The Fortingall Yew, a heritage tree of international importance situated in the Highland Perthshire village of Fortingall, eight miles west of Aberfeldy in Scotland.
On a VERY windy day in October, I visited TheFortingall Yew in Glen Lyon the tree is at the geographical heart of Scotland and stands within Fortingall churchyard. It is thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old and has connections to early Christianity in Scotland. It is also believed to be one of the oldest living things in Europe. In 1769 the circumference of the yew’s multiple trunks was measured at 52 ft, but this has vastly reduced over time and what remains are the relics and offshoots of the original tree.
The tree is supposedly Pontius Pilate’s Birthplace, this from an early publication (Lloyd’sWeekly Newspaper)
“One of the strongest links with the past which can be found in this country is supplied by the obscure village of Fortingall, in Perthshire, which tradition points out as the birthplace of Pontious Pilate. Fortingall lies in a beautiful and sequestered mountain vale some ten miles west of Aberfeldy, in a district rich in memories of Finga), Wallace and Bruce. Near the village are the remains of a Roman camp, where, at the beginning of the Christian era, the soldiers of the Empire were posted to guard the passage from the Highlands through Glen Lyon. This encampment is probably not earlier than the time of Agricola, and before it was made the Scottish king Metellanus held his court at Fortingall, and received an embassy from Augustas. One of the ambassadors, we are told, was the father of Pontius Pilate, and here the future Governor of Judea is said to have been born shortly before the Nativity if our Saviour. The embassy* to Metellanus is sufficiently well authenticated in the following passage from Hollioshed.”
Today Carolyn and I visited an ancient Yew in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Church, Chipping in The County Palatine Of Lancaster. The church was established at some time before 1230 and rebuilt in 1506. As well as the fine specimen which grows at the SE corner of the church, there are a further 6 yews in the churchyard. The largest of these girths 2m 30cm at 20cm. This amazing tree has had a major branch supported for hundreds of years by two iron struts. The tree is in remarkable condition and commands an impressive location in the centre of the village.
Across the road from the church is The Sun Inn, a 17th Century local’s pub steeped in history and haunted by the ghost of Lizzie Dean.
Lizzie was a scullery maid who liked to dress in colourful clothing. In 1835 the poor girl had the misfortune of meeting a local lad who told her he loved her deeply. He played a cruel trick by proposing to her, in the hope that he could have his wicked way.
After he had conducted his plan successfully, he informed poor Lizzie that he no longer wished to marry her. Lizzie’s heart was broken in two, and to add to her heartache her ex-lover proposed to her best friend, and she, against Lizzie’s wishes, agreed to marry him.
On the day of the wedding at St Bartholomew’s Church, Lizzie made her way up to the pub attic that overlooked the church yard. She wrote a suicide note, placed a rope around her neck, and hanged herself in the Sun Inn’s attic.
In her suicide note she wrote “I want to be buried at the entrance to the church so my lover and my best friend will always have to walk past my grave every time they go to church.”
Her grave is under the huge Yew tree in the graveyard of St Bartholomew’s Church, and she is said to walk in and through the ancient yew on the way to her resting place.
This Yew tree lives in the churchyard of St. Dygain’s Church in Llangernyw village. We all know that is very hard to determine the age of yew trees, the churchyard gate holds a certificate from the Yew Tree Campaign in 2002, which states that “according to all the data we have to hand” the tree is dated to between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. There is an alternative theory that presumes the tree is only as old as the adjacent saint site which would make it around 1,500 years old.
I visited the tree earlier this year with Mikey and my dear old friend Martin, and believe it’s important that we recognize the importance of these ancients… both for generations to come and for inspiration. We finished the visit to the excellent ‘The Old Stag’ for beers and a spot of Lunch…excellent
In the early years of the wonderful Yew tree, 1999 to be exact! Yamadori rarely comes with a good root base and this tree was no exception. Imagine a catapult upside down; the roots went in two directions with a large gap between, I needed to lower the tree in the pot; this was not possible without radical work.
I was moving the tree to a beautiful Gordon Duffet pot, perfect in every way for this bonsai.
Using a Matika I carved out the bulk of the deadwood at the base of the tree, this enabled me to lower the tree however the live vein still protruded, I needed split the live away from the deadwood. I did this using a large branch splitter and inserting a stone to keep the vein in place. A wire was secured to stop the vein from further splitting and possible folding and snapping off. I remember some of my fellow artists thought I was crazy doing this radical work on such an amazing tree… its common work now… back then in then UK NOT common at all. To get the very best out of your material you must be prepared to do this.
If you look closely at the base of the tree you will see a small stone that I found to mimic a root, the stone has a ‘red’ part that appears to be a root!
The tree stayed with me for a few years and then I passed on the tree to Dan Barton as it was his favourite, using a graphic of the tree as his ‘Logo’. The tree remained mine but was in his custody. This tree is to be auctioned for Cancer Research next year, so now is your chance to own a piece of my and Dan’s bonsai history!