By Jonathan Wordsworth
Cycling regularly along the north shore of the Beauly Firth from North Kessock to Tarradale, I have noted just past Coulmore Point a small patch of woodland with a collection of twisted multi-stemmed trees. Consisting predominantly of oak but with a mixture of species including ash and beech, the trees are widely spaced and used as shelter by stock grazing the field above. As a result the wood has an open and sparse aspect.
The curving and multiple stems of the trees in the woodland show that this is a rare survival for this area of a former coppiced woodland, where the stems were cut down to supply timber on a regular cycle of 15-20 years.
Earlier maps show it was one of two similar sized copses set beside the road and on the edge of the raised beach. They are both shown as wooded on the land utilisation survey of the 1930s shown below, though the western copse has now disappeared.
The copses can be seen on the earlier Ordnance Survey maps of the area.
Note the pier at Coul Point. It was likely that the timber felled here was carted to North Kessock harbour and shipped off here to larger boats for export, rather than this slighter jetty.
The copse to the west has been largely removed as can be seen from the aerial photograph, though remnant coppiced trees still survive along the field boundaries.
There has been recent felling of some of the stems in this wood and the largest of these has, at a rough count, approximately 100 rings which would accord well with the wood last being cleared for timber during the 1st World War.
According to the excellent Redcastle: a place in Scotland’s history (Graham Clark 2009, London) the woods on the Redcastle Estate were first extensively planted under the ownership of James Grant of Shewglie in 1790 and he is recorded as paying £39-10s to George Brown of Inverness for 300,000 Scots firs (1/6d per dozen) and 30,000 2 year old larch trees 98d per 1,000). The estate was sold in 1829 to Sir William Fettes (an Edinburgh shipping merchant, twice provost there and whose bequest founded Fettes College) and he seems to have purchased partly on account of the woodlands, as his accounts tell of timber being shipped out to Newcastle for use of pit props. The subsequent owners, the Baillie family of Tarradale and then Dochfour continued to invest in woodlands and other agricultural changes to the estate. The marriage of Nellie Burton to James Baillie in 31st January 1894 (the marriage celebrations included the felling of 400 trees and the building of a pyre 70 foot high on Gallows Hill!), brought additional investment into estate improvements, especially Redcastle itself. It is not clear how much regular felling was taking place during these years but it is clear the 1st World War would be an important stimulus to felling timber. Also these trees are unlikely to have been coppiced standards unless there had already been a cycle of coppicing on these trees previously.
Some of the cut stems seem to date to a more recent felling but are probably just the result of later secondary growth.
Further signs of coppiced woodland possibly survive to the west , beyond Corgrain Point though this area is now overgrown with secondary birch and elsewhere the mature oak woodlands on the raised beach and above the Caravan Park appear now as mature standards with no evidence of coppicing. Further more detailed searching may reveal more evidence of coppiced woodlands on the Redcastle Estate but this seems unlikely with the extensive conifer plantations now dominating these woodlands. As the Coulmore Copse itself is trimmed and felled, the surviving coppice wood will itself disappear.