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"Big Tree Country" - Part 2


By david


Dunkeld, Birnam and Inver : Part B.

The Dukes of Atholl, who owned extensive land in Perthshire, are sometimes referred to as the “Planting Dukes” because, in just over a century (1730s – 1830s) they planted 27 million conifers on the hills of the county, changing its appearance forever. The trees were planted “for beauty and profit”, and saw the first form of organised forestry/logging as an industry in Scotland. The legacy they have left for us are the many wonderful forest and woodland walks, rich in plant and wildlife. Much of it is still sustainable, working forest.

The “Parent Larch”, Dunkeld.

One of the “Planting Dukes” also introduced a new tree, a cross between a European and a Japanese Larch, which provided a superior type of timber. In 1738, five of these were planted beside Dunkeld Cathedral, but only the one in the above picture remains. They became known as the “Parent Larches” as they provided the seeds from which all future specimens were grown.

A walk along the riverside out of town leads, eventually, to another old tree with a great story – Niel Gow’s Oak.

Niel Gow’s Oak, by Inver, Dunkeld, Perthshire.

Niel Gow (1727 – 1807) is one of Scotland’s most famous fiddlers/composers of violin music. He was the son of a weaver, and maintained a small croft at Inver, a hamlet close to Dunkeld, but became a master violinist and composer. The then Duke of Atholl became his patron, and he was much in demand at balls and ceilidhs held in the castles and great country houses of Scotland and, eventually, London Society. His portrait was painted by Henry Raeburn, and he dined with the poet Robert Burns, but he always remained his true self. It is said that most of his well-known work was created whilst sitting by the bank of the River Tay under this oak tree.

Today, anyone can sit beneath Neil Gow’s Oak, on this beautifully-carved oak bench. Some people think that the shape depicts waves on the River Tay. There are no waves here; the stillness of the water is broken only by the occasional trout or salmon. Herons are often seen here, sitting on branches as still as statues. The only sound and movement is made by the hundreds of small woodland birds, such as tits and finches. This is still a natural habitat of the rare red squirrel.

The bench bears the inscription:- “I’ll sit beneath the fiddle tree, with the ghost of Niel Gow next to me”. This is from the lyrics of a song titled “Niel Gow’s Apprentice”, written in Australia by Michael Marra in 1993, and often performed by a popular Scottish folk group, the McCalmans.

A 20-minute walk back along the riverbank brings one back to Birnam, and to the Beatrix Potter Garden. This is a small, public garden dedicated to her memory, due to the fact that she and her family spent many summers in the area.

Entrance to the Garden.

The family originally rented a summer house at Dalguise, a few miles north of Dunkeld, but later had a holiday home at Eastwood House, facing Birnam across the River Tay. It was here that she wrote her original series of illustrated letters, which were eventually published as “The Tales of Peter Rabbit”.

Cast bronze images of Peter Rabbit and his Family.

There is a large Beatrix Potter exhibtion centre alongside the garden, but I would like to see the planting next summer.

Meantime, we can always do what we always do – sneek a peek over the wall into my favourite local veggy garden! This is one I always salivate over, and now, at the end of November, it doesn’t let me down. I think that Mr MacGregor and Peter Rabbit would be really at home here!

I know that I said, in Part 1, that I would show you our favourite walk through the 18th century landscaped area known as the Hermitage, but I “met” so many lovely people on the way that this has had to be put back to the next part. Those “Planting Dukes” and the famous planthunters, David Douglas and Archibald Menzies, are yet to come!

More blog posts by david

Previous post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 1.

Next post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 3



Hi this is great, been to Dunkeld, Pitlochrey, Grantown on Spey areas, our son was a canoeist, we spent a lot of time in the 70s and 80s, on Scottish rivers, and by the sea coast south of Mallaig.
Got well eaten by the Mozzies too.
Fabulous part of the country, some great butchers, bread shops, pubs that stayed open from whenver you went in to whenever you wanted to go home!
And of course, the wonderful, wonderful trees, rivers and riverbanks.
Happy memories.

30 Nov, 2008


Hi Marge!

Yes, the wonderful trees, rivers etc., not to mention the food, and the pubs opening hours! Would prefer not to publicise those mozzies (midgies) though, LOL! Not a problem now in November, though!

I've tried the canoeing, but was all over the place. Looks relaxing, when done by experts, but is quite hard work!

Glad you have had such lovely memories from my "ramblings".

- David X

30 Nov, 2008


Your writting like good Poetry paints a wonderful picture, have been to some of those places but lovely to be able to walk and see in the minds eye again through your writting.

1 Dec, 2008


i just love the trees in winter when you can see them in all their glory. great blog.

1 Dec, 2008


Another really good blog.
David ~ well done. :o)

1 Dec, 2008


really interested blog David.

1 Dec, 2008


Yes, I've been there, long, long ago. I just remember the beautiful scenery.

Is Birnam the one as in 'Macbeth', David?

Thanks for this blog - looking forward to the next one!

P.S. I am still gasping at the 27,000,000 trees! I'd love to know how many labourers that took!

1 Dec, 2008


Many thanks, folks!

I have to agree with you, Sandra. I'm always amazed by the framework of trees, which can be seen much more clearly at this time of year. I also like the Autumn colours.

Yes, Spritz, this is the same Birnam - I mentioned it in Part 1, with a pic of the very old Birnam Oak. Also, this was not a misprint, they did plant 27,000,000 conifers! This adds up to 27,000 a year!!

1 Dec, 2008


Sorry, David - senior moment again. My mind is still a bit...well, you know.

1 Dec, 2008


Don't be sorry, Spritz, I'm worse. Just re-read my Part One and saw that I said I'd show The Hermitage in the second part. Where is it, I ask myself? Never mind, will do so next time, haha!

1 Dec, 2008

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