I love this old tree. I call it the Green Man. It grows on the bridleway out of the bottom of Kingley Vale to Welldown on the Lavant-Chilgrove road.
I have photographed him every few years for a long time now to see how he changes. Here he is with his crown of blossom in May-time. He has the face of a monster and an eye in the middle and a long snout stretching over the path.
He is the last tree as you approach Kingley Vale over Langford Farm, almost a marker tree on the boundary with West Stoke Farms of the Heaver family.
The Haga thorn was the tree of the Saxons that marked the end of spring and beginning of summer. Some say it has a sexy scent: but on fading changes this bridal veil to a shroud and an unpleasant smell.
When I was a child I was frightened of the power of Haga. “An evil tree,” shouted old Mrs Jarvis in our tiny North Norfolk villager of Stiffkey. “Don’t bring that near my door.” I had smelt it, and felt it, and thought it was like the cream on the cow milk earthenware vats in the pantry.
It looked so inviting, I tasted the blossom, for every schoolchild knew then the leaf buds were called bread-and-cheese, and you could nibble them to ward off hunger.
So I had picked a small spray of blossom, and taken it to Mrs J as we called her, to put in a vase on her dresser and make the room smell really nice.
She was shocked. “I’ll have to pray for you now,” she told me, and on the Sunday following I tried to listen outside the brick-built Methodist church, wondering whether I could hear what she would say to save me, but could only hear the curious wailing sound of all the women elders, the wives and unmarried daughters of the cockle-pickers and farm labourers, who made up the congregation, as they sang their cheerful old hymns.
After that rude introduction to hawthorn which villagers called Mother-die, I learned then most of history had been very encouraging about the magical properties of hawthorn. Thorns and blood-red berries were the obvious link to misfortune, as was the shroud smell as the blossoms faded, but most had revelled in the intoxicating scent and link with young love.
Both Shakespeare and Milton described the shade for shepherds provided by the lone bushes on the hills as far more trustworthy than the rich robes that sheltered kings from treachery.
Workers and unions adopting May Day as their holiday were following ancient time-markers which the hawthorn had given European humanity for centuries. May blossom typically appeared on the pre-Gregorian calendar date of May 1, a date moved forward to May 12 in 1752. Everything about this tree is good and efficacious, I have learned.
It feeds birds with its berries, butterflies and bees with its honey.
It gives shelter to the nesting thrush and the hedge sparrow.
It has been carved into countless Green Men inside churches by craftsmen of the 13th century, and its snowy hedges give relief to the eye and the troubled mind as we walk and drive the breadth of the land, Sorry, Mrs J. You were right about most things, but then you were a typical Norfolk person – suspicious, cautious, looking for problems.
At least that took you safely through your 90 years of life.