Niel Gow’s Oak, by Dunkeld – Inktense/Ink on a Watercolour Moleskine

Niel Gow (1727-1807) is famous for his fiddle music both as a composer and a player. It is said that he played and came up with new tunes while sitting under this oak tree. It is well known that, following the defeat of the Jacobites, in 1746, the wearing of tartan garments was banned by the government. What is less known is the playing of bagpipes was also banned. The reason was the pipes were used to lead soldiers into battle – they still are and if you ever hear a massed pipe band marching towards you you might understand this use. Scotland, however, has two other “National” musical instruments. These are the Clarsach- a small Celtic Harp and the Fiddle. It was during the eighteenth century, when the pipes were sidelined, that many of our most famous fiddle tunes were composed and the Scottish nobility “kept” or “sponsored” the best local players meaning that, for a regular salary, they had access to instant music for weddings, funerals etc. Scottish fiddle music varies in style, around the country, but is far different to the rest of the UK, especially that in England where the trait was to follow the “classical” mode. Niel Gow’s patron was the Duke of Atholl who, it is said, used to listen to the music being played across the stream from this tree. Arguably Niel Gow’s most famous composition is his lament after the death of his second wife. This link should give some idea of the melody as well as some other, well knows airs.

The tradition of fiddle playing continued in this family with one of his sons and a grandson becoming just as famous.
The tree seems to have seen better days as parts are crumbling away but it is a few centuries old. The strange, serpentine structure, under it, is a seat said to resemble the flowing tones of Gow’s music.

Incidentally, please don’t assume all folk in Scotland are wild about the pipes. It is often quoted that the definition of a Scottish Gentleman is a person who knows how to play the pipes – but doesn’t!