Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ancient yew trees and a changing world

I just love where I live.  I love the fact that we can get in the car and drive through green countryside and stone villages to places like Llangernyw (pronounced something like Llan with the Welsh double L - ger with a hard g - nih - ooh.  With apologies to any Welsh speakers if I have this wrong.  Please tell me if so!)

Llangernyw sits in the middle of miles of green fields and rising hills just over the county border from Denbighshire into Conwy.  It is famous for the yew tree that sits beside the church of St Digains. 



This tree is the oldest in Wales and one of the oldest in the country.  It is around 4000 years old, 2000 years before Christ.  This takes it back into prehistory, back into the bronze age, back to the times when the copper mines at Llandudno, thirteen miles away, were the centre of a European trade in copper.  This tree was here before the iron age hillforts that fill our view on Penycloddiau and Moel Arthur were occupied.  Stonehenge would have been standing on Salisbury plain and might have been standing for 1000 years but this was 2000 years before the Romans came to Britain.  It is too long.  The mind skitters away from time on this scale.  While Tudor England five hundred years ago seems, perhaps misleadingly, just within the stretch of imagination, helped by books and films and television series, 4000 years ago is a mist, a green and grey blur of incomprehension.




Then we walked a few hundred yards up the road to a tiny museum to commemorate the life and achievements of Henry Jones.  I had never heard of this man before yet he rose in the mid nineteenth century from poverty as a shoemaker's son to hold the Professorship of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University.  He lived with his parents and six siblings in a tiny house.  There was a room ten foot square which served as kitchen, dining room and sitting room for them all, so small that they couldn't all sit down to eat but had their meals in relays:  the two oldest brothers who were gardeners and thus needed their food first, then the father and his assistant, then the younger children, some of them sitting on the stairs or on the outside step and lastly, by herself,  "my mother ate her meal in peace".  He educated himself, with the encouragement of a local lady and some support from his chapel and local schoolmasters.  While trying to learn enough to be accepted to train as a teacher in Bangor University, he went to bed at 8pm and had the local policeman, as he went on his rounds, knock him awake at one in the morning.  He studied from then until 6am when his father rose and then joined him at his workbench and worked through the day until the light went.  Extraordinary.

We had our lunch in a seventeenth century pub,  The Old Stag.



We had a short walk up through the village and by the river and came home.

It was an odd and beautiful day, in and out of time. Four thousand years ago the tree was young.   One hundred and fifty years ago the boy worked by candlelight with his feet in a bucket of shoemaker's leather to keep warm.  Four hundred years ago the inn was bright and busy, full of travellers eating and drinking before they went on their way.

I love where I live.

26 comments:

  1. Oh my, the age of that tree is unfathomable! Here in Connecticut we have some trees we're quite proud of, mere sprouts of 300 years. So nice to live in a place you love!

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  2. I can see why you love where you live, it's beautiful and steeped in rich history. Sounds like a wonderful day!

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  3. People just don't know about Wales. It's not promoted enough; but maybe that's a good thing. Keep Wales for the Welsh!!!

    Yn cael diwrnod da, Cro.

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  4. I meant for those who live there!

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  5. You do live in a beautiful place! I've just been reading about the ancient yews in Mountainear's book about Marston - unbelievable. I blogged about a tree today too, but not one even a fraction as old as this one.

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  6. Love days and places like that - aren't we lucky to live in such a layered land.

    Celia

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  7. I loved that picture of the little chap with his feet in a bucket of leather to keep warm. Times have changed so much. Lovely post.

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  8. Lovely post and I so enjoyed the tour. Isn't there a meme there - wouldn't it be lovely if everyone did a post on 'where I live'?

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  9. You love all the things about your locale in the same way as I love mine. I very much enjoyed this post (found via Cro's site)

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  10. 4000 years... I can't even imagine!
    One of our older trees in Crieff recently had to be cut down as it broke in half, and it was about 300 years old. Back in the days when this place was a drovers town. The highlanders would bring their cattle from the north and the lowlanders would buy them and take them down to their own lands. History is an amazing thing isn't it?

