Friday, October 15, 2010

Yew Tree

There are many good yew trees in Devon and most of the oldest are found in the churchyards. This tree, though not particularly ancient, is a lovely example and is in Sidmouth to the northwest of the church, hiding in plain sight right by the footpath that runs past the splendid bowling green. These photos are all of this one tree but there are other interesting yews around here, so I will put up some pictures of those in a few days time.

For some reason I don't find a lot of yew trees in my travels and explorations of the woods around here. Some smaller yews can always be found but the large ancient yews do not seem to be in the woods here anymore, or if they are I haven't found them yet. They usually grow as solitary trees but groves of them do still exist, the nearest one that I know of is in Wiltshire and is on a private estate. The yew offers very good shelter and protection from the rain and other elements, making it a useful friend to be around. At the moment the yews are dropping their berries, as can be observed in the photos. Despite what most people think, the flesh of the berries is actually edible and it is rather the seed contained within them that is extremely poisonous. This place is covered with squirrels and their caperings do lighten the sombre mood of the place somewhat.

Here is a short extract from The Sacred Yew by Anand Chetan and Diana Brueton.

Perhaps the most famous yew grove in Britain is Druid's Grove in Surrey. It consists of what appears to be the remains of an ancient avenue of yews, plus many scattered ones, growing in a dense, mixed woodland containing many box trees. The oldest here have long been considered ancient. The novelist George Meredith lived nearby from 1867, and he encouraged his visitors to visit the trees, telling them that 'anyone walking under them should remember that they were saplings when Jesus Christ came to earth'.

Allen Meredith first visited the site in 1981 and has returned several times since to document the trees. He writes:

We came across twisted, shattered fragments, the skeleton remains of ancient yews. In the main avenue we saw enormous yews, some upwards of 24 feet in girth. I found a particularly ancient yew, much of it a mere shell, with rotten decayed wood inside, but as so often with aged yews fresh growth has occurred over many centuries. This relic is still a large tree, over 20 feet in girth. Of the most significant trees, five are over 22 feet in girth and four are over 20 feet. For the trees to have reached this kind of size in such a crowded area must have taken many years. This is one of the few remaining ancient woodlands which has trees that would date back to Roman times.

There is no known historic evidence to tell us how Druid's Grove got its name. Allen believes that some of the trees are over 2,000 years old and the name is no coincidence. The trees seem to form an avenue, which suggests purposeful planting rather than natural distribution. The intended use of the grove is much more open to speculation. Many people have commented on the unusual atmosphere of the place. Some strange things have happened there which, although not dramatic in their own right, when added together suggest that this is a special place. Allen has twice found that he has 'stepped out of time' while in Druid's Grove - that when he has left the grove his watch has shown the same time as when he entered it, despite the watch apparently working perfectly. This also happened to him when he visited Knowlton. On another visit to the grove he came across just one other person, whose name was also Allen Meredith.

The wonder of the world
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, lights and shades,
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts


nobody said...

Thanks John, that was fascinating. You know, I don't think I've ever seen one before. In case you were curious here's the antipodean equivalent. Their lifespan is not dissimilar to that of yews. And like yews they have a very desirable timber - not strong and thus strategically important like the yew was but for cabinet-making it glows like back-lit honey. You can see some examples in the first photo link there. They continued to be logged until the seventies. Happily we stopped before they became as rare as yews.

john said...

Wow nobody! The Huon Pine in Tasmania is just great and yes they look very old some of those Huons and the colour of the wood does look lovely. I've carved yew, it's supposed to be a bit poisonous but it does carve really nicely and has a complex dark red colour.

It's very good that they stopped logging them though. We still have yews around naturally just not really old ones that I've ever seen. I find it interesting that some of these trees are turning out to be much older than used to be thought.

I have to go away until about Friday but will be back with more photos soon. Cheers for now.

reem said...

Hi ,john , it is strange and strong tree that i have ever seen , it seems so old .
every time ,i get a new informations about your green country , thank for that .

I also , had alook on the HOUN PINE trees , it has nice shapes .

squirrels are lovely ,fast ,animals , we do not find them much here in syria ,

thanks for these photos . have good time .

the Silverfish said...

Nice again John, sorry I haven't been around but I've been busy as hell helping to rebuild the neighbors barn after a rather nasty fire. Be back soon, at least I hope so before the snow starts to fly.

su said...

my favourite spot to hang out are cemeteries.
this particular one appeals enormously - truly beautiful.

here the cemetery has not one tree, just baked earth. harsh, no moisture -
how blessed you are to live amongst such beings.

john said...

Cheers Evat, you are very welcome. There are a good few trees around here, some very old indeed and plenty that have much individual character.

I like the squirrels as they are a lot of fun and always seem to be leaping around. At the moment they're jumping around in the piles of fallen leaves a lot. I have a few photos of the squirrels which I will put up soon as I have a few more trees from this place to get through. Cheers for now and thanks.

john said...

Cheers Silverfish. It seems to be a busy time, I too have been helping folk fix a few things up here.

We've had snow up north already which is early this year, it looks as if we'll be in for another long cold one again. The woodstove is back on again in the evenings now as it is cooling off and darkening again. Take it steady and thanks Silverfish.

john said...

Cheers su. Well we usually get a bit of peace and quiet in the graveyard. I pop in to say hello to the trees and give them a pat and a sniff, the yew trees have a good smell all the year round.

This tree is a nice example of the yew but they are all quite different, this one is of the organ pipe variety as I tend to think of them. Good trees to climb, not this type but some of them, not that I have for a while though. Cheers for now and thanks su.