The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

"Big Tree Country" - Part 7


By david


Aberfeldy and Kenmore : Part C

This is my final account of my fab day out last Monday (didn’t realise I’d seen so much, or covered so much ground).

Prunus serrula var. tibetica, Cluny House Gardens

I reluctantly left Cluny House Gardens (see previous blog) and its amazing collection of Himalayan plantlife, and headed northwest to a small village named Fortingall. This lovely little place is the site of what is supposed to be the oldest living thing in the world – a Yew tree, estimated to be anything from 3000 – 8000 years old.

The Fortingall Yew

It stands in the graveyard of the current village Church Of Scotland, and is protected by a wall and iron railings. Past investigations have shown that it was once encircled by a pre-Christian, then Early Christian, site of worship, and so must have been revered. At one period, its trunk had to be carved out in the form of an arch, to allow access for funeral processions to the church graveyard. Souvenir hunters, et al, finished the tree off, and it, apparently, died. After a few hundred years of dormancy, it began to sprout again – this time, with two distinct trunks. This only added to its mysticism, but, apparently, the yew is the only tree which can re-grow after such a long underground dormancy.

Fortingall Yew

It has been said that this atttribute is why it was so revered in pagan times, and beyond. It might also tie in with something I mentioned in an earlier “Big Tree Country” blog, about yew being grown in medieval times in churchyards, because they were the only enclosed spaces, mainly due to the fact that the leaves are toxic to livestock. What is the actual reason, I now wonder?

Pegs marking the original Fortingall Yew’s Circumference

The circumference of the original yew is marked with wooden pegs. In 1769 this was recorded as being 56 and a half feet (17 metres).

The slabbed path leading from the tree to the churchyard gate now has a timeline engraved, showing all the great events in history and prehistory, including the birth of Christ, which have happened in the lifetime of this yew. “If Trees could Talk”, indeed.

My final destination on my day out was the town of Pitlochry. I didn’t want to “retrace my steps” by driving all the way back along the road I had driven, so headed northwest into yet higher ground, where moorland began to replace woodland.

Small Loch with Schiehallion (3547ft) beyond

Schiehallion attracts much attention, much of it beacause, from various directions, it seems to be the perfect natural pyramid.

A great deal of the attraction also lies in the translation of its name from Gaelic – “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians”.

But, I have had my share of dragons, demons, ghosts and other mythical creatures for today, so it was time to drive eastwards, along the northern shore of Loch Tummel, in order to get back to the “main road” through Scotland – the A9, and to Pitlochry.

On the way, I just had to stop at another very well-known vantage point, the “Queen’s View”.

Queen’s View, early evening, 20/7/09. Looking west, with Schiehallion dominating the landscape. In the morning, and on a clear day, the loch naturally leads the eye west to the mountains of Glen Coe

The Queen in question is generally thought to be Victoria who, of course, kept diaries of her travels in Scotland, painted scenes, and loved all things Scottish (including, it is rumoured, a certain Mr Brown). Various sources I have read, however, attribute the name to Isabella, wife of King Robert the Bruce, centuries before. Even in Queen Victoria’s time, however, the view would not have been as it is today. The subsequent building of dams to harness water power to generate electricity caused a rise in water level in Loch Tummel, hence the view we see today.

Ten minutes later, I arrived in the town of Pitlochry. The town’s main attraction is probably its dam. Visitors can walk across the top of it, and through it. When it was built, an artificial fish ladder was incorporated for the annual migration of salmon upstream to their spawning grounds. Visitors can view the river from the bank, hoping to see those fish leap, or view the “ladder” through “underwater” viewing windows, hoping to see a fish enter a chamber through a large pipe, rest, then disappear through another pipe.

The dam is not what brought me here, however, on this occasion. I came to visit a much newer installation -

Just over 10 years’ old now, this magnificent garden takes visitors “around the world”, retracing the steps of the great planthunters of the past (and present), who have introduced plants from far-flung places to the rest of us. I continue to be amazed by how many of these explorers were born in Perthshire!

Alas, when I arrived, this garden had closed its gates for the day! What a “cliffhanger” end to my outing!

I drove home, hips and legs aching, feeling that I had just completed a round-the-world plant tour, as well as a trip through time – but, nothing compared to what those planthunters of the past endured!. And, at least, on arrival, I could immediately run a hot, foaming bath, and relax with a glass of Chilean plonk!


More blog posts by david

Previous post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 6

Next post: My Favourite Plant at this Time of Year.



Very interesting and wonderful Photos :o)

26 Jul, 2009


thanks very much for this lovely blog.

27 Jul, 2009


Another very interesting blog, David, but such a shame you couldn't get into the The Plant Hunters garden. Will you go back again? Fascnating info about the Yew tree. You certainly packed a lot into your day. I think you deserved your 'glass of plonk' and a long soak :)

27 Jul, 2009


Lovely photos and full of onfo as usual David.That Queens View is stunning.Interesting about the Yew trees.the churchyard next door to us has a bank of 6...we regularly find small plants which have self seeded in our garden ! There they will stay...for posterity !

27 Jul, 2009


You're welcome. Plant-themed days out, with some history thrown in, are my fave days out. Hope you don't mind, but I use my blog space here to keep a record.

Yes, Gee, will be back at that garden the very next day off I have. It has grown and developed so much, and, I think, will need a few hours' visit to do it justice!

Bb, you'd best buy in some slabs from B&Q, and start engraving your "Timeline" now! :-)

28 Jul, 2009


LOL David...imagine in a few hundred years someone will be saying how the h... did these get here ! Lol

28 Jul, 2009


Do you think that B&Q sell such durable slabs???? :-)

28 Jul, 2009


No..but the Yew will still be there ! Lol

28 Jul, 2009


Yew always hit that proverbial nail fair and square, Bb ! :-)

28 Jul, 2009


thank yew !

29 Jul, 2009


Great blog again, David! You really know how to tell a day out in the country! Your photos were very good, too.

I'd read about that Yew tree before. On TV there was a programme documenting some of the famous trees in the UK. On BBC 1 I think. I saw some of the programmes & amongst them I'm sure there was one where they visited that Yew.

When you visit the garden do write a blog about the plants you see & the impression they have on you. As well as a little history lesson on the garden's origins as well.

4 Aug, 2009


Thank You, Balcony. Will do.

14 Aug, 2009


whew! I'm exhausted just reading about your travels...too bad the final item, the Explorers Garden was closed! Perhaps that will be the objective of another trip? I feel like
I've had a guided tour. the only thing better would be to smell the pine breezes for myself!!
I seem to remember mentioning a book that I recently enjoyed about the ancient trees of the BI.... and the yew was mentioned in it... was it you who I was telling about it? The oaks are formidable too! what a treasure that book is...I will have to look for it. Thanks for posting the blogs of your travels, David. A joy to read always!

16 Oct, 2009


Yes, Lori, did get back to that garden at a later date. You did mention that book to me, and I thought it might be the book of a TV series of documentaries. Thank You. :-))

18 Oct, 2009


Ahhhh yes! you're right.

22 Oct, 2009

Add a comment

Recent posts by david

Members who like this blog

  • Gardening with friends since
    29 Dec, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    18 Sep, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Apr, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    10 Nov, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Apr, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    26 Feb, 2008