A tall silver birch waves her burnished gold leaves under a crown of Scots pine on a tiny loch island in Tayside. The colours are vivid, the strong reds of the beech trees tangling with the russet branches of the pine. And lower down, rowan, birch and lichen complete the picture-postcard scene.
The man-made Isle of Spar is best seen from the eastern shores of Loch Tay, not far from the pretty village of Kenmore. We have the early inhabitants of Scotland to thank for creating the crannog, a defensive island-based dwelling, today home to this spectacular collection of trees. It was rebuilt in 1842 prior to a visit by Queen Victoria, and the trees and walling on the island are believed to date from this period.
Europe’s oldest tree?
The area is replete with autumnal wonders. The mature oak, birch and Scots pine trees of Drummond Hill are home to a population of capercaillie, a species of grouse that thrives on the purple blueberries found here. And at the hamlet of Fortingall you will find one of Britain’s oldest trees. This venerable evergreen yew – which had a girth of 52 feet in 1769 – lives in a protective enclosure in the churchyard. Nowadays, the trunk is comprised of separate elements after being hacked at for souvenirs. It’s widely thought to be 2,000–3,000 years old, while some experts even believe it dates to 7,000 BC.
The Scottish Crannog Centre
Be sure to drop into The Scottish Crannog Centre as you return to Kenmore. This award-winning reconstruction of a wicker and thatched abode offers visitors a unique insight into crannog life.
loop of the loch
A 40-mile driving circuit runs right the way around the loch. From Kenmore, head anti-clockwise through Tay Forest Park beneath the slopes of Ben Lawers to Killin. Leave the attractive little village over the stone bridge, admiring the mesmerising Falls of Dochart, then take the single-track road along the loch’s south-eastern shore.
At this time of year, the vibrant hues of birch and rowan complement the browns of the roadside bracken.
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