How can a tree be 1600 years old?

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.

Ancient Yew

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.

Ancient Yew

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.

Ancient Yew

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!

Christmas Sunset


13 thoughts on “How can a tree be 1600 years old?

  1. Thats a wonderful tree Jane!
    I’m lucky enough to have an Uncle who lives in Fortingall, and I’ve visited the “oldest tree in Europe” (allegedly) on a number of occasions, the famous Fortingall Yew – reputably between 3000 and 5000 years old, and visited by Pontius Pilate!
    Its nowhere near as impressive as the byoody you’ve photographed here though!

  2. Yes, I couldn’t believe it when I saw it – and I didn’t even know it was there! What worries me more is that it wasn’t even on the Ancient Tree Hunt database… (it now is!). We don’t seem to have an awful lot of respect for our trees – some of them should be classed as ancient monuments in my opinion! The only way a tree gets to 1600, 3000 or 5000 years old is because it has been protected and revered. We should be doing the same with our younger trees so that they are still around for generations to come.

  3. Hello Jane,
    I’ve been stopping by for a little while now and wanted to wish you & yours a Happy New Year. I have enjoyed reading your posts cataloging the Village. When I think of how much history that Yew tree has witnessed I am amazed. Thank you.

  4. Hi Polar. Thank you so much for reading my online nature diary. I think it’s the history attached to old trees that really draws me to them. This one was very special, as you say, I wonder what it has seen…

  5. Pingback: 1600 year old Yew - Wildlife and Environment Forums

  6. Thanks for visiting Dragonstar. Yes, it is incredible (especially when you are standing right under it, looking up!). I will have a look at the Bleeding Yew… haven’t heard of that.

    The skys at the moment all seem to be good, morning and night… I guess it must be something to do with the weather.

  7. Wow! That is a great tree. I would love to be able to touch it. We have several virgin baldcypress trees that are estimated to be over a thousand years old. Each year we paddle through the swamp to touch the biggest one. It is still vigorous and healthy. Amazing.

  8. Very cool. Maybe that tree has convinced a dryad to come live with him, ’cause I see her shape in the first photo quite clearly… But then I’m an artist, so strange things tend to jump out at me whether I want them to or not.

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