This year, upon the tiers of the Tor, the sheep have not been allowed to graze, allowing the grasses to develop fully into golden swathes that swell and roll on the crossing winds. In contrast, the grasses in the fields across Stone down have long been cut for hay, leaving the ground bare and raw, now gorged and cracking in the Summer sun. The oak trees on the North West of the Tor, usually nibbled at grazing height, this year, have been allowed to flourish with sprays of leaves and peduncles full of acorns now extending further with a spurt of Lammas growth.
The English Oak Green contrasts and compliments the golden grasses, while the regal colour scheme is continued by the coarsely textured deep maroon red of dock seed, softened by thistle’s creamy plumes as they set their fairy seeds to drift lazily across the paths. This display of colours is soundtracked by the constant hiss of grass and crickets, and the rattle of leaves left too long without water, hot sounds that make the hues more vivid and intensify the humid heat during my recent sweaty circumambulations.
The paths themselves, usually kept trodden and visible by the sheep, are now almost invisible, relying on smaller mammals to keep them active. At this time, certain routes around the Tor are now impassable to humans without a scythe or willingness to bury themselves waist-height in stingers, they are vaguely trodden and easily lost, where badger paths disappear into golden tunnels.
Most of July was spent upon the lower banks of the Tor. Encouraged by a recent workshop with the local council in which we measured and recorded some notable trees and hedgerows, I took up the task of recording and measuring all of the notable ash trees that live around the base of the Tor. I aim to make a record of these trees, to store this landscape as it stands, while knowing that over the next few years our horizons may continue to lose these beautiful trees to ash dieback.
On the north western side of the Tor is a corridor of woodland that hides some of the largest ash trees in all of Avalon. The fattest, an ash stool with three large leader trunks, whose stool measures 5 metres in girth, occupies a huge area at the foot of the tor.
To reach the base of these ash trees takes some commitment, visible for miles around, one can walk within their vicinity rather easily, but to get up close enough to measure, or to hug, is another matter entirely, particularly at this time of the year when the nettles are six feet tall and the bramble is thrashing its tentacles.
One is required to navigate the stingers, overcome the vines, wiggle through the thorn and then finally approach the barbed wire fence, groin arched loftily and toes on their tips, fingers pincered upon that wire with a true and focused concentration, or else, another pair of holey trousers and a bloody scratch on the inner thigh. The trouble is worth a few scrapes, just to stand in the direct presence of these trees, each with its own unique character and veteran features.
To make the task manageable I decided at first to measure only those ash trees that appeared to be more than 2m in girth. I found 32 of them in total, with maiden trees measuring up to 3.20m. The largest trees are two pollarded ash trees of +4m in girth, and two of the coppiced stools which measure 4m and 5m, respectively. A map and reference table of the top ten ash trees can be found below.
|No||Girth (m)||Measured at (m)||Location||Features||Name|
|1||5||1||NW Hedgerow||Coppice stooles with 3 leaders 2+ metres, hollow and decaying in places||The Kraken Ash|
|2||4.5||0.5||Woodland||Stool with 2 leaders, largest 2.9m.||Ash Throne|
|3||4||Approx||Hedgerow||Inaccessible Pollarded ash, completely hollow trunk exposed||The Hollow Ash|
|4||4||Approx||NW Hedgerow||Inaccessible Pollard||The Monster Ash|
|5||3.6||0.5||woodland edge||Split ash with 2 leaders, single 2.2m former boundary||–|
|6||3.5||0.5||Woodland||Split ash with 2 leaders, 1.5 metres, located on a slope||–|
|7||3.4||0.5||Woodland||Split ash with 2 leaders, located on a slope||5th Pilgrim Ash|
|8||3.1||1||NW Hedgerow||Maiden tree – largest specimen on the tor||The Fire Keeper|
|9||3.1||1.5||Tor side||Maiden tree – Near woods||The Maiden Ash|
|10||3||Approx||NW Hedgerow||Maiden tree – Inaccessible Corner of field||Corner Ash|
|11||3||Approx||Maiden Ash||Maiden tree top of orchard||Avalon Orchard Ash|
Note: Approx measurements are estimates due to inaccessibility at this time of the year. Multi stemmed ash trees are complete stool measurements with individual trunks of 2m+.
On the south eastern side of the Tor lies a small mixed deciduous woodland I have come to know as Tor woods. At its northern end stand six trees in a distinct row facing uphill towards the tower, I call them The six pilgrims. They form a great wall of ash at this end of the woods and appear to mark a past boundary line. Two of the trees wear the horizontal scars of wire fences once attached to their trunks; the wounds, now healed and overcome, have grown up the trunk to well over my head height and provide some insight into how the trees grows, their whole structure moving upwards out of the earth and into the sky.
The woods contains 12 notable ash trees, the largest is a multi-stemmed ash stool of 4m in girth that marks the north west boundary corner of the woodland. This ash tree is not comparable to any other, its colouring is bright white, its stool and exposed roots form a magical natural staircase enticing one up the hill to sit at its feet. Its two leaders, the largest 2m+, emerge from the bowl like cylinders of play dough squeezed from the earth, a strange, fluid, claylike sculpture, entwined at the base in such a way that makes one question whether or not there might be two trees here.
