We all walk for different reasons whether it be to gain a view, for health and fitness or to simply explore just for the fun of it. Sometimes we may even walk to help us gain a certain feeling or state of mind or to just enjoy some fresh air.
Our ancestors walked across the very same bridleways and footpaths as us, often for very different reasons; perhaps to find food or shelter, evade an enemy tribe or to make an offering to their gods. Whatever the reason, many of us still embrace a good old saunter and without realising it, still perform similar rituals to those of the millennia past.
As a child, our family walks often centred around visiting a feature of some description; often a castle, a waterfall or perhaps something that fuelled our vivid imaginations such as a troll-guarded bridge or a spooky woodland. Luckily for us my family have never been poor in the imagination department and so we often came away from our walks full of wonder and intrigue and keen to explore more.
Something which often formed part of our walks was ‘wish making’ and it would seem that this ritual is something our nation still embraces today. Often when we are walking, we stumble upon some sort of wishing well, an ancient wish stone or perhaps a wishing pool beneath a waterfall. These places have probably been sacred for thousands of years and we still get a sense of wonder when we visit them today.
In Britain, evidence suggests that our Celtic ancestors considered springs, wells and certain trees to be sacred and believed that a wish would be granted if an offering was made, such as a coin or a sacrifice (I wouldn’t recommend the later). They believed that trees and springs had been placed there by the gods, since water was a source of life and trees were rooted in the earth. So therefore it comes as no surprise that many wishing trees and wells today are found near water features.
One aspect of wish making that really intrigues me is the ‘money tree’. Often a money tree will look like a scaly, dead trunk from afar but upon closer inspection something entirely different is revealed. Money trees are mystifying, coin-studded trunks that occasionally appear in woodlands and near waterfalls. The coins have usually been hammered into fallen trees by passers-by; I assume in the hope it will bring good fortune.
Often, if you look closely you will find coins dating from as far back as Victorian times buried into the bark right next to a modern day penny. In Scotland a medieval florin was spotted in one wish tree!
I like to think about who hammered the coins in and what they were wishing for when they placed it there. By the way, it is said to be extremely bad luck if you remove someone’s wish, so don’t be tempted!
Another theory suggests that the coins were placed there to remove illness from the body, again reminiscent of making offerings for good health during Celtic times. I certainly wouldn’t want to remove those coins from the tree!
In the village of Askham in the Lake District there is a pub called the Punch bowl Inn, where coins have been forced into the old beams for good luck. The pub was originally part of an orchard and the local tradition states that a wish will be granted for each coin forced. It’s worth a pint just to be part of the story don't you think!
Near to here you will find two more money trees, next to the magnificent Aira force waterfall. The Victorian landscaped gardens on the shore of Ullswater are a tranquil haven shrouded in folklore and so to find money trees and wishing pools here seems very apt.
It would appear that money trees are either becoming a ‘bit trendy’ or are just receiving more press coverage but they do seem to be springing up around the country. I have seen them at High force waterfall near Ingleton, at Tarn howes near Coniston and at Bolton abbey in Yorkshire. All of them are near to waterfalls or springs… the plot thickens.
Often when I write, I find myself drawn towards places where I feel inspired, usually woodlands or riverside paths. It is here where I am able to fuel my imagination. Sometimes I have to go for a walk to get an initial idea; sitting in front of the computer just doesn’t do it! When we go out into the environment we tend to relax and keep our eyes open; maybe this alone is why we make wishes in beautiful places and the Celts have little to do with it!
Maybe people are more likely to make wishes when they’ve been for a walk? Maybe money trees have sprung for that reason alone. Sometimes people find the oddest places to make a wish? Why do they choose that place? Maybe there is something special about a certain spot?
Either way when you find a money tree, close your eyes and make a wish of your own and fingers crossed it comes true!
You can follow a beautiful 3km Tale Trail walk around the magnificent waterfalls and landscaped banks of National Trust’s Aira Force and make some wishes of your own. visit http://taletrails.co.uk/the-nozomi-bird-of-aira-force to find out more.