Thursday 28 September 2017

Hunting the Skipinnish oak...... one of Scotland's oldest trees

There's a rule of thumb that says you can measure (roughly) the age of an oak tree by measuring the diameter of the trunk at chest height with the span of your arms. I think you have to be of average height (me). Your arm span equals your height, in my case 5' 8" or 172.5 cm., and each span is worth 100 years of growth.

Soaring above the surrounding thicket of birches
Today I set out to find the "Skipinnish oak" a very old tree in what were once the policies of Achnacarry Castle. There is no signage to tell you where it is, no footpath and no interpretive display board. But the kind attendants at the Clan Cameron museum pointed me in right direction, told me that it was completely hidden by other lesser trees and that I would have to climb the deer fence.

A very old oak is going to be a very big oak I thought. So I scanned the forest canopy. There were three large venerable oaks in roughly the right place but their trunks and lower branches were completely obscured by a thicket of much younger trees.

Taking a bearing on the tallest I set off in a straight line over ditches, rocks, tree stumps and bog to the deer fence. Deer fences are at least 7'  high and if they are in good shape they aren't easy to climb. You have to find a strainer post that doesn't sway and wobble so I set off along the fence. I was in luck a ladder had been built up and over the wire.

Because the deer have been excluded there has been spectacular regeneration of birches, a thicket so dense I had to shoulder my way between them up the knoll to the old giant. My photo doesn't do it justice, you have nothing to compare the diameter of the trunk.

Measured around the huge boss about five feet above ground level
I measured approximately 5 spans..... about 28 feet. or 7 metres in circumference. So it's 500 years old, maybe more.

When Achnacarry Castle was destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland's troops after Culloden in 1745 the great tree could already have been 200 years old and it looks as if its still growing.

NB. The vegetation inside the fence is different from that outside. Inside there is quite spectacular natural regeneration of birch, oak and hazel. Outside the regeneration is much less due to deer browsing there are some oak seedlings and hazel but it is really sparse compared with inside.

If you want to know why it's called the "Skipinnish Oak" have a look at this link...Skipinnish oak

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