The roots of the ash reach across the stairway to meet the roots of a veteran thorn, it makes the way seem official, like the steps have been purposefully created by ash and thorn to guide one up the hill to the next tier. On the high side of this ash the exposed roots and buttresses of the tree form a stage with quite enough space to sit two people while the slope of the tor provides a convenient incline, a natural amphitheatre, suitable for a small audience.
The Secret Orchard
This month’s ash-time adventures have deepened my relationship with the trees in the ridges and grooves of the earth surrounding the Tor. Quite by accident, I have stumbled into places drenched in the warm slanted light of mid summer sunsets, wondering if this time I had finally managed to daydream myself through the veils. The Isle of Glastonbury, a paradise in itself, consists of a thousand micro-paradises, some still only just revealed to me after ten years of walking in Avalon.
One such place is a narrow strip of orchard that falls down the hill on the south east side of the Tor, and rivals the beauty of Avalon orchard. By my judgement it might be fair to call it the most idyllic place in all of Avalon. Placed only a few metres off the worn ways, its gateways are concealed and guarded by nettle and thorn. Entering requires a substantial amount of curiosity, and commitment to some stings, which ensures it is rarely occupied by humans, except, now and then, by the odd wild camper.
The apples on this patch grow at a slant, leaning down the hill, as if running from something. Some have tumbled completely and continue life productively with horizontal trunks and roots half exposed, forever reaching upwards from a place of half fallen. In my solitude I am entertained by the consideration that the apple trees are not running from something, but hurriedly attempting to gather their dropped apples, scrambling to catch them before they hit the ground and run to the bottom of the hill.
The tumbling apples give the whole place a distinct feeling of movement and coaxes one downward into the enchanting heart of the orchard. The hedges on both sides are tall and unkept with more mature apple trees punctuating thorn, elder, viburnum, and the usual hedgerow suspects. The height of the hedges and narrowness of the corridor allows one to feel held in a double layer of privacy, the grazed canopies of the apples form a low ceiling all the way through, creating what feels like a secret passageway.
Halfway down the orchard, a large ash tree occupies a portion of the hedgerow, Its presence allows for a window into the next field through which the evening sun comes flooding, as if through a grand victorian bay window. The light’s entrance is enhanced further by the lack of visibility in any direction elsewhere in the orchard. In the evening time as the sun is setting this little ash haven feels like a cosy place held within a cosy place, and is illuminated in the most satisfying ways, to such an extent that I am drawn to forever repeat the experience of sitting here at this time of day. Not only that, but I have been getting my dessert from a nearby veteran plum that for the past month has been dripping in delicious sweet bright red plums, the best tree food!
As the years progress, it becomes more apparent to me the stages through which one is led, or must pass, in the discovery of one’s landscape. One can think they know a place and take it for granted that all that is to be found has already been found, only to be suddenly surprised by a grand unveiling. I have walked this woods numerous times and become very familiar with the place, but during this recent exploration, the bottom seemed to fall out and I descended into a deeper and more conscious awareness of the space.
I have been guided down paths and through gateways that it appears were not previously included in my awareness, cloaked somehow from my perception, paths that were completely invisible to me are now revealed, and can be walked, as if a brand new person were stepping into the place.
I will continue to map the ash trees around the Tor. I hope the data might be useful to someone at some stage, if not useful, then of interest to a tree enthusiast of the future, and If nothing else, I hope it encourages some locals and visitors to Glastonbury to connect with the Tor ash trees, they are some of the largest and healthiest for miles around.
Until the next time – we walk To The Trees.
A Visual Diary – July / Aug 2022
Upcoming Tree Walks + Woodland Fires
Public Tree Walks, Glastonbury – By Donation
Sun 28th Aug – Sunday Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
Sat 10th Sep – Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
Sun 25th Sep – Sunday Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
Sat 8th Oct – Autumn Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
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Book: 07548 936 081
Shepton Tree Walk – Free
Fri 19th Aug – Tree walk in Collett Park Shepton – 12.50pm – 2.30pm – £10pp
Meet at Artbank Cafe – In association with Artbank.org.
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Book: 07548 936 081
Abbey Tree Walk & Talk
Note: Abbey Entry fee is not included
A gentle walk with tree ident and poetry.
Sat 19th Aug – 11am – 12.30pm – £10pp
Sat 17th Sep – 11am – 12.30pm – £10pp
Sat 15th Oct – Autumn Tree Walk – 11am – 12.30pm – £10pp
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Book: 07548 936 081
Bishops Palace Walk, Wells
Gentle walk and talk with tree ident, songs, and poetry in the grounds of Bishop’s Palace.
Sat 6th Aug – Bishop’s Palace Tree Walk – £14.50pp – 11am – 12.30pm
Sat 3rd Sep – Bishop’s Palace Tree Walk – £14.50pp – 11am – 12.30pm
Sat 1st Oct – Bishop’s Palace Autumn Tree Walk – £14.50pp – 11am – 12.30pm
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Woodland Fire Folk Sing-around
Paddington Farm Woodland – call Matt for directions.
Thu 28th July – 7.30pm – 10pm – by donation
Then every two weeks until September.
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Book: 07548 936 081
Walks for individuals and groups, for birthdays, weddings, and as an add on to your retreat, at a date and time to suit you.
Call Matt to book: 07548 936 081
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