Birnam Oak Woods, Dunkeld

A great piece of natural history...

It is a nice stroll down the river bank to see these beautiful old ladies and to think back to when these trees have seen the 1745 rebellion and two world wars. The stories it could tell…

The Birnam Oak and its neighbour the Birnam Sycamore are thought to the sole surviving trees of the great forest that once straddled the banks and hillsides of the River Tay. This forest is celebrated in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the famous Birnam Wood.

The prophecy of Shakespeare’s three witches did come true, with the branches of trees from great Birnam Wood, nearly 1000 years ago, camouflaging the advancing army against Macbeth. It is believed that Shakespeare got inspiration for this section of the Scottish Play during a visit to Perth, Birnam and Aberdeen in 1599 as one of a troupe of comedians. The visit was arranged after King James VI sent a request for entertainers to Elizabeth 1.

Both trees look medieval. The lower branches of the gnarled and ancient Birnam Oak rest on crutches and the first three metres (10ft) of the trunk are hollow. The Birnam Sycamore, alongside, is thought to date back around 300 years old and has particularly impressive buttress roots. Both trees appear in the list of the one hundred Scottish Heritage Trees.

But you don’t have to know your Shakespeare to appreciate the majestic Birnam Oak Walk. This is an easy waymarked circular route that follows a lovely stretch of the River Tay, with views across the river to Dunkeld’s magnificent medieval cathedral, before going under Telford’s historic Dunkeld Bridge.

This walk is about 3 ½ miles / 5.4 km and is suitable for most abilities, with benches dotted along the riverbank.

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