The sweet chestnut
19 July, 2013
In the middle of The Lake of Menteith is the well-wooded island of Inchmahome. At the heart of the woodland is Inchmahome Priory, once home to Augustinian canons. The priory is steeped in history. Most notably, it provided a place of refuge to the four year old Mary Queen of Scots, following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Pinkie.
Inchmahome’s history is embedded in its woods and trees. The priory is built on the east end of the island as, when it was founded in 1238, the Earl of Menteith reserved the west of the island to use as a garden. His residence was situated on the adjacent island of Inch Talla, which was too small to provide a landscaped garden space.
The woods include many fine specimens of exotic tree varieties, mostly planted in the 1700s. Amongst them are the giant sequoia and Douglas fir. These represent the later history of the island when, during the 1700s and 1800s, improved public transport made the island a popular tourist attraction. People were drawn to the priory as a romantic and picturesque ruin.
The finest trees on the island are perhaps the Spanish chestnut trees, which border each end of the Nun’s walk. These trees are amongst the most impressive veteran trees inScotland. These heavily gnarled and twisted trunks abound with character. Reckoned to be over 400 years old they are showing many signs of age, and look hollow and decayed. They are, however, very much alive and well.
Sweet chestnut trees are not native toScotland, it is thought that they were introduced by the Romans. They planted them deliberately, as they used the nuts as a good source of energy, as well as grinding them into flour. It is said that Roman soldiers were given a porridge made from sweet chestnuts before going into battle. The timber is also highly valued. Sweet chestnut wood is hard, strong and rich in tannins, and it is more durable even than oak. It lasts well in the ground, and is suitable for general outdoor use, requiring no additional preservatives. Traditionally it has been used for stakes, gateposts, and fencing, as well as being used for the poles which support hops. It was also used as a source of tannin, for tanning leather, as a source of medicine for whooping cough and other respiratory diseases.
Inchmahome can be reached by ferry from the Port of Menteith, 8 miles south of Callander, postcode FK8 3 RA.