garden photography: the Birnam Oak

During November I want to see trees or leaves or anything found in a woodland environment

(this can include individual trees or leaves or woodland/forest views, fungi, wildlife or wildflowers – it can be of an autumnal flavour or anytime in the year, up to you)

Recently we visited Perthshire – country of the BIG trees. More of those to come. We stayed near Dunkeld and Birnam, small communities north of Perth and where the nearest amenities to our holiday let were. On our final day, not wanting to drive very far owing to a 7 hour drive the following day, we went for a walk around Birnam which has a Beatrix Potter garden and exhibition and a walk in Birnam woods to the Birnam Oak. Now, you may ask yourself, what is so interesting about this oak tree that it has its own walk?


No, not this one. This is a sycamore. Sycamores are non-native trees and this one is a mere youngster being only 300 years old. Home to 15 species of insects, sycamore produces a very white hardwood which doesn’t taint food so is excellent for chopping boards and rolling pins.


In Scotland it is often known as the Bumming tree on account of the bees who love the nectar produced in spring and the noise of their buzzing and humming.  A more gruesome note is that it was also used as a hanging tree, the Laird leaving the corpse to swing in the wind as a warning to others.


The Birnam Oak is old. A living relic of Birnam Wood a medieval forest that once grew alongside the banks of the River Tay. The wood was immortalised by Shakespeare in his play about Macbeth, King of Scotland. This oak has a massive girth of 7 metres (24 feet) and the first 3 metres (10 feet) are hollow. It is a rich habitat for insects and wildlife.  Although this tree is old it is not from the 11th century – the period Macbeth was set in – but it is one of the last trees of the famous wood which played a part in Shakespeare’s play.


Macbeth, a general in the Scottish army, murders his way to the throne believing he is safe from defeat because of a prophecy made by three witches:

Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.

The witches prophecy, Act IV, Scene I, Macbeth

Because it is highly unlikely that a forest (Birnam Wood) will walk up the hill to his castle (Dunsinane Hill), Macbeth expresses great relief.


Tradition has it that Shakespeare was inspired to write the tragedy after he visited the area as an actor. Records show that a company of strolling actors were permitted to put on a play in Perth in 1589, but none of their names were listed.


For those of you who are wondering how on earth a wood moves up hill (and who have neither read or seen Macbeth)

Scene IV: In the country near Birnam Wood:

Malcolm, Macduff and their army are ready to invade Macbeth´s castle. Malcolm tells his men to camouflage themselves with branches from the trees in the forest.

“Let every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear’t before him; thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host and make discovery
Err in report of us.”

Scene V: A messenger arrives telling Macbeth that Birnam Woods is marching on Dunsinane.

So there you have it. A post combining trees and Shakespeare!

If you would like to join in with Garden Photography then please take a look at my Garden Photography Page. No complicated rules🙂

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31 thoughts on “garden photography: the Birnam Oak

  1. It’s good to see you mix literature and nature.

    Sycamores are native in Austin, where they spring up readily alongside and even in creeks. They’re among the tallest trees in the United States.

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