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Erskine Parish I

Image top: Path through the vestiges of Erskine House estate. See map under.

On three occasions excursions have been made to localities in this parish. Langbank was visited on a beautiful autumn afternoon in 1886 by a small party, who had the advantage of being conducted by Mr. John Renfrew, an ardent young local entomologist, who also showed those present his extensive collection of Lepidoptera made in the district. The shepherd’s needle or Venus’s comb (Scandix Pecten-Veneris), an umbellifer, rare hereabouts, was gathered not far from the station, and the common flax (Linum usitatissimum) occurred in the same vicinity.

In the spring of 1889 the district round Bishopton was visited, the estate of Dargavel being the first point of interest. This estate became in the beginning of the sixteenth century the patrimony of a branch of the Maxwells of Newark, and remains in the possession of that family still. There is near the house a widely-spreading yew tree of considerable age, which is still vigorous, although much broken away on one side. Ramsay claimed for it that it excelled ‘in size and beauty any other tree of the same kind in this quarter of the country’, an opinion which we cannot from our knowledge of the yew trees of the county endorse. The spread of the Dargavel tree south-south-east to north-north-west is 60 feet 9 inches, and the trunk measures at the narrowest part 8 feet 7½ 1 inches. In a letter from the late Mr. J. M. M‘Phedran, of Craigbet, to the writer, dated 29th March, 1890, that gentleman states that Bailie Caldwell, of Paisley, had informed him quite recently that he remembered first seeing the Dargavel Yew in 1828, and at that time the public road passed between the tree and the mansion. There is a very fine yew-hedge in the gardens at Dargavel. In a paper in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society’, Vol. XII., 1890, this hedge is described as being ‘37 years old, 10 feet high, 3 feet broad at base, and 1 foot broad at top’. An elegant hornbeam on the lawn and a beech of great size outside south-west corner of garden (girth of trunk, 10 feet 9 inches) were much admired.

Bishopton House, which has passed through several hands in the past two centuries and is now the property of Lord Blantyre, was next visited. This old mansion house, which is beautifully situated on rising ground overlooking the Clyde, is approached by a long broad avenue of limes. The house has fallen on decadent days, and is now chiefly attractive from having near it on its western side, on a sloping bank, a remarkably fine example of the great maple, of which there is a beautiful figure in the Scotch section of Strutt’s Sylva Britannica (folio edition). This tree is probably the best-known large tree of this species in the West of Scotland, but it is neither the largest nor most symmetrical. It is remarkable for its great top and the size and number of its branches. At present it seems in vigorous health. The measurement of the trunk, taken at the time of our visit, was 15 feet 5 and five-eighths inches, and it shows little variation in size from the ground to the first great branch. This tree is frequently referred to in English publications, apparently following Strutt, but his measurement of over 20 feet is incomprehensible.

Image under: Detail of John Ainslie’s Map of the County of Renfrew [surveyed, 1796, published, 1800] showing the policies of Erskine House. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.