The 'Dark Hedges' of Northern Ireland Jul 30, 2017 5:16:24 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Jul 30, 2017 5:16:24 GMT -5
The ‘Dark Hedges’ of Northern Ireland
A specter in the shape of a woman glides through the shadowy arboreal tunnel of intertwined branches reaching across the Bregagh Road in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Many say it’s the ghost of a maid from a nearby house who died mysteriously long ago. Others claim it’s Margareth “Cross Peggy” Stuart, the daughter of James Stuart, a previous owner of the land. Some even suggest it’s a lost spirit from an old, deserted graveyard, believed to lie hidden somewhere in the nearby fields. On some nights, the forgotten graves are said to open and the spirit is joined on her walk among the ancient trees by the souls of those she once held dear, now lying beside her. Whatever the circumstances of her tortured past, locals call her the “Grey Lady of The Dark Hedges” and she haunts the long ominous road beneath the huge domed crown of gnarled branches.
This spooky yet magnificent avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century with the intention of serving as an impressive entrance leading to Gracehill House, their Georgian mansion. Although the family had owned the estate for more than a century, it was not until 1775 that one of Irwin Stuart’s children, James, decided to build a home on the property, which he named for his wife, Grace Lynd. As soon as they settled in, he acquired and planted 150 beech trees on either side of the road leading to the estate. James believed that by doing so, he was adding to the grandeur of his residence.
However, as the years passed and the trees matured, their limbs began to reach across the road and their branches intermingled, resulting in an atmospheric tunnel and scenic road. Two centuries later, what James planned as the centerpiece of his home has grown into an unusually serene and spellbinding canopy of ancient beech trees along the Bregagh Road north of Belfast. The entangled branches of the trees form a dramatic union of light and shadow, transforming the road into a truly magnificent gem of nature. Today, it is one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.
The life span of a typical Fagus sylvatica L., commonly known as the beech tree, is 150 to 200 years, but they have been known to live for up to 350 years. A survey commenced in 2014 of more than 94 beech trees as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project. Authorized by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust and Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust, the survey confirmed the tree thrives here and often reaches the greater age of maturity, which is rare. According to the survey, when mature, the beech tree can attain a height greater than 130 feet and form an enormous domed crown at the top. The Stuart beeches transformed the tree-line into a scenic backdrop, one that can be utilized in movies and television shows, for instance. The iconic trees of County Antrim appeared in HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones, as the King’s Road in Season 2, Episode 1: “On the King’s Road.” In this episode, after Arya Stark, disguised as a boy, escaped King’s Landing, this was the path she and her companions, Gendry and Hot Pie, took in the back of a cart in their journey north toward the Night’s Watch.
To ensure preservation of the trees, in 2004, the Department of the Environment (NI) Planning Service placed a Tree Preservation Order on the Dark Hedges and five years later the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was formed. Backed by Heritage Lottery Funding, the Trust aims to conserve and enhance this phenomenon, as well as protect the remaining 90 trees that left of the 150 originally planted two centuries ago.
Aside from the huge increase in traffic generated by people who were eager to see this fantastical and dreamy locale, the Dark Hedges endured even greater hardship in 2016, when Northern Ireland was hit by Storm Gertrude, which totally destroyed two of the trees and heavily damaged others.
As the location’s popularity increased, the number of visitors grew and this has raised concerns as to how the trees would handle the increase in traffic, or the graffiti left behind by vandals. As a result, at the beginning of 2017, the Department of Infrastructure, announced plans to eventually close the road in order to preserve the site and protect it against degradation and possible damage.
Sources: Martin Chalakoski, The Vintage News, May 31, 2017, and ItMustBeIrish.