Dear fellow travellers
So you know, Ancient Yew, of all that came to pass in 1215? Did you gaze in those days over the Thames to the meadows at Runnymede? Tell, if you will, of the Magna Carta and other marvels. Weep, if you will, over a litany of wrongs.
You shivered for more than a thousand winters. You gave shelter for more than a thousand summers. You could share the secrets of saints and scoundrels, of princes and poachers. But yews don't tell tales. Would that you could share a few words and say how life was, here on the bank of the river, before circling planes filled the sullen skies.
But you speak not! Mute in your millennial might. Watchful but silent, tugging at the hearts of those who have sold their souls to modernity. Anchored in the earth at Ankerwycke, presiding over the passage of centuries, never hurrying, ever the sentinel.
Do the visitors trouble you? We've seen them with their prosecco, panini and phones. They come to picnic but you have your way of seizing the moment. They gaze in awe as you pull them from their petty worries. Harried, hurried and then inevitably humbled, they ponder your role as England's silent witness. That's really what you do best, Ancient Yew. You put a brake on the world, seducing people off the M25 and making them slow down.
The ancient yew at Ankerwycke is a venerable institution. There are older yews in England, such as that at Ashbrittle in Somerset which is believed to be about 3000 years old. But the Ankerwycke yew is very stately and occupies a prime spot by the Thames in a part of England which is otherwise noted for ring roads, out-of-town shopping centres and creeping urbanisation.
There is something thoroughly English about yew trees and there's something thoroughly English about the Magna Carta, to which King John set his name 800 years ago this month. The charter was a quintessentially English compromise that sought to reconcile King John with rebel barons. As a peace treaty it failed. Within a few months, England had slipped into civil war.
The 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta will propel many misty-eyed visitors to Runnymede this month. Most of them will be good, honest folk with a hazy sense of history. English nationalists and UKIP members also have Runnymede in their sights. But the Ankerwycke yew is on the opposite bank of the Thames. And, happily, there is no bridge over the river at that point. So our advice is that it might be wise to skip Runnymede this month and make instead for Ankerwycke. It will probably be a haven of calm, whence one might contemplate the crowds over on the other bank of the Thames at Runnymede.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)