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It’s a fête worse than…oh, whatever

Hooray — the fête season is upon us! Uncle B and I are utter fête hags; we scour the local paper for them all Summer long (though some of the most memorable are those we ran across by accident driving down country lanes).

You might think the appeal of drifting around dark churches drinking weak tea and eating digestive biscuits looking at bad oil paintings flogged by rich old ladies might wear off after a while. You’d be wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s the churches. Beautiful, tiny jewels of ancient architecture, lovingly tended by generation after generation of old ladies flogging bad oil paintings and weak tea. Every little village has its church, and they present a real strain on their communities, keeping the buidings clean and tended, whole and sound, and open to passers-by.

The thing in the picture? Can you make it out? This was behind the church, and it gave me a chill.

It’s a yew tree (on the right) and an oak (on the left) so ancient their trunks are entertwined and the two have completely permeated each other, a confusing jumble of oak leaves and yew branches sticking out in all directions.

Both the yew and the oak were hallowed here long before the coming of Christianity. The early church embraced local beliefs, choosing to co-opt instead of conflict (with an occasionally strange result). Many old churches have an elderly yew growing in the grounds. All the sources I’ve read agree that the yew was there before the church, the church was deliberately built on sacred ground.

This church is almost a thousand years old.


Comment from Oceania
Time: May 16, 2011, 11:56 pm

Watch out for encroaching Muslims.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 12:28 am

Not here. That’s a strictly urban phenomenon.

Out here in the boonies, it’s Whitemanistan.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 17, 2011, 1:43 am

Funny. In fifth grade we lived (for the first time in my life) in a place where I could get to the library ALL BY MYSELF on my bike. So I was there. . .a lot. And laid the foundation for a lifetime of worship of English children’s literature (they wouldn’t let me go to the grown-up library, I was corralled in the children’s room–but it worked out well). Narnia, of course–and Nesbit. But also a little gem by Hilda Lewis, The Ship That Flew. Which included a description of a church fete (sorry, I can’t do the proper accent on the first e!) at which a unique piece of needlework was put up to auction and fetched a fabulous sum. . .but what stuck with me was the passion of the young folks in the story about the ancient church. Truly odd, the stuff that forms your opinions and prejudices. Yup. Odd.

Comment from Pavel
Time: May 17, 2011, 1:43 am

And did you know that yew trees are poisonous to livestock? I didn’t until I just now Googled them. Kept the critters from befouling sacred ground.

Comment from see-dubya
Time: May 17, 2011, 1:53 am

Now, for what it’s worth, I had heard that yew trees were planted in the churchyards during the middle ages by decree–because that’s what you make longbows out of. Sort of a medieval strategic missile defense program to discourage uppity Scots and Frogs. When international politics get dicey, start lopping branches and passing them out to the citizenry.

No idea how common that was, or if this applies to the particular yew in your picture, or if it’s even right at all. But if I saw a yew in a fine old crumbly Norman churchyard my first guess would be that the church predates the yew rather than vice versa.

But regardless, a fine photograph and story. How big are these trees? I don’t get the scale from your picture.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: May 17, 2011, 2:07 am

You just don’t get history like that in CA.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 17, 2011, 2:58 am

Pardon me. . .I kipple! I’m entitled on my natal day. . .

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a Lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

So, there!

Comment from Deborah
Time: May 17, 2011, 3:41 am

The two trees are magnificent, and rather symbolic, too (marriage, for example—though that’s hardly original I suppose). I bet the bluehairs have been selling paintings of these for ages.

So a church fete is a fundraiser consisting of county fair, yard sale, and bake sale? Sounds like a splendid way to spend the day, and your money.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: May 17, 2011, 3:50 am

The way that they are twined together makes me think of the song Barbara Allen.

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: May 17, 2011, 4:12 am

Can’t Hark beat me to it – Kipling and Puck FTW!

Oh, and Many Happy Returns of your natal day, Can’t Hark! 🙂

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: May 17, 2011, 4:20 am

Hmmmm… Baucis and Philemon?

Comment from some vegetable
Time: May 17, 2011, 12:07 pm

X, Druid, Catholic, Church of England, call it what you will. The spirits of Albion have slept quietly in those sacred places for longer than man has lived those lands.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 17, 2011, 2:03 pm

Thankee kindly, Mrs. Hill!

