Friday, 20 June 2014

Overtoun Estate. Lang Craigs Hanging Garden. Dumbarton's Crown Jewel.

A view of Dumbarton and Bellsmyre from the A82.
 The Lang Craigs, seen here, as a long broken wall of cliff and grass could lay claim to being "A Garden", though not in the formal sense. I remember reading an information board which used to sit beside Overtoun House that informed the reader that the Lang Craigs had been enhanced as a wild garden with paths laid out across the steep terraces underneath the main cliffs and a staircase leading to the top. The remains of these faint trails are still here but heavily overgrown with vegetation in places. A faint path travels along the top of these cliffs as a wonderful and easy balcony trail, which is not overgrown and a joy to walk along at any time of year.
In mid spring however the terraces under the cliffs can be spectacular with carpets of bluebells adorning the slopes.
Obviously, I made sure not to miss that display.
Likewise, a month later, I returned for the Rhododendron display as this is truly spectacular... one of the best if not the best and finest arrangements of wild Rhododendrons in Scotland.
 It probably started off as a few scattered bushes but time and mother nature left alone can work wonders on a place.
Now it truly is a "Hanging Garden" in every sense of the word. A magnificent floral jungle that is a mauve maze to negotiate over steep and fractured terrain. One of the reasons for capturing this display is that I noticed during the bluebell trip that they seemed to be cutting and burning away certain lower areas of this "forest of flowers."
Parts of the estate are managed by the Woodland Trust and I know that official bodies often regard Rhododendrons as an invasive species that need to be removed so I hope that this treasure will not be wiped out soon due to official guidelines. A wire fence separates what looks like the Woodland Trust Land from the upper terraces seen here. Below this fence Rhododendrons have been cut down and removed. Fair enough as they are planting deciduous woodland trees within the fencing zone.
Just a thought. Apart from looking beautiful we are trying to save bees in rapid decline and this forest of flowers is alive with wild bees. Thousands of them. A buzzing army. More bumble bees and other species of insect than I have ever seen in one place at one time. More than the oilseed fields where honeybees had been placed in the fields to make honey and improve pollination for humans presumably. No bumbles were there. Only honeybees (and presumably pesticides.) Any specks in the photos above are wild bees flying around but they proved mighty hard to capture in full flight. This place must be a major feeding area for every type of wild bee for miles around. Fortunately, bumble bees, even ones the size of my thumb are gentle giants and will only sting you if you harm them or they feel threatened. I even had a few land on my tee shirt and head to check me out as I moved up through the flower forest but no stings this time for a happy Bobby. I was no threat to these guys. No pesticides or other problems here to make bees sick?  I'm obviously not privy to the plans of the woodland trust or that of the Overtoun Estate but I hope they save these terraced slopes as they are now and see them as a tourist asset rather than something that has to be eradicated and removed.
It's an astonishing place which is largely taken for granted at the moment. That statement could equally stand for Overtoun House and Estate itself as although it is loved by many locals in West Dunbartonshire it is still relatively quiet compared to other more popular estates and grand formal gardens. (My only reason for highlighting it now is that it may alert others to the Rhododendron forest. If few know or care that it is up here in all its glory then any plans for its removal will have fewer objections.)
A fine view of Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton Castle, and Dumbarton Football Stadium. Sometimes location is everything. Dumbarton folk are rightly proud of their volcanic plug which was the main powerbase for the ancient capital of Strathclyde and the gateway into the River Clyde which was feared and respected as a  fortified stronghold by the Vikings and other potential invaders but visitor numbers would shoot up if it was located in the heart of Glasgow like Edinburgh Castle. " It's a pity we couldn't tow it up river to the city centre. It's wasted down there in Dumbarton." (A recent comment  from a Glasgow tour guide.)
"Hey! Hands off- it's oor ****** rock!" (West Dunbartonshire's irate population.)
Overtoun House and Estate is in the same category. It is a miracle it has survived this long as it could easily have gone the way of many other grand houses and be just a memory on old postcards  now. See this link for it's long and very colourful history. Several film location have used it over the years but it is still mostly unknown to the general public outside Dumbarton and the surrounding district. Parts of Cloud Atlas were filmed here. Not seen that film myself yet... but soon hopefully.

It's a good location for a film shoot.
Overtoun House itself. Always impressive.( maybe dogs visiting here for the first time should be on a lead crossing the bridge beside the main house just in case... See link above.) There is a car park next to the house and a tea room inside which is open most afternoons in summer.
Some more views of the estate which is surprisingly large and complex and I'm still finding new parts to explore after many visits. A network of good walks run across the area, and many are signposted now. Some are flat but as it lies on a slope many require some uphill walking as part of the route.

