Summer meeting 1986: Gairloch, Wester Ross

HomeEventsSummer meeting 1986: Gairloch, Wester Ross

30 July 1986 - 7 August 1986

Meeting report

Participants: Eric & Evelyn Birse, Agneta Burton, Richard Fisk, Michael Fletcher, Richard Libbey, David Long (Leader), Caroline Pannell, Jean Paton, Peter Pitkin, John Port, Gordon Rothero, Philip Stanley, Rod Stern, Eric & Joyce Watson, Harold & Pat Whitehouse.

Gairloch was chosen for the second week of the meeting partly because the BBS have rarely met north of the Great Glen, and also for its geographical location and range of accommodation. The surrounding area is a highly glaciated landscape with a rugged coastline and a hinterland dominated by Loch Maree, the Torridon hills to the south, and to the north the wilderness of the Letterewe Forest and high mountains such as An Teallach. Geologically the district lacks significant basic outcrops, the predominant formations being acidic gneiss and quartzite, and to the south Torridonian sandstone. Remnants of natural woodlands are widespread, especially around Gairloch and Loch Maree, with fragments of Scots Pine, Oak, Birch and Rowan woodlands.

The BBS met in Ullapool in 1960 when much of Wester Ross was completely unknown bryologically. Since that time considerable field work has been done on some of the mountains (e.g. Beinn Eighe and Beinn Dearg) but much unworked ground remains. The weather in general was not kind to us during the meeting, with cool, windy and often wet conditions, but this was compensated for by the number of participants and their dedication, enthusiasm and conviviality.

31 July. The first excursion was to a windswept raised (but partly cut-away) bog near Loch Sguod NW of Poolewe, where the group ranged far and wide, later reporting back with a good list including 10 Sphagna, notably S. fuscum and S. imbricatum forming conspicuous hummocks, Calypogeia sphagnicola, Cephaloziella subdentata, Cladopodiella fluitans, Kurzia setacea and K. sylvatica. This was followed by a rather speculative and breezy walk along the sandy and rocky coastline at Mellangaun; particularly rewarding was a small Torridonian sandstone ravine where Cynodontium bruntonii (rare in N. Scotland), Calypogeia trichomanis, Aphanolejeunea microscopica, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Frullania fragilifolia and Lophocolea fragrans lurked in the sheltered humid microclimate. Cephalozia leucantha was found by Jean Paton on peaty ground nearby.

During lunch on the adjacent beach a short appreciation of Ted was delivered by Rod Stern in a very appropriate setting to remember his greatly-missed presence at BBS meetings and his huge contribution to Scottish bryology.

After lunch we drove to Tollie Bay at the NW end of Loch Maree to explore the steep slopes covered in block-scree and Birch/Rowan woodland. Lepidozia cupressina was in great profusion. Other species included Hygrohypnum eugyrium, Colura calyptrifolia, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Plagiochila corniculata and Radula aquilegia on rocks in two small streams, Douinia ovata and Leptoscyphus cuneifolius on trees and Grimmia hartmanii and Glyphomitrium daviesii on boulders by the loch. An impressive find by Dr Whitehouse and others was an extensive colony of Cryptothallus mirabilis in swampy ground (later in the week flooded) amongst Betula and Molinia. This, and later the Colura, were the subjects for Pat Whitehouse’s stereoscopic camera which focussed on many bryophytes during the week.

1 August. Beinn Eighe NNR. Beinn Eighe dominating the Torridon hills above Kinlochewe, is famous as the only British locality for Herbertus borealis, and for its fine Pine woods on the northern slopes. A number of bryologists have visited the reserve and an extensive list has been compiled by Martin Corley, to which we were able to add 25 species.

Our ascent was via the ‘tourist route’ from the NCC car park, up through the Coille na Glas Leitire pine woods. An advance party made remarkable speed towards the mist which threatened to (but never did) descend, whilst the slower group enjoyed the panorama across Loch Maree, and noted Sphenolobus hellerianus and Cephalozia catenulata on a log. Towards the summit of the ridge oceanic-montane hepatics were abundant: Anastrophyllum donianum, Bazzania pearsonii, Mastigophora woodsii, Plagiochila carringtonii, Scapania nimbosa and S. ornithopodioides. We then traversed to the southern slope of Meall a’Ghiubhais with the apt pseudonym of ‘Green Pastures’, one of the few basic outcrops of the district (dolomitic sandstone). After a reunion of stragglers and lunch a good tally of calcicoles was clocked up, including Barbula ferruginascens, Encalypta ciliata, Hypnum hamulosum, Meesia uliginosa, Plagiomnium cuspidatum, Pterigynandrum filif orme, Seligeria recurvata, Barbilophozia lycopodioides, Cephalozia pleniceps, Eremonotus myriocarpus, Harpanthus flotowianus, Jungermannia subelliptica, Lophozia wenzelii and Scapania aspera.

