• Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a sycamore!

    Wonderful new addition to the historical archive today. It may be entitled The Plane Tree, but this is Scotland, so of course it's a sycamore. A splendid etching by James Fittler A.R.A. from a drawing by John Claude Nattes, published in "Scotia Depicta" in 1804.

    'Many parts of Scotland completely refute the splenetic remark of a late eminent writer, who asserted, that North Britain did not produce a tree: and this plate is an evident proof of that fallacy. This beautiful Plane Tree is growing on the estate of John Sterling, Esq. of Kippenross, in the county of Perth, about a mile from Dumblane. The circumference at its base is tenty-eight feet nine inches, and it begins to branch at the height of thirty feet.'

    Sadly, the tree is long gone, but what a monster it must have been. More than that, could this be one of the earliest depictions of tree-huggers?

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  • A welcome burst of colour

    Spotted this little tree on my travels yesterday - Silver Wattle or Mimosa tree is one of the Acacias and an import from Australia. The tree has become naturalised in many parts of the world, and I remember seeing it in the Med. Although it may reach 30 metres in height in its native range it seldom grows very large in this country, and may be susceptible to harsh frosts, but to see its startling yellow flowers on a chilly March day certainly lifts the spirits.

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  • Veteran ash pollards

    Like many photographers and artists I have a long list of 'to-dos' for next time I'm in the vicinity of something - trees that really merit a visit, but for which I might not have an immediate purpose. One location that has been sitting in the files for a couple of years lies on the slopes of Bredon Hill in Worcestershire. First logged by some of the Worcestershire tree enthusiasts several years back are three splendid old ash pollards on the western edge of Ashton Wood. With some good strong, but slightly diffused early spring sunlight I thought a breeze up the hill from Elmley Castle with the pups could be worth the effort, and so it proved to be.

    They look like fairly low cut pollards, or are they high cut coppice stools? Hard to say, but I'll plump for pollards, for if sheep were the most likely marauders (almost certain up here on the hill) then they couldn't have reached the new growth. That said, there would undoubtedly have been deer here too...and probably still are. The trees are big and hollow, so difficult to age, and because of their upland location they may have grown relatively slowly here. They would appear to mark the boundary of the wood, although only old maps would confirm whether or not Ashton Wood always extended this far north, as most of this section appears to be continuous cover conifers. Undoubtedly these ashes have a story to tell in the local history of land management and ownership.

    The biggest of the three trees is (or was) an exceptional tree in its prime, although it would appear that what survives today is merely the front half of the bole. The original full girth must have been well over 20 feet around, so we're probably looking at a tree in excess of 200 years old. This was one of those days where I got home, had a closer look at the pictures, and started to see things going on that I had simply not noticed while I took the pictures. Yes, I know (Jan looking over my shoulder) it could all be wishful thinking, but take a very close look at the last close-up. I see a mother figure with her arms around her child. What do you think?

    Just as a postscript - some of you might be interested to know that I am currently working on a new tree book that will be published in time for Christmas. Have to keep details a little dark at present, but more news nearer the publication date.

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  • Caeryder Oak Connections

    In my 2012 book "Heritage Trees Wales" I featured the famous Caeryder Oak, above the Usk Valley, near Llanhennock. Once a celebrated tree and recognised as one of the largest oaks growing in Wales, it is now merely a bleached skeletal hulk hanging on in a field near Pencraig Farm.

    In the 1830s two beautiful renditions of the tree were printed. In order to show the whole crown I've included the Leyson image below, which was published complete with detailed dimensions of the tree - 38.5 feet in girth at 1 foot above ground, 70 feet high and a canopy spread of 126 feet. This great portrait of the tree was reproduced in my book courtesy The National Library of Wales.

    The acquisition of what I will now call the William Henry Thomas Album has turned up a great many fascinating threads and, since I now know that WHT was brought up in Caerleon, the picture below, which shows two huntsmen galloping down a lane, caused me to speculate as to whether the mighty oak tree in the distance might be the Caeryder Oak, it being only a couple of miles from Caerleon. For a while I couldn't be sure. Early photographs of the tree seem to be few & far between. Then, looking for something else in a copy of "Welsh Timber Trees" by H.A. Hyde (1935) I found an image of the tree that I had completely forgotten about. A quick flip of the image I had from the album immediately confirmed that it was indeed one & the same tree - c1910 still with all its main boughs intact.

    All in all it's not exactly an earth-shattering discovery, but just another satisfying interlocking of another piece of two different puzzles.

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  • Winter light reveals new details

    Out in the woods over the last few days & although there is, as yet, very little bright colour to draw the eye there's time to home in on some of those winter details that perhaps go unnoticed during the rest of the year.

    I was also fascinated to see how one plant, probably a handful of discarded bulbs from a nearby garden, begins to colonise the wood. How long, I wonder, has this taken?

    And, if there is a flash of colour to be found, then what could be more arresting than these tiny scarlet elf caps on a rotting branch, nestled among the leaf litter.

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Archie Miles photography

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