If you roll back the clock to around 300 years ago, America was still in its infancy years. It was a time before the Revolutionary War, and the slave trade was thriving across the world. Across the Atlantic Ocean, in England, a small sapling was beginning to grow which would later become an icon, until now.
Sycamore Gap in Northumberland, England is a national and international treasure. For nearly 300 years, this lone tree has sat in this beautiful valley and has been admired, loved, and treasured by many people.
The tree even featured in the brilliant 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman. Sycamore Gap was also in the music video for Bryan Adams track Everything I Do, which, coincidentally, was also my mom and dad's first dance song at their wedding.
For any landscape or astrophotographer, the location of this tree is almost a pilgrimage to capture this iconic scene. The tree sits in a dip among this valley almost perfectly, with Hadrian's Wall running alongside it.
The wall divides north and south. If you photograph to the north, you may get lucky and capture Northern Lights during the winter months, and in the summer, if you can photograph south, you will capture the Milky Way core.
Mark McNeill captured the image above, which was highly commended in 2018 for Astronomy Photographer of the Year (People and Space). Brian Cox, who is a famous physicist from the UK, is also a huge fan of McNeill's image and said it was beautiful. I asked Mark about his experiences there, and it was clearly a well-loved location for him:
I had over 100 nights and plenty of sunsets at this magical location. It was a place to come and reset or run away from life's worries. It was a place where everyone smiled when they saw the lone tree.
The tree itself is one of the most photographed locations across the UK and certainly the most photographed location in Northumberland National Park. The location and tree are a true national icon.
Sycamore Gap was on my list to photograph for many years, and finally, two months ago, I managed to go see the location for the first time. After moving to near the Scotland/England border, I now only live one hour's drive from its location. We made the journey over there to scout the surroundings in a planned astro shoot.
We parked up at the car park and made the roughly 20-minute walk across to the tree; I scrolled through the PhotoPills app and looked at possible dates for when certain astro events may occur and saved them. Sadly, we did not manage to get a shoot done that day, but I had the intention of returning again soon.
On the morning of September 28, the UK and the rest of the world woke up to the terrible news that the tree had been felled the night prior. From the pictures making international news, it looks as if someone has taken a chainsaw to it and cut it down.
Dan Monk, who is the director of astrophotography at Kielder Observatory, Northumberland, heard the news early on and travelled to the site to see for himself. This is a location that Monk himself has shot on numerous occasions. When speaking to Dan, he was absolutely devastated this has happened.
I did not believe it at first when I woke up to the news that it had been felled. I only live five minutes from the iconic tree, so I had to go and see it for myself. I was deeply saddened when I realized the news was real. I have spent many nights under the stars at the tree, and it always felt quite spiritual.
It had this majestic presence that looked over you, like a guardian. I once spent a whole night there on my own at the tree during the Geminid meteor shower. I saw hundreds of shooting stars that night.
The nation is stunned, and there are many questions that need to be answered, most importantly: why on earth would someone do this?
A criminal investigation by Northumberland police has now begun, and the area was cordoned off on the morning of September 28 so the police could begin that work. Within several hours of the news first breaking, an update was released that a 16-year-old had been arrested. If a 16-year-old was in fact responsible, for any who know the location, surely this child did not work alone.
The most recent update since is that a 60-year-old has also been arrested. However, no further details have been provided at this time.
Nature lovers, photographers, ecologists, tourists, writers, poets, and many many more, no matter where you come from, who you are, are all disgusted at this horrific act of vandalism. Vandalism seems like too nice of a word to put it, to be honest. The tree was nearly 300 years old and was a living thing, just like you and me. This is frankly murder!
Why would someone or a group of people go through all the trouble of driving to the middle of nowhere, then taking the short hike with a chainsaw to cut down such an iconic tree? Who on Earth wakes up one morning and decides that this is a good idea?
A Passionate Plea
The mind really boggles sometimes at the decisions some people make. At a time when humanity as a whole should be closer together, supporting each other, and working to help nature, we have honestly never been further apart.
Whether it is right versus left, red versus blue, corporations versus the poor, and so on, there is such a huge gap in our goals as people, and the world is suffering immensely for this. This is a passionate plea to everyone who reads this, please let us come together as humanity and do the right thing, support your neighbors no matter who they are or where they are from, and respect nature.
Mark McNeill captured this incredible image of Comet Neowise over Sycamore Gap back in July 2020 and was shortlisted for Science Photographer of the Year for the Royal Photography Society.
Farewell to a National Icon
This is more than just a tree to many in the UK; this tree is a symbol. It is a monument, a shrine, a place of reflection, and solace. When you search Sycamore Gap online, there are thousands of incredible images from all times of day, at all times of the year. The Sycamore Gap tree was a true national icon to many over the past few hundred years, and sadly, because of some peoples outright stupidity, selfishness, and criminality, future generations will never get to see this beautiful scene in all its glory in person.
Farewell to a national icon.
All images used with permission.