Neil took a day off work yesterday to help me celebrate my birthday. After checking the mountain weather forecast we decided against going up a hill and headed for a bimble around the woods at Culbin.
Culbin Forest was once a vast area of shifting sand dunes and was the largest area of open sand dunes in Britain covering 3,100 hectares. The land was purchased by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s and afforestation began. The forest helped to reduce the drift of the 7 km long sand bar, which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Today the mature plantations of Scots and Corsican pines are dotted with birches loads of forest floor plants, fungi, lichen and insects.
The sunshine was perfect for lots of activity at the dragonfly pond.
In fact the dragonflies were so active I only managed to photograph this one Black Darter as it rested briefly on the ground.
Ancient people once wandered and lived among the ceaselessly shifting sands adapting to the changes they encountered. Eventually farming people settled here, despite the shifting sands. They uprooted the marram grass to use as thatch and cut turf for fuel. This helped to destabilised the sand dunes. In 1694, a great storm blew through the area and the people were forced to abandon their homes.
This stage in the history of the area is represented by the reconstruction of one of the houses in the sand.
To get an good overview of the forest we climbed up Hill 99 – named by Culbin’s early foresters as the sand dune is 99ft high – and climbed the new viewing tower.
The technical challenges of building a 20m high viewpoint tower on a sand dune were great as the fine sand runs like water. The engineers used an environmentally-friendly technique, sometimes called earthship construction, which took old rubber car tyres (a natural material and freely available waste product), linked them together, and filled them with sand. These buttress form the approach ramp to the 15m long walkway.
From here we dropped down to the Gut, the narrow shoreline managed by the RSPB. Ths is an area of salt marsh, mudflats and sand dunes.
Sea Aster Aster tripolium
Common Glasswort Salicornia europaea
By now it was time for a brew and a cup of soup. Not only did I ‘cook’ my own birthday meal, but I lit the fire to cook it on! But this was the first time DH had seen my hobo stove in action and he was impressed by how quick I got it up and burning! I lit it with my fire steel using birch bark as tinder which was flipped into a few birch shavings and dried grass. The fuel was wee, thin sticks of dry, dead gorse from the sand dunes. Almost instant heat! Magic!
Me feeling chuffed with myself!
Before we finished our tea it started to rain, so we hastily packed up and continued east along the beach towards Findhorn Bay. We passed many of these poles in the sand on the way.
Poles were placed along the beach during the second World War to prevent enemy gliders from landing.
As we approached this area we heard a constant low, mournful ‘singing’ and were delighted to see over one hundred seals resting on the sand bar. I counted 131, but am sure I missed some of the calves. We had endured about one hour of rain by this point, and seeing and hearing the seals lifted my spirits again and made the long walk on the sand worthwhile.
Back in the woods, we were surprised to find an ant hill at the foot of a birch tree – I’ve only even seen them by the roots of Scots Pines before.