How to Tell if a Tree is One Hundred Years Old

One  of the things that has always fascinated me was how to gage the age of a tree without cutting it down and counting its rings.  Until we started coming to Colislinn in 1994 I did not really have any idea how one could work this out by just looking, as their size depends on the soil, situation, fertility and probably  a couple more things.  The ‘aha!!’ moment came as I saw an old photograph of Colislinn, about 4-5 years after it was built in 1896 which I have now managed to get on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colislinn-House/314667718575012 It had clearly been built on a bare hill (although there were a few mature trees that are now long gone) and little tufts of tree were starting to stick out.  So all the big trees, the Scots pines, copper beeches, birches, sycamores, the tulip tree and assorted conifers are now around 115 years old.  The last owner before us (the Ritchies)  also planted some chesnuts, beeches and Maples ‘Crimson King’ which are now around 20 years old, so the difference in age is clearly visible.

There is one exception:  there half a dozen of very old ordinary beeches – I would say each about 250 years old – with a circumference of at least 2 meters that are probably demarcating an old boundary line towards a now long-lost fording place in the Slitrig.  They stand there like tall elderly gentlemen who have seen it all before.

Apart from these deliberately planted trees the  willows, the alders, holly, the rowans, ash, lime and the odd oak grow rampantly around ‘the policies’.  I have been told that they are the remains of the forests that once covered most of the UK.  Now they it only really grows on the steep areas as on the flat ones the grazing animals take care of the saplings pretty quickly.

Inside the woodland regeneration is a continuous process, particularly the holly, the alder and the ash.  This is good news as we only burn our own wood and we need a steady supply.  We have just finished the last of some wonderfully scented cedar wood, another huge tree of which there are another 4 still standing, taking the light away from the house.  They will however be there for another season as felling season is now closed while the birdies breed, but come the Autumn, we will be taking more trees down.  When I say we, we usually do ‘blomming’ with the whole family and Scottie, our expert woodsman and friend.  We make a bit of a day of it, heartily driving around in the landie and making bonfires and,  at the end of a cold day’s hard work,  there is nothing like looking at a woodshed full of split wood in the knowledge that that job is done for another year.  Time for a cuppa.

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