Tree of the Year
Last week saw the publication by The Woodland Trust of the shortlist for Scotland’s annual Tree of the Year. This fun competition is as much about social history as it is about nature. It serves to highlight some fascinating tales from some of the far-flung points of the country (and the world) while at the same time promoting the idea of the living history that you can find contained within nature. Here are a few of our favourites, some of the stories that accompany them and some brilliant places to stay if you are visiting.
Malloch’s Oak in the grounds of Strathallan Castle is hundreds of years old and holds a macabre secret. At a time of great famine, a local miller named Malloch profiteered by hoarding grain while locals around him starved. As revenge, or maybe a warning to others, he was hung from this tree which has borne his name ever since. The tree itself is a remarkable oak which is completely hollow with an impressive girth of nearly 6 metres. Visitors to Perthshire are never far away from a forest, it is after all known as big tree country for a reason, and one of the best spots to explore the numerous forest walks and bike rides is from Ardchyle House near Killin. With green and verdant surroundings, it makes a great base for hill walking as well as being a short drive to The Enchanted Forest, one of the highlights of visiting Perthshire in Autumn.
The Outer Hebrides are famous for many things but trees are still a rare sight on these windswept isles. Netty’s tree was, until recently, the only one on the island of Eriskay. This spruce was planted over 100 years ago by the land rights activist, poet and priest Father Allan MacDonald and is known as Netty’s tree after the woman who lived on the nearby croft. Netty has passed away but her daughter now lives on the same croft and has maintained the tradition of encouraging all the islands children to climb and play there. It is a very appropriate use for this Eriskay landmark as one of Father MacDonald’s most famous poems was Eilein na h'Oige – The Island of the Young.Conan Mara is a great family holiday home within easy walking distance of the tree and the beach as well as the pub. It is comfortable and luxurious in a location that really has something for everyone.
Napoleon’s Tree has a fascinating history and direct connection to the man himself. After his defeat at Waterloo Napoleon Bonaparte was in the 1820s exiled on the remote Atlantic island of St Helena. During his time there he befriended a Scottish Army Surgeon called Dr Archibald Arnott. It was Arnott who made sure, as per Napoleon’s wishes, that after his death he should be buried under the shade of his favourite weeping willow tree. Arnott later took a cutting from the tree and planted it on his return home to Ecclefechan where it still grows in the grounds of what is now the Kirkconnel Hall Hotel. Napoleon would eventually be repatriated to France nearly 20 years later but the tree that bears his name, nearly 200 years after his death, is in fine health, a stunning piece of living history. Westerkirk Mains is just a short drive from here, it’s a perfect place for a large family get together and has much to appeal to nature lovers with a number of rare and unusual trees planted on the banks of the river Esk which flows through the extensive grounds.
The battle of Flodden took place in Northumberland, just across the English border in 1513. The Scots were defeated in the largest battle ever fought between England and Scotland and King James IV was killed in the fighting, becoming the last monarch from Britain to be killed in battle. The Flodden tree which can be seen at the Hirsel Estate in Berwickshire is thought to have been planted to mark the battle’s 100th anniversary. It is a magnificent sycamore which now stands 30m tall, a fitting and long-lasting tribute to the Scottish dead from a pivotal moment in our history. Greenhill Lodge is an elite Georgian shooting lodge which nestles in 7000 acres of heather clad moorland not far from the Cheviot hills and just this side of the border from the battle ground. Tranquillity and privacy are the big draws here but it is also perfect for small weddings, reunions and celebrations.