Remarkable trees I have only ever read about

It is now almost a year since we were on holiday in Scotland, our first ever holiday there. We stayed in a cottage situated a mile or so outside the village of Comrie in Perthshire, surrounded by farmland and trees, and in the distance, hills. There was something there in the lie of the land that quickly cast a spell over us, something magical, that I can still feel as I write here.

I had just finished reading The Story of Yew by Guido Mina di Sospiro, a novel in the form of a history of Ireland, and the world, as seen through the eyes of a 2000 year old yew tree. The tree at the heart of the book is the Muckross Abbey yew in Killarney, which Thomas Pakenham finds in his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees to be probably only 500 years old. However, he does note that not far from the Abbey, on an outcrop of ancient limestone there exists the largest wild wood of yews in Ireland, a wood “as black as a monk’s cowl”. The photograph of the Muckross Abbey yew in Pakenham’s book shows the tree surrounded by a circular iron fence to protect it, from tourists! My wish to visit Muckross and the neighbouring yew wood is still to be achieved.

Having finished di Sospiro’s book I had nothing to read on the last few days of our holiday. At the last minute, our planned visit to Loch Lomond on the last full day of our stay was changed and instead of driving west, we travelled north and east to Cluny Gardens and then on to Aberfeldy, where according to my younger sister, who knows my weakness for reading, there was a great bookshop. The Watermill also serves a good lunch and so I was in heaven! Out of the thousands of books there, one in particular caught my attention; the black and white cover illustration of The Great Wood. The author was Jim Crumley, and I have to admit that I had not read anything by him before, although listed there on the inside cover were at least twenty other titles.

I began reading the book on the way home, to be exact, on the ferry crossing between Cairnryan and Larne. I couldn’t put the book down, enjoying the author’s knowledge and obvious love of the Scottish landscape. Imagine how I felt when I read the first chapter, Soliloquy by the Fortingall Yew. It felt as if I was meant to visit that bookshop and buy that particular book. How could I have missed the fact that a few miles west of Aberfeldy was a truly ancient yew tree? Within weeks of our return home, I had found another holiday cottage to rent near Comrie, and booked it for the following year. That year is almost up and we will be holidaying there again within a couple of weeks, and this time I will not miss making a pilgrimage to see the Fortingall yew!

4 thoughts on “Remarkable trees I have only ever read about

  1. I used to work in an office besides a stand of yew trees and the description ‘black as a monk’s cowl’ is very appropriate. Nothing grew underneath them. Fascinating trees and the stories all of them could tell!

  2. Thanks for your note Chris, I really must get out more & get myself down to Killarney & confirm for myself whether the yews there are really that dark! Yew wood is the best wood for making longbows, which is where I began my “yew” journey.

  3. I love yews. I love yews in cemeteries and the ancient, natural ones you find in forests. I planted a yew hedge in my garden five years ago and am patiently waiting for it to mature! They grow very slowly!

    1. Good to know you’ve planted a yew hedge. If allowed to remain there it will outlast us all. That makes me feel quite humble!

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