There’s a sign, facing you as you leave the car park at the Loch Fyne Oyster House pointing towards ‘Britain’s Tallest Tree’. In the several times I’ve been to Loch Fyne over the last six months, this sign has been the subject of much discussion. Surely, if there was such a remarkably tall tree just off the road beside the loch we would have noticed it before now? We’ve been visiting the oyster house since its beginnings as a caravan in a lay-by; the tree must have been hiding all this time. How could we have missed it?
On Friday we decided to make special expedition to search out this tallest of specimens, with the promise of carrying on to the the restaurant for lunch, even if the tree thing turned out to be a bit disappointing. And anyway, the drive from Helensburgh to Loch Fyne is beautiful, no matter what the weather, and there’s always the progress of the never ending construction works to mitigate the frequent landslides on the Rest and Be Thankful to review en route.
The turning off the main road to the Ardkinglas Estate is a sharp one, followed by a steep descent along a narrow lane, stone walls on either side, and finally, if you are approaching from the south, a sharp left turn, doubling back on yourself. There’s a lot more land between the road and the edge of the loch, than I’d ever appreciated, and it slopes quite dramatically down towards the waters edge, leaving room and elevation for the mystery tree to have been flourishing for over a hundred years, unseen and unremarked, at least by me.
The Woodland Garden was established, like so many idiosyncratic things in this country by a wealthy Victorian who liked collecting stuff from around the world. In this case trees, shrubs and bushes; collecting his own, and playing swapsies with his neighbours and sometime collecting rivals. A folded pamphlet showed us a route around the garden pointing out the highlights. The rhododendrons were in early flower, as well as the delightfully named skunk cabbage, and we could see where the blue bells would be coming in a couple of weeks. The landscape is barely manicured – it’s a collection of trees that have been there a long time, and benign near neglect seems to be the presiding philosophy: where trees have fallen they have been left and the path has been rerouted around them.
And there is the tallest tree in Britain. Or it was the tallest tree in Britain for a bit. It’s not at the moment, although I am unclear if that makes it the second tallest tree in Britain, or if it has fallen down the rankings even further. It’s been playing tag with another specimen just outside Inverness for the last few years, but at 64 metres you still have to bend your head quite far back to look up at it.
The biggest surprise for us was the extent and prettiness of the Woodland Garden, so when topped off with Scallops and chips at the Oyster House (and astonishing blue sky), the day out ranks as a success.