The Fortingall Yew (Taxus baccata) has been guesstimated at anything between 3000 and 9000 years old and can be found in the corner of the churchyard of Fortingall village kirk. A footpath through the churchyard to the yew carries a series of inscriptions that help set the years in perspective.
The yew is steeped in history and folklore, prior to the introduction of Christianity; they were regarded as the ‘tree of eternity’. Often long-lived, they have a habit of starting to grow again as they reach their 500th year!
In 1769, a Thomas Pennant visited Fortingall reported that the trunk of the tree measured 56½ft (17.5m) in diameter, though he also reported that it had been damaged by bonfires lit to celebrate the festival of Beltane. In 1833 another visitor noted that large parts of the trunk had been cut away, much of it to make souvenir ‘quaiches’ or celebration cups. What was left resembled a semi-circular wall, though there was also new growth up to a height of 30ft. By 1854, it was reported that part of the trunk formed an arch through which funeral processions passed.
Today, little remains of the original tree as natural deterioration and vandalism over the years has reduced the tree to two surviving fragments however the remaining live growth is in a healthy condition and continues to thrive.