In the village of Defynnog on the A4215 – just south of the A40 – west of Brecon.
A few months ago I came across an article reporting that ‘Britain’s oldest tree’ had been identified in St Cynog’s churchyard in the village of Defynnog. It was reported that the yew tree is estimated to be 5,000 years old and is possibly even older than the famous Yew in Fortingall in Scotland. It also said the tree ‘was planted on the north side of an ancient burial mound which is now the churchyard, probably in honour of a Neolithic Chieftain’. How much truth there is in this I don’t know? However, needless to say I was eager to visit!
It was a gloriously sunny Bank Holiday morning and today was the day. Dafydd decided to stay home and watch his Dad’s Army DVDs so it was just myself and Sophie ‘out exploring’ this time. The drive up the A470 and over the Brecon Beacons was lovely and, judging by the amount of cars parked on the verges, plenty of other people were making the most of the weather. We soon found the church, parked outside and headed through the metal gate into the grave yard.
Walking down the path there is a large (and clearly old) yew tree to the left but this clearly wasn’t the tree I was looking for. Sophie was enjoying herself walking around the graves and looking at the headstones and sculptures. She asked me to read out several of the inscriptions. One was for a 5 year old child which was particularly sad as Sophie herself is only 4.
We made our way around the back of the church and there it was – in all it’s glory. The tree looks for all the world like two separate trees. It is hard to believe what you are looking at is two sides of the same tree. If the trunk was still as one it would be massive! Sophie climbed up inside the hollow trunk and I spotted a ribbon tied to one of the lower branches. Around the trunk were propped up several old headstones, some from the 1700s – no age at all compared with the tree.
I then decided to have a look inside the church but unfortunately it was locked. However, much to my surprise, there was a tall old stone affixed to the inside of the porch wall. A small information sign next to it explained that this was a 4th/5th C Roman burial marker which has a Latin inscription carved along its side (the inscription was very easy to see). The stone was later re-used in the 6th/7th C and had a lattice design carved on its upper part (again easy to make out). It is also said to have traces of Ogham script but I was unable to spot this. Discovering this stone was a very welcome surprise indeed.
If you happen to be in the area this is a church which is well worth a visit
Tree ageing expert Janis Fry, who has studied yews for more than 40 years said ‘I’m convinced this is the oldest tree in Europe. It is so old it has split into two halves – one 40ft wide and the other 20ft wide. Its DNA has been tested by the Forestry institute and its ring count is 120 per inch which makes it more than 5,000 years old’.