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Marker and Shelter Yews

Introduction The Yew Grove The Great Yew
The Yew Wood Yews at Sites of Antiquity Marker and Shelter Yews

Marker and Shelter Yews

I have previously written an article about the old and ancient yews of this region that have been found on or close to boundaries and by footpaths.  Seeking refuge from heavy rain under a big lone yew tree, I was pleased by the amount of shelter its closed canopy provided. On a cold January day in 2007 when the wind blew icy cold over the hills above Cranborne, I came across a weather beaten yew with a girth of 21½ feet. Many of the yew’s branches had fallen and those on the tree’s western side were dead. Peering through a closely pressed elder tree, I could see that the trunk had several large cavities and internal growth. In spite of the damage, this yew had not fallen and must have endured at least a thousand years of often extreme weather on this open hillside site, producing another very slow growing tree. The yew grows near the Cranborne parish boundary and it is a short distance from Castle Hill, where a court of the hundred met. Castle Hill takes its name from an early motte and bailey stronghold built here by the Normans. One perfect summer’s evening when the sun was low in the west, just as we arrived at the yew, the silent ghostly shape of a barn owl flew out of the tree just above our heads.

The storm beaten ancient yew above Cranborne
The storm beaten ancient yew above Cranborne

One notable ancient yew stands in Yew Tree field on the county and Damerham/Cranborne parish boundary. There is a reference to this Yew Tree Field in English Field Names (1972) written by the aptly named John Field. This may be the only Yew Tree Field in Britain to retain its ancient tree and therefore it is a boundary yew of great significance. The trunk of the yew shows considerable age and has a girth of l8ft 6in. Not far away two other ancient yews, one with a similar girth, the other with part of its trunk missing, grow by a footpath, close to the same boundary. In my earlier paper, I also mentioned old yews along a track on the Breamore/Whitsbury parish boundary, and recorded two identical yews growing so close together that when approaching them, I thought I had found one gigantic tree. During a visit here, it was pointed out to me that both yews are joined together by one large feeder root lying above the ground. Remarkably one 17 feet girth yew has given rise to a sibling equal in size.  The trunks of both yews were hidden and strangled by thick vines of traveller’s joy, which have now been removed. I suspect that for this yew to produce a sibling of such size, it is far older than the yews found along the other side of the track, including those reaching a similar girth.

The trunk of the ancient yew in Yew Tree Field
The trunk of the ancient yew in Yew Tree Field

Although not yet ancient, there are a number of old yews here of interest which deserve  mention. Recent finds include a big spreading solitary yew with a girth of l7ft 2in near the lovely thatched village of Rockbourne, Hants. This yew marks a footpath close to Sagles Spring, which rises in an alder fringed hollow. High on Damerham Knoll, another lone big crowned yew with a girth of l6ft 9in grows on the parish boundary. This is another impressively sited yew which was first noted from the opposite Whitsbury ridge. In the heavily wooded clay valley between Cranborne and Alderholt there is a hidden farm which is arrived at along a deeply rutted muddy track. The small farmhouse is five centuries old and is concealed behind a yew growing close to the building. This is a big farmyard yew with a girth of l5ft 3in, and a new tree about a hundred years old has arisen from the tree’s roots opposite the narrow pathway.

The two strange yews of Breamore on a winter’s evening
The two strange yews of Breamore on a winter’s evening

At Tarrant Crawford, Dorset, in the southern part of the Chase by a clear fast flowing stream, a cluster of medieval farm buildings and a small church are all that remains of a wealthy Abbey which once housed Cistercian nuns. On the Abbey site an old yew with a girth of 14½ feet growing on a chalk bank could be a yew the nuns planted and cared for. Few of the 500 or so Abbey sites in Britain have old or ancient yews and all such trees are historically important.

The Courting Tree – the Ancient Yew of Whitsbury
The Courting Tree – the Ancient Yew of Whitsbury

Copyright: Peter Andrews

Introduction The Yew Grove The Great Yew
The Yew Wood Yews at Sites of Antiquity Marker and Shelter Yews

<< Area surveys of Non Churchyard Yews