Writing in Nature

This month we have a series of exciting workshops coming to Glengorm. First up is a full-day nature writing course with award winning writers Rose Skelton and Nomi Stone. In this one day intensive course, we will look at writing techniques that can be used across the genres of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and then use some of those tools as we walk, observe and write along the spectacular coastline of the Glengorm Estate.

Here is a little information about the amazing tutors that will be running the workshop:

Rose Skelton is a long-time Mull resident, currently working on HOMESCAR, a collection of short stories set on an island in Scotland, which won the Larry Levis Fellowship for Fiction in 2017. Two of those stories will be published in literary journals in 2018, and she was recently short-listed for the Bridge Emerging Writing Award. Rose was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and has an MFA from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She now teaches creative writing and trains investigative journalists, but was previously a freelance journalist in west Africa, working for the BBC, The Guardian, the Sunday Times, and others. She is a banjo player and is a volunteer member of the Tobermory Lifeboat crew.

Nomi Stone is an American anthropologist and a poet who spends her summers in Mull. She is currently working on a poetry manuscript entitled FIELDWORKERS OF THE SUBLIME which is a series of poems looking at wonder, nature and scientists. “KILL CLASS,” her second collection of poems, will be published by Tupelo Press in 2019. Winner of a 2018 Pushcart Prize, Nomi’s poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Best American Poetry 2016, and elsewhere. She teaches at Princeton University and has an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College

To book, please email ranger@glengormcastle.co.uk or call 07387971782

Click here for more information. coastline

Phytophthora Ramorum: Glengorm’s Battle

30743234_1438219839616613_2696114554118602752_nOur landscape at Glengorm is always changing and evolving, some of it planned and sadly, some of it unexpected. First of all you would have noticed the Rhododendron trees being cleared from around the castle, opening up the views out to sea, but leaving the hills looking somewhat bare without them. Then, you will have noticed a huge area of larch trees also disappearing as you near the castle.

Last year the estate was surveyed for signs of a tree disease named Phytophthora Ramorum (larch tree disease),  that was first found in Sussex in 2002 and has since spread across the UK. Unfortunately P.Ramorum was found in some of Glengorm’s rhododendrons and in turn, the disease had also spread to our larch trees. P.Ramorum is a fungus like pathogen called a water mould which causes extensive damage and death to a wide range of trees and other plants. It is found predominantly in the west of the UK, in wet areas, so of course here on Mull we have the perfect conditions for it. The disease is carried by spores and can be spread easily through the air. The disease does not always kill the rhododendrons, but they carry a huge amount of the spores and can quickly spread the disease to larch trees. The infected larch trees shed their needles prematurely as they become wilted and blackened, many trees also suffering from cankers or wounds, on the branches and upper trunk. To tackle the disease a large number of rhododendron were dug up and destroyed, with many of our larch trees also being felled.

Though the beautiful Glengorm landscape looks somewhat barren without many of our trees, we have hopefully managed to stop this horrific disease in it’s tracks, before it kills hundreds more larch trees. Looking to the future we hope to replant some of the areas with mixed woodland containing more deciduous trees and even look create wildflower meadows to encourage even greater biodiversity at Glengorm.


Dancing Green Lights

It was 10:30pm and after a delicious dinner with friends in Tobermory, I was back at Glengorm, entertaining thoughts of a duvet, hot water bottle and my new book. Since the night sky was so incredibly clear, it seemed rude not to quickly check the aurora forecast before bed. One last hook-up to the World-Wide-Web. Just in case.

‘In 12 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 4.66- VERY ACTIVE’

marsport aurora 30012017
Willowbank Observatory, Pennyghael, Isle of Mull. Simple Auroral Magnetometer http://www.marsport.org.uk/observatory/index.php

Before the thought of pyjamas could even creep back into my head, I was donning thermals, throwing on a woolly hat and flinging camera gear and a flask of hot chocolate into the car as my boyfriend and I made a quick dash for the Glengorm masts to see what we could see.

