Old Castle Wood is the inspiration for much of our craft practise. We have been in the very fortunate position to be a co-owner of this beautiful, mixed, broadleaf woodland since 2004. This allows us to spend time there “working” with the other owners (we are a group of ten people/five families) and the many friends who come to help. A lot of that time is spent wandering about or sitting around a campfire, chatting and planning work, however in the last month a tree planting task was actually completed. Last year we planted 100’s of sprouted acorns (collected from the wood and kept cool) but none appeared as seedlings. Perhaps they were eaten by red squirrels or mice. So this year, we decided to plant bought in British oak saplings. (Looking after a wood is like gardening on large scale so this was like giving up seeds and buying seedlings from a garden centre instead.)
First we had to fence an area to keep deer out and as time goes on we will attempt to keeps weeds around the saplings at bay. Everything in our wood is on a small scale and therefore everything is done by hand with simple tools (not like commercial forestry). The first step of fencing was to insert posts. We started by creating a narrow metre deep hole with a metal spike, then lined up a round wooden post at top of each hole, and bashed the top with a post thumper to ram the post deeply into the soil.
The wiring and netting took another few sessions followed by an afternoon planting well over a hundred saplings.
The surface was scraped back, hole dug (or spade wedged back and forth to create a slot), sapling popped in, covered with inverted soil and firmed in.
You may wonder why we plant oak in an oak wood? Most of the trees in our wood are the same age and it is good for the overall health and resilience of a woodland to have trees of a wide age-range. This used to be a coppiced wood and the trees have roots of perhaps two hundred years old, with trunks at least a hundred years old. Coppicing oak provided tannin for the leather industry (to tan leather) and this stopped after the introduction of artificial dyes and lack of men to work the land after World War 1.
We have protected naturally regenerating saplings for the last decade but wanted to plant up one of the larger open areas in the wood. Fortunately when we started digging we realised the area had been previously cultivated and was possibly the garden for the substantial medieval building nearby. This is now just a rubble of foundation stones but we think it might be the site of the original Grandtully Castle.
All images below are thanks to Danni Thompson Photography. We were lucky to have Danni working at the woods that day.
We always enjoy our time in the woods; time seems to stand still, there is a sense of peace and work seems easy. Therefore I have been intrigued by recent articles in the press extolling the benefits of “Forest Bathing”. These are often based on research by Japanese physician Qing Li who has researched and quantified the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in a forest. For example he found that a two night stay in a forest increases Natural Killer cells (which combat cancer) and reduce adrenalin (a symptom of stress). The effects lasted for more than 30 days.
Trees have been found to give off essential oils which can boost your mood and immune system, reduce heart rate, stress, anxiety and confusion, and improve sleep and creativity
As little as two hours taking time to look, listen, smell, breathe, touch and tune in to your feelings in a forest is beneficial. To find out more look for Qing Li’s book Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing.
The Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku or The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health in 1982. How lovely that the Japanese government will support research into the effects of being in a forest, and promote it as a treatment for ill health and to promote well-being. In Japan, appreciation of nature is deep in the DNA and part of religious and traditional life. Sadly in the UK health research is far more likely to be by drug companies hoping to introduce a new pill.
I am sure the effect of being immersed in a forest can be recreated in a garden or park if you can be there mindfully or meditatively. I would love to see scientific comparisons between the effects of Forest Bathing with the effect of being on a mountain or swimming in a river or sea. Subjectively in my experience being in our wood seems to engender feelings of calm, like walking in mountains rather than the exhilaration of bathing in cold water.