The Fortingall Yew, Fortingall

Fortingall Yew, Perthshire

Who'd have thought Europe's oldest living thing is biding its time in a Perthshire churchyard? Driving along a back road in the middle of nowhere the brown (i.e. tourist) signs to Fortingall Yew were so intriguing I had to have a look. They direct you towards a church and as you enter the gates of the churchyard words are written out on the path. "Up ahead stands Fortingall's oldest resident, a 5000 year old yew tree", "Imagine those who have passed this way before". The path takes you alongside a fence and inside the fence is the Fortingall Yew, estimated to be between 2000 and 5000 years old.

The trunk is substantial enough but pegs on the ground mark the size the yew would have been if it hadn't been chipped away over the years. Measured at 16 metres, or 52 feet in girth in 1769, chunks of the original were removed as souvenirs until an arch was formed which funeral processions passed through. Ironically the yew's repuation at the "tree of eternity" hastened its downfall until a fence was put in place to protect what was left. As a precautionary measure some branches were recently removed by the Forestry Commission to be cloned in the same lab as Doly the Sheep. They will then be planted in woods around the country.

Marketed as "Big Tree Country", Perthshire also boasts the world's largest hedge and widest conifer in Britain, plus the Dunkeld Larch (250 years old, but one of the first of its type planted in Scotland) and the Shakesperean Birnam Oak (the last remaining tree in the wood made famous by Macbeth). A plaque notes that the tree was designated as one of Britain's 50 Greatest Trees in 2002.

Beside the tree, Fortingall itself is an interesting little place. Its other claim to fame is as the home of Pontius Pilate, although the evidence for that is a bit scant. If you visit the yew, the adjoining church is quite pretty, and the neighbouring Fortingall Hotel provides parking and refreshments.

How to get there

The Fortingall Yew is 8 miles west of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, central Scotland. From Aberfeldy follow the B846 until the left turn to Fortingall. The Fortingall Yew is well-signposted from surrounding roads. From the south follow the A827 until the left turn to Fortingall.

Admission free.

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