I was off out with the National Trust yesterday to Killiecrankie in northern Perthshire. We were doing some woodland work and emptying and refilling their charcoal burning kiln. They have been burning all the trees that have been blown over or removed as part of habitat management to make barbecue charcoal which they sell in the visitor centre.
First we had to remove the lid from the kiln to see the results of the previous burn.
When the lid was removed it became obvious quite quickly that it wasn't a particularly successful burn - there was a large hole on one side where it had over-burned and the other side had lots of wood left that hadn't burnt enough. We emptied it and following sorting we managed to get 7 bags of charcoal.
This is the kiln being prepared for the next burn. The black boxes are the vents in the bottom of the kiln and the wooden logs are known as spacers. Then you put some kindling in the middle and insert the "chimney". The chimney (you can see our chimney before we pulled it out) is really a tube to keep a space in the wood, it is removed before the burn starts - it keeps a hole the length of the kiln that the hot ashes (from a small bonfire) are dropped down to start the burning process.
You start laying logs as if they were the spokes of a wheel and try to fill up the kiln ensuring that there are as few gaps as possible - avoiding spaces for oxygen to enter. We interspersed the new wood with some of the partially burnt wood from the last burn. Once the kiln is full you replace the lid - but not closing it completely to allow air to move over it until after it is lit. Once lit, it will start to smoke and once you hear the snap, crackle and pop of the wood so reminiscent of a good fire, you close the lid and seal it with sand. You add 3 chimneys to alternating external vents and block up the other 3, after 6 hours you swap the chimneys around ensuring an even burn (you hope). When you want to stop the burn you block up all the external vents with turf and earth to ensure no more oxygen gets in and leave the kiln to cool.
This is the kiln ready for the next burn and the site cleared, with the wood chopped and stored for future use. If you walk from the Visitor Centre at Killiecrankie about 20 minutes south along the river you will find the kiln site.
Lots of activities take place in the area, particularly on the river - this one looks like a lot of fun and some of our volunteer group decided we want to give it a try.
On the drive north yesterday I was amazed by the swathes of bluebells covering the hillsides. I don't remember ever seeing as many. So today I decided that I would go and look for bluebells (before the season was over) despite the grey and dreich weather. A friend had mentioned a lovely walk in Blairgowrie about 15 miles north west of Dundee to Darroch Woods, a native oak woodland with a glorious spring display of Scottish bluebells. I cannot believe that I didn't know about this place before. It was serene, beautiful, inspiring and that was despite the weather and the bluebells smelt amazing.
Just outside Blairgowrie on the B947 there is a path that starts just beyond Muirton House (a residential care home). It is a lovely 1 hour walk to and round the woods from there.
My first glimpse of what was to come....
After the bluebell woods I headed on to Dunkeld to go to the Loch of the Lowes to see the osprey. Lady is a regular visitor to the Loch of the Lowes, she is the oldest known breeding raptor in the world. She has been nesting at Loch of the Lowes for 24 years, rearing over 50 chicks during this time.
Here's a link to the webcam on the nest so you can see for yourself - webcam.
I spent over an hour in the hides and the visitor centre, I saw a great crested grebe, siskin, yellowhammers, coal tits, blue tits, chaffinches, pheasant and a non-native mandarin duck. Alongside all the birds we saw red squirrel which are breeding in the area and a vole.
Oh and a few more bluebells on the way home.