About half way between Glengorm Castle and Tobermory, is a hill perfect for panoramic views and a spot of night sky watching.  Stumbling in the dark to the tip of the hill, the wind whistled through every nook and cranny that our lazy, last-minute outdoor dressing had provided. Bracing ourselves against the wind, we could see a dim glow not unlike light-pollution above the Ardnamurchan peninsula. But with no city lying on that distant land, it was safe to say that what we could see was Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights.

Whether a hazy glow, or a dancing spectacle of lights. The aurora never fails to impress. Quite content with our ‘light pollution’ aurora that could be picked up by my camera, we stayed a while longer. Just in case.

Aurora Borealis over Ardnamurchan

After a few swigs of hot chocolate (which I forgot I was sharing and drank nearly all to myself!) the spectacle got better. Squeals of excitement could be heard as pillars of light danced across the horizon, a short rippling of an aurora curtain and a definite green hue poking out from behind the clouds. The shutter release was pressed repeatedly, with occasional quick darting glances to see what magic was being picked up on the screen. An image for memory’s sake.

Aurora Borealis over Ardnamurchan


Then, as if we’d been dreaming, the light dimmed and the clouds drew in. Ending our simply marvellous, spontaneous outdoor excursion.

Aurora Selfie
Aurora Selfie

The difficulty with aurora is that you are unable to watch the incredible spectacle and then simply go to bed. You’re surrounded by thoughts of ‘what if?’ You return to your house buzzing, with a thirst for more. Pouring over your photos (realising that in all the excitement, being blown by the wind and with cold fingers, you didn’t quite get the settings right!), you continually refresh every aurora forecast website that you know and contemplate whether it really is worth going to bed. Should you head outside just once more?



In 32 minutes, the Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) will be 6- STORM LEVEL!’

Back in the car, this time to the castle. Gloves on, tripod sturdy, camera settings adjusted.  But the aurora was fading, and with it so were we. An evening of elation soon became overwritten by tiredness and a realisation that the best was over. It was time to go home. Time to sleep. Time to dream about what we had just seen.

Glengorm Castle Night Sky
Glengorm Castle


Useful websites for Aurora spotting:





Aurora Research Scotland Facebook Page





Juniper Jungle

Great news from Glengorm today, as we welcome Matt Parratt from The UK National Tree Seed Project to collect Juniper seeds from our site!

This initiative is overseen by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, as part of their Millennium Seed Bank.

Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a priority species for conservation. Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commision and Plantlife are working in partnership to help conserve Scottish plants.

Common juniper has the largest geographic range of any woody plant in the world. It is one of three conifers native to Scotland [the other two being Yew and Scots Pine].

Although individual trees and shrubs can live for more than a century, a lack of regeneration is leading to its downfall.

For example, the absence of grazing by animals such as Highland cattle means that seedlings germinating from these older plants struggle to compete with other vegetation. Worse still, voles and rabbits have a real taste for the young shoots, nibbling them away before they have a chance to grow.

Juniper has now disappeared from more than a third of its original range in the UK.

If you need proof of juniper’s importance to our landscape, the berries are used to flavour that most essential life-giving substance: GIN.

These berries are also commonly used as flavouring for game dishes – think hearty venison, pheasant or grouse.

What’s not to love?

Upon closer inspection, you will find that juniper berries are in fact small cones. The word gin originates from a Dutch term for the plant; “genever” was the traditional Dutch precursor to Britain’s favourite tipple. Sadly, most cones destined for production in the UK are now imported from Hungary.

Historically, Scottish junipers were also prized for their smokeless wood by illicit whisky distillers, as burning it didn’t betray the presence of their illegal stills! So, not only does juniper taste good, but it’s got a hint of rebel spirit about it too.

Hopefully, cones collected from juniper here on Glengorm will help to secure the future of this fascinating and delicious plant for generations to come.

Now, where did I put that tonic and lime…?

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward
Gin & TonicThumb Image: Alan Watson Featherstone – www.treesforlife.org.uk