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This is a first-class example of the few ‘layering’ yews (Taxus baccata) known in Scotland.
Weeping branches radiate out from the solid central trunk and take root where they touch the ground, encircling the tree in an ever-extending fringe of growth.
A natural cathedral
The inner chamber formed by the layered branches and dense foliage creates a spacious, natural cathedral of arching limbs. The huge central trunk measures 6.9 metres (22 feet 10 inches) in girth.
Records of measurement over the past 160 years suggest a very slow rate of increment, and it is perfectly possible that the tree could be as old as 1000 years.
15th Century Landmark
As early as the 15th century the yew was recognised as a local landmark: a parchment dated 1474, found among some old papers belonging to the Earl of Hopetoun, had been signed under the yew tree.
The famous religious reformer, John Knox, who was born in nearby Haddington, is also reputed to have preached his early sermons within the secluded interior of the yew’s evergreen canopy. Here Knox, along with his influential mentor, George Wishart, sowed the seeds of the Reformation, which was ultimately to sweep throughout Scotland.
Where to see the Ormiston Yew:
A private residential development close to the ruins of Ormiston Hall, Ormiston, East Lothian. It is reached from the A609.
Image: copyright Archie Miles