Updated: Mar 14
As with many outdoors enthusiasts, the past year has been a challenge. While my ideal weekend involves a trek, bike or run in pastures new, I’ve had to find inventive ways to scratch the itch I feel when cooped up. Most recently, I’ve discovered the delight of stroking the spongy bark of Scotland’s sequoias.
A few years ago, a friend at work brought giant sequoia cones into the office and told me how he’d managed to propagate them. He enthusiastically explained about the work of the Scottish Redwood Trust, how difficult the trees are to grow and that there may be more Redwoods in Scotland than in the USA. Believing that giant sequoias resided only in California and the glossy pages of National Geographic magazine, I was instantly intrigued. This was yet another thing for me to love about Scotland.
That year, I rented a cottage on a Perthshire estate with friends. A short walk from the house we found six huge trees. Their sheer size told us they had to be giant redwoods. We stopped to give one a hug. If my memory serves me well, it took the outstretched arms of five adults and two children to loop around the mammoth trunk. On returning to work, John confirmed the trees as giant sequoias. What’s more, the Scottish Redwood Trust had no record of them.
We’d discovered unlisted treasure! In a world where every corner has been documented, I felt like an intrepid explorer. My redwood addiction was born.
Scotland has long been my favourite country to venture by bike or on foot. When the word ‘staycation’ morphed from ‘holidaying in your own house’ to ‘holidaying in your own country’ last year, I was disappointed only in the semantic change. Holidaying in Scotland is an opportunity to visit new wilderness and revisit favourite spots. With every trip, I found myself scouring the horizon for tall trees, and re-routing to get a closer look. Off-piste near New Lanark Heritage Centre, I was rewarded with another four unlisted beauties.
Figure 1: Near New Lanark
There’s something magical about stumbling upon a vast tree in an unexpected location, then placing your bike against it just for the fun of seeing how tiny it looks. Not that their locations are particularly unpredictable. Sequoias hide in plain sight. They can be found in large estates, castle gardens, stately homes or in parks. Whilst out running local routes in Glasgow, I’ve been delighted to find redwoods in Mugdock park, Hayburn park, Kelvingrove Park, the Botanic gardens, Rosshall park and Garscube Estate. I’ve even spotted Wollemi Pines at Glasgow Green Commonwealth Park. Whilst restrictions kept me in my local area, I widened my regular running routes to recce Alexandra park and Bellahouston, but to no avail. That doesn’t mean they’re not there though; just that I didn’t notice any on that occasion! Youthful giants and coasts or dawn redwoods are harder to spot than their discernible 200-year-old family members, and I’ve passed many without realising.
Since joining the Scottish Redwood Trust Facebook group, I’ve learned a lot about sequoias. Giant sequoias have roundish cones about the size of a Cadbury’s cream egg, spongy red bark and foliage reminiscent of the finger traps from Christmas crackers. Coast redwoods have smaller cones and flat foliage. Then there are dawn redwoods, unique because they are a conifer yet lose their foliage over the winter. They are famed for the ‘armpits’ under their branches.
Becoming a redwood geek has also helped me understand the nuances of different tree species. Many a time I’ve cycled towards a statuesque Douglas Fir to discover its hard grey bark and long soft cones. I can now tell the difference between a larch, cedar, cypress, spruce and Scots Pine (most of the time). Why redwoods? Well, I love all trees. The Scots pine is one of my favourites; some are so straight and serious whilst others are curiously buckled and irregular. Beech trees have a spooky witchiness and yews thrum with history and mysticism. But if I stopped my bike for a hug and a photo after every Scots pine, beech or yew, I’d
never get anywhere.
Figure 2: Nethy Bridge
The Scottish Redwood Trust currently knows of 3861 redwoods and monkey puzzles (as of 26.02.21) across Scotland. I’m looking forward to visiting those further afield this summer, but for now, I’ll get my fix from scouring Glasgow’s parks. If you’re interest is piqued, why not search for redwoods on your next adventure?
Emily Bryson is a teacher, writer and outdoors fanatic. She lives in Glasgow with her two bikes and her husband. Her professional blog is EmilyBrysonELT.wordpress.com and you can follow her on Twitter @E_Bryson.