Take the humble sycamore. Acer pseudoplatanus L. It’s a common-enough woodland species, not native to this country, but introduced into these islands 500, maybe 1500 years or more ago, perhaps even by the Romans, according to the Woodland Trust. Not a tree that stands out in particular.
However, location is everything. And the tree I’m thinking about has it all. 2016 England Tree of the Year. And ‘star’ of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Yes, it’s that tree, at Sycamore Gap in the heart of the Northumberland National Park. It featured near the beginning of the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, and the late Alan Rickman (as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham). I’ve also read that it appears in the video of Bryan Adams’ Everything I do, I do if for you, the theme song from the film, but I’ve not yet been able to verify that. It’s a great song, so have a listen here.
Now, the screenwriters stretched things a little far for Robin Hood to travel from Jerusalem to Nottingham (in the English Midlands) via Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. But that’s where you can find Sycamore Gap, some 40 miles due west from our home in North Tyneside.
Traveling east along Military Road (B6318) from Once Brewed, this is the first glimpse of Sycamore Gap. Keep looking left.
Immediately due north from where I stopped the car there is the famous sycamore, reputedly several hundred years old, standing proudly against the sky in a dip on the Whin Sill, an outcrop of igneous dolerite that stretches across the county and out to the North Sea.
Dunstanburgh Castle was built on the sill, north of Craster on the north Northumberland coast.
However, perhaps the most impressive section of the sill is at Crag Lough, with Hadrian’s Wall running along the top, which we visited earlier this week in order to walk to Sycamore Gap from Steel Rigg car park, a round trip of about 3 miles.
Taking the path along the ridge there are some impressive inclines to navigate, although the return was along a more or less level track below the ridge.
Just to the west of Sycamore Gap stand the remains of Milecastle 39, one of the sentry posts along Hadrian’s Wall.
And then, you come upon the tree. I’m sure it’s as majestic in full leaf, as it was at the time of the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But somehow, I think I prefer its winter skeletal self, as you can really appreciate the architecture of this lone tree.
Two miles further east Housesteads Roman fort and settlement are located just below the crest of the sill.
At this time of the year there were few visitors to Sycamore Gap, but probably not so in the summer months, when you might expect a constant stream of walkers. Fortunately I was able to take all the photos I wanted without being interrupted by other walkers.
The views south across the Northumberland countryside are quite magnificent.
One small feature that caught my eye, and which I don’t think I’ve seen in quite the same way elsewhere was the construction of the dry stone walls. In the area of Steel Rigg these had a couple of layers of flat stones separating the round or square/rectangular stones. I wonder how many of those were filched from Hadrian’s Wall over the centuries.
I count this visit to Sycamore Gap among the best walks we’ve made since moving to the northeast 18 months ago. Yes there’s still more to explore. Northumberland is such a beautiful county, as I’m sure you will appreciate in the video below, which shows part of the homeward journey east from Steel Rigg to Chollerford, just over 11 miles away on the banks of the River North Tyne,