ASH Trees around Horndean
The graceful Ash tree is one of the commonest trees in the Horndean area occurring in most locations across the Parish. Ash seedlings grow as 'weeds' in many gardens since the seeds or 'keys' are wind blown although they often remain in clusters on the tree right through the winter as may just be seen in (1) showing a tree by the pond at Catherington at the end of January 2009. Ash seedlings have even been seen growing in gutters and drainpipes and need removing promptly!
Ash seedlings can colonise open ground especially on the damp and calcareous soils that exist in this part of Hampshire, in fact it used to known by Hampshire foresters as the 'Hampshire Weed'. Many gaps in hedgerows caused by the loss of elms and the great storms of 1987 and 1990 were rapidly filled by ash seedlings which can often grow as much as 6 foot in one season.
The older and largest local ash trees are often enormous coppiced trees. Some of the old coppice stools could be several hundred years old (2) such as can be found by an old track running past the east end of Ludmore Hanger (SU687 157) FP41. Standard or maiden ash trees grow to a great hight but will only live to about 200 years if uncut, after which they start to loose lateral branches and eventually collapse, (3) An old hedgerow ash in Woodhouse Lane has recently lost a branch (4) and this was covered in several species of lichens giving an opportunity to record the many lichen species that occur on ash bark in Horndean.(5) and (6) on a fallen branch from (3) and on the trunk in ( 7) Catherington Lane, (SU723 132 and SU696 128).(8) The scars on ash trees mostly heal up quickly and form a complete callus
Many ash trees are being covered with excessive growth of Ivy, this is increasing wind resistance. Together with a tendency of ash to rot at the base trees in a band of woodland called Munday's Row ash trees completely covered in ivy have come down in the 2008 winter gales (9) (SU691 149). Many of the fallen ash have successfully regrown from the horizontal trunk, almost as natural coppicing ! Seen in (10) and (11) and (12) where a hedgerow ash has 'sprouted' in Boyes Lane. Space must be kept to describe a very special Ancient Ash at Torberry Hill found a mile NW of South Harting (SU780 203) near the top of the hill where there is an iron age fort.....
The Trysting tree
This once wonderful ash tree has now collapsed but there are other mature ash trees on the site and it still well worth a visit. There are few references to the tree in the many recent books on ancient trees. I first read about the tree in the excellent book by Jim Wilkes, 'Trees of the British Isles in History and Legend'. The following pictures show the rapid decline in the the tree over the last 20 years.
"A very large ash tree at Torberry Hill near West harting, Hants, stands near the site of an Iron Age encampment. Known as the Trysting Tree, it measures 24 ft. in circumference at 4 ft from the ground, but has a hollow centre 2ft6in across. Surprisingly, it supports a full crown and seems to be in good health. By tradition it was the site of meetings, and was also possibly a "court" tree. If we accept that ash trees can live for several hundred years (though thay have not the longevity of oak) the tradition that the Hundred Court used to be held beneath the tree is fairly acceptable - though more likely it marks the site of a predecessor, probably an oak, a more usual witness of trystings. The position of this tree in relation to the adjoining mounds may signify that its predecessors may have marked the site of pagan religious ceremonies rather than the legal ones of later ages."
Gradually the tree has fallen apart but the site is still well worth the climb. You will be rewarded by fine views across the West Sussex Downs above Harting and there are other ancient ash trees at the site.
THE TRYSTING TREE
Among the group of ash trees on the hill
There stands a hoary patriarchal tree,
One that commands respect whose age is shown
In hollow trunk and grim deformity.
The girth is great. In prime it must have been
A king among the trees with regal crown,
But everything is subject to decay
And one by one its massive boughs fell down.
Disease and winter storms have taken toll.
Remains of rotting branches lie beneath
And tell that strength and greatness have no power
Above the lowly moss that weaves a wreath.
One limb is left which points towards the sky
Defying death, its semblance to dispel,
For there in spring the black buds break afresh
When rising sap restores each living cell.
Mavis hugging the Trysting Tree on 17 February 1995
Another 'Ancient Ash'can be found just north of Buriton and close to the Hangers Way (SU745 217) shown in (17) to (20) with my wife Mavis peeping through the old trunk of this great monster in picture (19). We last visited the tree in April 2003 and she was inspired to write another 'Ash' Poem. It would be very difficult to give an age for this tree but for several hundred years it has enjoyed living here besides a small chalk stream where ash trees seem to thrive.
(21) Shows a fine large standard tree with plenty of mosses growing on the steep slope of Ludmore Hanger.
(22) A large coppiced ash with multi trunk growth amongst the wood anemones in Yoells Copse and (23) another old ash stool with plenty of holes offering animals shelter bottom of Catherington Down.
(24) Ash flowers, not often seen, appearing before the leaves and sometimes with the previous years winged seed/fruit still on some trees. Some trees change sex yearly whereas others can produce dual-sex flowers.
The Ancient Ash Tree
We saw the ancient ash across the field
And we were glad to find it just the same
For I had feared that maybe it had gone
As quite a time has passed since last we came.
The calloused rounded trunk holds onto life
Though hollow with a gaping cavity,
And branches thin and new have upwards grown
From older ones now broken on the tree.
How many years, I wonder, has it stood
To witness all the seasons come and go -
From spring with ladysmocks and violets
To winter with its bitter winds and snow ?
It has grown old in its appointed place,
The boundary hedge between adjacent fields.
Unchanging is the view from where it stands,
The valley and the hill above that shields.
Oh, may it long remain in this quiet place
Where peace of ages rests upon the scene.
It shows endurance, hope and faith renewed
In all its branches, soon to burst in green.
Mavis Vigay - Good Friday 18th April 2003
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