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From George I to Charles III, the Sycamore Gap tree saw British history unfold

Two world wars, multiple monarchs, disasters and jubilation: Sean O’Grady reflects on the rich history of the tree at Hadrian’s Wall – and explains why we shouldn’t flinch from mourning its felling

Saturday 30 September 2023 00:26 BST
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<p>How much history has the sycamore ‘observed’ since it was a sapling </p>

How much history has the sycamore ‘observed’ since it was a sapling

I’m not quite sure why trees can have such a powerful hold on us, but it’s a remarkable, almost spiritual phenomenon. We sense they are living things – often venerable, always graceful, occasionally of stunning beauty.

The sycamore that stood by Hadrian’s Wall for 300 years was chopped down in an apparent wanton – but surely premeditated – act of vandalism. As has been rightly observed, it was handsome enough to be a film star, and its performance in the 1991 version of the tale of Robin Hood was hardly wooden.

Seeing it lying there, stricken, helpless, slowly dying makes one irrationally depressed – it’s only a tree, you try to tell yourself. I’d never met the tree, after all. But, like many of us, it was a sad – even sickening – sight. To those who had some connection with it – a marriage, a scattering of ashes, a habitual resting stop – its loss is more akin to a bereavement. Many tears have been shed.

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