An Island Adventure
On the 14th of September, three hardy tree verifiers headed to Inchmahome Island on the Lake of Menteith, near Stirling, to record the spectacular ancient trees. David Alderman of the Tree Register of the British Isles has written a very enjoyable piece about their trip:
The ancient trees of Inchmahome Priory, on an island in the Lake of Menteith, near Stirling, are well known and recognised as heritage trees of Scotland. They had already been briefly visited, twice before, by volunteers but there were more trees to record! After much planning the day had come to carry out a thorough investigation and survey of the islands ancient and veteran trees, managed today by Historic Scotland.
It was a breezy morning with rain in the air, as volunteer Verifiers, Judy Dowling and Clair McFarlan, walked to the jetty for the short boat trip to the island. Three days before, the boat had stopped sailing, due to bad weather but today, they were assured, it would be fine. And as they stepped cautiously into the boat the sun broke through the clouds and the water sparkled as they joined a small group of excited, slightly anxious looking, tourists. They motored slowly towards Inchmahome, the tops of two Giant sequoia were clearly visible above its wooded banks. “Don’t stand up, don’t hold onto the side of the boat and don’t eat any fungi on the island” were the warnings they remembered from the safety talk given by Pat, their captain!
Recognising they had an interest in trees, Pat informed them of a “rare hybrid tree”, growing behind the ticket office by the mausoleum. No mention of the ancient Sweet chestnut, or the circle of box trees, originally planted at the time of the young Mary Queen of Scots, who stayed briefly on the island as a child, for her safety.
With clipboard, GPS and tape measure, they set about their task with enthusiasm. With only a few people on the island it was a most tranquil setting to be recording trees, amongst the ruins of the priory. The ancient Sweet chestnut can be found on the eastern side of the island and there was much evidence of storm and wind-throw damage, with several large oak laying uprooted, from many years ago. One such oak had blown over and lay horizontal on the ground but was still healthy and in full vigour, despite a huge gnarled exposed root plate. This was one of two trees previously recorded and they could see why, it had created an arboreal marvel!
They continued to record more oak and several hollow Sweet chestnut, as well as the fragmented remains of a once very large ash. The Sweet chestnut were amazing with their hollow trunks and branches and with much petrified wood but still very much alive. The largest is, apparently, known as the “Antlered Chestnut” and believed to date back to the time of the Augustinian monks in the 1500’s but they may date to around 1606, when the property then passed to the Erskine family.
On the south-west side they found more fine oak but also some younger ornamental plantings from the Victorian period. Mary Queen of Scots’ box tree bower, is said to have been replanted in 1859, after the original plants had been destroyed by souvenir hunters. Beyond this circle of box they found the two fine Giant sequoia, one amongst a jungle of bramble, the other with more easy access and a welcoming seat beneath. Here, they also found the mystery “hybrid” tree, which turned out to be a cut-leaved beech. So, not a hybrid but a cultivated variety that frequently reverts. Trees can often be found with both feathery cut leaves and normal shaped beech leaves on the same tree, even the same branches!
Having packed the clipboard away, they made their way to the toilet block, where they were immediately distracted by another large oak, sycamore, several large birch and a very tall rowan. And so they carried on recording for another half an hour, before they remembered why they had headed that way in the first place! Soon they were back at the ticket office and jetty, just as it started raining but they couldn’t resist a final recording of two notable Douglas fir for good measure!
They met up with Captain Pat again and told him about his “hybrid” tree, information for which he was most grateful! It was Pat’s colleague who ferried them back in the rain to the mainland, where they quickly travelled to the nearby hotel, for tea and scones.
From the comfort of the lounge bar they gazed out across the lake to the island where they had just spent a most enjoyable day amongst some fantastic trees. And as they watched the fisherman’s boats drifting across the water, the sun once more came out and lit up the trees on Inchmahome. If you like ancient trees, Scottish history, or just a good adventure, take the trip to the island and discover its wonders for yourself, it is well worth it!
Tree Register of the British Isles