Saturday, February 25, 2012
Much Marcle, Herefordshire
Growing your own buildings
I used to smile at Arthur Mee, the author of a series of mid-20th century county guides called ‘The King’s England’ who, whenever he encountered an unusually large tree, recorded its girth measurement for his readers. I imagined him whipping out his tape measure with glee and chuckling over the figures, like a trainspotter or a twitcher or the composer Anton Bruckner, who liked obsessively to count the leaves on trees.
And then today I encountered this magnificent specimen, and began to think that perhaps Mee had a point. It’s the yew tree next to the parish church at Much Marcle, Herefordshire, and its hollow trunk has enough space inside for three benches. I began to wonder whether, if we could grow buildings, they would look like this. And I began to wonder too just how big this monster is. I do not travel with a tape measure, but a notice in the church porch enlightened me. When the girth of the trunk was measured in 2006, it was found to be 30 ft 11 ins. What’s more the notice goes on to say that the best estimate of the tree’s age is 1,500 years. In other words, it was planted in around the year 500, about 90 years after the Romans pulled out of Britain, and around the time that the Britons (led, according to some, by the legendary King Arthur) were said to be beating the stuffing out of Saxon invaders at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. So this tree has been here longer than any extant standing English building, Roman ruins excepted, and its spreading branches are still pushing out abundant greenery. They way it has, as it were, invited human shelterers inside its trunk while also continuing its vigorous growth is admirable, and rather humbling.
I’ve got a good long surveyor’s tape in the shed somewhere. Perhaps now I’ll keep it in the boot of the car…
The yew tree, almost completely hiding the spacious nave of Much Marcle church