Most places worth visiting in Britain you won’t find in a guidebook but through word of mouth. Beverley Angel, a modern Tatiana, mentioned a hot woodland tip as we sat next to each other in the Elsinore pub in Whitby: there’s an ancient tree in Surrey where one could have a dinner party–inside–and it’s right off the M25.
The 4,000 year old Crowhurst yew, complete with fey door in the side, is the locale of many a childhood fantasy, a physical manifestation of the collective subconscious. Despite arguments that most ancient yews in Britain are in fact medieval, the tree seems to live forever, its bark molten with anthropomorphic parts: the faces, arms and hands of creatures that are born and die, echoed in the graves which the poisonous branches shelter.
One would have to work hard to deny the suggestion of spirits, fairies and ancestors there.
The Yew is a symbol of the mythological world tree, rooting two worlds to each other. It’s the tree of the emigrant, the immigrant, the in-between-one. It doesn’t matter how old the tree literally is, or whether the stories it suggests are factual. It is doing allegorical work in real time, in a real place.
Many Christian churches in England have been built on sacred pagan sites. Some say the church intended to siphon the energy of these places or contradict their power. The 12th Century St. George’s church and surrounding graveyard belongs to the yew now, and serves as a metaphor for this island as I’ve found it: the Christian history dominating a pagan past that is so strong it can’t be subsumed, and in many ways the two live side by side in a mysterious alliance. The sprouted staff of the pilgrim saint is also the neo-pagan ogham wand.
No one can prove the age of this tree yet–written records don’t go back far enough and the insides of yews fall alway as the tree ages, leaving no rings to cout. The wooden eyes of this giant, older than history, will keep its secrets.