What a glorious tree I passed on this week’s walk across Lord’s Piece on the Barlavington Estate and I hope you will see it too.
As you approached it from the car park 600 yards away you will have noticed other Scots pines standing on the crown of the hill just in front of this one.
They really do stand out and there lies their history, for they could well have been planted as waymarkers over a century ago. Right across England Scots pines were the symbol of security for travellers.
They showed the way for cattle drovers and even those driving a flock of geese to the Michaelmas sales: the goose sales which gave the word gossamer (goose summer), the spiders’ webs which en masse across the fields coincided with goose banquets since Medieval times.
The pines were planted along the droveways and in some places remain in Wiltshire and Dorset.
They were also planted in small groups around farms as a welcome symbol to the traveller who could be assured of a drink and a bite and even a bed on his or her travels to distant places.
So the pines I passed on my walk this week made me wonder. Had there been hospitality on this hill in centuries past? The wide forest path on the east of Lord’s Piece is a natural extension of the route up Stane Street through Bignor and on to Fittleworth from Chichester to London and the markets in the city.
This splendid tree in my photo has for me all the resonance of a cathedral. Indeed, its steeple hums in wind and gale and is as alive as a cathedral with life and power of presence.
Battles with elements are obvious: it lost a large branch perhaps in the hurricane of 1987. But its deep roots into the sand held. Imagine that green crown as a schooner sail which the hurricane would then have pushed through water at enormous speed. Surrey and Sussex are one of the safest homes for this anciently native tree.
I have now written up 320 walks for this newspaper and have many times been impressed by the giant Scots pines I have passed out in the Weald.
They give me as much pleasure as the giant oaks and beeches of Sussex. They have a calming feeling about them as they tower into the sunshine with their warm pink bark like human skin. They always feel like summertime even in winter.
I love to look high into their crowns to see the nests of crow and raven and buzzard that have over the years found safe home. I have enjoyed those in Scotland where they are remnants of the Caledonian Forest of pre-history.
The queer shapes in Suffolk hedgerows of contorted Scots pines that were once trimmed into hedges and have now been allowed to grow are another national treasure.
And that lovely turpentine smell on a hot summer day as you picnic at Iping or Ambersham, Hesworth, or Heyshott is one of the joys of life.