Twice this week I’ve been spooked by deer exiting our yew tree. The tree is the widest tree in the UK and probably Europe.
It has one central trunk and its branches spread outwards rooting in the ground as they grow. Many visitors walk straight past it assuming it’s a very large bush.
It now covers over three quarters of an acre and would be larger if we didn’t trim it back.
It is thought to be over 350 years old and once had a tunnel running through it. Patrick Lichfield’s grandfather would host charity garden parties on the lawn beside the tree and charge an entrance fee to the yew tunnel in order to raise further funds for his worthy causes. Sadly, the tunnel has long since grown over and visitors are unable to access the interior.
We occasionally go in though to check on the general health of the tree and to rescue croquet balls, which have been hoofed inside from the Doric Lawn (usually by competitive dads).
The outer several feet are a complicated muddle of sharp twigs and it is impossible to find a way through them without a few scratches and bruises.
After this, the branches become thick and sturdy and an interesting tangle of networks lead outwards from the centre.
Then suddenly a wide open space opens out – enough for 50 people to stand in – and the tangle of the trunk towers upwards.
At ground level, the light barely penetrates and the sound of visitors on paths nearby seems strangely muffled and distant.
The tree is a haven for wildlife and in winter plays home to three muntjac deer and in spring a large community of firecrests happily fly amongst its branches. In fact, it is always teeming with all manner of mammals, birds and insects and once you reach the central trunk, it’s easy to see why this is a wildlife hotspot despite being in one of the most popular areas of the gardens. Here, it feels as though you’re a world away from the rest of civilisation.