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  11. Another beautiful post. Yes, we have trees like that here (well one or two - most are much younger - but the one at Llanilid must be about the same age. In fact the yew for the bows used at Agincourt came from the yew plantations at Ewenny (the clue is in the name) not far from here. Ewenny Priory was painted by Turner, the watercolour is in the National Museum in Cardiff and until a few years ago the interior looked just as it did then.

    Still 4000 years is not really such a long time. At five generations to a hundred years, that's only 200 generations. Now most people can easily embrace five (from their grandparents to their own grandchildren)so that is only 40 families with such spans. You'd get them all in your garden on a summer's day. And apart from the clothes they would all be just like you or I.

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  12. This is a gem of a post, beautifully written and thought-provoking. And to think that only a few months ago you were worried that your blogging had little point or reason... this post has made my day.

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  13. Gorgeous post! What an amazing yew tree. I'll remind myself of Henry Jones next time I think life is too tough! That really is dedication and motivation!
    Dan
    -x-

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  14. What an interesting post, and a beautiful place. No wonder you love living there.

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  15. I love where you live too!
    What amazing yew trees.

    and ditto Sue's comments btw.

    xx

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  16. Another place to visit I think. I love finding out about the places and things around me - it's all pretty amazing and even the most unassuming place seems to have a story to tell.

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  17. Cyndy - unfathomable, that is a good word for it!
    Leonora - I suppose most people like where they live, in our lucky Western world. And I am very much of the "if you don't like it, move" school!
    Cro - Diolch yn fawr. It is hard to know isn't it whether to promote it or not? It would not be the same if it were overrun but it is so beautiful it would be good to share it a bit more I think.
    Pondside - how did you get hold of F's book over there? It is fascinating isn't it? I love the idea of someone in BC reading about a tiny village in Shropshire.
    Celia - "layered land", what a fabulous phrase for it. I am very aware of the layers where we live. Even our house and cottage and bakehouse are layered, before we have even gone out through the gate!

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  18. Fran - I had never thought about the idea that a bucketful of leather scraps could warm your cold feet as you studied.
    Weaver - where you live is so ordinary to you and so exotic to others, great idea!
    Tom - thank you and very good to have met you and discovered your blog.
    Marilyn - we have drovers' roads here too. When you look at what our forebears did routinely and what we do now, is it any wonder we are getting fat?
    Fennie - well yes and no. An astonishing length of time and yet, as you say, somehow frameable. I am sure the man and woman of 4000 years ago would have shared most of my concerns but theirs would surely have been keener. We are spoilt now, with our full bellies and the rooves over our heads.

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  19. It's impossible to imagine four thousand years ago and a tree that has survived all that time. I loved the story of Henry Jones. What dedication.

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  20. As I type, my boys are on their way to Criccieth. I so wish I were going with them! By now, they'll be somewhere on the A55 between Chester and Conwy. I'm glad you share your beautiful land with us :)

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  21. Elizabeth I enjoyed reading your blog as I always do. Loved your thoughts on 'time.'

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  22. Sue - thank you, what a lovely thing to say!
    Dan - I think we should all have a Henry Jones moment when we feel like a moan! What an amazing man.
    Rachel - I am hoping you get to your own beautiful place soon:)
    BSM - well this yews and your own oak are amongst the most fascinating I have seen.
    Mountainear - all these places with stories to tell. I am enjoying the story of your place.
    Marianne - I am with you on the impossibility of time on this scale, although I am now trying to think about it using Fennie's line of approach!
    H - Criccieth is lovely. Lucky boys!
    Molly - so glad you liked it. I am sure there are some fabulous places near where you live on your side of the border too!

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  23. It looks lovely, that yew tree is fabulous. We used to camp in a place called Great Yews near Salisbury, was quite a haunting place on a pitch black night.

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  24. If a tree grows and lives in response to its environment, that yew tree says something wonderful about where you live.

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  25. I had no idea that a tree could survive so long. I've just got back from Wales, and it was a real eye-opener to realize that it was a "happening" place a millenia ago.

    What a blessing to be charmed by the place that you've made home.

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