|View larger image|
Beeches (Fagus sylvatica) with a tendency to layer are extremely rare in Scotland. Of the very few specimens known to exist, the finest and largest is that which graces the grounds of Kilravock Castle, Inverness-shire.
Limbs taking root
The huge trunk measures 4.9 metres (16 feet) in girth at 1 metre (3.3 feet) above ground level, and it is surrounded by low, snaking limbs which bend to the ground and take root.
Some of the layered stems are of considerable size and now form small trees in their own right. The tree has been repeatedly pollarded in the past, and the typically dense, multi-stemmed crown is still in good condition.
Thought to have been planted in the latter half of the 17th century, it is of considerable age for a species not known for longevity.
The 'kissing beech'
The tree is also known as the Kissing Beech, after a member of an early owner’s family and a housemaid were witnessed in an illicit embrace under its spreading limbs. The extensive carving of lovers’ names on the bark suggests that many others have used this tree as a rendezvous.
Image: copyright Archie Miles
The attraction of lovers to beech trees has led to many other old beeches being known as ‘trysting trees’ because
"of their smooth grey bark in which letters of devotion, hearts and arrows of desire have long been scribed" (A Miles, Silva).
Kilravock Castle (pronounced Kilrawck), built in 1460, has seen many famous visitors over the centuries, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1562 and Robert Burns in 1787. Bonnie Prince Charlie is reputed to have been entertained within its thick walls the day before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Where to see the Kilravock Layering Beech:
On a low bank alongside the driveway to Kilravock Castle, on the B9091 road between Croy and Clephanton, approximately 16km (10 miles) east of Inverness and the A9. The castle is administered by Ellel Ministries as a hotel and religious retreat. Access is available only with permission.