The Scotland of the imagination is a land of rolling green hills, kilt-wearing bagpipers, and crumbling castles. While you can find all of this in Scotland, there is a great deal more to this fiercely patriotic country. With a land area equal to the state of Maine in the US, this small country is chock-full of fascinating history.
10. Fortingall Yew – The 5,000 Year-Old-Tree
In the heart of Scotland stands one of Europe’s oldest trees, the Fortingall Yew. Experts speculate that the tree may be 5,000 years old. It is named for the small village in which it is found—Fortingall, in Perthshire. The land surrounding Fortingall contains some of the most amazing archaeological sites in Scotland, from plague burial grounds to the remains of a 1,300-year-old monastery. While the Yew first sprouted long after the first people moved to Scotland over 12,000 years ago, it’s probably as old as the first settlements at Fortingall.
The Fortingall Yew is significant not just because of its age, but because of the intriguing folklore surrounding this ancient living entity. Yews are part of the landscape at countless British churches—many times the trees were planted at the same time as the church was founded. The Fortingall Yew predates its sister chapel by thousands of years, leading experts to believe that it was an important site for pagan rituals long before Christianity came to Perthshire. It was common practice for early Christians to build over sacred groves and other existing religious sites in order to promote the dominance of their own religion. Folklore linking the Fortingall Yew to Christianity soon built up around it.
Legend says that Pontius Pilate, the judge and Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to crucifixion, was born by the tree and played in the shade of the Yew during his childhood. This legend, while unlikely to be factual, tied Scotland to the history of Christianity in a tangible (if mythological) way. New Age practitioners have also been attracted to the Fortingall Yew, claiming the tree was important in the rituals of the druids, and that the druids did not built near it because of its immense energy. Today the tree is badly damaged and even had to be cut back to save it from rot, but it still stands strong in the heart of Scotland, reminding visitors of the sacredness of ancient trees.
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