Archives for category: English Landscape
The beech tree in early autumn, in earlier and healthier times

The beech tree in early autumn, in earlier and healthier times. (photo: Sue Skinner) 

Throughout living memory, one of the most well known and well loved landmarks in Cliffe Castle Park has been the ancient and truly enormous beech tree in the lower field. It stood alone and magnificent; without competition from other trees nearby it had room to grow to its full potential and acheived a size and shape that was something to marvel at. It was beautiful in every season. 

Early spring (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early spring (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early summer (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early summer (photo: Sue Skinner)

Autumn (photo: Sue Skinner)

Autumn (photo: Sue Skinner)

Winter (photo: Sue Skinner)

Winter (photo: Sue Skinner)

Sadly the tree had been struggling in recent years and had reached the point where it was in danger of collapse, and with a tree of this size even falling branches can be dangerous; each massive branch was as big as a sizeable tree. Last week it finally had to be felled. 

Beech Tree felled (photo: Sue Skinner)

Beech Tree felled (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump and trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump and trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump (photo: Elaine Cooper)

Stump (photo: Elaine Cooper)

It’s never easy to have to see an ancient and well loved tree taken down, but anyone looking closely in recent times will have seen it was in trouble. In the words of Bob Thorp, Trees & Woodlands manager: “the signs indicating a potential catastrophic failure have been present for at least 5 years – only 20% of the crown was producing normal sized leaves and shoot extension, the other 80% of the crown struggled to produce even small leaves and practically no shoot extension.  The effect of this loss of vigour is the tree is unable to make and  lay down sufficient new wood to deal with  mechanical stress – when that happens the tree begins to collapse.”
The tree was in danger, and potentially a danger to anyone passing by. The cause of its failure was probably the fungus Meripilus gigantes, a parasite of beech trees that makes the top of the tree slowly thin out until finally it can’t sustain itself and will start to collapse. 

Fungus on the trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the ground at the root (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the ground at the root (photo: Sue Skinner)

Unfortunately I was away from Keighley at the time this happened – if I’d been there I’d have been sketching the whole process of felling – but this is an important event to record. It’s important to say our goodbyes and remember an old friend, so this has had to be a photographic rather than a sketched account – and it’s good to have a few pictures of the tree in all its glory at healthier times. 

Some of the timber has been saved, (a cross-section of the bole will be particularly interesting and hopefully may be displayed somewhere in the park or museum) and it may be possible to use some of the wood in a creative commemorative way – but all this is for the future. For now, it’s time to celebrate this wonderful tree and treasure our memories. 

Do you have pictures or memories of the beech tree you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments section below! 

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Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

The view across Airedale from what will be the viewing terrace, on a chilly December afternoon. (Click on the picture to view a larger image.) 

Between Christmas and the New Year work has stopped. We’ve had rain, gale force winds, mist, and fog. We’ve also had glorious sunshine and clear cold skies with the most spectacular colours at sunrise and sunset, and just recently we’ve had frost so thick and hard that the dips and hollows in the landscape have stayed white and frozen solid all through the day, despite the sunshine. I walked up to the top of the hill and looked down over the top of the children’s playground across the valley and sketched a panorama of Airedale until my fingers were too stiff to move. 

This area is where the viewing terrace is going to be. Right now it’s a sea of frozen mud deeply rutted with caterpillar digger-tracks and fenced off for safety, but when it’s finished it will have wooden picnic tables and for me it’s going to be one of the best places in the park simply because of the amazing view. I never get tired of gazing out over Airedale, and this will be a wonderful place to sit and draw. Or just sit! 

The stepped path that leads to Moorside Wood will start from here. At the moment if you walk up the completed section from the wood towards the tower you find your way blocked by wire security barriers surrounding the work site, which is frustrating, but at least you can see what’s going on. Up at the main building site on the top terrace a long section of the wooden hoarding blew down in the gales at Christmas, so for a few days it was easier to peer through and see the framework of the café glasshouses taking shape. Things are moving on. And in a few days the new year will have begun and work will start again……. 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

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Spring seems to be having growing pains. Only ten days ago I was sitting outside in warm sunshine and now that feels like another year altogether; its so cold I feel it in my bones. The wind whips across the valley and lashes freezing rain against windows and doors.

Occasionally clouds get driven apart by the wind, and the sun briefly pans across the hillside. One afternoon this week I sketched from the window and tried to catch the sunlight as it as it ran along the fields. It’s futile; I can never do it, but watching it is irresistible.

I’m not the only one around here that spends time looking closely at things. After several grey days the sun broke through this morning and all of a sudden it felt like spring. I was glad to see these two figures in the distance, one of them with a camera, peering intently at the crocuses that every year cover this bank like a snowdrift.

I love the way the season, the weather and the time of day can alter everything so dramatically. I can go for the same walk on a different day or at a different time, and suddenly be stopped in my tracks by the sight of something astonishing.