the flowers of the forest

a well-timed visit to scotland in mid-June, where the weather was cool but sunny in contrast to saturated Norfolk

we had several beach walks, some here on West Sands in front of St Andrews’ golf course, early mornings before family went to work

low tides gave us plenty of room

although one of us is very sadly a bit too arthritic to play games on the beach

I visited Big Cat Textiles in Newburgh, on the Tay estuary, had lunch with old friends on the last day of Michel Garcia’s plant dyeing course. everyone was extremely busy rinsing, printing, ironing, drying in a fever of time limits, I pottered in the shop, bought some of Alison Mountain’s deliciously dyed merino/silk/yak knitting yarn.

Jeanette Sendler showed me a marvellous book from their library, of Sheila Hicks’ small tapestry works, Weaving as Metaphor, which ought to inform some abstract paintings soon; if I were not already doing too many projects it would have me going back to this art form which I tried in my twenties.

back at St Andrews – Bims is so much more grown up now she is three and there were no floor/carpet tragedies.

on the Saturday we went for a walk at Tentsmuir near the mouth of the Tay estuary – in fact between two estuaries, the Eden flows out to the south and the beach here at low tide appears to join up with West Sands, but in between are sandbanks, quicksands and a river. Tentsmuir forest is forestry commission, but the seaward edges are very au naturel, low sandy hillocks covered with some marram and some machair-type vegetation, full of flowers. this is an area full of ancient archaeology, which used to be turned up by rabbits until the myxomatosis disaster. it’s also next to a military zone. a place full of complications and connections.

to my delight this June it is full of northern marsh orchids, some flower heads five inches long. I was so excited by the orchids I didn’t take enough notice of all the other flowers.

Bims had another fantastic run and play

then back on the lead and into the woods

more orchids along the trail

woods in Scotland have totally different understoreys to english woods, fern, lichen, and moss are king

old birches growing out of mossy humps and cushions

someone had put a painted stone in a hole in this tree – green with red lips and white teeth, a kind of baby dinosaur face.

on Sunday we went further afield, into Angus, near Forfar, Montreathmont Forest.

it’s Forestry Commission like Tentsmuir, but much of what we walked was open like this, some spruce but a lot of scots pine and forest floor covered in a mixture of ferns, mosses, heather and bilberry.

there are supposed to be capercaillies, but I think you would have to be up at dawn to hear them.

more flowers – a lot of bugle – occasional orchids – beautiful dark blue speedwells

and this which I now think is wild grape hyacinth – I found the native version in Simon Harrap’s very thorough Wild Flowers, although the flower head is usually more like the garden variety, except that it’s a really dark smoky blue, and in this photo the blue is too bright.

we followed some marked paths through open meadow (where the bugles followed lines across the grass) with alders and birches, and then through more of the “Caledonian Forest” style woods, delightfully not forest trails.

Lucy had downloaded the OS map for the walk, and there was supposed to be a path near here, in an open strip similar to this, with a little burn/ditch, but no sign of the path, in very long wet grass

then as the grass was so long and wet we tried the edge of the wood, but the moss and heather cushions were knee high, so that was not any easier

we crossed the burn/stream/ditch – luckily there was a ledge or the remains of a bridge where the path had been

through drier/shorter grass and a landscape of fern clumps growing out of their own humps/stumps and some birch, alder and then heather and broom. then the open landscape ended in a wood. the path was supposed to go through it, parallel to a straight forest ride. we had to push/crawl through small spruce and gorse, ended up soaked and our clothes and hair full of pine needles. the spruce branches low sharp and painful. at last we fought our way through to the high gorse edge of the trail, I had to sit on a gorse bush to allow Bimba through. real forest bathing – and my hip has still not recovered completely.

the trail also petered out, but that was marked on the map, and the path it turned into had recently been tended with some branches cut. finally we were back on track to where the car was parked.




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