On the bank of the River Tay near Dunkeld in Perthshire is a very special oak tree, but you might not think so at first glance.
It is around 300 years old and its bark is bristling with lichen, moss and fungi, and growing out of a rotten hollow on the trunk are a number of thin rowans, ‘bird trees’ that have sprouted from seed deposited in the droppings of woodland wildlife.
These features make the oak ecologically valuable of course, but along this stretch of riverbank such trees are hardly rare, and as many of its branches have fallen away over the years it’s hard to find much beauty in its form. What does make this particular tree special is its story. According to local legend this is the very tree under which eighteenth century fiddler Niel Gow wrote his most famous works.
Gow is best known for tunes such as ‘Farewell to Whisky’ and he was born just a short distance away in the tiny village of Inver. While he was composing his patron the Duke of Atholl would stand on the opposite side of the river and listen to the embryonic melodies float across the water.
A beautifully carved bench installed next to the oak by Forestry Commission Scotland who own this particular strip of woodland within Tay Forest Park means that anyone can sit beneath the fiddle tree, and when you do it’s easy to imagine Niel Gow sitting next to you, while the timeless waters of the Tay flow by.
Since Perthshire is well known as the Big Tree Country it’s not surprising that Scotland’s first entry to Tree of the Year is from here. This is the home of amazing trees including the Fortingall Yew, reputed to be one of the world’s oldest living thing, and many of the first firs grown from seed sent back to Scotland by the tree hunter David Douglas.
Tree of the Year is a competition to find the best loved trees and certainly Niel Gow’s oak is well loved in Dunkeld. In promoting the entry we’ve had kind support from local musicians including Pete Clark and Dougie MacLean, both of whom have taken inspiration from Gow and continue the area’s musical tradition by putting on popular festivals.
Niel Gow’s oak is Scotland’s entry to the 2014 European Tree of the Year contest. Voting is open until Friday 28 February.
Rory Syme, PR and Communications Officer (Scotland)