The Singing Ringing Tree

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Not far from the cairn and close to the car park was the very attractive Life 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.
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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.

21 thoughts on “The Singing Ringing Tree

  1. I’m sorry, that sculpture just looks like a pile of cut up scaffolding poles dumped in a place they absolutely do not belong. At least you did not invest a whole day and hours of walking to view it 🙂

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    1. To be honest Jayne I tend to agree with you. It can be seen from the road before you get anywhere near it and from a l-o-n-g distance it does look like a tree shaped by the wind although in an otherwise empty landscape it’s very prominent – get close though and it looks just like what it is, a load of poles bolted together. I think the main attraction is the fact that it ‘sings’ when the wind is in the right direction but even the noise isn’t exactly nice. What is it with modern ‘sculptures’? – most of the ones I’ve seen are hideous! 😦

      There’s an attractive grassy picnic area close to the car park and the views are lovely so on a clear sunny day it would be a nice place to stop for a while if driving past or on a walk. I’m glad I went to the tree if only to say I’d been but I wouldn’t make a point of going back.

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  2. PS: you are right, the cairn is far more interesting. Maybe the work of some wealthy Victorian “antiquarian”, and you had a good few of them in the area thanks to the mills? Is it worth researching who the landowners were in, maybe, mid-19th century? Perhaps it was put up as a sort of ‘cairn – folly’ ??

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  3. ‘Curioser and curiouser’ said Alice 🙂 The cairn is definitely a mystery. If it really is a historical landmark I can’t understand why there’s no information on it anywhere – I’ve spent hours searching the internet using every terminology I can think of but found nothing. Apparently where the tree is was once the site of a re-diffusion transmission station and the old building was demolished to make way for the tree but that’s quite a distance from the cairn. I rather suspect it’s a modern one made to look old – I’ve seen pics of it with the frescoes looking much newer and less worn – so maybe it’s not been there long enough to gain any history or interest. I’ll keep trying to find out though, unless anyone reading this supplies the relevant information 🙂

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  4. I suppose it depends where you view the tree from – it looks better from some angles than it does from others. I won’t deny that a lot of creative thought and hard work must have gone into the design and building of it, especially as it’s so obviously ‘top heavy’, but close up it is what it is.

    When I heard the sheep bleating constantly I thought at first it was in trouble. I felt quite sorry for it being all on its own like that – it’s companions were so far away I had to use the camera zoom to see them properly 😦

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  5. You were lucky to have the place to yourself for all those lovely photographs. Last time I was there it was crowded and someone had stuck a Union Jack on the top.
    I keep saying I will go back on a strong wind day for the full orchestral effect.

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  6. I came across your post about the tree when I was searching the internet for info about the cairn, I saw the photo with the flag on the top. I was surprised there was no-one up there when I went but it was still fairly early.I might one day go back for the views and a walk but I wouldn’t revisit the tree.

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  7. Oh dear, that did bring a huge lump to my throat, thinking about our trip up there to see it and I thought it was amazing. Evidently I’m a little on the strange side, unlike your other pals who don’t like it. I went looking for some info the Motel gave us about it, but couldn’t find it. I’m sure there was something on it about the cairn. Anyway, I’m different, so thank you for sharing. Take care, stay safe & hugs.

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    1. I find it amazing that you live so far away yet you have actually been to see this sculpture that’s only 35 minutes drive away from my own home! 🙂 No doubt there are many people who will like it for the piece of modern art that it is but personally I’m not particularly impressed. It’s good for photography though and the views from there are lovely. If you do happen to come across any info about the cairn any time then please do let me know, it’s really bugging me that I can’t find anything out! 🙂

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  8. I loved the singing ringing tree when I visited. You should have seen Hugo, sat with one ear cocked as of to say ‘ let me make out that tune’
    Beautiful photos Eunice from every angle. I did not even notice the cairn. Strange how there’s no info about it. X

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    1. I’m glad you like the photos and you loved the tree when you visited – I suppose it’s one of those ‘Marmite’ things really. I can imagine Hugo wondering where the noise was coming from 🙂 I’m still no nearer to finding out about the cairn though and it’s really bugging me!

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  9. I find the height of the tree is quite deceiving as it looks a lot taller than it actually is, probably because the ground slopes away from the base on all sides. From a distance it looks okay although rather out of place in the open and empty landscape – I suppose the main attraction is its ‘singing’ qualities.

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  10. I’ve been meaning to make a trip to see the Singing Ringing Tree for a while now but having read your post I will wait until I’m in the area rather than making it the sole purpose for visiting. From looking at your close up photographs it appears quite different to how I imagined.
    I hope you are able to discover more about the cairn. X

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  11. If you’re ever in the area then it may be worth stopping off there to see it but you wouldn’t need to be there for very long so imo it’s not worth making a special trip – what you see on my photos is how it is although the views from there are nice. I’m still trying to find out about the cairn but no luck yet 😦

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  12. What a funny looking thing, it seems quite out of place in its surroundings. I suppose they’ve looked for a place to install it where the wind will whip through it to make it ‘sing’.

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  13. From a long way off and with its shape it looks a bit like a tree on an African plain but as it’s all open land for miles around it sticks out like a sore thumb but you’re probably right, that site would have been chosen as it’s high up and will get the wind to make it ‘sing’

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