Head to Cumbria in September and October to track down ‘Tales of the Long-Ago Tree’ adventures – born out of stories of the past, which are unlocked by the trees that grace the gardens of some of our houses.
The heritage that can be explored through these trees is truly amazing. The tale of the Grecian Silver Fir, at Dalemain near Penrith, relates to being the biggest tree of its species within the British Isles and being a gift from Joseph Banks, a plant collector who sailed on the Endeavour with Captain Cook.
The tale of the magnificent Sweet Chestnut at Muncaster Castle is entwined with that of 16th century Thomas Skelton, the last Fool of Muncaster. It is known as ‘Tom Fool’s Tree’ as Tom (thought to be the Tom Fool of legend), would sit under it and determine the fate of passers-by who asked for directions. If he liked them, he sent them onwards on a safe route; if he did not, he sent them to their death on the local quicksands!
Trees at Kirklinton Hall and Gardens, hold enchanting models of flower faeries, but allow for an unravelling of the story of faerie princess, Maelgwyn the Fair, whose face is carved into the cliff face. Scots Pines, at Mirehouse near Keswick, date from the time of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a frequent visitor, who even honeymooned at the idyllic heritage home. Meanwhile the 400-year-old Holker Great Lime is magical, venerable and animate, according to its owner, Lady Cavendish, and was one of the Tree Council’s ’50 Great British Trees’ in Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Year.
Head to the 17th century topiary garden at Levens Hall and Gardens and you will discover the Umbrella Tree, shortlisted as the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tree of the Year’ 2016. Dating back to the 1690s, this shares the topiary garden with other amazing Yews, shaped in designs, including chess pieces, a King and Queen, a judge’s wig and a jug of Morocco Ale. It may also know where in the garden the recipe for Levens’ very special Morocco Ale was hidden during the English Civil War, to prevent it falling into the hands of Cromwell and his troops!
Whether you are interested in the Birch, Ash and Sycamore used in the Victorian Stott Park Bobbin Mill, to create bobbins for the Lancashire cotton mills, the Handkerchief, Tulip and Californian Redwood trees at volunteer-run Holehird Gardens overlooking Windermere, or the indoor tropical African rainforest at The Rum Story in Whitehaven, which tells the story of the sugar, spice, rum and slave trades, Cumbria’s Living Heritage’s website should be your launchpad.
Find time for as many tree tales as possible, perhaps enjoy treetop and zip wire adventures at Brockhole – the Lake District National Park Visitor Centre – and then leave a few more hours for the discovery of the very special Beech tree on the Bogle Crag trail at Grizedale Forest, which carries a carving of a helmet – believed to be the work of a German Prisoner of War, held at the Grizedale Hall POW camp for elite German officers between 1939 and 1945.