Thousands of old British trees have some incredible stories to tell. “The UK is said to have an exceptional number of ancient trees in comparison to the rest of Europe,” says Jack Taylor, campaigner at The Woodland Trust.
“Many of these beautiful old trees have played immensely important roles in British history.” These mature monuments have been celebrated, mythologised and even feared, for centuries. Here are seven of the oldest living trees in Britain.
1. Fortingall Yew
Standing by a churchyard in a small Perthshire village in the Highlands of Scotland, this Yew has been calculated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 years old – making it one of the oldest living things in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, it’s had quite a history; some say Pontius Pilate lived by the tree as a child. Amazingly, the Yew began changing sex in 2015, when scientists found it to be sprouting berries – something only female trees do.
2. Bowthorpe Oak
A true beast, the Bowthorpe Oak in Lincolnshire is the girthiest British Oak Tree in Europe. Over 1,000 years old, its trunk spreads more than a massive 40ft in width – that’s about the length of one and a half London buses.
It also features a sizeable cave-like mouth, and as many as 39 people have simultaneously stood inside this monster.
3. Big Belly Oak
Savernake Forest in Marlborough is home to several ancient trees, and this is one is believed to be the oldest. It celebrates its 1,000th birthday sometime this century, having taken root around the time of the Norman Conquest.
It’s been said the Devil appears to anyone who dances around its trunk naked – but don’t expect to preserve your modesty if you want to test that theory; the tree is now positioned by a main road.
4. Llangernyw Yew
Incredibly, this 4,000-year-old tree in north Wales is still growing.
Don’t visit if you scare easily, though; historically, the story goes it’s inhabited by Angelystor, a supernatural spirit which emerges twice every year in the nearby church, announcing the names of villagers set to meet their fate in the coming year.
5. Major Oak
It’s one of Britain’s most famous trees, known for sheltering Robin Hood and his merry men in Sherwood Forest. Unfortunately, tree experts have chopped away at the theory, noting that the tree would have been far too small to house the fabled outlaws.
Between 800 and 1,000 years old, it’s an impressive sight now, and attracts visitors from across the world.
6. Westonbirt Lime Tree
Believed to be around 2,000 years old, this lime tree at the National Arboretum is cut back every 20 years to allow it to keep growing. Records show the practise, known as coppicing, has been carried out in the area since the 13th century, which is the reason for this tree’s longevity. Around 60 stems grow out from the original tree, and it’s being celebrated with a nearby sculpture.
7. Ankerwycke Yew
Anywhere between 1,500 and 2,500 years old, this ancient tree has more than a few stories to tell. It sits across the river from Runnymede, and is said to have been witness to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.
Three centuries later, it’s believed Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn under its branches, meaning this old Yew has seen its share of historic events.