Comment from Oldcat
Time: May 17, 2011, 2:48 pm

This blog is all about yew, yew, yew.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 6:51 pm

I hadn’t read that, see-dubya. If so, though, we’re arguing about whether that yew is 1,000 years old or just 800 🙂

They can live to be 3,000, apparently.

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: May 17, 2011, 8:22 pm

They came after American Minks and you said nothing because you were not a Mink (and ebbing/waning/wobbling American).


Britishers having a most questionable judgment go after beautiful Mink and protect the foul water vole.
Be glad something wants to eat the vole, you backward monarchists!

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: May 17, 2011, 8:25 pm

If I live long enough to visit England, what I most want to see is all those old places that my ancestors knew in long generations past. All I need is the time and the money. 🙂

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 9:08 pm

Minks’re shitbags. They aren’t kind to stoats and weasels, either.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: May 17, 2011, 9:48 pm

Happy Birthday, Can’t Hark!

Comment from Carl
Time: May 17, 2011, 10:19 pm

There are about 10,000 medieval churches in England and most of them are worth visiting. Unfortunately many are kept locked except when there is a service.

A very good book to get for your church crawling is “England’s 1,000 Best Churches” by Simon Jenkins. All the churches listed are either open every day or the keys are easily obtainable.

Ancient yew trees are very common in churchyards. Sometimes they pre-date the church where, as Weasel suggested, the church was built on already-sacred ground. In most cases though, they were planted in medieval times.

In the churchyard at Painswick in Gloucestershire there are 99 yew trees, but they are relative youngsters – they were planted in the 1790s.

Re the circumflex e in fête. There are various ways of entering it in Windows using keystrokes (e.g. Alt+0234) but I find that the easiest way is to select it (or any other special characters) from the the Character Set table. (Start-All Programs-Accessories-System Tools-Character Map). You don’t then need to memorise any number codes.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 10:54 pm

Yeah, I keep the character map pinned to my taskbar. I use it that much.

Puck of Pook’s Hill captures the spirit of the thing better than anything else I’ve ever read.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:19 pm

Thank you, Uncle B, it was quite fun, except for the part where our office LAN was being swapped out piece-by-piece to figure out why it is slower ‘n m’lasses in January.

Yeah–Puck of Pook’s Hill is, in all senses, a magical book–especially with the Rackham illustrations (although I could be prejudiced there, being a die-hard Rackham fan. . .)

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:04 am

Aha! So you have the Rackham thing too, have you, Can’t Hark?

I’d never have guessed (he lied, transparently).

One of the most enjoyable afternoons I’ve spent in years was wandering around the Rackham exhibition at the Dulwich Gallery in South London some years ago, with Ol’ Stoatie as my interpreter for the world of art.

The problem I have with Rackham is that I have always had this sense of having known his illustrations as a child. And yet I’m reasonably sure that I didn’t – so the intense, painful, nostalgia they evoke is… what? For somebody else’s childhood?

Deeply, appropriately, puzzling.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:22 am

Puzzling, indeed–but, yes, it does feel appropriate.

It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized why Rackham felt so familiar and so right–the Wind in the Willows that was read to us as children was the one with the Rackham illustrations. I love the Shepherd illustrations, of course (after all, I was also brought up on A. A. Milne), but Rackham’s truly evoke that feeling of the deep woods, and the wildness of the world in general.

Once upon a time I owned a dress sewn from fabric printed with scenes from the Rackham illustrations to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was a WONDERFUL dress, although I’ll concede it might not have made the transition to “what to wear in court” very well.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:35 am

It might have been an altogether better court if it had…

Comment from David Gillies
Time: May 18, 2011, 5:53 pm

I had Wind in the Willows with the Rackham illustrations as a child. Must’ve been quite expensive because colour plates were unusual in books of that vintage.

As for special characters, it’s worth taking the time to learn the HTML entities. An e with an acute accent is é – é, for example.

Comment from Noelegy
Time: May 18, 2011, 9:37 pm

I, too, have a love of Arthur Rackham. For those fans of his work, are you familiar with contemporary artist Charles Vess? I think he’s a worthy successor to Rackham’s style.

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