Native Forests and Remarkable Trees

29 June 2017

birnam oak (1000 x 750)

Birnam Oak by Beth Moon via CC

Many visitors travel to visit beaches or mountains but Scotland’s forests are, for some, the number one attraction. A gentle amble in the woods can be one of the best ways to escape the chaos of modern life and in Scotland, you can find yourself in some awe-inspiring company. Here is home to some of the most amazing trees in Europe, remnants of the very first forests that covered the land, historical trees with amazing stories to tell and rare special species planted hundreds of years ago.

One of the most charming and unique forests is that which surrounds the Glencoe Lochan. It was planted by the former high commissioner of Canada in the late 1800s in order to make his Native American wife feel more at home. A unique selection of Canadian conifers and North American shrubs, combined with the mountain peaks of Glencoe really do make you think for a moment that you are actually in the Canadian Rockies. Take it all in by doing the fantastic walk which goes all the way around the loch, it is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies and takes about an hour and a half. The story doesn’t have such a happy ending as Lord Strathcona and his wife eventually returned to Canada before the forest was fully grown, never seeing it in its full glory. Achnacloich is a Baronial mansion just a short drive away, located in the middle of a 5,000 acre estate it is surrounded by 30 acres of the most amazing gardens and is a luxurious throwback to a different era.

Puck’s Glen on the Cowal Peninsula feels like a cross between an Amazonian rain forest and being in Lord of the Rings. The tumbling, rocky burn that runs through the glen is criss-crossed by arched wooden bridges, giving it a unique other-worldly charm. This dark and atmospheric trail is a truly magical experience, you will find yourself enclosed by rocky walls heavily hung with mosses and overshadowed by dense trees and a gorge with waterfalls and shallow rock pools. The trail which was planted in 1870 is well signposted and there are great viewpoints and some of the finest rhododendron displays in the country. The walk can easily be extended to take in Kilmun Arboretum and Benmore Botanic Gardens. Kilfinan House sits on the lush west coast of the Cowal peninsula and is a former manse with a walled garden and hot tub, a fantastic family holiday home for those who love the great outdoors.

The Fortingall Yew is the oldest living thing in the country (and possibly the oldest tree in Europe) and is a majestic site to behold. Conservative estimates put the tree at about 5000 years old which long predates the churchyard at Fortingall where it now sits. It is likely that this was a sacred tree as far back as the Iron-Age and was appropriated by Christianity during the Dark Ages. The term ‘living history’ is overused these days but on this occasion it seems truly appropriate. Strathlyon Cottage is just a couple of miles away and makes a great short cycle. Alternatively you could investigate the rest of Perthshire and see for yourself just why it is known as Big Tree Country.

The Birnam Oak is another of Perthshire’s hidden wonders. This iconic tree is one of the sole surviving trees of the great forest that once straddled the banks and hillsides of the River Tay. This forest is celebrated in Shakespeare's Macbeth as the famous Birnam Wood that camouflages the advancing army against Macbeth. It is believed that Shakespeare got inspiration for this section of `The Scottish Play` during a visit here in 1599 as one of a troupe of comedians. Mill Cottage sits close to the Loch of the Lowes and only a few miles away, a fabulous and serene hideaway with comfort as well as privacy.

Be mesmerised by the beauty of Mother Nature when you take a walk around the blossoming woodlands of Reelig Glen, located seven miles west of Inverness. This is home to four of the tallest trees in Britain, one of which is the tallest conifer in Europe, towering at over 65 metres tall. The previous tallest tree in Britain was affectionately known to the locals as Dughall Mor can also be seen here. Follow pathways and a series of short walks to admire these majestic trees from many angles to fully appreciate the scale of their presence. Continue to the top of the main walk and you’ll come across the fairy-like stone bridge and grotto, called Tigh an Aigh. Glen View Lodge has stunning panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and has great access to Reelig Glen as well as Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar. Its contemporary 21st century style contrasts perfectly with the ancient historical forests that surround it.