• A white mantle on Black Hill

    We had a very thin dusting of snow here a couple of days back & on past experience of the last three years that might be all we can truly call winter. Looking west to the Black Mountains yesterday morning I could see the ridge with its distinctive step of Hay Bluff at the northern end sparkling bright white in the morning sun. With the promise of a week or two of grey, gloom and rain to come I was easily tempted & by 10 I was gingerly weaving down the icy narrow lanes above Craswall looking for that classic view of Cat's Back Ridge and Black Hill. Of course Black Hill will be forever remembered from that remarkable book by Bruce Chatwin. And, if you've ever read the book, this will be a familiar landscape, little altered over the last couple of hundred years.

    I could see that grim weather was rumbling in so was grateful to get the sunlight I craved. The bitter wind whipped the leading edge of the storm over the nose of Black Hill with puddles of sunlight scudding down the flanks of the hill, picking out every little contour. Hard to drag myself away, but I had a tree to check out before the light went.

    Some twenty years ago I photographed a characterful old ash pollard on a track below Cat's Back Ridge and I was keen to see how it had fared over that time. As you can see it's still in fine fettle. Nobody has cut it back since I first found it, so it makes me wonder what the future holds for this fine old tree. It is certainly very exposed up here on the hills so I hope it doesn't get wrenched apart. Moreover, let's hope ash dieback doesn't find it.

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  • A fabulous ash pollard

    For those regular visitors - apologies for a month's absence - a combination of work and latterly two weeks of an absolutely horrendous cold (even took to my bed for a day - unheard of!).

    Today dawned misty and extremely frosty - about -5C first thing, but grabbed some warm outdoor clobber and set off for one of my favourite walks around the perimeter of Bringsty Common. Can't count how many times I must have done this walk over twenty five years, so something of a surprise to discover a huge old ash pollard I've never clocked before. Admittedly it was a little way off the footpath and quite possibly hidden by undergrowth and intervening foliage at any other time than winter, but what a fabulous old tree it is. Certainly a veteran & might even be classed as ancient - who can say? Okay, its girth at the narrowest point may not be massive, but the extent and character of all the burring certainly makes it look extremely old. It hasn't been pollarded for a many a year which gives some concern as to its immedaite future - hopefully it won't split itself apart. No idea who owns it, but it certainly looks like a candidate for at least a crown reduction as it would be very sad to lose it.

    Big year coming up for me with a mega-important tree book project in hand. Exciting times - more later.

    Happy New Year to all.

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  • The Capon Tree - latest archive acquisition

    Just arrived in the archive - this wonderful 1890s lantern slide of The Capon Tree - a celebrated ancient oak near the town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders. Taken by the Aberdeen photography company set up by George Washington Wilson, it's a beautifully detailed image of this great old tree & I love the human element to give it scale. Look closely and you can see it must have been quite a long exposure as the man has clearly moved his head. The tree is still in pretty good shape today, although partially collapsed and propped and still one of the main focal points for the annual Jethart Callant's Festival in July. To find out more have a look in my book "The British Oak".

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  • Saltram's special sycamore

    Back on the 5th of the month I was down at Saltram House near Plymouth to give a talk at the SW Tree Wardens Forum and, arriving early, took the opportunity to check out some of the trees in the surrounding parkland. The last time I was at Saltram was about 12 years ago & I remember being astounded by this truly remarkable sycamore then. Happily it's still in pretty good shape, although it appears to have lost one trunk since I was last there. Sitting, as it does, in the middle of the park I wondered how it has taken on this form. Most obviously one would have expected it to have been laid into part of a long disappeared hedgerow, or perhaps one bough may have fallen when it was a relatively young tree, taken root, and simply thrown up a new row of trunks. Then I began to remember some of the big old western red cedars that I've seen in several old parks up & down the land. In Victorian times, when these were planted, a popular park or garden feature was created by pegging down some of the lower boughs, thus creating rather convenient arboreal seating for those perambulating through the park. Could this sycamore be such a feature? I guess we'll never know, but it takes nothing away from what has become quite a remarkable tree.

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  • The apple harvest in full swing

    It's that time of year again & the apple harvest is in full swing. Some trees are laden while others a bit thin, but still reckon we should have about 4 tons of cider apples to bag and deliver. Thankfully the weather has been kind to us lately & it's been really very pleasant to be in the orchard. We've been doing some pruning along the way, getting rid of mistletoe and cutting back quite hard on some of the long straggling growth.

    Many thanks to daughter Ro and her boyfriend John who came up last week and helped shake, gather & bag. I reckon we've already got about 1.5 tons into the cider works.

    Loved the islands and atolls of the cider apples randomly fallen on to the blue tarpaulin ocean - and then there was exhausted Jan & daft Flossie standing on top of her.

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Archie Miles photography

Archie's Blog

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