Visit The Ankerwycke Yew, The "Last Surviving Witness To The Signing Of Magna Carta"

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By M@
Visit The Ankerwycke Yew, The "Last Surviving Witness To The Signing Of Magna Carta"

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A child inside the ankerwyke yew
Image: Matt Brown

Visit the gnarled old tree that witnessed Magna Carta.

The Ankerwycke Yew stands just outside the capital, about a mile west of the M25 at Runnymede. It's at least 35 times more ancient than the motorway. It may be older than London.

According to tree experts, this magnificent plant is somewhere between 1,400 and 2,500 years old (living yews are notoriously coy about their age). This means it was at least 600 when King John put his seal to Magna Carta in 1215.

The ankerwyke yew
Wider shot of the yew by ImranC, under creative commons licence

Nobody knows the exact spot where John and the barons met at Runnymede. The yew must be a strong contender. It grows on raised ground above marshes and would have been a prominent landmark even in the 13th century. St Mary's Priory, whose remains still stand, was built right next to it, and was the most significant local building in John's time. The tree has been dubbed "the last surviving witness to Magna Carta," in recognition of this likelihood.

The nearby ruins of St Mary's Priory
The nearby ruins of St Mary's Priory. Image: Matt Brown

John was not the last king to pass beneath its boughs. According to tradition, it was under this tree that Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn. The story is first attested in a poem of 1807. As is usually the case with Tudor love stories, there is no primary evidence to back it up.

Tens of thousands of history-seekers flock to Runnymede each year. Most miss out on the tree. It's set back from the north bank of the Thames, cut off from the various memorials and — more pertinently — the car parks to the south. But you should visit. It's a sinuous, hairy, leviathan whose entanglement of limbs will swiftly ingurgitate any passing child.

How to get to the Ankerwycke Yew

An avenue of white poplars
Image: Matt Brown

Getting there is the tricky part. If you have a car, then you'll find a small but free National Trust car park a little way to the north on Magna Carta Lane. Otherwise, the nearest station is Wraysbury — it's quite a trek, but an interesting one if you go via the footpath beside the reservoirs. Alternatively hop on a 305 bus (infrequent and non-TfL) from the station and get off at the Magna Carta Lane stop. Whichever route you take, enjoy the pleasant walk south from Magna Carta Lane to the yew tree, passing along a distinctive avenue of white poplars (above).

You'll find more information about the Ankerwycke Yew and the wider Runnymede site over on the National Trust's website.

Last Updated 19 December 2023

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