Rewilding of the Inner Hebrides Chapter 1

IMG_0980  IMG_0968Alas, I have landed in the Inner Hebrides, where I now live in the shire of Dunoon, Argyll, or Dùn Omhain, in the shadow of castle ruins, Bonny Mary O’ Argyll, and pioneer cemeteries. I will be stationed here for six months, not tending to any small relocations in the isles during my treeplanting winter and spring season for Scotland. Argyll has been the home for the Cowal Highland Gathering, and Robbie Burns, Scotlands favorite son. The Vikings would have penetrated this inner coast by sea, after they couldn’t penetrate on land past Hexham, England. The region is a transition in landscape between the Highlands and the Lowlands where farmed knolls, grassy meadows, and flatlands meet peat bogs, golems, and mountains. It seems this year my territory will be quite expansive in comparison to my last season in Britain whilst staying in the Northumbrian Kingdom, which can be read here ( This time ’round shall find me planting all over the highlands, potentially as far as the Northwest coast, Aberdeen, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Argyll Forest, Oban, Cranolarch, and in the gazes of the Isle of Skye, Ben Nevis, and the Grampian Mountains with a gig here or there in the Edinburgh surroundings.

Arriving via the Atlantic channel, from the maritimes of Canada, to the Hebrides of Scotland makes another pilgrimage from this wild rover, one taken as well by the Norse Vikings, during their wayfarings between the UK, Iceland, Greenland, Vinland. And also the marked route of the Gaels, though in reverse, as they left their Highland homes to live in New Scotland (Nova Scotia), and Cape Breton some two centuries ago. The journey itself was monumental in my own consciousness, to cross air and sea spaces I have never drifted, and return to the land of my first tramping adventures. The narratives of these posts are meant to be ‘sagas’ in the simple sense of the word. This is now the third country I have planted in, and during my dwelling therein, I seek to emulate the mythology of the land, the people, and of course the treeplanting lifestyle. To me, I don’t go to work, I was called here for a mission. When I put on my planting bags, and creep out into the brash and hostile landscape, facing sideways blowing rain, and dredging through broken forests planting trees at 6 or 7 pence a seed, it’s not about the money, it’s not about the end of the day when I can feast, or the lowbrow humor that is passed around between other planters. It’s a spiritual penance, and a sacred project. Some days it does just feel like industrious labor, but I know deep in my core that rooting my trees back to earth will leave me in as much awe as it does to fill my pockets. To share a special place with such heroic figures and hardened clans that walked here is something to be taken aback from and held in high regards.

It has not even been a fortnight, and during one of the non-planting days, I took a hike in the Glen Morag fairy glen, IMG_1008a rainforest hardly farther than the sound of a braying sheep away from my hostel. The canopy trees wax their foliage and repel the salty coastal clouds, and northern isle showers down into swales and waterfalls. Along this trail, hardwood barks are hosts for woody growth forming a kind of fungal skin over them. I could see some wild edibles on the trail, a stone tor or lookout tower crested on one edge and upon the summit of the path, a scenic pasture of horses oversees the Frith of Clyde. In the Corlorach woods, a reservoir home to some Scottish swans holds its keep at the base of several trails, of one I have hiked thus far, the Balgaidh Burn. The Amanitas family still holds on to their place in the shades, and several small trilling waterfalls echo through the fen. The ascent climbs to some 200 meters and peers over Loch Long, and Dunoon.

IMG_1012The torrents, gales and monsoons have been an omnipresent force in these ancient scapes since I arrived. On this Freyr’s day as I write, my crew and I have almost finished our second land of planting, the first being in the Easan Dubha of Glen Orchy, A 12 hectare clearcut bordered only by a mountain named the Bhir-bhiocan and a waterfall, the Lanan Dubha. And the one currently being planted in the Brenchoillie Forest of Dail Mhàilidh, towered over by the Ra Chreag and Beinn Bhalgairean or what I dubbed Grimh Mountaine for its ruddy brown corpse color. These cuts have been planted previously with cedar, larch, oak, scotch pine and sitka spruce, and Scotland is currently trying to redeem their naitve pine stands, so I have been planting pine. Unlike Canada, the planting is slower and more methodical here, this is actual re:wilding, as almost all the pine will not be harvested as from what I know. The grounds are peat fields, bogs and fen, and quite rugged even for seasoned highlanders, whom tended to have flocked to the villages now. A few thousand trees planted a week seems to be the rate I will be keeping for awhile. IMG_1019The driving route from Dunoon follows north to the Highlands, and passes the Beinn Ruadh and Beinn Mhor, the highest of mountaines in Argyll. Then continuing further to half loop around Loch Eck, cutting west of the Arrochar Alps and through the historic town of Inverary, in the valley of the 1932 ft. Cruach Mhor. Finally heading NE along Loch Awe to its tributaries and into the surrounding hill faces, like sleeping trolls in a forgotten folk world. The drive is a long one, but in the forenoon, the panoramics of the sunset are something to be cherished. Recently I was taken aback by sites filled with dappled light, and dense fog over small villages surrounded by these giants, and peered miles in the distance at a place that seemed almost ‘not there’. It was mythic in its gaze, something preserved for demigods.

The prospects now are wavering and gray of where the next lands to plant will be, but I have heard it around that there are cut blocks in the Isle of Mull and near to the Isle of Skye. Surrounding these western inner hebrides islands and peninsulas are hundreds of cairns, standing stones, an old witches house, and natural earthen forts. I intend to explore some of these sites and take photos for inclusion in these posts.IMG_1023


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