmosphere, and has food to climb a mountain for!

And sitting right at the heart of all this wonderful countryside is the Brig O’Turk Tearoom, run since 2011 by Csaba & Veronica Brünner. The couple have brought new life – and many new tastes – to this much-loved tearoom.  So take to the hills, follow in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, Effie Gray, John Everett Millais and his Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Jules Verne and very many others and come and explore the Trossachs. Then reward yourself with a visit to the Brig O’Turk Tearoom!

Links:

The Brig O’Turk Tearoom

Glen Finglas and the Great Trossachs Forest

The 39 Steps Trossachs Locations

 Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park