A fellow journalist, Tero Nurmi from the Finnish forestry magazine Metsätrans-letti Oy, joined a group of Finnish timber hauliers on a five day whistle-stop tour of Scotland.
The trip was organised by Kari PaloJärvi of Metsäalan Kuljetusyrittäjät ry (The Association of Forest Industry Road Carriers) and they were looking to visit some of the famous landmarks around Scotland and incorporate some Scottish forestry.
After a lot of phoning around and with the assistance of Neil Stoddart of JST Services and Adam Howie of Ian Howie Forestry, a few interesting visits were arranged.
The group arrived at Edinburgh Airport and had a tour of Edinburgh before heading up to the Tulloch Castle Hotel at Dingwall near Inverness. The following day, the group had a relaxing time unsuccessfully looking for Nessie on a Loch Ness cruise and visiting Urquhart Castle near Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness. They finishing the day off with a few drams on a Glen Ord Distillery tour. After another night at Tulloch Castle, it was a bright and early departure for their next base at Oban for two nights.
First port of call was a trip up Aonach Mòr, the eighth highest mountain in the UK, on the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola. This is the only one of its type in the UK and reaches a height of 650m with breath-taking views during the ascent. This was followed by lunch at the Pinemarten café at the base of Aonach Mòr. The next visit at Corpach near Fort William involved splitting the group in half. Half went to see an active harvesting site at Fassfern Estate; Casey Keller from Scottish Woodlands, who were managing the site and marketing the timber, joined the group to explain what was happening and answer any questions. The other half of the group went to visit Boyd Brothers Haulage Ltd at The Pier Annat Point in Corpach.
While Boyd Brothers have been involved with road haulage and transport services since 1986 the visit was to see the Great Glen Shipping Company, which was formed in 2010 with public support from Transport Scotland and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Callum Boyd and Liam Browing, who kindly hosted the visitors, described how this venture came about. It was initially started to transport timber by boat up and down the Caledonian Canal, thus saving thousands of lorry miles from the fragile Highlands road network. There are currently three vessels operating from the pier at Corpach, two carrying 1200 tonnes and the third carrying just over 850 tonnes.
Once the groups had swapped over, the next port of call was the Muthu Queens Hotel in Oban. Dinner that night was pub grub at JD Wetherspoons the Corryvreckan.
The next morning saw a bright and early breakfast as the bus was booked onto the Mull Ferry at 08.50. Neil Stoddart had arranged for the group to visit the JST Services (Scotland) Pennyghael floating pier site on Mull, a joint venture set up in 2012 by JST and UPM Tillhill in collaboration with Pennyghael and Scoor Estates to enable timber to be escorted off the south side of the island. A floating pier was the logical choice for getting the timber off the island as it minimises the disruption caused by timber extraction and reduces the impact on the island’s infrastructure; during its construction the utmost care was taken to ensure minimal disruption to the island’s otter population and other wildlife.
The group then moved on to see another harvesting site at Kinloch Estate managed by Tillhill, which supplied the timber for the pier. This was followed by a visit to Pennyghael village hall for a traditional Scottish lunch with a few free hours in Tobermory before the evening ferry back to Oban. One thing surprised me about the visit to Tobermory – despite it being quite a decent day with a sea breeze, most of the Finns were absolutely freezing! I have heard this from some Austrian people who have visited the UK as well; their climate is much colder compared to ours but the winds we get chill them to the bone.
I had arranged to meet the bus and Adam Howie at the Lix Toll near Killin for a surprise visit the next morning. The bus driver wanted reassurances that there would be no more bus rallying as his nerves and air suspension were at breaking point with some of the forest tracks he had to negotiate over the previous days. Adam assured him he would be on a good tarmac road at all times but neglected to mention to the now calm bus driver that it was about 12 miles up a single, twisty track with some extreme drops off the edge of the mountain road. Once the trek was complete there was a combination of both excited and terrified Finnish passengers, but all that changed when they saw what Adam had brought them to see.
Adam and his father Ian have a fleet of low ground pressure vehicles for carrying round timber from harvesting sites to collection points near main roads, where it moves on to the wood processing plants via timber trucks. I have worked alongside them in the past and as well as operating this specialised equipment they are highly skilled engineers who are able to adapt existing equipment to suit their needs. We had brought the group to see one such vehicle which was being operated by Ian Howie.
It was a Claas Xerion Saddle Trac converted into a timber carrier with a KESLA 2012T loader and cabin with a low ground pressure trailer. The Finnish hauliers were all over it as they had never seen anything like it before and I have to admit neither had I. It was a mighty impressive set up and testament to the companies amazing engineering skills; Adam said it had taken quite a while to perfect, but they were delighted with the end result.
One of the Finnish hauliers had the opportunity to ride back to the stacking area in the cabin with Ian and was over the moon about this experience. We all followed behind the Claas and it was magnificent to see how easily it navigated the narrow, twisty road.
Once at the stacking area, we said our farewells to Ian, Adam though was able to join us at the Bridge of Lochy Hotel for lunch. The group then headed back to Crainlarich to drive down the side of Loch Lomond before returning to Glasgow for their last night in Scotland.
It was a pleasure hosting the Finnish hauliers as they thoroughly enjoyed their trip to Scotland and would be delighted to offer the same for us.
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