Friday, 30 September 2011

My favourite rowan, guardian of the hill

I ventured homeward today over the moorland, having been off looking at plants on the shore for work, I’d fancied a change of scene. The day was calm enough with a slight mist on the horizon, the moorland was calling and my favourite Orkney rowan.

The hazieness of the mist suits this domineering open moorland vista, softening the edges between the hills and the islands beyond.
I adore this view, the heather clad rugged moorland and this very place, is the keeper of my favourite Orkney tree. A solitary noble Rowan (sorbus aucuparia) sits proudly in this landscape, resolutely holding its weather worn branches upwards towards the big sky, announcing to the world, I am here.

I love the tenacity of it. Tall it stands, alone, one solitary species in a complex mosaic of moorland, where heathers, moorland grasses and ferns jostle within the sphagnum moss and the deep rich peat. The tree stands proud, watching, protecting and keeping guard. Like a lonely knight of olden times, or a shepherd watching for the longest time over his flock. Rowans are known in plant lore to protect, they are often planted by cottages in Scotland to ward off evil, or so we’re told. Every time I pass this tree its determination to ‘be’ amid the wild open heathery moor inspires me. It whispers gently to me, I am here, I live.

Amongst its gnarled living branches, invisible when clad in leaf, a large nest of twigs holds fast, as the leaves from this year fall, the nest reappears.
Every year when the rowan is naked of leaf, I smile at this tree and this nest and at the opportunist bird that adds to its bulk each year.
 Theirs must truly be a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit. The smaller tree branches break and fall in the worst of the winter gales, allowing the bird to add the fallen material back into its nest with heather and grass in the spring. Returning the branches from whence they came. The tree rewards the work by protecting the nest within its developing canopy in the spring, hidden by summer the nest and its occupants safe and secure. I love this tree. Each year as the leaves fall and the nest exposed again, I chuckle at the increase in size of the nest, one day I think it will engulf the whole tree.
A hoody crow, very common in the north of scoltand announces to the silent land their presence, whilst standing tall on a fence post surveying the moorland. Is this their tree I wonder, is the large twig nest their private abode?
We wander along the peat track, my companion and I, taking in the seasonal changes and saying good bye to summers presence on the hill side.
The heather clad hill is changing, fading from hues of pink and purple, returning to rusty, rich browns which clad the hill side throughout the year. The heathers, (of which there are three types  in the north of the UK) are beginning to really go over, although patchy tufts of their purples and pinks still blush throughout the common heather (Calluna vulgaris).
A few late blooms of vibrant bell heather (Erica cinerea) also greet us and for a while the bees will recharge from them.
I did not see the third type, cross leaved heath (Erica tetralix), although I must confess to not looking too hard. Others like the wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) are done for the season.
Unfortunately many of the wild flowers are already over, offering up their seeds to the skies, the air is full of silken windblown, dancing faerie-seeds originating from epilobiums, thistles and dandelions. I love the way they look etherial, floating off on an adventure of their own. While many wait........
......sitting patiently offering up their bounty, the pods of the flag iris (Iris pseudocorus) burst open and ripen whilst the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flowers give over to twisted gnarled naked seed heads which would rival any blackie tups' twisted horn.
We wander on down, through an avenue of eared willow (Salix aurita)
I love the peedie ‘lugs’ on this species just at the base of the leaf petiole (look for the lugs at the base of the 2nd leaf).
This willow is a happy companion of the moorland, giving the birds a place to find refuge as we walk through passing the peat cuttings of the famous 'Highland Park' distillery. They aren’t often disturbed, the moorland is often empty, enjoying uninterrupted views out to the sea, which are breathtaking.
We sit a while, up on the spongy heather hillside and watch, nothing in particular, just watch and look, whilst my thoughts wander off back down the peat track drawn back to my favourite tree. Keeping guard. 


  1. This makes me long for the moor and the sea. Never mind, I'm going out West next week. Can't wait! If I were being mean, I would suggest that 'tree' is not quite the right word for that rowan, lovely though it is...

  2. It's so engulfed the the vegetation you can't see it's true stately stature.......honest. Enjoy the time out west what a treat.

