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Brampton Bryan Hedge
A remarkable yew hedge
The remarkable yew hedge is a well-known local landmark – it is hard to miss as part of its length runs beside the road through the village. If you say you live in Brampton Bryan, people reply: 'where the hedge is'!
It is not known when this magnificent, lumpy free-form hedge was planted but it started out in a relatively tame clipped form, as can be evidenced in the pre-First World War photo of the village.
With the absence of men to clip during the wars, the hedge was left to its own devices, and was later re-tamed to its present organic and abstract form. Ever evolving, the hedge appears to sit atop the stone wall, bellying down and out at random. The hedge surrounds the Church, Hall and Castle, and at approximately half a mile in length is reputed to be the longest free-form, or cloud, yew hedge in England.
Clipping the hedge is an art form and not for the faint-hearted. Cherry pickers and traffic lights have replaced ladders and old red cotton flags, but the job still takes three people about four weeks of clipping. The hand shears of old have been updated too, to battery operated hedge clippers. For twenty years the yew clippings were collected for use in developing the cancer drug, Taxol, but this medical story has evolved in other ways and the clippings are now composted down and applied a year later to the base of the hedge to keep it in good health. Clipping takes place in July and August which ensures a perfectly trimmed hedge for a good seven or eight months of the year. This takes the hedge through the winter when the low sun and frost create marvelous shadows. Snow too can create a dramatic sort of Christmas cake.
British botanist W. J. Bean in his reference work 'Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles' describes the Common Yew as follows:
'No tree has become more woven into the history and folk-lore of Great Britain than the Common Yew, or Taxus baccata. All through the Middle Ages and until gunpowder came into general use, yew wood was more valued than any other for the manufacture of bows, long the national weapon of offence. In earlier ages still, before the conversion of this country to Christianity, yews were, no doubt, sacred trees, and the Druids erected their temples near them. The early Christians made a practice of building their churches on sites previously held sacred by the Britons, and thus perpetuated that association of the yew with religious edifices which has lasted until now.'
If you go into the churchyard you will see four yew trees, the smallest was planted to mark the millennium by the children of Brampton Bryan village. The seedling was a cutting taken from an ancient yew estimated to be at least 2000 years old. Thousands of parishes across England and Wales took part in marking the Millennium in this way and the proceeds enabled the Conservation Foundation to continue protecting and recording the country's ancient yew trees.