I received a book for Christmas called “My Patch – Badgers of a Dorset Village” by a bloke called Geoff Marsh. It’s about badger watching (surprise, surprise!) in a village just two miles from where I live. However, on page 47 he happens to mention an ancient Yew tree in the churchyard. I’m a bit of a sucker for old trees, so today I loaded up the car with camera, measuring tape, wellies and map and headed off to hug, what turned out to be, a VERY OLD tree.
When I arrived in the church car park at Lytchett Matravers I just sat and stared for a whole ten minutes. To say this tree is big is a bit of an understatement….. it is HUGE! The girth is 7.3 metres at 1 metre from the ground (that’s nearly 24 feet or 5 hugs!). It’s sort of hollow. Well actually it has six separate stems which merge at about twenty feet up and continue to grow up and up and up. It towers over the little village church like a protective umbrella.
One of the things that struck me most about this tree was it’s feel. It’s bark was more like stone than wood, and it had a tactile cool gentle smoothness. I think I got a bit carried away with the tree hugging! The other thing that surprised me was how healthy it was.
When I got home I looked to see if there were any references to it on the internet. To my surprise I found one estimating it’s age to be 1600 years. Now I don’t know about you, but I have trouble getting my head around figures like that. Especially when you are talking about a living thing. Especially a living thing that is so dammed healthy! I sometimes kill plants in my garden in a couple of weeks and this tree had lasted 1600 years.
That means he (it is a male tree, I checked!) was probably growing in the 4th Century! 600 years before the actual church was built. This was the age of Anglo-Saxons, Viking raids and Æthelberht, the first English Christian King. So was this tree an important “pagan” meeting place? Was it planted on purpose? Did they build the church here because of the tree? and how the hell had it lasted so long? What ever the truth is, this is a very special tree, in a wonderfully tranquil, peaceful place, and I will certainly be visiting him again.
To finish I’d like to show you a great photograph emailed to me by my friend Sarah. It’s a Christmas sunset taken from her garden at Winterborne Kingston. Thanks Sarah! Good thing there wasn’t any washing on the line!