Jennifer James has spent the past 25 years marvelling at the sycamore tree that survives all on its own on Fell End Clouds in the Yorkshire dales national park. “It is a lone tree in a bare area of limestone,” she says. “It’s incredibly unusual to see a tree of that size up on the fell. How does it grow? Did somebody plant it?”
The retired biologist, 81, visits the area several times a year with her husband, Glyn, when they go to their holiday cottage in nearby Mallerstang, Cumbria. It takes the couple, who are from Woodbridge, Suffolk, an hour and a half to walk to Wild Boar fell, where Fell End Clouds is located, although sometimes they “cheat” and drive there. They have come to see the tree many times with their children and grandchildren, who like to climb its branches.
“It has a sense of freedom about it,” she says. “It’s not enclosed by any other trees so it’s grown out in all directions. It has this perfect rounded shape. It’s very symmetrical. Whichever way one looks at it, it looks almost exactly the same. It’s not even windswept. Many trees in exposed areas move away from the wind, but this one doesn’t. It’s standing proud.”
The sycamore springs up from a limestone pavement, exposed rock that resembles an artificial pavement. The area was also once used for mining. “Around the base of the tree are stones, which could be the remains of a circular stone seat or a wall where the miners might have rested in the shade or for protection from the wind and rain, perhaps to eat their food,” says James. “Now children climb and play. It is a place of fun not hardship.”
James has taken many photos of the tree during the seasons, as the leaves change from green to dark orange, but likes how stark it looks against the barren landscape during the colder months. “The winter pictures emphasise the bleak and lonely location.”
With each visit, she wonders if the tree will make it another year. “I’m always afraid that perhaps it won’t be there, that someone would cut it down. Every time we go, there’s a great sense of relief that it’s still there.” The sycamore continues to offer her great comfort. “There’s so much destruction in the world, people who don’t care about the environment, and the fact that the tree is always there is very reassuring.”