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"Big Tree Country" - Part 5


By david


Aberfeldy and Kenmore : Part A.

Last day of my hols (Monday 20th July), and, suffering a bit from “cabin fever”, having been largely confined to home and garden with torrential rain and thunder storms, I had to get out!

It’s been a while since I last blogged about our adjoining county, Perthshire, and its “Big Tree Country” title, so I set off early to continue my tour of some of the most amazing plants and landscapes I know – the landscapes more often than not being part of old, grand estates which once boasted the most recent introductions brought back from overseas by intrepid planthunters.

My first destination was the town of Aberfeldy, to visit a ravine known as the “Birks of Aberfeldy” (“birks” being an old Scots word for birch trees). En route I travelled past a place called Dalguise, where the author Beatrix Potter used to spend her summer holidays, and which, from what I’ve read, has the fastest-growing plantation of trees (Grand Firs) in the UK. I didn’t spot these, for the area is now so forested, but was cheered enough to read the Forestry Commision signs saying “Douglas Fir woods”.

Birch Woodland, “Birks of Aberfeldy”

“The Birks” was originally known as the Den of Moness, as it formed part of the estate of that name. It was densely wooded with native oak, hazel, ash and birch. Its status changed, forever, following a visit by the famous Scottish poet/songwriter Robert (Rabbie) Burns, in 1787.

He was inspired by the rustling trees and sound of rushing water to sit down there and then, and compose one of his famous songs, “The Birks o’ Aberfeldie”.

Figurine of Burns writing his song, “Birks o’ Aberfeldie”

It is quite dark under the tree canopy, and impossible, in summer, to get a pic without the camera flash activating, but it lends an “ethereal” quality to the sculpture, I think?

After what seemed like an endless climb up the ravine, I reached the Falls of Moness, a lovely waterfall spanned by a footbridge.

“The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foamin’ stream, deep-roarin’, fa’s,
O’er-hung wi’ fragrant, spreadin’ shaws,
The birks o’ Aberfeldie”

Robert Burns, 1787

From the 1780s onwards, this area was further planted up with more birches, and many varieties of the, then, newly-introduced “exotics”, such as Rhododendron and Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula, var. tibetica). For nearly 300 years, since Burns made it famous, this area has been a magnet for travellers and tourists.

My next stop, close by, was at a place called Weem, with a local parish named after it. I was lured here by tales of ghosts, dragons, demons, and saints. Here is a woodland “walk” – it was actually another mighty uphill climb – through an ancient woodland leading to some old man-made caves, in which, a few centuries ago, an early Christian hermit dwelled. I really do think that the legends of dragons and demons were tales sent out by him to ward off intruders – or were they? I felt decidedly uneasy, the more I ventured forth……

Knight carved from a fallen tree Trunk, Weem Wood

Even blood-sucking vampires, were becoming real……

When I discovered some original, prehistoric “cup-and-ring” marks on a rocky outcrop overlooking the glen below, my unease grew. I knew from my archaeology student days that these are thought to have been used in blood sacrifices, when flowing blood would run round the “ring gutters” and collect in the “cups”.

Prehistoric “Cup-and-Ring” Markings, Weem Wood, Perthshire, Scotland

Sorry that they are non too clear in my pic.

I was about to “give up the ghost” when I reached the Hermit’s Cave (now silted up) and a reassuring sign -

But, it was time to get out of here, so I descended faster than I had climbed ( well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?)

Back in the carpark, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead to Castle Menzies, so, intrigued, I drove along, and found this wonderful castle.

I walked round its perimeter, looking for a walled garden. At the entrance, by the way, was a signboard advertising ghost tours next weekend – just what I needed! I ventured round to the back of the castle, where there are walls, but no

garden. The name got me thinking….now, that is the surname of another famous Perthshire planthunter from days gone by, who introduced to Europe the Monkey Puzzle tree and the climber/vine Tropaeolum speciosum – Flame Flower – from Chile!

I was quite intrigued by this, then, I found a warning to folks who have tried to get out of paying the entrance fee!

Oh, deer! Time to beat a hasty retreat!

I drove as fast as I could on the narrow, winding roads to reach the village of Kenmore, which stands at the point where the inland Loch Tay becomes the River |Tay, which then meanders on for over 120 miles to empty into the North Sea. By this time, I was needing a cold drink, and, perhaps, some chocolate!

Loch Tay, from Kenmore. The mountain, whose summit is shrouded in mist, is Ben Lawyers (3983 ft asl/1214m)

……………to be continued.

More blog posts by david

Previous post: Drying Alliums

Next post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 6



Great blog David. Very interesting and some lovely photos. I never knew about cup and ring marks!! Wow. That castle looks like it would have a few resident mournful ghosts.

