Shakespeare's Macbeth: locations in Scotland

It is thought that Macbeth was written between 1604 and 1606, at the time England came under the rule of a new monarch, King James I. The new king, fascinated by themes of the supernatural and prophesy, would have been highly interested in such a play and it was purposefully finished just in time for a special royal performance at Hampton Court Palace in 1606.

Always with his audience in mind, Shakespeare switched from plays flattering the Tudor dynasty during Elizabeth I's reign to the tragedies like Macbeth, with all its Scottish history, for King James who had already been king of Scotland since 1567. Shakespeare drew on family connections and used a combination of fact and fiction to make the story, characters and locations familiar yet engaging for the king.

Image:  © Copyright Russel Wills and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0. Via Geograph.

The two main locations from the witches' pivotal prophesy (“Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until/ Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him.”) can both be found close to Witch's Pool in Perthshire.

Those who know the play will remember branches from Birnam Wood were used as a disguise by the army marching on Macbeth at Dunsinane. Today, all that is left of the great Birnam Wood are two trees; the Birnam Oak and the Birnam Sycamore. The Birnam Oak is thought to be one of the oldest trees in the area, at least 600 years old, and once part of the woodland that inspired Shakespeare during a visit to the area he is thought to have made in 1589. Now the lowest branches of this poor old tree are supported by wooden crutches and the bottom of the trunk is hollow.

Image: © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0. Via Geograph.

Close to the oak is the slightly younger Birnam Sycamore which is around 300 years old and looking a little bit gnarly. Both trees are part of the Forestry Commission's list of Heritage Trees and there are signs indicating which tree is which. The Birnam Oak is located in a little strip of woodland on the south bank of the River Tay, though the impressive woodland that Shakespeare describes would have occupied both river banks and the land beyond. You can discover the trees for yourself on a walk of the area. From the centre of Birnam follow signs to 'Oak Road' and you'll find yourself on a path that runs parallel to the river. The walk is a pleasant one and there are a number of large, established trees along the route.

In the famous play Dunsinane Hill was the location Macbeth finally met his end. The remains of two hill forts can still be seen atop the hill today and there is a footpath that will lead you to its summit. The best way to access Dunsinane Hill is from the small, nearby village of Collace. You will be approaching the hill from its Northern side and there is a small car park between the village and the quarry that you can walk from. At the top you'll have good views of the surrounding countryside.

Image: © Copyright Lis Burke and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0. Via Geograph.


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