  3. Ah, the romantic moors. What lovely colors.

  4. It is indeed a proud tree. I know the feeling well of having a favourite tree. I try to have my favourite trees here in the city, but it's not quite the same.
    Thanks for the heather progress update - another thing I miss about city life!
    That is one stonking nest for the size of the tree! (word verification is 'inest'!)

  5. A lovely tree indeed :) Made me think I don't have a favourite tree! Maybe I'll get looking out...

  6. I have favourite trees in several places. I love trees. Imagine my shock when visiting a friend recently to discover that my first ever favourite tree (a juniper - very big, very old) had been cut down. I was devastated and I dont use that word lightly.

    gorgeous post again.

  7. that is a cool tree...and its got a great too that while solitary it is also with the bird..great perspective on the capture of the bird on the fence line...dropped over from Everyday Goddess'

  8. You've created a hunger in me and athirst at the same time. An absolutely brilliant post, which seemed like it would never end, and then, alas, it did. Wonderful. The next best thing to being there. Thank you.

  9. Beautiful moorlands. Beautiful colours. Beautiful photos.

    Thank you :)

  10. This was so exciting, i could almost feel as if i was there!

    I gave you one of my weekly Goddess Awards for your sidebar. Come over to my blog to pick it up if you like.

    Happy blogging!

  11. Wonderful. Such beautiful colours.
    I would love that Rowan tree too!
    Blessings to you

  12. What a gorgeous post, your photos are wonderful, love that tree and the nest, but also the colours of all the lower plants. thank you.

  13. Everyday goddess thank you, I'm touched.

    Really touched, glad you liked it.

    I thank you all for your lovely comments for that gorgeous tree. I'll respond properly later, I'm glad you've met it too.


  14. In Orkney terminology that rowan is absolutely a tree! Great walk, Fay with terrific scenery. It reminds me of cutting our own peats. That was hard work and carrying them back even harder. I only did it once (or twice).

  15. Visiting via the Goddess. The colors are lovely there this time of year. I can almost smell the heather.

  16. Fay, there is more to Orkney than I realised, and I think it is a very special place. Your tree is indeed a stalwart and a time may come when you may have to destroy the nest and let the hoodie crow start over again. Alistair

  17. Some really beautiful photos Fay, and the words to match. What a wonderful tree. I love Rowans too, and would always like to have one in my garden - I will miss this one when we eventually leave. Glorious colours on the moorland at this time of year.

  18. Thanks Janet, I love rowans and one of the few trees which colour in autumn here, not that this poor rowan had a chance! Leaves blown off.

    Alistair thank you (on both counts) a true stalwart, the tree I mean, not yourself, although gardening in Aberdeen, you probably are :)

    Jeanne thank you for popping over - it's very earthy out there.

    Janet cutting peats eek, hard work! A definite Orkney tree, surveying all it surrounds.

    Penny thank you. Love your art on your blog :)

  19. Trish, thank you. Sft,always lovely to se you :)

    That gentle mans lady, thank you. I loved your own blog. Very much. I'm glad you liked this.

    Dave king, blogging is amazing isn't it, we can pop to wondrous places in a blink.

    Brian miller thank you, and mores for introducing me to many other blogs through all your comments and the goddess's site.

  20. Cheri I'm the same. My friend has the most beautiful gnarled laburnum. If they ever cut it down I'd be very sad. Poor you to lose such a familiar friend as your favourite juniper. Xxxx

    Cheerful, I'm sure you'll have many, in your sub conscious you must have a rummage around in there :-) xx

    Linda, I'm so missing Edinburgh at the moment. I really need a fix of the autumnal city streets and gorgeous trees. The 'inest' made me snigger, it's definitely a stonker.

    Beyond my garden, thank you. I drive that road every other day. I never take the views for granted. Some find it bleak, I find it breathtaking.

  21. Such amazing photos of an amazing landscape and a truly fabulous tree. It reminds me a bit of my favourite Hawthorns which sit on top of the Downs and have the same spirit of tenacity as they are constantly bombarded by wind and all weathers.
    These brave, strong trees truly are guardians I think.