Inchlonaig is the northernmost of the large islands on Loch Lomond and lies west of the village of Luss. It has an ancient connection with people as traces of human habitation date back to 5000 BC. Inchlonaig is said to mean ‘isle of the yew trees’ in almost all sources. However, in the 1930’s when noted by travel writer H V Morton he referred to it as the ‘isle of the marsh’ – although also commenting it was covered with yew trees said to have been planted by Robert the Bruce.
Prior to the battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce harvested yews from various locations to provide longbows for his forces e.g. from Ardchattan priory as well as Inchlonaig. Although not used to the extent found in English armies, archers were significant in Scottish military tactics at the time and played a decisive part in the battle – as did the yew trees which provided the longbows. Some accounts state that the king planted yews on Inchlonaig some years before Bannockburn and it was these yews which were harvested, but a yew a decade or so old could not yield any wood suitable for a military quality longbow. What is the case is that old and probably ancient yews were harvested and then replaced and it is these yews we see today.
It is estimated Inchlonaig possesses over 800 yew trees growing all over the isle from the loch side to the middle of the wetland interior. But not all are as old as the early 14th century. Yew planting also occurred in the 17th century when Inchlonaig was a deer park. Many of these yews were damaged by goats which had been introduced to the island, but later removed due to the decimation of the trees. Protective metal fences can still be seen around some of these yews.
Apart from being a unique yew habitat, Inchlonaig also demonstrates the variations in form yews can achieve in around 700 years of growth. Some yews have completely hollowed while others have solid fluted trunks and the largest girths recorded exceed 500 cm. Such girths would roughly suggest the yews were around or just over 600 years old but given the exposed and damp conditions here – because the isle is very marshy in places with deep growths of sphagnum and other wetland loving mosses – it shows that these ancient yews are likely to have a slow growth habit. Many have trunks entirely enveloped in moss and lichen. They have also survived periods of intense climate change during their lives as they endured the so called Little Ice Ages which periodically lasted from the 14th to the 19th centuries. As a yew location, Inchlonaig is unique in the UK and Europe, and also enjoys a special place in the history and culture of Scotland, contributing as it did to such a momentous event as the Battle of Bannockburn.