Ardgour oak is named as a prestigious Queen’s Green Canopy ancient tree

The 350 year old Ardgour oak tree which has now been named as a Queen’s Tree, pictured with, from left, Ewen Morrison, Tony Boyd and Michael Foxley Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F18 Woodlands award 02
The 350 year old Ardgour oak tree which has now been named as a Queen’s Tree, pictured with, from left, Ewen Morrison, Tony Boyd and Michael Foxley Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F18 Woodlands award 02

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An oak tree on Ardgour has been named as one of 70 trees from across the UK to qualify for the Queen’s Green Canopy project.

The Camusnagaul pollarded oak is the only entry from a crofting community woodland, with all the other ancient trees from Scotland to qualify being on large estates or in the grounds of mansions and castles.

The Queen’s Green Canopy project is a unique tree planting initiative created to mark this year’s Platinum Jubilee. The 70 ancient trees identified are to be part of a special project to grow new trees.

The pollarded oak, aged about 350 years, is a very rare survivor from the past and grows in the ancient woodlands of Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil, on Ardgour.

These woodlands were bought by a group of crofters from the crofting townships of Treslaig and Achaphubuil in 1995 from the Forestry Commission, with sponsorship from what was then Scottish Natural Heritage.

At the time of the woodland purchase, the new owners famously celebrated with a dram as the deal was completed, as the great aunt of one of their number had been once fined for collecting firewood from the woodlands.

These native woodlands have since been regenerated by excluding grazing animals and  removing non-native species.

Three local crofters – Ewen Morrison, Tony Boyd and Michael Foxley – have also extended the network of paths by an additional two kilometres over the winter of 2020/21.

The woodland was judged Highly Commended, coming second in the important community section of last year’s Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards 2021.

Dr Foxley told the Lochaber Times this week: ‘Our pollarded oak has been at the centre of historical events in Lochaber throughout its  life, as detailed in the story we submitted to the QGC judges.’

The story lists the many important historical events which have taken place in Lochaber during more than three centuries of the Camusnagaul pollarded oak’s life.

Standing in a woodland managed for centuries by the MacLeans of Ardgour, it now boasts a girth of four metres and was originally pollarded in order that bark from its  branches could be used to cure animal hides and the wood burnt to make charcoal.

The charcoal went by sea to fuel the iron furnaces at Bonawe – including making the cannon balls used at Trafalgar. Suitably shaped branches would be used for the rib of a boat or the cruck frame for a house.

The oak was alive when MacIain of Glencoe struggled through the snow to attempt to give his oath of allegiance to William III at the Fort. He was refused and the infamous massacre followed in 1692.

From across the loch the tree witnessed the second battle of Inverlochy, when Montrose and his force of MacDonalds and Irish largely destroyed the Campbell Covenanter Army in 1645.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at Glenfinnan, the oak stood silently to attention as the Jacobite clans, including MacLeans, Stewarts, Camerons and MacDonalds, marched past to join him.

After Culloden, the tree witnessed brutal acts of retribution, including the shelling by the Royal Navy of homes in the adjacent township of Treslaig.

The tree also heard the sound of caoineadh (wailing) of the women on the three emigrant ships bound for Australia in the 1850s, which filled the cleared surrounding glens as the vessels sailed by.

The tree was well-established by the 19th century and the building of Telford’s Caledonian Canal and the West Highland Railway.

It bore witness to the construction of the aluminium factory  and the losses suffered by local families during the First World War.

The oak, by then around 280 years old, would have seen the beacon which lit up the night sky above Ben Nevis to mark the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.