Following my new tree: a hawthorn


I’ve finally decided, and I went for a tree that isn’t monumental, isn’t a classic hardwood, that doesn’t leap out and bite you in the leg because it’s so magnificent. It’s a hawthorn, and an old one (according some of the older residents, it’s been there for time out of mind).

Or maybe it does bite you in the leg. It’s the setting for this tree that is so unusual:

dolmen tree

That pile of stones on the right isn’t any old pile of stones. It’s a neolithic chambered tomb, or rather the remains of one; the big slanting stone was the capstone for the chamber.

This is another tree I have just accepted as part of the landscape for years. When I eventually decided to follow it for Lucy’s meme over at Loose and Leafy, I went back through all my photographs thinking that it would feature in very many of them (I’m an archaeologist by training), but it didn’t. A few odd branches do, and there’s the occasional glimpse of the trunk, but by and large it’s only on the periphery. I’d done something similar with my birch last year – picked a tree I’d been almost ignoring – and I found the result absorbing and fascinating. So now I’m going for another tree which has been in the background of my life, if not in my garden, for ages.

It’s exposed – it grows on the 190m contour line, and the lands drops away quite steeply towards the sea. As a result the tree. like most of the others here, has a distinctively windblown shape:

windblown tree

So there’s the sea (just visible in the photo above) to the west – Cardigan Bay. Inland to the east is the curved dome of Moelfre (cropping up in the last photograph a couple of posts ago), which rather dominates this area. Winds rip down the flanks of Moelfre sometimes, but the dominant wind is from the south-west, hence the hawthorn’s angle. North, a way north, is Snowdon, and south the hills rise and then drop down to the Mawddach estuary.

This particular area has been much more inhabited in the past than it is today. Now there are a couple of big farms (and an interesting micro-hydro scheme), but in the Middle Ages and right back into the Iron Age, there were lots of settlements, still quite obvious – from the remains of rectangular Medieval longhouses to some very well-preserved Iron Age hut circles. And then of course there’s that dolmen, which would have made the place remarkable for thousands of years. It’s on a drovers’ route – in fact, the small road that runs past the tree leads to a house called ‘the England sheter’, which once offered hospitality to the drovers.

This is a tree which sits firmly in its landscape, and has its feet in history – every day history, not kings and queens, but farmers and drovers. How old it might be, I have no idea – just the preserved memory that it was already ‘old’ in the time of some of the older residents’ grandparents.


It is just one tree – right down at the base, that’s easier to see. It’s clearly been affected by the wind, and that may have kept it deceptively smaller than it might otherwise be – but it’s not tiny. The weather has also clearly affected the growth of the branches, as – I suspect – has the attention of livestock. The branches, even ones which are now among the largest, tangle about each other, sometimes almost growing together:


and are covered in the most beautiful lichens and mosses, about which I am clearly going to have to learn a whole lot more.


Hawthorns were loaded with meaning – I clearly remember my mother’s reaction when I once tried to bring some hawthorn blossom into the house when I was about seven – and I look forward to learning more about that, as well as about its natural history. And they still are. I know of some which have rags hung from them (they’re often near springs), and someone’s been posting round stones in this one:


It could have been a child, I suppose, but this one is quite high and not immediately apparent, and it’s also clearly a rounded beach stone. Maybe it’s the same person who sometimes leaves flowers by the big double chambered tomb in the village itself?

But it was time to go. It was clear, though clouds were coming up from the north west and snow had been forecast, and it was very very cold, and I needed to keep my fingers.

bye bye tree

Bye, tree, and see you later – regularly, in fact. And how small it looks from this angle!


20 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    This will be such an interesting tree to follow, particularly if you are going to find all sorts of intriguing things tucked into its branches…. If only it could talk…

    1. kate says:

      I can’t believe I’ve never really looked at it before, either. I think it will be good (and I hope my identification of it is right – judging by the thorns, I think it is…)

  2. Love the lichen growing on the tree. It’s all so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your tree.

    1. kate says:

      It’s a stunner – even better when you look at it closely. But by heck it’s cold up there… brrrrrrrr

  3. Joey says:

    Great choice! I look forward to learning so much more than mere dendrology 😉

    1. kate says:

      So am I – there are so many stories. Will be good to explore them.

  4. a venerable tree in a fascinating landscape – glad you are bringing it into the limelight this year.

    1. kate says:

      I think it needs a year in the sun, as it were. Let’s just hope no-one interferes with it, unlike poor VP’s ash from last year.

  5. Hollis says:

    I really like this tree. It looks so rugged and wild, as does the setting … and a bit magical given your explanation of the area’s history back to the Iron Age! I look forward to more stories.

    1. kate says:

      I’m so looking forward to following it too. Whether I’ll feel quite as relaxed about it once the cows are out (Welsh Black cattle can be tricksy), we’ll see!

  6. An interesting post. I really like the archeological connections and hope you will write more about the dolmen and the stone hut circles as well as about hawthorns in general.

    1. kate says:

      I’m sure they will – persuading me to shut up about archaeology is a lot harder than persuading me to talk about it!

  7. This is one of my favourite trees in the area – I visit it often! Lovely choice.

    1. kate says:

      I’m so glad – I love it too!

      (You’re not responsible for the stones, are you???)

  8. kashcah says:

    Ancient trees are so intriguing and I have an unexplained soft spot for Hawthorns so am loving your choice 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they? Wish I could find out more about how old this one is. Glad to see another hawthorn lover!

  9. Spade & Dagger says:

    There’s nothing better than a tree rooted (!) in its’ own landscape for interest. If you decide to include a bit more about your village that would be interesting too.

    1. kate says:

      I’m sure the village will appear! Certainly the Iron Age one will – that was focused in the area around the tree…

  10. Lucy Corrander says:

    That is one beautiful tree. I tried to follow a hawthorn one year – one on top of a cliff / steep and rugged slope by the sea. All went well until it rained and I slithered around so much in the mud I couldn’t get to it. There are masses of other hawthorns round here but they are squashed together in hedgerows so it’s difficult to distinguish one from the others. But hawthorn is one of my top favourite trees and I look forward to reading about this one through the year. (Each has its own personality!)

    1. kate says:

      It’s a stunner – and that’s why this is such a good meme. Here I am, picking a tree I though I knew all about (unlike last year), only to discover I don’t, really, and that I’ve been taking it for granted.

      (I thought about access quite carefully – thankfully there’s a metalled single-track road just by it. Brave choosing one on a cliff!)

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