Woodland Trust Voluntary Warden Saddhavati Monahan reflects on the Trust’s new aqcuisition in Spinningdale, its connections with the Carnegie family and rich past
There is a piece of woodland on the edge of Spinningdale known as the Fairy Glen, through which the Allt nan Euan flows into the Spinnningdale Burn. It’s a small piece of land that could easily be overlooked but it’s a real treasure! For over 120 years the owners of the Fairy Glen have been the Carnegie family; Andrew Carnegie, his descendants and wider family. However in March 2020, the Woodland Trust purchased the land, marking the start of a new chapter in the story of this lovely place. It is adjacent to some of the existing Woodland Trust site of Ledmore and Migdale Woods.
I have lived beside the Fairy Glen for a number of years and have long been drawn to its jewel-like beauty; it can feel magical, mysterious and ancient. Now it is bursting with vibrant greens, burgeoning life and freshness, with splashes of colour in the spring flowers and the beautiful sound of birdsong. It’s a mixed deciduous wood dominated by oak and birch, with hazel, rowan and some Scots pine, holly and juniper; the ground-cover is rich with mosses, ferns and lichens. There are signs of deer, pine marten and small mammals and I keep my eye out hopefully for a siting of one of our recently re-introduced red squirrels (no luck so far!).
The Carnegie family have long had a particular connection with the Fairy Glen; there was a path that led up beside the burn, weaving back and forth over a series of bridges to a small summer house that has long since gone. There they would picnic, and I have heard that local children would sometimes be given apples when they met the family going up and down, in those days a welcome treat! One of the delights of the Fairy Glen is a lovely waterfall and the supports for one of the lower bridges are still visible there. Now it’s a secluded spot dripping in climbing plants and mosses, but it is still great to swim in the plunge-pool on a hot summer day! There are also two engraved stones marking the historic Carnegie family connection, if you look carefully you can still see them.
In my wanderings in the Fairy Glen I have been fascinated by the abundance of moss-covered stones and boulders, in fact, when you start to look, they’re everywhere! I discovered from archaeological records that there are remains from a cairn and a chambered cairn that were probably surveyed in the early 1900’s. Some parts of these burial structures are still visible and whilst there are few details known about them, we can be sure that there was a sizeable settlement here at one time.
I love these connections with past inhabitants of this place, whether it was from thousands of years ago or our more recent past. Another anecdote is that blankets would be washed in the burn itself down by the bridge and laid out to dry on a fine summer’s day with a good drying wind. And this is within living memory!
Some of this piece of land is inaccessible to the walker but there is a small, clearly marked path that starts near the bridge on the road (GR NH672904) and follows the burn. Near the waterfall it branches off to join other paths in the Ledmore and Migdale network as the burn disappears into the steeply sided gorge. I am delighted that the Woodland Trust has taken on this new acquisition, confident that this lovely spot is continuing in safe hands. We have started monitoring wildlife activity, we have plans for community picnics at some appropriate point in the future, and we will plant more trees in some parts. Watch this space!