Historic moor and forest
I went for a bike ride the other day along the tracks through the forest behind my house, returning on the roads that encircle it. Variously pronounced “Monrummond” (which is what appears on the oldest maps), “Montrimont” and “Montreathmont”, this lovely stretch of mixed woodland lies in the triangle between Brechin, Letham and Friockheim in central Angus.
It’s been woodland for a long time. It’s mainly Forestry Commission spruce nowadays, what’s known as a PAWS (that’s a Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site, I think). But there are large areas of Scots pines, birches, oaks, beeches and other broadleaves to lighten the gloom. Tracks through the wood are popular with walkers and, apparently, husky trainers – though I’ve never met any, and most of the tracks don’t connect to each other, making round trips tricky.
Two years ago, foresters were thinning the Scots pine along one section of track. I was talking about it to one of my neighbours, who was at school back in the mid ‘30s in what’s now my house. It turns out he’d helped plant those trees about 70 years earlier, just after World War II. It must be very satisfying to watch them grow and see them harvested; not many people live that long.
Wildlife and other residents
All sorts of birds and other wildlife live in Montreathmont forest, from wood wasps to (according to Walk Scotland) red deer and even capercaillie. Hmm. It’s not exactly the Highlands… I’ve seen plenty of roe deer but never their larger cousins, and I seriously doubt caper would survive the numbers of people and dogs that roam the woods. I have seen red squirrels, though. There are buzzards a-plenty, some owls and all the other woodland birds you’d expect to find, bats and, apparently, goshawks in one patch. Even the spruce isn’t quite silent.
Montreathmont forest was a royal hunting ground centuries ago and probably saw hunting parties from the several castles that surround it (Guthrie, Gardyne, Melgund, Kinnaird and the now-demolished Aldbar and Balgavies). I’m sure the wildlife feels safer now, though in a clearing a while back I did come across a fallen tree with a cleft stick stuck in the ground in front of it, looking very much as though someone had sat there quietly waiting to shoot deer.
Montreathmont Moor has remains of what may be Pictish cairn-burials or stone houses (they’re in too poor a state, and surrounded by too many trees, to be certain). Several kist burials have been discovered in the woods down the years, including one practically outside my back door that contained a jet necklace. The booty can be seen in the Meffan Museum in Forfar. It’s thought some of the cairns may commemorate a Pictish battle on the Moor. In fact, the whole area is riddled with Canmore sites.
More recently, the forest was used to tether and hide airships during the First World War. During the Second World War and Cold War it concealed a listening station. The white main building is still visible, though I don’t know what it’s used for now (if anything). Some of the Nissen huts that housed personnel are still occupied, but are now privately owned; you can see them from the Forfar-Montrose road.
Who knew that a patch of dark, regimented forestry could hide so many secrets? It’s amazing what you can stumble across on a bike ride …