Ancient Trees: The Birnam Oak and Britain’s Biggest Sycamore

Long, long ago I had a job that occasionally involved looking at old trees. There’s not much in Nature that speaks with a richer, stronger voice to us, I think.

Was up on the banks of the River Tay (one of Scotland’s two or three nicest rivers, imho) last week, and found two wonderful examples of timbery ancientness. First up, the Birnam Oak, of indeterminate age but a half millennium plus old. Supposedly the last survivor of the forest Shakespeare referred to in Macbeth:

” … Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

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Leaning on its crutches like a Yoda of the forest, or a declining ent. And though you can’t see it in these photos, hollow as a drum, with enough space for a modest hobbit house inside its trunk.

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And right next door to it, what’s supposed to be Britain’s biggest sycamore. A mere 300 years old this one, but if anything bigger and more spectacular than the oak alongside:

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It’s the oak that’s got the richer voice of the two of them, though. All texture and age and wrinkles and character. Ancient trees are cool.

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