21 Jul, 2009


great blog David , never new most of this ,particularly that there was a statue of Burns at Aberfeldy although Ben Lawers brought back memories ,I camped at the bottom next to the river and climbed it in the morning around 1975 a lovely clear summer morning it was stunning.

21 Jul, 2009


Nice blog, David. I always said that should I ever choose to leave Moray it would be to live in rural Perthshire.

21 Jul, 2009


Great! It seems you had a fantastic day out and the weather was kind!

21 Jul, 2009


great blog David. i so enjoyed this tour...;-))

21 Jul, 2009


Glad you arrived home safe from the ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and hope you didn't encounter any things that go bump in the night when you went to bed.

21 Jul, 2009


Really enjoyed your blog - great sculptures

21 Jul, 2009


Enjoyed your blog & photos.

21 Jul, 2009


Very interesting blog. Glad the ghosties didn't get you. Looking forward to the next instalment.

21 Jul, 2009


Really interesting blog and the photo,s are great,thanks David..........

21 Jul, 2009


Great blog David,and glad you finally managed to get out and about.The castle is lovely and particularly like the Falls of Moness . Beautiful scenery and eerie goings on ! Lol

21 Jul, 2009


Many Thanks, folks, will hopefully get the rest of the day on here tomorrow. More interesting trees and other plants to show, and a very interesting garden.

21 Jul, 2009


Very interesting blog, David! I enjoyed your trip & felt quite out of breath with the speed at which you climbed those hills & got round places. Good work! Thanks for sharing it with us! :)

23 Jul, 2009


Interesting read - loved the tour. Thanks.

23 Jul, 2009


Thank You both!

Balcony, have just got my breath back. The aches in my legs have also now gone, finally.. It was a great adventure. :-)

23 Jul, 2009


this is a treat, David. the rugged coutryside of Ontario was settled by Scotsmen...and many of the small hamlets are named nostalgically... the view of the pines and the waterfalls and the black basalt bedrock and the red sand...looks so familiar. What a beautiful place ... was there a time when the barren looking hills were forested with oak, beech and ash? We have the Scots pine over here...(it's a fav. Christmas tree, because they grow so fast) The trees mentioned were imports...what are the native trees?

16 Oct, 2009



Until the 18th century, most of Perthshire's hilly countryside was barren, except for the sheltered river /burn ravines, where mostly native deciduous trees grew. These were mainly, as you say, oak, ash (meaning mountain ash, or the Rowan), and (silver0 birch. On the western edge of this county lies what remains (less than 1%) of the original great Caledonian Forest - a mix of Scots Pine and decidous woodland. The now conifer forested landscape was created in the 17th century by the landed gentry/aristocracy, using imported coniferous timber, primarily for profit - the beginnings of the timber industry here. Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Western Coastal Cedar, European Larch, etc., were all found to be particularly useful in the manufacture of one product or another.

There was a time, of course, when said aristocracy forced people from their homes (leading to large-scale emigration, and the duplication of nostalgic place names overseas by "settlers") because land was more profitably given over to sheep for the wool trade boom - which, like all "economic" boom periods, eventually collapsed.

I love reading about the exploits of the great planthunters of the past, but am always mindful of the fact that those voyages were to some degree sponsored by wealthy individuals who not only wanted to have the most up-to-date plant specimens in their estate gardens and conservatories (and breed for a quick profit), but were also interested in a longer-term business gain).

Nothing new at all, then, LOL!!!

16 Oct, 2009


Is the Caledonian Forest you speak of a preserve of royalty? I know Queen Vic loved Scotland and spent much of her time there...
Have you read anything about the forest primeval in Poland? there are parts of it which are completely untouched since medieval times! What a marvellous treatise on nature's ways it must be...From what I've read, it is much like walking into a cathedral with the high dark canopy vault and the hushing layer of leaf and fern beneath. But the only reason I have heard of it is that it is threatened ... by what else? the new Russian (capitalist) state. I'm relying on my ageing faculties to recall...maybe a google would give you a more complete picture? If you have the time..check it out. it will be worth the read, believe me.
How beautiful Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England must have been before the kingdom required masts and spars!!
The huge white pines, oaks and beech (part of the forest primeval on the land my ancestors were granted by the crown...)were first removed for his majesty's navy! What was not taken was left to rot or gleaned for farmsteads and furniture. It must have seemed inexhaustible then...but the destruction of habitat changed everything...from fish and game to soil and topography.
Sad isn't it?

18 Oct, 2009


Not at all, Lori. But what's left is largely owned now by national conservation charities or private estates. One such estate has recently forwarded a planning application for a leisure resort for the very rich, which development would undoubtedly see the destruction of part of what remains of the Forest. It has caused great controversy and outrage.
Balmoral Castle (built for Queen Victoria), is many miles eastward of this Forest.

I seem to remember once reading about the forest in Poland. Must look at this again, Many Thanks! :-))

18 Oct, 2009

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