Beech

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Tree Tarot: The Lovers / Beech

The Beech Tree

The Wesley Beeches
Kilravock Castle Layering Beech
The Meckleor Beech Hedge
The Pollock Park Beech


Belonging to the same family as the Oaks, the Beeches (Fagus sylvatica) occur across a large part of the world. They are not found in Africa or southern Asia; However they are abundant in Europe but also in Japan, New Zealand, South Australia, Tasmania, Tierra del Fuego, North America, Norway, Spain, and Asia Minor.

The Beech has since prehistory been used as a relatively light material on which to carve the written word. The old High German word buchhin, meaning 'from Beech wood', became the word for 'book' in both German and English.

Astrologers (and Culpeper) associate it with Saturn, giving it the traits of preservation, compression, contraction and isolation. There is very little undergrowth in a beech wood and often none at all close to the tree trunks. At the same time, the astrologers assert that all broad-leaved trees are ruled by Jupiter. This gives the beech the force of expansion. It is, perhaps, the balance of the two forces which gives the tree its vitality. It is one of the most successful trees in Western and Central Europe.

Forest of Beeches - Gustav Klimt
Forest of Beeches
Gustav Klimt

The key words for the spiritual qualities of the beech, according to Tree Yoga (see acknowledgements below), are: concentration, preservation, alignment and discipline.

Culpeper states that the leaves of the beech tree are "cooling and binding and therefore good to be applied to hot swellings". The water found accumulated in the hollows in the trunk and branches, he says, cures both man and beast of "of any scurf, scab or running tetters, if they be washed therewith". The leaves may be boiled and made into a poultice or ointment.

In the Chilterns, you can find rare examples of a beech coppice, which looks like gnarled bonsai stumps bearing shaggy sprays of boughs. These are the beeches which would have been familiar to mediaeval people; they were the rule not the exception. There Was no need for large beech trees in the days before the timber yard. Julius Caesar remarked that he found no beech trees in England but he was probably looking for large trees.

Unfortunately deer and grey squirrels nibbling away at our beech trees have taken their toll and there are now many genuinely sick beeches in evidence. Stressed-out beeches suffer from a variety of ailments, including beech bark disease, a fungal infection spread by a scale insect. And, experiments have shown, beech is more vulnerable than native oak to the dreaded sudden oak death disease, which has recently spread into parks and woods from garden centres.

The Wesley Beeches

Two knotted and contorted Beech trees, which have grafted together to form one, so that it is hard to distinguish one from the other. Despite appearances they are large and healthy trees. However, the joining of the trees was no accident of nature but the work of John Wesley (1703 to 1791), founder of Methodism. He purchased two saplings and entwined them together to represent the union of Methodism with Anglicanism.

It was during a mission to the mills of Lambeg in the Laggan Valley on the outskirts of Lisburn, Ireland in 1787, that he planted the trees, while staying with the Wolfenden family at Chrome hill.

Wesley often preached under trees and the Pulpit Yew, discussed elsewhere, is another tree associated with Wesley.

Kilravock Castle Layering Beech

Kilravock Castle Layering Beech

Beeches with a tendency to layer are extremely rare in Scotland. The finest and largest Of the very few specimens known to exist is that which graces the grounds of Kilravock Castle, Inverness-shire. Believed to have been planted in the secnd half of the 17th century, it is of considerable age for a species not known for longevity.

Kilravock Castle (pronounced Kilrawck) is on the B9091 road between Croy and Clephanton, approximately 10 miles east of Inverness and the A9 and is administered by Ellel Ministries as a hotel and religious retreat. Before you make a wasted journey, please note that access is available only with permission. The tree is situated On a low bank alongside the driveway to the Castle.

The huge trunk measures 16 feet in girth at 3.3 feet above ground level, and it is surrounded by low, snaking limbs, many of which have drooped to the ground and taken root forming small trees in their own right. The tree has been repeatedly pollarded in the past, and the dense, multi-stemmed crown typical of such trees is still in good condition.

The tree is also known as the Kissing Beech, after a member of an early owner’s family and a housemaid were witnessed in an illicit embrace under its spreading limbs. The extensive carving of lovers’ names on the bark suggests that many others have used this tree as a rendezvous. The smooth grey bark of Beech trees has always made them attractive to lovers because it is easy to inscribe on theme and they are often known as ‘trysting trees’.

Kilravock Castle was built in 1460 and has seen many famous visitors over the centuries, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1562 and Robert Burns in 1787. Bonnie Prince Charlie is reputed to have been entertained within its thick walls the day before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The Meckleor Beech Hedge

Believed to have been laid out and planted in the Autumn of 1745 by Jean Mercer and her husband Robert Murray Nairn, and running parallel to the A93, the Meckleor Beech Hedge has, since 1966, been recognised as the tallest in the world. At over 500 yards long and over 120 feet in height at the Northern end it tapers to 80 feet at the other end. The year of the hedge's creation was the year of the second Jacobite uprising. Jean moved to Edinburgh a year later after the death of her husband Robert at the battle of Culloden and the hedge was left to grow unattended. In another version of the story the gardeners who tended the hedge took up arms for Bonnie Prince Charlie and perished at the same battle.

The Pollock Park Beech

Growing in Glasgow's Pollock Park in the grounds behind Pollock House, the The Pollock Park Beech is thought to be about 250 years old. The huge main trunk, with a maximum girth of 32 feet but only extending nine feet high, appears to be a conglomeration of a large number of small stems which have grafted themselves together over the years.to form a grossly distorted structure. From this main stem a number of quite small limbs radiate, giving the whole tree a very strange appearance unlike other beech trees.


Acknowledgements and further reading:

The Heritage Trees of Britain and Northern IrelandJon Stokes and Donald RodgerConstable
The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
Tree Yoga - A WorkbookSatya Singh & Fred HagenederEarthdancer
The Complete HerbalNicholas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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© Ken James 2008