The twin-trunked ash tree stands just out of the hedge on its medieval bank. It catches the last rays of the sun tipping over Wenlock Edge, the western rise of Corve Dale. The tree is a veteran, heading towards what the poet John Clare would call an “old, huge, ashdotterel”. It may have been a boundary marker, to do with smallholdings,
quarries, lime kilns, charcoal burning, parish edges – a fixed point in a world turning in and out of its own past.
This is ash woodland country but there are many places connected with this kind of industry and settlement that are marked in some, as yet mysterious, way by big old ash – Æsc in Old English – open grown, cleared around so their individual character can be seen from a distance. This tree’s point is divided, cloven: two huge trunks, like legs sticking out of the ground, rise to then drop cascades of rattley, stiff, black-budded branches; a split ash, perhaps stepped through to cure hernias, rickets, impotence; perhaps a shrew ash in which a shrew (feared for cursing cattle) was walled up in a hole and the tree venerated; a two-headed tree, north and south, both facing west.
The way the sunset spotlights this particular tree, among the long shadowy miles of the dale, is uncanny. The strange lighting illuminates what has been there donkey’s years, noticed by very few.
Winter trees offer so much more character without their leaves, which in ash arrive late and leave early. And this “old ash-dotterel” is glowing. Paul Evans