Tentsmuir Forest

Tentsmuir Forest lies on the north east tip of Fife. It’s a working forest maintained by the Forestry Commission bounded by sand dunes along the Firth of Tay to the north and the North Sea to the east. Grey and common seals languish on the sandbars at the furthermost tip and it’s a haven for a variety of birds and ducks. The forest of mainly Scots and Corsican pines is home to red squirrels, deer and bats. It looks old but in fact has only been there about 100 years. Prior to that it was wet moorland. Indeed the name originates from 1780 when a Danish fleet was shipwrecked in the area. They landed and set up tents on the moor – hence “tents moor”.

As I wandered through the tracks between the towering pines, I was reminded of the work of Ori Gersht, a photographer who explores notions of landscape and embedded histories: in particular, Liquidation, his work shot in the forests of Galicia, the southwest region of Ukraine (not Spain) where under Nazi occupation an horrendous and brutal regime was established. How do you convey that emotional atmosphere? How do you capture the history of a place when the present is all around you? His work inspires me as I try to convey experience and history within my own photography.

Galicia is where my father grew up (in the Polish part). He escaped the Nazi exterminations having been taken to a Siberian labour camp by the Russians. Not exactly an ‘escape’ but incredibly he survived and in 1942 arrived in Scotland as part of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade stationed in Fife. He did training exercises in Tentsmuir Forest. As I walked I thought of him and how he must have felt during those and subsequent years and how he never spoke of his past life in Poland. How could I even start to understand what he and all those other Poles experienced? But the forest knows.

Fallen trees lay like corpses on the ground, huge roots ripped from the ground stare unnaturally skyward, the flickering light through the branches creating ghoulish vignettes of devastation, the scattered feathers of birds further evidence of fighting and destruction. All natural, of course, not man-made like war.


The Polish Camp Road sign on one of the tracks is a reminder of the role the Poles played in defending the east coast from possible invasion by sea. As you walk the length of the Fife coastal path, you constantly come across remnants of WWII coastal defences. And Tentsmuir is no exception. Dotted across the sand dunes are decaying concrete blocks deterring any tanks from crossing.

But here the forest echoes with those years; the creaking vibrations in the branches, the wind rustling through the leaves, the scuttling of birds and animals in the undergrowth, and the roar of the jets overhead – RAF Leuchars is just down the road – all combine to create a solemn and thoughtful atmosphere.

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~ by marysia on 20 May 2010.

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