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Estimated to be perhaps 5,000 years old, the Fortingall Yew (Taxus baccata) stands at the geographical heart of Scotland. It is believed to be the most ancient tree in the United Kingdom, and is probably even the oldest living thing in Europe.
A semi-circular wall
The tree was first described in 1769 by the Hon. Daines Barrington, who measured its circumference at 16 metres (52 feet). By July 1833 Dr Neil found that large amounts had been cut away
"by the country people, with the view of forming quechs or drinking cups, and other relics, which visitors were in the habit of purchasing". The trunk then resembled a semi-circular wall, although new spray and a few young branches were growing to a height of up to 9 metres (30 feet).
In 1854, Loudon said,
"its age is unknown, but it has long been a mere shell, forming an arch through which funeral processions were accustomed to pass".
Today this venerable tree is still a very impressive sight, and is enclosed by a wall built to create a sanctuary for its undisturbed growth. Its trunk now comprises several separate elements, and without knowing the tree’s long history it would be difficult to regard it as a single tree. The circle of white pegs illustrates the former circumference of the once vast trunk.
Where to see the Fortingall Yew:
The churchyard at Fortingall, about 13km (8 miles) west of Aberfeldy, Perth & Kinross. Free public access is available all year.
Image: copyright Archie Miles