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An ancient sessile oak (Quercus petraea) standing on the banks of the River Tay near the Perthshire village of Birnam is said to be the last survivor of the legendary Birnam Wood, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.
The witches’ prophecy literally came true, when Malcolm’s army camouflaged itself with branches from the great wood and took by surprise Macbeth’s stronghold at Dunsinane, 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the south east:
As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I looked toward Birnam and anon methought
The wood began to move.
The tragic Macbeth then meets his gruesome end.
It is unlikely that this fine old veteran, sometimes known as 'Macbeth’s Oak', was around to furnish Malcolm’s soldiers with greenery when the battle is reputed to have been fought, in 1057. It is, however, several centuries old and represents a living relic of the great medieval oakwood which once clothed the banks of the Tay.
The trunk boasts an impressive girth of 5.5 metres (18 feet) and a widely spreading canopy composed of long, horizontal limbs. A stately survivor of a bygone age, its literary connection has resulted in its becoming one of Scotland’s better-known heritage trees.
Where to see the Birnam Oak:
On the south bank of the River Tay at Birnam, Perth & Kinross, accessible via a signposted footpath from Dunkeld bridge and another from the Birnam House Hotel in the centre of the village. Free public access is available throughout the year.
Image: copyright Edward Parker