Cragside measures up in tallest tree challenge

The 140-year-old Scots pine is officially the UK’s tallest ( June 2014) © National Trust

The 140-year-old Scots pine is officially the UK’s tallest ( June 2014)

Latest update 04.06.2014 13:34

A 140 year old Scots pine growing at the National Trust’s Cragside in Northumberland has been officially declared the tallest in the UK.

At 40m (just over 131ft) the towering conifer has been confirmed as the largest of its kind by officials from the Tree Register –the organisation which since 1988 has kept a tally of Britain and Ireland’s notable and ancient specimens.

Its stature isn’t the only milestone the tree has broken, however.

The Scots pine can lay claim to being the 200,000th tree to have been recorded on the register.

Cragside on the outskirts of Rothbury is just one of many National Trust places across the North East boasting remarkable and unusual trees which the public are being urged to get out and see for themselves while they are at their best this June.

Among other notable examples are Seaton Delaval Hall’s 300 year old weeping ash, an impressive horse chestnut planted by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw at Wallington, and trees at Staward Gorge where Italian prisoners of war carved their identification numbers in the 1939-1945 conflict.

Cragside’s Scots pine - which is the same height as 10 double-decker buses stacked one on top of the other - is a remarkable survivor. The species is more commonly grown as a commercial crop with felling taking place from around 50 years of age.

But this was one of an astonishing seven million trees and shrubs planted in the latter half of the 19th century by the first Lord and Lady Armstrong, who together transformed a bare hillside into a stunning 1000 acre country estate with a pioneering hydro-electrically powered mansion.

This woodland now forms the backbone of the property’s grade 1 listed garden with its native and exotic conifers, including the eye-catching bluey-green Scots pine, dark green yews, Douglas firs and Wellingtonias. 

Cragside’s newest arboreal star stands surrounded by Douglas firs on the hillside behind the main car park just 120m (400ft) from the Armstrongs’ mock Tudor house.

The National Trust decided to call in specialist arboriculturists to help measure the Scots pine’s dizzying height after people commented on what a wonderful example it was.

Needless to say, staff are delighted to know Cragside is now home to the tallest native conifer in the UK.

Chris Clues, Cragside’s tree and woodland manager, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled if a little surprised to have the UK’s tallest Scots pine. You might imagine that Scotland would lay claim to that record. But a lot of these trees are grown commercially and felled at quite a young age.

“Since being planted in the 1870s our Scots pines have thankfully been left alone and are now part of the landscape. This particular tree is also surrounded by Douglas firs which have helped protect it from high winds and other harsh weather.”

Chris now hopes to identify more champion trees at Cragside. He has his eye on a Douglas fir in the estate’s pinetum that a decade ago was measured at 60m (196ft).

“I know one or two Douglas firs that were the tallest have been damaged over the past few winters. We are hopeful ours could be another record breaker,” he said.

Chris regularly climbs the trees at Cragside to assess them for damage and has scaled the record breaking Scots pine. “It’s a very tall but challenging and rewarding tree to climb. It’s a truly breath-taking tree set in a wonderful location and we are very proud to have it here at Cragside.”

Two hundred champion trees can be found on land cared for by the Trust nationally [2].

Paul Hewitt, countryside manager at Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland, hopes visitors will venture into the countryside to discover more about Britain’s trees.

He said: “Across the North East there are some very important and beautiful trees growing in some fantastic locations.

“Here at Wallington we have just launched a tree trail highlighting seven of our own favourite examples so visitors can discover them for themselves and develop a greater appreciation of these notable specimens which might otherwise have been overlooked.”

The National Trust is urging visitors to upload photos and comments on their best-loved specimens from their favourite places around the North East this June via

Among other top North East Trust trees are:

Allen Banks and Staward Gorge:
• The woodland at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge are part of the largest area of ancient woodland in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Some of the trees at Staward Gorge have the identification numbers of Italian prisoners of war carved into them.

• The birthplace of natural history expert and wood engraver Thomas Bewick is home to several ancient oaks.

• The Avenue or ‘Long Walk’ is just under half a mile long and lined with more than 200 mature oak, lime and sycamore trees. Many are more than 150 years old. As you wander down the Avenue you can hear the tap, tap of nuthatches and greater spotted woodpeckers as they search for a bite to eat.
• A Norway maple growing in front of the hall has been declared a Durham champion by the Woodland Trust, making it the largest of its species in the county.
• A 200 year old wild cherry behind the hall is from the original planting of the garden. While it has now fallen over it continues to grow and blossom every year.

Hadrian’s Wall:
• Sycamore Gap west of Housesteads Crag is probably one of the most famous and iconic sections of Hadrian’s Wall. The distinctive lone sycamore achieved celebrity status after starring in the 1991 Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Ormesby Hall:
• In the West Garden is a glorious and grand copper beech. This splendid tree with its purply leaves is thought to be at least 200 years old. With huge boughs trailing almost to the ground, it forms a beautiful canopy through which the summer sun falls in dappled pools.

There are myriad other trees planted in the area: walnut, Japanese cherry, large leafed lime, silver birch, Scots pine and cedar.

Further afield on the 250 acre estate, there are walks through stands of trees varying in age from 40-150 years. There are numerous excellent examples of popular species of trees to admire.

Roseberry Topping:
• Parts of Newton Wood and Cliff Ridge Wood at the base of Roseberry Topping are known to be around 400 years old, which means when the British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook visited the hill as a boy in the 18th century he would have walked between, sheltered under, or perhaps even climbed some of the older oak, ash or beech trees still there today.

Ros Castle:
• A misshapen native juniper – a tree uncommon to Northumberland and the only one to be found at the Trust’s coastal places – stands next to the road as you walk up to Ros Castle.

Seaton Delaval Hall:
• At nearly 300 years old the hall’s spectacular weeping ash has remained standing through numerous calamities, including the fire which destroyed much of the hall in 1822. Now in its dotage, its limbs have had to be propped up and it prefers a ‘hug’ rather than being swung on!

• The 45ft high Nootka Cypress evergreen’s trunk height and branches have made it an ideal tree for climbing for generations of children - the reason it was last year voted the best tree to scale in the Trust nationally.
• The so-called George Bernard Shaw Tree is a horse chestnut planted by the Irish playwright in 1936 when he was a guest of Sir Charles and Molly Trevelyan.

Washington Old Hall:
• The hall has the only National Trust Nuttery (nut orchard) in the region consisting of mainly cob and filbert hazels. In the spring there is a beautiful display of catkins followed by luminous deep red or green leaves in the summer and hazelnuts in the autumn.

The Nuttery is a haven for wildlife, mostly insects and small mammals – there is a hazel dormouse - but there are also many wild flowers and other plants.

• Planted in the nuttery to mark the bicentenary of the United States in 1976 at the ancestral home of the nation’s first president, George Washington, the hall’s coastal redwood with its beautiful, soft spongy bark and branches that hang low forming a natural den, has become a firm favourite with visitors of all ages. In America it’s known as the ‘punching tree’ as thanks to its soft, fibrous bark you can punch it hard and still feel no pain!