Remote and mysterious Letterewe Estate orchards in Wester Ross

A photo of apple trees at the Letterewe House orchard

Letterewe House orchard – still very much alive and kicking! (Photo by Sue Pomeroy)

 

Remember the orchard at Letterewe House we wrote about back in July? We wondered whether it was still there and fancied it the most remote mainland site in our desk study. In November, Sue Pomeroy of WREN, our Local Facilitator and surveyor in Wester Ross, set off by boat across Loch Maree to have a closer look at it. Below we summarise what she told us about her expedition, and one unexpected and delightful discovery.

She reported the Letterewe House garden as remote as we expected and in rude health, with a good number of well-cared for 80-year old apple trees, as well as some newer plantings. There are plans for even more fruit trees in the near future, so it looks like the place will be productive for a while yet.

A photo of an abandonned orchard on Letterewe Estate

Abandoned orchard on Letterewe Estate, nr Poolewe (Photo by Sue Pomeroy)

 

But it was another, abandoned and neglected site on Letterewe Estate that really won her affections. Her is what she wrote about this entirely new find:

This superb walled orchard is set in the middle of nowhere!  It is surrounded by mountains and bog and very exposed with stunning views. There is a wow factor about this orchard as it is situated well away from any dwellings up an unmade track for about a mile and then off this track for about 400 yards.

The walls are constructed in a series of six rooms with a paved wide path between, the walls are substantial with beautiful curved details to all the entrances of the rooms. Whether this was built as an orchard or a sheep fank is conjecture at the moment, but it definitely has been here a very long time.

The size and defiant age of the trees are too something of a mystery. The trees in the orchard are possibly up to 300 years old, there is evidence that there were many more at some time, but just a few are now left standing.

A remarkable find that needs to be preserved, the keeper of the farm at Kernsary is very keen to protect it and re plant. He welcomes any help with this project! And I can only add that anyone who visits this site cant fail to be excited about it! It reminds me of the Egyptian tombs in its magnificence and discovery!

Do you think this may be our most mysterious Scottish orchard yet?

Thanks, Sue, for all your amazing work mapping orchards on the West coast and for sharing this wonderful story with us. If you would like to help out, Sue is looking for volunteers, as do other organisations in the Highlands – see here for more details.

 

 

Help Highland orchards get on the map

A map of Isle of Eigg Community Orchard

A map of Isle of Eigg Community Orchard for our field volunteer information packs

We are putting final touches on the orchard maps for our local Orchard Inventory volunteers. Each one of 1741 Scottish orchards identified in the Inventory’s desk study has its own map which is used by a volunteer to verify its current location, size and condition during the field visit. Katherine Bellamy, our GIS guru, is working on the last few maps for the 129 of the Highland orchards right now. We asked her to pick a couple that caught her eye.

Community Orchard on Isle of Eigg, planted in 2010, is one of the youngest in the Highland and Island area. Despite its young age it has some fascinating history behind it. Since its community buy-out 19 years ago, the island has become world-famous in environmental and land-reform circles and the orchard seems to have been established as a part of the community initiative for the island to go green.

Photo of people planting trees in a brown field

Community planting the orchard on Eigg. There are more photos here. (By isleofeigg,CC BY-SA 2.0)

The orchard still seems to be in fine fettle today. How do we know? It regularly features on social media around May each year as one of the Highlands and Islands bluebell beauty spots!

Image of a flowering apple tree with bluebells flowering underneath

Eigg Orchard in May this year (By @EiggOrganic)

Another of Katherine’s favourites was an orchard at Letterewe Estate. It won her prize for the most remote mainland location as it can only be accessed by boat across Loch Maree. This one is much more mysterious. All we know about it is that it appears on the Ordnance Survey maps from 1860 and it was likely a part of the Estate’s walled garden at the time. This is quite exciting as it may still contain some very old fruit trees. But we won’t know for sure until somebody pays it a visit!

We need local field volunteers to verify the findings of our desk study by visiting orchard sites like these in the Highlands and elsewhere in Scotland. For the full list of the areas we need help with please, and instructions on how to get in touch, please see our previous post.