A panorama of Dumbarton, the River Clyde and Port Glasgow. (Inverclyde district)

The formal back garden, which is private within the stonework but is easily viewed in full detail from outside the boundary.
A large laburnum tree on the minor road leading up to the estate. Many of these beautiful trees have been lost in the last few decades, cut down by home and land owners unwilling to take the risk that they might be sued if children swallow the seeds which are poisonous. Every age and society has its own customs, pros and cons which can shape the landscape around us. Another endangered species? There used to be half a dozen large specimens like this one in gardens around me... all have disappeared in the last ten years. Steady work for tree surgeons or experienced landscape gardeners.
Like all my posts I wouldn't want this area to get too popular but it's a fine line between popularity and total obscurity which is much harder to judge. I have visited this estate over many decades and there were times when the house was completely boarded up and abandoned and the car park was not a safe place to leave your car for any length of time. Now it seems to have a bright future once again
and the car park is well visited during the day by locals, dog walkers, and  a mixed range of tourists.
It's a beautiful place, especially in spring and early summer.

But you will have to wait until next year to see the hanging gardens once again.
But will they still be there? I hope so. Considering it has taken 100 years to create this mosaic of colour and the increasingly large list of other, more serious, invasive tree pests and diseases that spring up to threaten our native woodlands year on year I personally think the money could be better spent here. Leave the hanging gardens of Overtoun alone. They are Dumbarton's Crown Jewel.
I'm not hopeful though after looking at the woodland trust's own website which lists these flowers as highly invasive and their removal as "desirable."
Another woodland they own, called somewhat ironically Rhododendron Wood by locals is having its rhododendrons taken out to "improve" the wood. For who exactly?
So... see the full glory of the Lang Craigs Rhododendrons while you can. Nothing is forever.


Carol said...

A tearoom will always get me to visit somewhere :-) Looks a beautiful house...

Did you see that a couple hillwalking in Ireland just had to be rescued from a rhododendronised hillside - even the Mountain Rescue had real trouble getting to them, crawling through muddy tunnels and the like. The 2 hillwalkers were an experienced couple too.

They do look wonderful though and are great for bumblebees. I like the ones at the Aberglaslyn Pass in Wales (near Beddgelert) but I don't think there are as many bushes as you have there... Our 'Clapdale Woods' near Clapham has many species and colours of rhododendrons (a lot of reds) and look superb at that time of year.

Carol said...

Fascinating about the dog leaps from the bridge - a lot of dogs jump off things like 'Surprise View' down Borrowdale but I have a different theory about that which I don't think will apply to the bridge... I think that dogs at Surprise View just see the landscape ahead stretching across the valley and can't tell there is a drop immediately before them (a bit like looking down a scree chute with crags in the middle but more scree below - you can't tell about the crags).

The Glebe Blog said...

Great pictures as always Bob. Talking of bees, they do seem to be on the increase this year. The scientists don't know whether the increase in foreign incomers is a good or bad thing.
Overtoun looks a great place to explore. I notice on the Wikipedia page it mentions a James Black & White. Never seen a name include an ampersand before !
Just realized that when we looked north from Howwood on Saturday we'd have been looking towards Dumbarton.
With reference to Carol's remark about Beddgelert, when we arrived in May we saw plumes of smoke from the burning of the Rhoddies.
The National Trust are quite hypocritical. In their brochures they talk of the beauty of the walks through the rhododendrons, but now have a policy of destroying them. Maybe it's just control, have you read this from a couple of weeks ago.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I think in this case they should be left in peace. It's taken 100 years for them to grow to this scale. On a recent bike ride I noticed a Japanese Knotweed plant which had obviously been stuck in a garden next to a cycle track. A lot of people still don't know what it is and just like the flowers. Either side of it, in the space of one or two summers eleven new plants had taken root in the verges nearby. Every riverbank in central Scotland is now coated in Indian Balsam in late summer. There are other targets that are a far greater threat to the environment.

Carol said...

Yeah - us! ;-)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
Yes, I think they have decided to pick an easy target just to show they are doing something positive and constructive about invasive species control. Knotweed, Balsam, a range of other accidentally introduced plants and pests, and a whole range of tree diseases,or parasitic infections flood in on a yearly basis now thanks to the ease of international travel and trade. Is there a native tree left in the UK without an introduced disease threatening its survival?
Overtoun is a great estate but the wild Rhododendron displays on the upper terrace slopes are a highlight every June.

Colin said...

Is it allowed to wild camp on rothesay Isle of bute when the music festival is on could some one send reply thanks

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Colin,
I suggested you could get away with discreet wild camping of a single or a couple of tents nature overnight in one of the more remote upland parts of Bute, away from any habitation or farms. If you are going over for Butefest 2015 however, 17th to 19th July any potential wild camping areas are miles from Rothesay itself and camping will be restricted to the usual official camping area provided with toilet facilities close to the festival itself. Look up Butefest 2015. Any wild camping is usually discouraged on the island near built up areas and an official campsite already exists anyway in summer with limited places for tents (around £9 a night I think)uphill from the pier in Rothesay although this may be full that weekend.
Hope this helps.