The group once more fragmented, a few went downhill to the stony plateau below, where extensive orange mats of Herbertus borealis were admired (all 3 Herbertus species were seen in the reserve); the others worked slowly back, some with some curious navigation which combined with ‘going barefoot’ made it a painfully long descent. In the afternoon we even enjoyed a little sunshine, spectacular scenery and rounded off a thoroughly rewarding day’s bryology.

2 August was a very wet day and the Talladale Ravine near Loch Maree left few of us dry. The gently sloping oak woods at the base had both Tritomaria exsecta and T. exsectiformis on logs, Cryptothallus mirabilis again, and one of the new British Andreaea species (A. megistospora) on a boulder. This soon gave way to a steep slippery gorge containing a raging torrent and few penetrated very far upstream. After lunch under a dripping cliff we found Anoectangium warburgii, Hygrohypnum eugyrium (locally common in ravines but easily overlooked because of its almost black colour), luxuriant Oxystegus hibernicus, Colura calyptrifolia, Metzgeria leptoneura and Plagiochila corniculata. In general the list was a bit disappointing, but reasonable considering the poor visibility and steamed-up lenses.

On the return journey to Gairloch a few soggy stragglers searched on the shore of Loch Bad an Sgalaig where Fossombronia foveolata and Odontoschisma elongatum were barely visible in the misty half-light.

3 August. The group dispersed in all directions: north to Beinn Dearg, south to Kishorn (both very long drives) and also to the nearby Inverewe Gardens. The Beinn Dearg group retraced the footsteps of the BBS in 1960 up the misty, wet Gleann na Sguaib from Inverlael. A brief halt at the small lochan enabled us to re-find Hygrohypnum polare submerged in its only British locality (discovered by Ted Wallace in 1952), with abundant Anastrophyllum joergensenii on the scree slopes above. At this point Gordon Rothero, in energetic mood, set off to cross the bealach into Coire Ghranda, whilst the remainder worked up the slopes to the still-persistent snow patches. The snow-melt streams and flushes were spectacular, with pink mats of Bryum weigelii, glaucous-white Pohlia wahlenbergii var. glacialis, along with Rhizomnium magnifolium and Harpanthus flotowianus. The snow-patches were equally interesting; on the lo ose boulders were *Andreaea blyttii, forming shiny black sheets, *A. sinuosa and *A. mutabilis, all three recent additions to the British Flora, soon to be written up by B. M. Hurray (the last as yet undescribed), Racomitrium microcarpon and Marsupella alpina; with Polytrichum sexangulare, Moerckia blyttii and Pleurocladula albescens on soil (all in vc 105).

In steadily improving weather, David Long then descended into Coire Ghranda (vc 106) to meet Gordon Rothero in a steep base-rich gully, where the latter had already seen many rarities, including Anoectangium warburgii, *Cirriphyllum cirrosum, Isopterygiopsis muelleriana, Leptodontium recurvifolium, Lescuraea patens, Racomitrium microcarpon, Barbilophozia lycopodioides, Marsupella alpina and Odontoschisma macounii. To these were added *Andreaea alpestris, *A. blyttii in profusion and *Ditrichum zonatum var. scabrifolium in the late-snow area above the cliffs, and Oxystegus hibernicus and *Scapania aequiloba in the gully. A very brisk walk reunited the party at the cars at 6.30 pm.

Meanwhile, the ‘garden party’ at Inverewe, including Harold Whitehouse, not only admired the exotic phanerogams, but contributed significantly to the ruderal bryoflora of vc 105 by recording *Bryum rubens, *B. ruderale, *Dicranella staphylina, Ditrichum cylindricum, Pottia truncata and Riccia sorocarpa. The ‘calciphiles’, Jean Paton and Phil Stanley, explored the Allt Mor limestone ravine at Kishorn, discovering a new record for *Gymnostomum calcareum, with Orthothecium rufescens, Encalypta streptocarpa, Leiocolea muelleri, Lejeunea lamacerina, Scapania aequiloba and S. aspera amongst a luxuriance of woodland species and calcicoles. On their return journey a short halt at the Shieldaig birch wood on the S side of Loch Torridon produced Kurzia sylvatica, Lepidozia cupressina and Plagiochila killarniensis.

