Some saw the day as a chance to say farewell. One person described the event as a “full stop” to the saga. But as the criminally felled, world-famous Sycamore Gap tree was carefully removed from its home on Hadrian’s Wall, people also spoke of hope, optimism and rebirth.
“The irony of this criminal act is that we have reset the clock on this tree now,” said Andrew Poad, the National Trust’s general manager of the site. “In forestry terms, it has been coppiced and it will regrow.”
A crane from Manchester arrived on Thursday morning for the challenging job of removing the tree. After days of withering winds, rain and gloomy skies, this thrillingly beautiful part of rural Northumberland enjoyed warm sun, blue skies and barely a breath of breeze.
Poad regarded the day as a funeral, but also as “the point where we can draw a line under what has happened and start thinking about the future”.
The Sycamore Gap tree was regarded by many as an integral part of north-east England. Its felling two weeks ago prompted an outpouring of distress, mixed with fury at the pointlessness of the vandalism.
Throughout Thursday, a team worked with chainsaws to cut the tree into manageable sections that could be transported to a truck.
Because the site is an ancient monument, a national park and a world heritage site, the work was slow and careful. The felling of the 50ft tree also caused damage to the wall on which it has been balancing precariously, slowing things down further.
The tree is timber now. Before it can be used to create something new – a memorial bench, a sculpture or something completely different – the wood will need to season and will be taken to an undisclosed location where that can happen naturally.
The expectation is that the stump will regrow and the National Trust said it would figure out a way to prevent the cattle and sheep who graze nearby from getting at it.
Few people expect anything as wonderful as the one felled, “but most of us will see a small tree there in our lifetime”, said Poad.
The Sycamore Gap tree was planted about 130 years ago by the landowner John Clayton. “He was an incredibly visionary man,” said Poad. “A real unsung hero. He planted it as a landscape feature in the full knowledge he wouldn’t see it in his lifetime. He took the long-term view and that is what we are here to do, we are planning for future generations.”
The National Trust has been inundated with suggestions on what should happen to the tree and the site, particularly over the last few days. As landowner, the final decision will be taken by the trust but that will take months. “Emotions are running really high at the moment, I think it would be a good thing to let things calm down a bit so we are all thinking a bit more rationally,” said Poad.
A partner in the process is Northumberland national park authority. Its chief executive, Tony Gates, said the day brought mixed emotions of sadness and hope. “I think we have reached a sort of full stop because this landscape is going to change forever today. But I’m feeling optimistic because of the public reaction to the felling of the tree.
“My hope is that from one negative and selfish act we get 1,000 positive ones.”
The Sycamore Gap tree has been the site of countless marriage proposals, scatterings of ashes, birthday celebrations and more.
On Thursday, the public were asked to stay away but a few felt they had no choice but to see it for one last time. “It is a momentous day,” said Maggie McColl, a charity worker, visiting with her partner and three Northern Inuit dogs.
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Like many she remembers her emotions when hearing the news. “I was incredulous, just so angry … I was very sweary. I think I felt a kind of grief and an inability to comprehend how someone could do it. If you are cutting down something like that then you’ve lost all hope.”
There have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of tributes, memories and suggestions about what happens next sent to the National Trust.
McColl thinks a piece of the tree should be given to the UK’s four nations who should make something that comes back together as one. “Tragedies like these unite the country, so something that represents that would be really powerful.”
Northumbria police arrested a boy, 16, and a man in his 60s after the tree was felled. They have been released on bail pending further inquiries.