Scotland’s Ancient Oaks & The Building of a Cathedral

Situated in the World Heritage Old Town of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, St Giles Cathedral is nearing its 900th anniversary.

St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh  credit Colin Smith

credit: Colin Smith

Like many cathedrals, St Giles had many alterations and additions to the fabric of the building.

You can find out more about the archaeology and architecture of St Giles by clicking on this link: Canmore , St Giles Cathedral

Recent work by the South East Scotland Oak Dendrochronology project (SESOD) with funding from Historic Environment Scotland, has been investigating the five-storey timber frame within the bell tower of St Giles’ High Kirk.

Tests conducted were able to establish two felling dates for timber in the frame – in the winters of 1453/54 and 1459/60.

The research also revealed that the timber was sourced from one of the last remaining reserves of old growth oak timber in Scotland, the Royal Forest of Darnaway, in Morayshire, and that many of these trees would have been over 300 years old when felled.

Dr Coralie Mills, the dendrochronologist who carried out the work, said:

“Discovering the date and provenance of the timbers in the tower at St Giles’, and allowing a new insight into the medieval history of our native woods, has been a highlight of my career as a dendrochronologist in Scotland.

“The mid-15th century was a pivotal time when Scotland turned to Scandinavia for most of its timber supply, but this research shows that Darnaway still had reserves of old growth oak, by then a very scarce and valuable resource in Scotland.

“Furthermore, the St Giles’ timbers match closely with other material from reused timber in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle, which is also thought to have come from Darnaway.

“These results enhance our understanding of St Giles’ construction history and provide valuable insights into the medieval timber supply in Scotland.”

St Giles Bell Tower HES

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