Among the Ancient Yews of Borrowdale

Earlier this month I made a pilgrimage to Borrowdale in the Lake District, a beautiful area and home to some of the most amazing trees in the UK. I went in search of some amazing ancient Yew trees, described by the Poet Wordsworth as ‘the Fraternal Four’ – though there are now only three.

Tony with the oldest of the Yews

“But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! -and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved, –
Nor uninformed with Fantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane;”

It is hard to believe that these three trees are not signposted, despite one of the trees being named by the Tree Council and selected as one of the 50 Great British Trees recognised to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. Difficult to find the only ‘threat’ to these trees being the 140 inches of rainfall and the harsh growing conditions. I took with me a superb account from Toby Hindson (you can download it here) who in 2012 recorded in detail the condition of the remaining trees.

dry River bed walk inWe arrived in the Borrowdale valley armed with our directions yet still found them difficult to locate, I called to a group of walkers across a field of grazing sheep “are you searching for the Yews?” not realising that they probably thought “Ewes”… Carolyn was in hysterics.

After consulting the OS map we identified the location and set off alongside a dry river bed, the hillside was deep with ferns and dry as tinder. The route up the Trees is over granite Talus and they are growing on and between the large stones, the largest tree growing over a large rounded boulder.

Inside a hollow with new growth in the canopyThe three trees grow close to each other and create a strange mystical atmosphere under the canopy. I had an amazing feeling of euphoria during the whole time I was among the ancients, my friends simply could not believe that they were stood in visible history, they too were entranced.  In 2005 the crown of the oldest tree literally ‘snapped’ off. It lies alongside the bulk of the tree as a white skeleton. The deadwood on the main tree is something to behold, bleached white by the sun it’s a great model for bonsai. All the trees are hollow the oldest is so large that 6 persons can easily stand inside, the other two trees display copious deadwood that is not bleached white but rotting brown. All have low hanging branches that are regenerating.

In the book “The Sacred Yew” Alan Meredith considered these trees to be Neolithic, the National Trust approximately 2500 I am with Meredith, these trees are ancient. From my own experience and visits to many old and ancient Yews in the UK including the Fortigall Yew at Glen Lyon, these trees may well be over 5000 years old.

Next time you venture into the Lake District take the time to visit The ancients, you will not be disappointed.

4 comments on “Among the Ancient Yews of Borrowdale

  1. do you think anyone will notice all the airlayer bags ?? 😉

    great trees and really interesting to see – next time your heading this way visit Wistmans wood – creepy moss covered twisted oaks.


  2. Truly inspirational Tony. One of my dreams is to spend a month in the UK traveling from ancient Yew to ancient Yew by scooter. The photos are awe-inspiring indeed. Are you familiar with The Eternal Yew by Trevor Baxter? Well worth a read! Best, Ken


    • Hi Ken, I have ‘The Eternal Yew’ its a great publication. If you make it over the pond I will be your guide… not so sure about the Scooter though… have you seen our roads!


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