Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Cairngorms National Park’

Cairngorms - September 2018 djg-34

Fungi Friday 1st May 2020

For another week the Covid-19 pandemic is keeping me away from the woods and therefore the shrooms. This fungal breaking news desk has run out of scoops, so it’s more like a sports channel airing classic re-runs.

I had been intending to post about some fantastic fungal hiking experiences (sounds weird) from a 2018 visit to Scotland but work and life stopped me. I do hope anyone reading this is doing well and that you’re following the guidance.

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These posts remind me of my uncle Joe Reilly who passed away in November. Joe was a Glaswegian by birth who, along with my aunt Marg, introduced me to some of the most beautiful places the UK has to offer in Perthshire, among so many other gifts. I would visit Marg and Joe in Perthshire as often as I could, often in autumn when going to meet my hiking companion Eddie (seen here) for a jaunt in the Cairngorms.

Joe fell for fungi like I did in recent years and I will always miss his WhatsApp messages with mushrooms he had found on Perthshire walks. We miss his thirst for life terribly but carry it on just as he did.

Last week I was sharing fungi found on a hike to the top of Ben Vrackie in Perthshire.

This week my final Scotland post makes me feel like a bit of a cheat. The post is built around an incredible hike led by the rangers of the Balmoral Estate in the Cairngorms National Park with only one serious mushroom to be found. But it was one special shroom, and probably one you want to eat if you haven’t already. I will soften that blow with some dodgy phone pic shrooms.

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I was visiting the Cairngorms for a Europarc Conference and there was very little time to get out on foot in the mountains and hills. Most of my photos looked like this one above, a phone pic taken while being ferried around in a minibus.

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I was staying in Aviemore and there were a pleasing selection of shrooms found right next to the pavement in the verges. This is a giant puffball in its early stages, part brain part, well, bottom.

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I’m not entirely sure what this species is, I thought it might be in the Macrolepiota/Lepiota family (where parasols are found) but can’t find a candidate just now.

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This is almost certainly brown rollrim, a deadly poisonous fungus. It’s growing out of ballast, which is no surprise as I’ve seen it growing next to pavements in south London.

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And behold, a very well trampled cauliflower fungus.

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Winner of the truly worst phone pic was this fly agaric which was absolutely belting it out from underneath a hedge in a residential area.

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As mentioned at the start of this blog, I was lucky enough to go on a hike to Lochnagar on the Balmoral Estate, led by a very nice ranger and a professional guide, who was also very nice. There were National Park staff from all across Europe. I spoke to one ranger from Iceland who would be spending her winter driving around the vast areas of her Park undertaking works to signage and all manner of other things. She was the real deal. Our National Parks are tiny in comparison to many in Europe, though the Cairngorms is the closest we probably get to some of Europe’s most rugged wildness. The Balmoral Estate is not a good example of that because of the intensive management to support grouse shooting. Apparently the Queen still drives around the Estate in her Land Rover.

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There were extreme winds at the time of the walk and we didn’t make it to the peak of Lochnagar. It was too dangerous. Though you’re unlikely to find much fungal diversity at these altitudes (1000m+) there was a familiar neon lichen on the boulders. This is Rhizocarpon geographicum.

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It took a real effort to actually hold my camera in place and take this photo. It was incredibly windy. This is Lochnagar. The peak can be seen in about the middle distance where a small cairn stands.

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At this point we were all told to put our cameras away because the winds were going to hit hard. They did, it was incredible.

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You’re probably wondering – where are the shrooms? But let it be a lesson to you, finding fungi can be really hard. Sometimes it’s all there at the side of the pavement, but at other times you will see nothing.

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At the point where our minibus was parked I could not believe what I saw. This is a cep, otherwise known as porcini or pennybun. Its Latin name is Boletus edulis. It is the most prized edible mushroom. This was the most perfect specimen I have ever come across. In the background is Loch Muick, with the classic Scottish rain, sun and wind falling in the background. I can still get a tingle of the joy of finding this mushroom, against that background, in such a stunning location.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

 

 

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Perthshire - September 2018 djg-25

Ben Vrackie as seen from Clunie Wood

Fungi Friday 17th April 2020 via September 2018

For another week the Covid-19 pandemic is keeping me away from the woods and therefore the shrooms. To be honest though, my town is so deserted at the moment that I am kind of hoping some shrooms start popping up soon in the paving. Especially considering there is rain coming today.

I had been intending to post about some fantastic fungal hiking experiences (sounds weird) from a 2018 visit to Scotland but work and life stopped me. I have three hikes to share with you which should get you through the next three weeks of lockdown. I do hope anyone reading this is doing well and that you’re following the guidance.

These posts remind me of my uncle Joe Reilly who passed away in November. Joe was a Glaswegian by birth who, along with my aunt Marg, introduced me to some of the most beautiful places the UK has to offer in Perthshire, among so many other gifts. I would visit Marg and Joe in Perthshire as often as I could, often in autumn when going to meet my hiking companion Eddie (seen here) for a jaunt in the Cairngorms. Joe fell for fungi like I did in recent years and I will always miss his WhatsApp messages with mushrooms he had found on Perthshire walks. We miss his thirst for life terribly but carry it on just as he did.

This week I’m reminiscing about a great walk in the wooded hills of Pitlochry.

