etting off from Friston, the forest consumes the path and veers down into the valley, past a waterworks and along an avenue of wych elm trees – one of only a handful of places you can still find large numbers in England. Crossing a race course, the ancient yew in Wilmington draws closer.
Ascending out of the forest, the ridgeline offers a stunning view over the Cuckmere Valley, whilst the descent down into the village reveals the Long Man of Wilmington gazing out over the landscape. Painted green during the war to prevent enemy pilots using it to navigate, its white outline is now hard to miss. Whether it was created as an 18th century folly or a far older commemoration to an ancient warrior we may never know.
Strolling through the village, past the 12th century priory, the path into the churchyard provides the first view of the ancient yew. Supported by props and chains, the immense tree looks every bit as antique as its age. A stone sits at the base of the tree, reportedly from Roman times and uncovered by the local well-digger whose grave is below. The churchyard looks like a haven for wildlife, with jackdaws tending to a nest in the yew and butterflies abundant around the small meadow, in which sits a sundial erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.
A peek inside the church reveals its wildlife is celebrated in a stained glass window and a certificate from The Conservation Foundation attests to the yews age. A donation is exchanged for a wonderful drawing of the tree overlooking the church before the path is taken again, heading north to follow the Weald Way to Berwick station and the train home.
You can find out more on the importance of churchyards for wildlife at Caring for Gods Acre.