Historical woodland visited by Robert Burns and Mary Queen of Scots reopens to public after community buyout

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Loch Wood, near Lesmahagow in South Lanarkshire, has undergone an extensive makeover since it was bought by locals in 2021.

It is situated on Blackwood Estate, ancestral home of the prominent Weir family from medieval times until the 1930s.

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While the grand house has long gone, the grounds are steeped in history – even hosting the grave of a Covenanter dating back to 1685.

Lily, Maria, Poppy and Lucy from Blackwood Primary School test out a new bridge at Loch Wood during the official opening event. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Famous visitors over the centuries include Scotland’s national bard, whose brother and sister spent time living on the estate, Scottish royals and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who stayed there in 1898.

The site is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including protected species such as tawny owls, otters and kingfishers.

But despite its rich historical past, it had lain overgrown and underused in recent decades.

The £240,000 purchase came about after a campaign by residents of nearby Blackwood, Kirkmuirhill and Boghead and the Blackwood Estate Community Association (BECA) secured the future of the wood after receiving funding from a number of sources, including South Lanarkshire Council and the Scottish Land Fund.

Loch Wood, at Blackwood Estate, has officially opened to the public after a community buyout in early 2021. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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Since then extensive maintenance, repair and health and safety improvements have been carried out, with more work still to be done, including fully reinstating a Victorian path network.

The estate will be offering educational sessions for local schools. It is hoped the woodland will be established as a center of biodiversity in the future.

Loch Wood was officially relaunched on Sunday with a special event inviting locals to BYOB – Bring Your Own Boots.

Extensive improvements have already been carried out at the 65-acre site, but further work is being carried out to reinstate a Victorian path network and add new crossings to the burn. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The opening ceremony included free refreshments, a children’s treasure hunt in the outdoor learning areas, a falconry exhibition, tours and a wildlife book signing.

“The aim is to provide a safe place where local residents can come and learn about the outdoors as well as enjoy the beauty of the country we live in,” said Vicki Connick, treasurer of BECA and a resident of the estate since 1989.

“We’ve added fencing, worked on the original Victorian path network and are adding new crossings to the burn, allowing for more adventuring, and another space for outdoor learning on the far bank.

“The feedback we’ve received is amazing.

“A lot of the teachers have said that they’ve noticed how much the kids enjoy getting muddy as it’s probably something they’re not allowed to be most of the time.

“They’re in and splashing around in the river in their wellies and climbing up in the trees, which nowadays is something most probably aren’t used to, so it’s really good to hear.”

The community project has been praised by the Scottish Land Commission, which works on land reform and aims to ensure all citizens can benefit from the ownership and use of the nation’s land and buildings.

The agency has said the initiative is a great example of what can be done with land that has been left vacant or derelict for long periods of time.

BECA is a charity founded in 2019 by a group of eight Blackwood residents who wanted to improve and conserve the natural environment and land around them.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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