4 August. An Teallach is among the most rugged and spectacular of Scottish mountains, visited by the BBS in 1960 when bad weather limited exploration. With a clear dry morning we anticipated more favourable conditions and approached the mountain from near Dundonnell House via Coire a’ Ghiubhsachain. The absence of an expected footbridge necessitated an icy paddle not to everyone’s liking, but without mishap we continued steadily up to Loch Toll an Lochain with relative ease across a natural pavement of Torridonian sandstone slabs on which were collected Andreaea megistospora and Campylopus atrovirens var. falcatus. A small promontory by the loch provided a perfect setting for a snack in the huge amphitheatre of An Teallach, with Mastigophora woodsii and Bazzania pearsonii at our feet. Sadly the good weather suddenly disappeared and some heavy showers kept us on the move. The corrie proved relatively acidic and a clockwise search of the crags was conducted, Gordon Rothero scrutinizing the more airy heights. The list included Amphidium lapponicum, Campylopus schwarzii, Dicranodontium asperulum, D. uncinatum, Herzogiella striatella, Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides, Lescuraea patens (in an eroded gully), Anastrophyllum donianum and a little A. Joergensenii, Harpanthus flotowianus, Lepidozia pearsonii, Moerckia blyttii, Plagiochila carringtonii, Scapania nimbosa and S. ornithopodioides. Chiloscyphus pallescens and Philonotis seriata were seen in flushes by the loch, and Cephalozia loitlesbergeri was picked up by Jean Paton nearby. On the return walk we avoided a second paddle, but not the clouds of Dundonnell midges whilst waiting for a few stragglers who chose a novel descent from the mountain.

5 August. On the final day, Loch Maree was again the venue for our excursion, but this time we took to the water thanks to the NCC at Kinlochewe, who provided a boat, and Tim Clifford who ferried us in it. In addition to this unusual BBS transport, an element of competition was introduced in that the two boat-loads were deposited on different islands (E peninsula of Garbh Eilean and W peninsula of Eilean Subhainn) for two hours of very intensive bryology. The islands were of great interest for their undisturbed and relatively ungrazed vegetation, dominated by Scots Pine and Juniper, very tall Calluna, and with open tracts of Sphagnum bog. The bryoflora was luxuriant, in particular taxa such as Lepidozia cupressina and Pleurozia purpurea both on the open ground and in the woodland.

The lists were duly compared with the following results: 159 taxa were recorded, of these 82 on both islands, including Pterogonium gracile, Calypogeia sphagnicola, Cryptothallus mirabilis, Frullania fragilifolia, Kurzia sylvatica and Riccardia latifrons. Eilean Subhainn produced no less than 45 taxa not seen on Garbh Eilean, most interesting being Campylopus brevipilus, Dryptodon patens, Pterigynandrum filiforme, Sphagnum fuscum, S. imbricatum, S. molle, Ulota drummondii, Cephalozia catenulata, C. leucantha, *C. macrostachya, *Cephaloziella subdentata, Cladopodiella fluitans, Colura calyptrifolia, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Kurzia setacea, K. trichoclados and Plagiochila killarniensis. Garbh Eilean, on the other hand, lacked the hepaticological scrutiny of Jean Paton, but nevertheless yielded 32 taxa not seen on Eilean Subhainn; including Campylopus introflexus, Glyphomitrium daviesii, Grimmia funalis, G. hartmanii, Ulota coarctata on Juniper, Calypogeia trichomanis and Odontoschisma elongatum (on peaty gravel on the shore). The list was astonishing for two hours work, a tribute to the dedication and competitive spirit of the BBS.

The two parties were then ferried over to the Letterewe oakwoods at Port an Aoil on the NE shore of the loch. Here a fenced enclosure demonstrated the dramatic regeneration possible when large herbivores are excluded. Bryologically, the woods proved less rich than hoped, particularly the streams which were too open. Nevertheless, the following were noteworthy: Anoectangium warburgii, Antitrichia curtipendula, Grimmia hartmanii, Hygrohypnum eugyrium, Zygodon baumgartneri, Cololejeunea calcarea, Frullania microphylla, Jungermannia confertissima, Leiocolea bantriensis, *Plagiochila britannica, P. corniculata, P. killarniensis, Porella arboris-vitae and Tritomaria exsecta. The return sail and views across the loch were a most memorable end to the meeting.

During the week a number of additional localities were visited by those who were unable or chose not to join the main excursions; in particular Eric and Evelyn Birse with an elderly dog which made history by riding in a rucksack. They recorded Glyphomitrium daviesii in a third locality by Loch Maree, near Bridge of Grudie, and Kiaeria blyttii and Douinia ovata at Coire Chaorachain, Dundonnell Forest. Harold Whitehouse added *Bryum microerythrocarpum to vc 105 at South Erradale. Several people visited the damp sandy sea-shore at Opinan where Fossombronia incurva, Haplomitrium hookeri and Riccardia incurvata were seen.

In terms of new country records this meeting was less productive than that in 1960, but nevertheless for all the ‘revisited’ localities we added some rarities to the lists, even on Beinn Eighe. Most new records came from ruderal habitats and from the Beinn Dearg excursion which turned up several Andreaea taxa of great interest and other montane rarities such as Odontoschisma macounii, Cirriphyllum cirrosum and Rhizomnium magnifolium, which reinforces its claim to be the richest mountain north of the Great Glen.

The leader wishes to thank all who attended for making it such an enjoyable and successful week, the various landowners who were very cooperative, Tim Clifford for his boating skills, and to the management of the Old Inn, Charlestown for their hospitality to our group in the evening.

David Long


Gairloch, Wester Ross