England’s Iconic Sycamore Gap Tree Destroyed by Act of Vandalism
In a thoughtless and ugly act of desecration, a person or persons cut down one of England’s most celebrated and historically significant trees. Known as Robin Hood’s Tree, a label it picked up after being featured in the 1991 film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” the large sycamore tree had stood tall and strong beside Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland for the past three centuries. But on the morning of September 28, passersby were shocked to find the broken tree lying across the top of the ancient Roman wall, having been intentionally toppled by vandals.
A close examination of the remaining stump revealed that the tree had been cleanly cut just above ground level, most likely with a chain saw since the cut line had been deliberately marked with a white line before the stunning act of destruction occurred. The tree would have been cut down sometime during the previous night, presumably in the wee hours of the morning when the desecrators would have been able to escape detection. A 16-year-old boy has just been arrested on suspicion of committing the act.
A Nation Mourns a Senseless Loss
The Robin Hood Tree, which is also known as the Sycamore Gap tree, grew close to Hadrian’s Wall near the village of Hexham, at the bottom of a small valley formed by a steep dip in the landscape. The tree’s unique and singular profile helped make it popular with tourists and hikers, and those who ventured into the English countryside to walk along Hadrian’s Wall often stopped to pose for photographs standing alongside what had become something of a national landmark.
The beautiful Sycamore Gap tree, famously called Robin Hood's tree, stood as an iconic landmark alongside Hadrian's Wall, marking a piece of history. (Alexandra/Adobe Stock)
But the Sycamore Gap tree is now gone for good, bringing expressions of dismay and outrage from those who treasured and appreciated it.
One of those who are grieving the loss of the tree is Alison Hawkins, a Liverpool native who was on the fourth day of her ongoing trek along Hadrian’s Wall when she came upon the site of the desecration.
“At first we thought it was because of a storm,” she told the Daily Mail. “But then we saw a national park ranger [and] he said it had been cut down and there was paint across the cut section, so it was a professional who knew where they were going to cut.”
“It was a proper shock,” she continued, expressing her devastation at such a senseless loss. “It’s basically the iconic picture everyone wants to see. You can forgive nature doing it, but you can’t forgive that.”
Echoing these sentiments, photographer Ian Sproat told the BBC News that his “heart was ripped out” when he arrived at the scene of the crime and saw the felled tree for the first time.
“I was gob smacked, anger set in and now sadness,” he said. “They have just destroyed a part of the Northeast. It’s like cutting down the Tyne Bridge or the Swing Bridge, it’s just as monumental … I keep asking myself, why would anyone do this?”
This is exactly what the police want to know, and they may have the answer soon. On the evening of September 28th they announced that a suspect had been taken into custody. The individual arrested has been identified as a 16-year-old boy, although he has not been identified by name because since he is legally classified as a juvenile. It remains to be seen whether this will be the only arrest, or if other suspects might eventually be apprehended.
“I think we all as a region feel shocked at what has happened,” said Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuiness in a just released statement.
“Sycamore Gap was a place of happy and moving memories for millions of people, and a symbol of home for people around the world. It's important now that we let justice that its course, and my thanks are with our hardworking police officers for their actions today.”
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An investigation is ongoing after the Sycamore Gap Tree was felled overnight in what we believe was a deliberate act of vandalism. (1/3)
— Northumbria Police (@northumbriapol) September 28, 2023
Will the Sycamore Gap Tree Arise Again? Stay Tuned
The Sycamore Gap tree was believed to have been intentionally planted alongside Hadrian’s Wall in the early 18th century. It was actually one of many trees that were planted in the small valley or gap that borders the wall at that location, but over the years the other trees eventually died, leaving just one lone sycamore standing like a sentinel standing guard beside one of England’s most visited tourist attractions.
Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Roman army in 122, on the orders of the emperor Hadrian following his visit to the British Isles in that year. The 73-mile- (117-km) long barrier has been carefully preserved for nearly 2,000 years, and the Robin Hood Tree was recognized as one of its more significant landscape markers.
While photographers had been attracted to the tree for a long time, it become more well-known to the general public after it was cast in a co-starring role in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
In one scene Robin Hood (played by Kevin Costner) is seen pulling leaves from the tree as he walks along Hadrian’s Wall accompanied by the warrior Azeem (played by Morgan Freeman). In addition to its appearance in the movie the tree was also featured prominently in the music video for Bryan Adams’ hit song “(Everything I Do) I do it for you,” which was included on the film’s soundtrack.
The tree came close to being destroyed once before. In 2003 a helicopter filming Hadrian’s Wall for a documentary series crashed less than 100 feet (30 m) away from the treasured natural artifact. Fortunately no one was seriously injured in that crash, and the tree was completely unaffected as well.
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But now the Robin Hood Tree’s long lifespan has truly come to an end, thanks to an act of thoughtless vandalism that has crushed the spirits of those who knew the tree’s story and celebrated its unlikely existence. This beloved icon will certainly not be forgotten, and it is inevitable that some effort will be made to plant new sycamore trees at the site that the departed Robin Hood Tree had nobly occupied for so long. If these efforts are successful, the mighty tree of Sycamore Gap may eventually rise again.
Top image: The Sycamore Gap tree near Hadrian’s Wall was cut down by vandals. Screenshot from BBC news release. Source: BBC News/Youtube Screenshot
By Nathan Falde