The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

"Big Tree Country" - Part 1.


By david


Dunkeld, Birnam and Inver : Part A.

The title of this blog is the logo adopted by the Forestry Commision Scotland and Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust. Perthshire, which adjoins my home county, is in the heart of Scotland, and offers so much in the way of castles, mansions, etc., with their valuable gardens and plant collections, as well as beautiful woodland and forest walks ( I have decided to make this my winter programme, which will take me through to the Scottish Snowdrop Festival next February.

300-year-old Sycamore tree, Birnam, Perthshire, Scotland.

Firstly, a question! What do the following people have in common? :-

Macbeth, the Celtic bard Ossian, William Shakespeare, the Dukes of Atholl, David Douglas and Beatrix Potter.

My answer:- “Read on, Macduff!”

I should start, of course, at the beginning, in the village of Birnam, which is linked to the town of Dunkeld on the opposite bank of the River Tay by an historical Thomas Telford bridge.

Birnam is famous for its mention in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”.

“Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be, until great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” (the Witches’ prophecy, Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1).

A “Witch Elm”, perchance? A carved tree at New Hopetoun garden centre, Midlothian county.

The great Birnam Oak is over 500 years old, thought to be the sole survivor of a medieval oak forest in this region. Whilst not nearly old enough to fit into Macbeth’s era, it does belong to Shakespeare’s. Local records show that a travelling band of English actors staged a play in Perth in the year 1589, and local tradition says that William Shakespeare was among them, and that he was inspired by the surrounding countryside to write his famous play.

The 500-year-old Birnam Oak, now propped up with wooden “crutches”.

I shall return to Birnam later but, first, it is time to cross that bridge over the River Tay (Scotland’s longest river) into Dunkeld, and stroll along the river bank.

The riverbank walk leads to the grounds of Dunkeld Cathedral. In medieval times, the abbey here was the richest establishment in Scotland and, as a result, was much plundered.

The cathedral grounds are rich in trees, notably Douglas Firs, introduced from NW America by David Douglas, the famous planthunter, who was born in Perthshire in the late 18th century (more of him later).

Also, of note, are the clipped yews in the cathedral precinct. The custom of growing yews in graveyards, church/abbey grounds, etc. dates back to medieval times, when yew was used for the manufacture of longbows. The foliage is poisonous to livestock, and so it was grown in the only enclosed areas available (fields not having yet become so).

There are also some old specimens of the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana).

Monkey Puzzle.

In Part B, I’ll be looking at a favourite walk of ours through The Hermitage, an old landscaped “garden” in the former estate of the Dukes of Atholl, and returning to Birnam for a Beatrix Potter connection.

The Hermitage, Dunkeld.

More blog posts by david

Previous post: A Little "Theme" Riddle

Next post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 2



Thanks, David! Wonderful photography and a very interesting tour. I shall look forward to the next instalment.

23 Nov, 2008


Interesting and also good photos. I liked the one of the old oak propped up.
Looking forward to the next.

23 Nov, 2008


Lovely lighting in the photos David and such stunning views.
Thanks for this super Blog.

23 Nov, 2008


Wow David what a wonderful blog so much more interesting than that stupid pollyanna and her ring thing! lol! Your photos are super and your information outstanding! Thank you so much.

23 Nov, 2008


Great blog David and super photos too.

23 Nov, 2008


You're all very welcome!

Pollyanna, you and your ring shine through here on GOY, in a year when we have read, or experienced, sad news.
Keep it coming!

23 Nov, 2008


Very interesting blog.

24 Nov, 2008


Interesting as to why yews were traditionally grown in graveyards. Makes sense.

Excellent paragraphs ;o)

Looking forward to more.
Thanks for promising us these blogs in Big Tree Country, to brighten up the winter.

25 Nov, 2008


Many Thanks, clarice and Tt!

Tt! - I have no doubt that you will be helping brighten our Winter in your own inimitable style - Ho.Ho.Ho!

1 Dec, 2008


I'll do my best :o)

1 Dec, 2008

Add a comment

Recent posts by david

Members who like this blog

  • Gardening with friends since
    17 Jun, 2007

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Apr, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    12 Sep, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    29 Mar, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    14 Aug, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    1 Mar, 2008