It is often thought that clansmen were recognised by their tartan. Not so. Tartans reflected regional preferences and the local availability of dyes. But all clansmen wore a plant badge: the MacDonalds heather, the Robertsons bracken, the Campbells bog myrtle and the Frasers wore yew. The significance of the Frasers' choice was lost on me until this last weekend when I walked out with some fellow guides to the Great Fraser Yew on the south side of Loch Ness. The Frasers arrived in the Highlands in the fourteenth century and the yew had already been there for about one thousand years by then. Young yew trees grow up around their dying parents and so, if left undisturbed, each tree will steadily expand. The Great Fraser Yew is now more than thirty yards in diameter.
The old trunk is hollow, moss covered, crumbling away. But its offspring form a cathedral around it. A hundred clansmen could gather here unseen. And this was indeed the principal gathering place for the Frasers of Stratherrick. How natural that, before a battle, they should put a sprig of yew in their bonnets as a symbol of fraternity; an impromptu idea perhaps, now enshrined in clan lore.
The walk in takes an hour or so over some fairly rough country. But there are rewards there, especially for Frasers; rewards that go beyond the lovely views of Loch Ness, the eerie uniqueness of the ancient tree, and the distant sound of men responding to a call to arms. To know more you need to go.