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Norfolk's Wishing Tree

In the wild landscape of the Brecks, close to the lunar craters of Grime’s Graves and the Ice Age pingo holes, is Barnham Cross Common once home to a wishing or ‘trysting’ tree.

The wishing tree at Barnham Cross Common. CREDIT: Siofra Connor / Norfolk Folklore Society

This is a historic landscape, the earth striped by chalk and sand left by glaciers and blown by the winds which whip across the heath, manmade ditches and banks creating furrows intended to prevent gliders from landing whole troops of Nazis to overrun Norfolk.

Tucked away in a woodland patch is the site of the franchise cross that once divided the Liberty of Bury St Edmunds from that of Thetford, a so-called plague post where travellers to Thetford Market could wash their money in a water or vinegar-filled basin. It is also the home of The Beast of the A1075, the Bigfoot-style creature which has been spotted close to the road and in thickets of woodland since the 1970s by multiple witnesses.

Back on the lonely heathland of the Brecks, there once stood a Scots Pine tree which had been part of a plantation created in the early 19th century, around the time of the Battle of Waterloo. This gnarled old tree became famous for a quirk: its trunk had grown peculiarly, creating a loop which was close to the ground.

In The East Anglian Magazine, Vol.22 (Nov.1962-Oct.1963), it was written: “On the sandy heath of Barnham Cross Common used to be a pine tree about which curious customs have gathered. Called variously the Trysting Pine, Kissing Tree or Wishing Tree, the trunk had twisted and curled itself into a loop not far from the ground. 

“One tradition said that a person had to pull off or knock down a single fir cone, hold it in the right hand, place one's head through the loop and make a wish. Another version told that couples must hold hands through the loop, then kiss and pledge undying love, hoping the tree would bind them to it with its magic.”

The roots of tree lore burrow back to the very earliest belief systems. It is believed that if you write your wish, attach it to a ribbon and tie it to a tree, it will be released to the elements who will help you achieve your goal. You can also bury a coin that you’ve held as you made a wish, beneath a tree in exchange for good luck, a belief which originated hundreds of years ago in Britain where it was believed an offering to nature would help to cure an illness.

In County Laois in Ireland, there is a sycamore that has hundreds of Irish pennies hammered into it while in Durham, close to the High Force waterfall, there is a coin tree. In Northern England there is a wish tree in the grounds of High Force waterfall. The Punch Bowl pub, near Penrith, Cumbria, has coins forced into splits in ceiling beams. In Japan there are trees all over the country covered with “paper wishes”: far kinder to trees.


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