Standing on the moors high above the Lancashire town of Burnley is the Singing Ringing Tree, a wind powered musical sculpture designed by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu as part of a project for the East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network. Completed in 2006 it’s 10ft tall and built from galvanized steel pipes of varying lengths which form the shape of a tree bent and blown by the wind.
A total of 322 pieces of steel make up the tree; these are arranged in 21 parallel layers with each layer being supported by rings and everything being welded and bolted together. Although the widest point at the top spans over 13ft the narrowest point at the bottom is less than 4ft wide; computer models were used during the design process to calculate the right amount of rings, bolts and pipes needed to keep the structure upright. Due to the varying length of the pipes and the narrow slits cut into specific ones the tree produces a sound, when the wind blows, which covers several octaves and is described as being discordant, melancholy, and intensely beautiful.
I first found out about the tree quite a while ago but even though it’s only a 35-minute drive from home I’d never managed to get there, however I took advantage of a beautifully sunny early morning just a few days ago and went there straight from work. Just over a mile and a half from the A682 up a steep moorland road I came to a small car park set back off the road itself and I could see the tree down the hill and to the right. A stony path with a left and right turn led from the car park and a ten minute walk got me to the tree.
Being still reasonably early in the morning I had the place to myself so I was able to wander round and take photos from several different angles without anyone getting in the way. Although not exceptionally windy there was a stiff breeze blowing which was just enough to make the tree ‘sing’ though to be honest I certainly wouldn’t describe the noise as being ‘intensely beautiful’ – it was weird, slightly eerie, and reminded me of the sound you get when blowing across the top of an open glass bottle.
When I’d got enough photos of the tree I turned my attention to the surroundings and trying to ignore the urban sprawl of Burnley down in the valley I got a few shots of the countryside and the views towards Pendle Hill before making my way back along the path towards the car park.
Towards the top of the path and just at the other side of a wire fence was a stone built cairn which, since that morning, has given me several hours of frustration and annoyance. The structure itself looks fairly modern, maybe built from the remains of a stone wall, but I couldn’t decide if the worn stone frescoes round its sides were very old or modern ones maybe done by children and made to look old.
Although there’s an information board near the car park which tells how the area got its name there’s no mention at all of the cairn; Google Maps says it’s a ‘decorated cairn/historical landmark’ and though there are many internet sources of information for the Singing Ringing Tree there’s no information anywhere for the cairn – even a phone call to Burnley Tourist Information produced nothing but a ‘this number is not in use’ message so I’m currently none the wiser as to its history, age or significance.
Not far from the cairn and close to the car park was the very attractiveLife for a Life memorial forest planting site established in 2003 and where a native tree can be planted in memory of a loved one. Coming from across the road was the constant bleating of a sheep and when I went to look I saw just one on its own while the other few in the flock were quite a distance away and ignoring it completely. The moorland on that side of the road seemed to be wilder and more desolate and I was glad it was a sunny morning; with one final shot looking down the road I went back to the van and set off for home.
The walk from the car park to the Singing Ringing Tree and back was only a very short one and I’d only spent an hour in the area but in the warm sunshine it had been a very pleasant hour. Although I wouldn’t purposely go back to the tree I know there are a couple of good walks which can be done from there so maybe next year I’ll go back for a revisit.
** The original Singing Ringing Tree, from which the sculpture partly gets its name, was an East German children’s film made in 1957 and shot in Technicolour. It was bought by the BBC in the 1960s and cut into three parts which were shown as a mini series in late November/early December 1964, being repeated many times over the years until 1980. With its style of story telling similar to the Brothers Grimm it was said to be ‘one of the most frightening things ever shown on children’s television’, and a Radio Times readers’ poll in 2004 voted it the 20th spookiest tv show ever.