Updated: Apr 5, 2021
I meet Fiona at the donkey statue on Woodlands Road. It seems fitting as most tours of the West End would involve this statue, the renaissance Glasgow University building, Kelvingrove museum and a wander around the bars and eateries of Finnieston or Ashton lane. Ours is a more obscure jaunt. A trail we wouldn't be surprised if no one has ever done before. Inspired by nature, we plan to hug twenty-six trees imported from China and America, each destined to be giants.
Photo 1: Fiona Roberts (left) and Emily Bryson (right) at the ‘Donkey Statue’ on Woodlands Road.
The Scottish Redwood Trust has a record of 4,000 redwoods and monkey puzzle trees across the country. As I write this includes 2727 giant redwoods, 581 coast redwoods and 175 dawn redwoods and we’re about to run between the ones in Glasgow’s west end.
Our run starts in the usual manner: friendly banter and unnecessary apologies about how unfit we’ve become. We hope neither slows the other one down. This, despite knowing our run could be upwards of ten miles. While the very thought would draw looks of awe or concern from friends and acquaintances, a run of this distance on a Tuesday evening feels perfectly natural to us.
We take it easy, catch up on missed news and choose the paths in Kelvingrove park which slope down rather than up. Our first stop is a dawn redwood at the skate park. The tree must have seen its fair share of stunts, tears and broken appendages in its time. Still, it stands watch, unconcerned by the daredevils executing moves that make onlookers wince. One of many redwoods hidden in plain sight, the tree is only visible when you know what you’re looking for and start paying attention. It took me twenty years and 10,000 laps before I finally noticed what had been there all along.
A Chinese Botanist discovered dawn redwoods in the 1940s and they were first planted in the UK in 1948. They are unique in that they are a deciduous conifer. Most trees with cones are evergreen, but the dawns actually lose their foliage over winter. This seasonal nudity makes them easier to notice as their conical shape is quite distinct and the ‘armpits’ under their branches are more noticeable.
We pose for tree-hugging-selfies before our next stop; seven more dawns near the war memorial at Kelvingrove museum. Spaced along the approach, they form an impressive image, aligned with the remembrance stone and the distinctive Glasgow University spire.
Photo 2: A dawn redwood at the war memorial near Kelvingrove Museum
Our adventure continues to the two most elusive and unassuming of the trees in our trail. There are many reasons the pair of infant dawns in Hayburn park could be missed. Firstly, Hayburn park is minute. It hosts a small playpark and is undoubtedly frequented solely by local residents, not visitors from around the world like its famous bigger sister. Tucked in a corner, their girth is smaller than my own stature. Redwoods are much easier to spot as they grow older and more conspicuous in size. Standing between them, I was proud that I’d identified the juvenile undulations of their trunks. I told Fiona of my surprise spotting during a twilight run.
Fiona’s interest in redwoods was piqued by a blog post I wrote for the Scottish Redwood Trust. This tour was a great excuse for a catch up and a break from our usual running routes. We ran through Kelvindale and on to Garscube discussing local exploits, family news and triathlon club gossip. We’d met a few years previously at training sessions in Maryhill. When I’d first joined the club, I thought triathlon was only for super-fit professional or semi-professional athletes. Thankfully, like me, most members simply love the outdoors and exercise for the sole purpose of guilt-free cake.
We arrived at our first giant sequoia of the day. Near the vet school in Garscube estate, I regaled Fiona with stories of ‘walking past this one a million times’ and tips on giant sequoia identification. If their sheer size doesn’t give the game away, their spongy bark is a good place to start. It’s fluffy, copper and a joy to touch.
The cones are round and their spiky foliage sweeps downwards. We stroked the tree and inhaled its delightful aroma, remarking on their natural fire resistance.
I knew the next trees were only a short distance away, so we took the opportunity for a mild ‘recovery walk’ to the Beatson building, where we admired three giants, a coast and a monkey puzzle.While giant redwoods are the biggest, coast redwoods are taller. Their foliage is flat and their cones are smaller than their giant cousins.
Photo 3: foliage of the Giant Redwood
We stopped to revere, embrace and photograph each, finding a dropped monkey puzzle branch, with thick, jaggy, leathery leaves. Fiona seized the chance for a wee lie down, claiming this was the only way to get the entire height of the tree into shot. Fiona seized the chance for a wee lie down, claiming this was the only way to get the entire height of the tree into shot.
Having recuperated from the previous 7k, we felt it was time to put a bit of effort back into our ‘run’. We continued along the Kelvin through the estate. I tested Fiona to see if she could spot two dawn redwoods and she passed with flying colours.
Not surprising, as Fiona aces every test life throws at her, despite her humbly arguing otherwise. The last three dawns in the estate are in a row spectating the rugby pitches. As usual, we paid our respects with the usual caresses, photos and overuse of the word ‘armpit’ before pressing onwards.
We jogged along the Kelvin walkway towards the last stop on the trail; the Botanic gardens. As a girl who grew up on an island, I need nature in my life. The Kelvin Walkway has long been my little haven in the midst of the busiest part of Scotland. You can take it all the way from Kelvingrove park to the rolling green countryside. My favourite doorstep run follows it to the Forth and Clyde canal and back in a perfect 10K loop.
Photo 4 (left): Coast redwood foliage
We took it from Garscube, past Dawsholm park, through Maryhill and into the Botanics Arboretum.
Here, my tree geekery exploded. I had to show Fiona the Wollemi pine, a tree once thought extinct until it was discovered by a hiker and botanist in Australia in 1994. It’s now planted in Botanic gardens and public parks around the world, including the Glasgow Green Commonwealth Garden. It’s foliage is flat and palm-tree-esque. The baby one in the Arboretum is currently quite short and bushy.
We reached our last coast redwood of the day and I pointed out how attractive the bark had been to squirrels. The tree is positively concave with their nest lining pilferage. Fiona decided it was the perfect tree for a stretch. The last giant redwood of the day stands by its doppelganger, the Japanese cedar. It took me a while to tell the difference, but Japanese cedar cones are smaller and their bark is not so huggable.
Three more dawn redwoods in the Botanics, a couple more monkey puzzles and our trail was complete. Our watches showed 13km, so we’d be over 14k by the time we returned to the donkey statue and our respective homes. Although I’d ran to and past these trees many times, this was the first time I’d visited them all in one go. Fiona agreed that it was a great way to get close to nature in the urban landscape, step out of our running routines, and to earn ourselves a slice of that guilt-free cake.
If you’d like have a similar adventure in your local area, Scottish redwoods tend to reside in public parks, botanic gardens, castle grounds and private country estates.
Think locations like Scone Palace, Stirling University, Camperdown Park, Dunkeld House Hotel, Kelburn Country Park, Benmore Gardens, Inverewe Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Search online before you go or just keep an eye out when you’re there.
Photo 5 (left): The Coast Redwood in the Botanics Arboretum is perfect for a stretch.
You could try these sites for more information:
Redwood World: http://www.redwoodworld.co.uk/.
The Scottish Redwood trust catalogues redwoods, wollemi pines and monkey puzzles across Scotland. They are always looking for spotters to find unlisted trees to add to their list. Why not join their Facebook Group and add redwood spotting to your outdoors activities?
Emily Bryson is an English Language Teacher and writer. She lives in Glasgow and loves being outdoors. A friend at work started her contagious addiction to redwood spotting. You can find out more about her at www.EmilyBrysonELT.wordpress.com or on Twitter @E_Bryson.