click photo to enlarge
A path flanked by yew trees is one of the most commonly found routes across a churchyard into an English church. Such an avenue typically starts at the principal gate into the churchyard - frequently a lych gate - and extends to the most used main entrance, which is usually in the south porch. This places the trees on the south side of the church where they benefit from full sun. An avenue of this sort will have been deliberately planted for the stately note that it adds to the location. I don't know whether large country houses or churches were the first to feature yew avenues, but those two locations (along with municipal cemeteries and crematoria) are just about the only places I find them. The other reason they are chosen is that they are seen as very traditional - a "progressive" church is unlikely to plant such an avenue, or to be very keen about keeping an existing one, usually preferring something more colourful or more obviously environmental. A yew avenue will last for many years - many centuries in fact - and requires regular clipping to keep it from growing too high and from intruding onto the path. I have seen churchyards where these trees have outgrown their location, and the solution has been to cut them off near the base. Far from finishing them off this drastic action encourages new and vigorous growth that can be cut into the shape that the trees had in their youth.
I've spoken elsewhere about the reasons why yew is a preferred species in English churchyards. I've also mentioned (probably more than once) how trees planted on the south side of the church prevent a photographer from using the best position for a shot of the whole building: the south east corner of the churchyard. A yew avenue rules this particular image out completely - and, being evergreen, does so for the whole of the year! However, when the sun is in the south, and shadows are falling towards the church, a yew avenue offers an image like the one above with a formal pattern of trees and shadows leading to the church building. Here at Skendleby, Lincolnshire the final composition doesn't have a focus quite as interesting as this one at Pilling, Lancashire, but I took the shot nonetheless.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 19mm (38mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On