The Twin Sycamore

Sentinels on our track to the cottage

Sentinels on our track to the cottage


When William the Conqueror transformed the nation in 1066, a follow on from his success was for future French families to decide to settle in Scotland. One example is the Maitlands, ( known as the Earls and Duke of Lauderdale),who were originally from France,but who became known as a ‘famous Scottish family’ arriving with William the Conqueror. They took on Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, Scottish Borders. Their descendants rebuilding it as the Maitland family home in 1590 and greatly enhanced by the Duke of Lauderdale in the 1670s. In 1840, it was extended and refurbished with the addition of two new wings. During the Middle Ages these French families also brought in to the British Isles plants and trees from their own land. One of these was the Sycamore Tree (though in Scotland it is often called a Plane tree which Americans also call the tree, perhaps because of their Scottish ancestors).

The Sycamore got its name from the Bible where the fig-mulberry ‘Sycomorus’ is mentioned, it having clusters of figs borne on short leafless twigs. From its dense shade, it was chosen in the sacred dramas of the Middle Ages to represent the Sycamore (Luke xix. 4) into which Zaccheus climbed. The Sycamore-fig, Ficus Sycomorus, grows in the lowlands of Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere. Its name may also be of Semitic origin.

It is a member of the Maple family, the largest member of that family in Europe. It is classed as a Eurasian deciduous maple tree (Acer pseudoplatanus) having palmately lobed leaves, winged fruits, and greenish flowers.

This tree has become naturalised in Britain, growing especially well in a wide range of soils, but does best on deep, fresh to moist free-draining soils of medium to rich nutrient status. It is not suited to heavy clays and poor sandy soils, and does not tolerate waterlogging and flooding and is not drought tolerant. It is quite shade tolerant and the species often colonises the understorey of broadleaved woodlands. Cold hardy and tolerant of exposure, salt spray and air pollution, therefore suited to all climatic regions of Britain.

This has been the wettest year for the UK since records began. It has rained for so many days I can’t remember seeing blue skies for a long time. Our Sycamores sit on well drained land, the water rushing down into the burn which is lower down than the trees and even if it floods it cannot reach the trees.

The magnificent trees are identical heights and must have been deliberately planted at least 100 years ago. Their image frames so many of my photographs from either end of the track, throughout the seasons. There are no other such trees in the immediate area.

There is a ruin of a settlement further north of our cottage which is said to be of the Middle Ages. There has been, therefore, a history of settlement along the Billhope Burn for centuries since the Middle Ages. At some point, maybe when the drystane dyke was built in the 1800s, the two Sycamores were planted at either end of the wall, but the saplings may have been found nearby.

I love these Sycamores. Here there have been few trees for at least a century, since sheep and cattle were grazing predominantly on the fells. They were perfectly symmetric but a contractor cut one side away last winter. He needed to get his huge digger past as he drove it to dig rocks from the nearby ancient quarry. He used the rocks to build a new track for the foresters about to plant broadleaved woodland further up the glen. Now my photographs of the trees in perfect symmetry are all I have. When I complained, he said he could have cut them down and I should think myself lucky! I shrank back in horror at the thought.

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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