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The walk was on a Friday afternoon from the door of our guesthouse in Pitlochry but can also be done from Pitlochry railway station. It’s a stunning place, close to the southern border of the Cairngorms National Park. My friend Eddie lives in Glasgow and his journey was a wee bit quicker than mine from Sussex. Above you can see Eddie not at all incongruous in the landscape All these pics are taken with the amazing Canon Powershot G7X MII in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

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Scotland has deliciously wet and humid woodlands which in some parts constitute what is affectionately known as ‘Celtic Rainforest’. This is my habitat, the milder temperatures and shadier conditions far better suit my Celtic biology (which is not actually something that exists in Science).

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These birch trees were host to large hoof fungus brackets and many foliose lichens. These are commonly found on the acidic soils of heather moorland that covers so much of the Scottish Highlands.

These dead standing trees are a vital source of biodiversity in woodlands. They are the thing we have lost but are slowly, very slowly, returning to the landscape thanks to sensitive management.

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In Clunie Wood I found my first ever jelly babies. These are a bizarre species that do look like the sweets. They were growing in large numbers under shade in a wet area alongside the path.

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At the edge of a plantation we found a huge fly agaric.

Here is Eddie getting a pic which gives a sense of scale. September seems a good month for fly agaric in the Highlands of Scotland.

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The conditions were perfect for fungi and these beautiful bonnet mushrooms were alongside lichens on a tree stump.

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This quite hilarious clump of mushrooms (they were growing from one small stump… had to be there) are probably a type of honey fungus described in Latin as Oystoyae.

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This cheeky slime mould was another sign of the exceptional conditions with the mixture of broadleaf woodland and conifer plantation providing lots of moisture.

I always think orange peel fungus is some kind of plastic pollution. Having worked in urban nature conservation it reminds me of litter picks pulling old bits of traffic cone out of the soil!

At the edge of the woodland the beautiful heather moorland appears and views expand into the Grampian Mountains of the Cairngorms National Park.

Thanks for reading and keep dreaming!

More mushrooms

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Galloway

Galloway, Scotland

John Keats (1795-1821) died aged 25 thinking himself a failed poet. Today he is revered as a great. I mine his poems for evocations of nature, the nightingales, the bees ‘bustling down in the bluebells’, and his recurring musk rose. For these moments, from a wet and gloomy winter, I find great pleasure in peering back 200 years to Keats’s descriptions of a London that had not yet swallowed Hampstead entirely, or my borough, the 800-year-old parish of Lewisham. In Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, he describes much of what makes birdsong a cure for human pains, the continuity of wildlife and nature gives us a place in the world, for we are not the first to hear a blackbird, song thrush or nightingale sing, nor will we be the last:

Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown (p. 220[i])

Birds do not discriminate against any audience, their songs can be heard by any person who happens to be passing, be it the song of a robin singing at midnight in central London or a nightingale firing in the morning from a blackthorn hedge in a Dorset field. And perhaps real nature conservation has this at its heart, though often unsaid from a fear of sounding eccentric or elitist. Nature is vital to humanity in many ways, humanity is inseparable from nature, but in dealing with dissonance and social discord brought about by contemporary austerity and financial inequality, its inclusiveness is what makes it most relevant to us living in the 21st century. The song of the blackbird can be heard by anyone who might happen to hear it, more so if conservation is supported by communities and authorities.

Loch Trool

Loch Trool, Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

On a recent visit to Dumfries and Galloway in south-western Scotland I brought Andrew Motion’s hefty biography of Keats with me. It appears more and more that it is not so much Keats’ poems I like the most, but the many aspects of his story, which poetry seems such a big part of. He lived a very short and full life, his published poems barracked by what we might today equate with critics or journalists of the propagandist right’s ilk. And many people thought that he had died from the heavy blows of his critics. Motion points to his wildly ambitious walking tour of Scotland and Ireland, arguing that it was the conditions a weary and exhausted Keats experienced on the Isle of Mull that began his descent into critical illness. Keats had embarked on a mission to collect experiences to influence his writing, and he was astounded by Scotland’s sublime mountains and wild landscapes. He ‘forgot himself’ and found that nature took away all resentment he might have for other people, or his critics, at that time:

The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance. I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever, for the abstract endeavour of being able to add a mite to that mass of beauty which is harvested from these grand materials, by the finest spirits, and put into ethereal existence for the relish of one’s own fellows. […] these scenes make man appear little. I never forgot my stature so completely – I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest. (p. 269)

Keats has been knocked down by nature’s visual power and, eventually, by its impacts on his body. He cracks open the heart of the genre of nature writing. Surely the whole point of casting nature as the central theme in anything is so that ‘these scenes make man appear little.’ In the face of the sublime image of Scottish mountains, human problems are made to feel minute. It’s the same feeling people experience today in British woods, on those same Scottish mountains and by the sea. Surely if Keats were alive today his thoughts might have turned to conservation of larger landscape areas – in the same way that his biographer, Andrew Motion, once Poet Laureate, now works for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, defending National Parks from a development lobby which seems to hold sway with government. National Parks are an idea created by John Muir, the Scottish adventurer who helped to found Yosemite National Park with his grand and flawed ideas of wilderness. In Scotland, protected landscape areas such as the Trossachs National Park, Cairngorms National Park and Galloway Forest Park are key to preserving the impact of those places on the human mind, at the same time protecting their prehistoric ecosystems and wildlife. A National Park or protected landscape area is an admission or celebration of the fact that nature can show us how small we really are. For John Keats and visitors to mountains today, if underestimated or not treated with respect these landscapes and their conditions can kill.

[i] The Complete Poems of John Keats, Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2001

© Daniel James Greenwood 2014
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