When Ieuan Morris, a film history lecturer, wandered through St Peter’s churchyard in Llanbedr-Ystrad-Yw, Powys, he stumbled across something that stopped him in his tracks – a chair placed inside a yew tree. “A lot of these old yew trees are hollow,” he says. “I did laugh out loud when I saw it because I just didn’t expect to see a chair inside. I wanted to sit inside immediately.”
Morris, 64, who is semi-retired and lives in Cardiff, has long been intrigued by yew trees and travelled to Llanbedr-Ystrad-Yw for his photo series dedicated to them. “They are some of the oldest trees in Britain,” he says. “Some are thought to be 3,000 years old. It’s very difficult to ascertain the true age because many are hollow so there are no growth rings.”
There was no one else in the churchyard that day as Morris sat in the tree. He spent some time enjoying the warmth and admiring the yew’s colours. “The inside felt so different to the outside – much smoother,” he says.
The only other object inside the tree was a simple jar of flowers. Morris felt peaceful as he sat there. “It was a surprisingly affecting experience. It was like sitting inside the belly of a large creature which, in a sense, is what I was doing.”
Morris was just as impressed by the outside of the tree. “You feel like you’re walking under a canopy and into a closed space because the branches extend so far before drooping towards the ground. An elephant comes to mind.” The pictures he took highlight the texture of its bark. “It’s difficult to believe that it is alive because it looks so old. It’s almost like touching a rock.”
As part of his research for the photo series, Morris discovered many yew trees were planted by the ancient Celts, who considered them sacred. Christians later built churches next to the yews. “It’s thought that Celts held yew trees in high esteem because of their powers of regeneration,” he says.
Morris went to the village again, to take more photographs and sit inside the quirky yew. It’s a tree he thinks of fondly. “The tree has opened itself up, allowing humans to interact with it in a very intimate way, and it will be here for many years to come.”
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