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A scion of the World Tree

August 3, 2010

This Tuesday’s tree is of the noblest stock. The ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is native to Britain and Europe and has been revered by our ancestors back into the mists of time: many people will have heard of Yggdrasil, the World Tree at the heart of Norse cosmology and mythology, but it seems that reverence for the ash was common to all Indo-European cultures. (You can find any number of websites about the ash in Norse mythology, some academic, some pagan, some just frankly barking. For a good little synopsis, I would recommend this page at Trees for Life.)

This beautiful specimen grows by the river bank at Castle Beastie. Born centuries after the Norsemen and their myths had been subsumed into the rest of the population of these islands, this ash is still, by the standards of human lifetimes, an ancient living thing. As we draw closer to its beautiful feathery branches, we start to realise that there is something unusual about it. Notice the base of its trunk.

The dark gap that you can see at its base is a hint of how ancient this ash must be. In fact, the fine tree that survives today would appear to be just a slip of the original. When you get right up to it, you can see that the trunk was once twice as wide.

At first I thought that this must be two trees growing side by side. Closer scrutiny revealed that it really is one huge trunk: one half in ruins, the other a flourishing tree. I love the variety of textures and grains that you can see on it and would like to come back one day with a sketch book, though I know I would fail to do it justice. It’s the sort of trunk that might have inspired Arthur Rackham’s drawings (this one of a beech bole is a good example), although his trees are usually menacing, whereas the energy of this ash is benign. Perhaps the artist who could best capture – wrong verb, but I can’t think of a better – the spirit of this ash, in words or drawings, is the inspired and inspiring Rima Staines. Her blog, The Hermitage, is a gift to anyone moved by art, folklore and the sense one often feels, out in the woods, by water or on the wide moors, that there is more to the natural world than meets the eye. I can understand why a tree of such age, beauty and, let us not forget, usefulness (ash is the best firewood, burning hot even when ‘green’, which we appreciate very much here in the winter) has inspired reverence in ages past and present.

See also: In the Enchanted Wood; The inaugural Tuesday tree

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Madelief permalink
    August 4, 2010 8:21 pm


    Thanks for your kind comment on my blog! I enjoyed it very much. I know exactly what you mean about wearing a jeans in Bath. Sometimes I felt exactly the same!

    Your trip from Orkney through Scotland sounds interesting. We have visited Scotland many years ago and enjoyed it very much. Hopefully we will visit again in future. Still love to see the Northern Highlands and Mull.

    I see you are a tree lover as well. I think Britain has the most beautiful trees. We have visited several old houses and parks in England, where the trees were really special. I don’t know what it is exactly, not only their age, but maybe the fact that you just let your trees grow without pruning them.

    Loved your photos!

    Lieveg groet, Madelief

  2. August 4, 2010 10:22 pm

    What a beautiful and ancient tree. I have some Ash saplings in my garden – they are about a foot tall and not even the width of my thumb….. ah well maybe one day they will be as great as your trees!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      August 5, 2010 11:51 am

      I’m sure that your Orcadian ash trees must be more in touch with their Norse ‘roots’ than ours in the soft south!


  1. The Tuesday tree: the living dead « Dancing Beastie
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