A Walk in a Scottish Forest


The Highlands of Scotland are one of my favorite places in the world. The countryside is stunningly beautiful with the steep mountains plunging out of glassy clear lochs. The people are friendly and the food is good – the free-range venison, fresh fish, berries, cheeses, and homemade jam and baked goods that is; the deep-fried Mars bars, not so much. If you like a tipple, you can get a wee dram of whisky anywhere you go and even visit the distilleries where it’s made.

For all its charms, there are a few things the Highlands lacks and one of them is trees – not including the estates where the local lord grows plantation pine instead of raising sheep. Vast tracts of the Highlands are marked as forest on the map but this is merely the medieval nomenclature for a deer hunting ground. Most of the Highlands are covered with heather and tussocks and it’s easy to assume this is the land’s natural state.

In fact, Scotland was once covered with forest and a new project is bringing it back. The work is being led by Trees for Life, founded 20 years ago. The organisation is committed to restoring the so-called Caledonian forest to a target area of 600 square miles and they have planted more than 750,000 trees so far. Here’s what they have to say:

The Caledonian Forest originally covered 1.5 million hectares of the Scottish Highlands as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. Today, though, just 1% of the forest remains, and species such as the beaver, wild boar and lynx have gone. It’s up to us to ensure the survival of this ancient and remarkable woodland. It’s Scotland’s equivalent of the rainforest and it urgently needs our help.

They run volunteer work weeks (video) and there’s a separate volunteer website. But if tree planting isn’t really your scene, there are plenty of ecologically friendly ways to explore the Highlands. Here are a few ideas:

PhotobucketScotland is a wonderful destination for active wilderness holidays, especially hiking and sea kayaking. Try Responsible Travel or Wilderness Scotland.

PhotobucketWild camping (i.e. not in a designated campsite) is allowed in Scotland – see the Mountaineering Council of Scotland for details.

PhotobucketIf you’re looking for something more comfortable with eco-credentials, try Huntingtower Lodge overlooking Loch Linnhe, near Fort William and Ben Nevis. The lodge is gold-rated in the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

PhotobucketOr there is this adorable treehouse, part of Kinlochlaich House & Gardens, in Appin, Argyll – near Oban and Castle Stalker.

PhotobucketHow are you getting to Scotland? There are frequent trains from London, including a sleeper service.The National Express East Coast (formerly GNER) trains up the East Coast have free wifi on board – not that you’ll need your laptop when soaking up the natural beauty of the Highlands. Once you’re there, savor the surroundings and stay put – or catch the local bus service if you need to get from town to town.

Image: ccgd