Tall trees at Diana’s Grove, Blair Castle (with a note on Britain’s tallest trees)

A fantastic avenue of lime trees running towards Blair Castle from the front gates.

The day after I walked around the Hermitage at Dunkeld I climbed Cairn Gorm - my sixth Munro - on a beautifully clear but cold day, and the day after that I set off on the long drive home. My great Scottish excursion had just about come to an end, but I still had something left to look forward to in Blair Atholl.

In May 2008 I arrived at Blair Atholl station with a couple of friends from university. We’d caught the train from Edinburgh and were just setting off on five days of walking and camping, going to Aviemore via the Minigaig Pass, the Linn of Dee, Loch Etchachan, Loch Avon, and Glenmore. From the station we walked up past Blair Castle and entered a small wood called Diana’s Grove. An information board by the gate got me pretty excited. Under the heading ‘Some Notable Trees’, it listed ‘Tallest Japanese Larch in Great Britain’, ‘5th tallest Douglas Fir in Great Britain’ and ‘Tallest Red Fir in Great Britain’! We had only just started our hike, so didn’t hang about, but I remember being impressed by a grove of very tall conifers.

Three and half a years later and I was back. The same information board tells how Diana’s Grove was set out in 1737 and takes its name from the statue of the Roman goddess of hunting that stands there; that it is renowned for its exotic conifers; that some of the first European larch (Larix decidua) to be grown in Britain were planted there in the 1730s by the second Duke of Atholl; and that the seventh Duke introduced Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) in 1884 and replanted much of the grove.

Many of the trees in the grove are numbered. On the left in this photo: No. 47 – a grand fir (Abies grandis), which was 62.7 metres tall with a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 180 cm when climbed by a team of arborists in February 2009, making it one of the tallest trees in Britain. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland by Owen Johnson (The Tree Register Handbook – published 2011) gives the grand fir national champion for height as a tree at Ardkinglas, Argyll, which measured 64.3 m tall with a dbh of 210 cm in 2010 (it was planted in 1875).

On the right: No. 45 – a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), now the tallest tree in Diana’s Grove. It measured 60 metres tall with a dbh of 131 cm in 2007 according to my Champion Trees, which lists the tallest Douglas fir in Britain as a 63.8 m tree with a dbh of 180 cm (measured in 2009) at Stronardron, Argyll.

Unfortunately a storm in March 2010 blew the top out of the grand fir. I think it still has a far more impressive trunk than the Douglas fir it now has to look up to.

The statue of Diana, Roman goddess of hunting. A small plaque on the plinth states that the original statue by John Cheere was erected by the second Duke of Atholl in 1737. It was replaced (by the seventh Duke) in 1893 after the ‘Great Storm’; the replacement was restored in 1997.

Champion Trees lists a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) growing in Diana’s Grove, on a mound of earth called Mount Strange, as the national champion of its species for height; it was 54.5 m tall with a dbh of 151 cm in 2007. (A few days earlier in my trip I’d visited Britain’s widest conifer, another giant sequoia at Cluny House Gardens near Aberfeldy - Champion Trees lists that one as being just 41 m tall but having a massive dbh of 360 cm!) I did see the Mount Strange sequoia but I didn’t take a decent photo so you’ll have to make do with the mushroom.

According to an information board there, the Mount Strange tree was grown from seed collected from the Grizzly Giant, the largest redwood growing in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park, California. The mound on which it grows was reshaped in 1884 to match the diameter of the trunk of the parent tree (according to Wikipedia the Grizzly Giant has a dbh of 780 cm these days!) - it initially commemorated “the 2nd Duke of Atholl taking his seat in parliament. He had recently inherited the title Barony of Strange through his paternal grandmother and went under this to parliament in 1737, the year in which Diana’s Grove was originally laid out.”

Of the red fir (Abies magnifica), which I don’t believe I could find, Champion Trees lists the Diana’s Grove tree as being 41 metres tall with a dbh of 163 cm in 2007 (and gives its date of planting as 1878). It is the red fir national champion for girth, but there is a taller red fir listed at Dunkeld House (43 m tall with a dbh of 127 cm when measured in 2007).

This is the national champion Japanese larch for height. According to Champion Trees it was planted in 1886, and in 2007 was measured at 44 m tall with a dbh of 97 cm. There is, however, a Japanese larch with a greater girth at Barton House, Warwickshire – that tree is listed as having a dbh of 115 cm in 2007.

This excellent noble fir (Abies procera) was growing in the castle grounds outside of Diana’s grove. It’s neither the tallest nor the broadest of its species, but it is nevertheless an imposing beast.

Fungi growing from the base of one the limes on the grand avenue.

In my last post I wrote that the tallest tree in Britain was the Stronardron Douglas fir near Dunans Castle, Argyll, which was measured by a team of tree surgeons in February 2009 and found to be 63.79 m tall. You may however have noticed that in this post I have mentioned a 64.3 metre tall grand fir at Ardkinglas, Argyll, but this tree was measured more recently, in 2010. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland was only published last year, and it is a definitive guide (and well worth investing in). I give it the last word:

The Ardkinglas grand fir grows in a fairly exposed spot beside Loch Fyne and, since 1991, has died back twice but regrown vigorously. In April 2010, it was climbed by a team of tree surgeons led by Iain Campbell Duncan and found to be 64.3 m tall. Its closest rival was a Douglas fir at Stronardron, Argyll, which was climbed in 2009 and was 63.8 m tall (and growing steadily); a Douglas fir of identical height at Lake Vyrnwy, Powys, split and was felled in 2011. Heights of 64 m have been claimed for ‘Dughal Mor’, a Douglas fir in Reelig Glen Wood near Inverness, Highland, but it is probably nearer 62 m. Another Douglas fir at the Hermitage, Dunkeld, Perthshire, grows on the steep bank of the Braan burn and is 65 m from its tip to the lowest exposed roots, but only 61.3 m to the ground on the top side when climbed in 2009.

The best trees in several stands of Douglas fir and grand fir in Snowdonia, planted by the Forestry Commission from 1919, passed 60 m around 2005 and seem likely, within a few more years, to provide all of our tallest trees.

…And that, I promise, was the last post from my November trip!


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees










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