Why Britain's Robin Hood Tree Is So Revered

Many beautiful ancient locations exist in the United Kingdom: The Giant's Causeway; Stonehenge; Cheddar Gorge. However, few are as quaint and as beloved by both tourists and locals alike as Sycamore Gap, which, on the face of it, is nothing more than just a wall and a tree.

But as with many places in the U.K., Sycamore Gap has a long history. The wall in question is the world-famous Hadrian's Wall, a 1900-year-old, 76-mile structure built by the Romans to safeguard their Empire from attacks from the North. Once an imposing fortification, Hadrian's Wall is now part of Northumberland National Park, where it attracts millions of visitors a year. And a major part of the appeal is Sycamore Gap, perhaps the most picturesque part of the ruined fortification which until very recently has featured a gorgeous 300-year-old Sycamore.

A retired teacher, Beatrice, told The Guardian: "I brought kids here to walk this section of the wall and we always stopped to rest under the tree. These included kids who had never been outside London. Some I met later told me that this place started a lifelong love of landscape." Sycamore Gap has even attracted filmmakers, but a tragic act of vandalism in September 2023 has robbed visitors of the chance to see the spot as it once was.

Sycamore Gap's star turn

Usually, when it comes to Hollywood films, it is the actors who take the plaudits. But when Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman came to film the blockbuster "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" in Northumberland in the early 1990s, another star soon emerged: Sycamore Gap.

The locale features prominently in one memorable scene, which features the two actors walking along Hadrian's Wall, making their way under the tree with Costner's character proclaiming "I'm home!" before plucking a sprig of mistletoe from the tree. Shortly after, the Sycamore tree serves as a hiding place for a boy who is running from a pack of dogs before Costner's Robin Hood saves him. 

It is surely the beloved tree's turn in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" that has made it so recognizable and a point of pilgrimage for photographers, picnickers, and nature lovers. In fact, the "Robin Hood Tree" — as it has been widely known since featuring in the film — has even been the recipient of prestigious awards, such as English Tree of the Year, which it received from the Woodland Trust in 2016. Until recently, the Robin Hood Tree was believed to have been one of the most photographed trees on the British Isles.

A tragic act of vandalism

But sadly, news emerged in September 2023 that the famous tree that has stood for three centuries at Sycamore Gap had been mindlessly destroyed. The tree had been cut down, seemingly with a chainsaw, in what investigators described as an act of "mindless vandalism" by one British Member of Parliament, per The Evening Standard.

The story — which was reported by news outlets around the world, including The New York Times — was met with shock and dismay by nature lovers and those who knew the spot well. In the days that followed, numerous people contacted The Guardian to share their memories of the tree, as a feature of a beauty spot, as a spot of welcome respite from the sun for Northumberland hikers, and as a place of pilgrimage for movie fans. One proposed the planting of new saplings along the wall, though of course none of them would grow to the splendor of the Robin Hood Tree during our lifetimes.

A 16-year-old boy and a 60-year-old man have been arrested in connection with the destruction of the Robin Hood Tree, though at the time of writing, there is no motive for its felling.