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Keith Richardson - colour photography, Val Corbett
'Jack's Yak is far more than a book about trees. It is also a fascinating, informative and amusing book about life and is beautifully illustrated throughout with the work of the highly acclaimed photographer Val Corbett'.
The book takes you on a unique journey as the writer follows his instinct and zooms in on subjects of particular fascination. Extensive research on specific trees and events that surround them - some not for the faint hearted - take you into another world but one with which you can readily relate because the trees, most of which still stand, are modern day sentinels and reminders of the past and their relevance in the greater scheme of things.
River Greta Writer
220mm x 287mm hardback
Colour photographs throughout
Jack’s Yak is towd yak or the old oak or Jack’s oak. It is to be found in St Michael’s churchyard, near Lowther, and this remarkable old tree, bent and broken, supported on crutches, has been there for six hundred years. Those heavy, creaking branches are held up by wooden props since, legend has it, that should a branch touch the ground “the fortunes of the Lowther family will take a dip or, in the worst case scenario, the Earl of Lonsdale will fall. This is all poppycock,” writes Keith Richardson. He’s ventured out to Lowther on a bitter December afternoon when “the country was icicle-cold with sub-zero temperatures well into double figures.” The graveyard seemed “straight out of Hammer horrors with its mausoleum and frightening carved heads and winged hounds at his corners.”
Val Corbett’s pictures add a magic to the tree. The glow of the declining sun is caught in the crook of a branch and the dour oak leaves are rendered translucent. Lowther Castle is brilliantly lit like a castle of old romance with the dark encroaching forest and the heaviest of brooding skies. Stripped bare in winter the heavy branches seem laden with the weight of six centuries as they steady themselves in the morning mist.
Keith Richardson has been on a journey around the characterful trees of Cumbria, sensing their presence, interpreting their witness as the long years have passed.
An ancient yew is more than twice the age of the church in Martindale. Entering the stillness of that simple old building and treading its cold flags, Keith feels as if “he has been sucked out of 21st Century Lakeland, and propelled back to a black and white universe”, that is until three children and an I-player-blasting mum shatter his reverie with Katherine Jenkins singing “I Believe”. The yew itself would have furnished weapons for the bowmen of Martindale when they showered arrows on the French at Poitiers and Agincourt. Again, Val Corbett’s photographs notate the sense of place perfectly. A gravestone in the shade of the yew is wet from a shower and the word SACRED shines in the cold sunlight. A vase of daffodils stands in the light by a deep window. Martindale itself is filled with cloud.
Wordsworth celebrated the crusted old yew tree in Lorton. Shakespeare’s Oak is felled and its trunk, sawn in two, lies in the grounds of St Thomas’s Church of England School in Kendal. Wainwright’s rowan tree still clings to the side of its crag above Buttermere, symbol enough of a dedicated and determined old man. The Rebel Oak at Clifton watched over the last battle (or skirmish) on English soil. The site of the Capon Tree in Brampton, where assize judges might have dined, is marked by a stone memorial. Patrick Gordon Duff Pennington of Muncaster leans heavily on his stick beneath the very Spanish Chestnut where the Elizabethan jester Thomas Skelton, who gave us the term ‘tomfoolery’, once sought the shade. A straggling wind-blown hawthorn still clings to Humphrey Head above the sands of the Solway. The heart shaped wood above the M6 has drawn many legends to itself, but the shape of this wood that was planted in 1840, has been determined by the lie of the land.
However, the most evocative tree of all for Keith is the oak that stands on the cricket pitch at Lowther. Any ball that hits it is worth four runs. The smack of leather and willow has echoed through Keith’s life and the many days he has spent playing cricket in Keswick.
This is a book of personal reminiscences, of people and history. The wonderful old trees evoke the history and spirit of the county. Val Corbett’s photographs add a touch of magic.
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