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Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 12:15 UK
Mystery of the heart-shaped wood
Heart Wood

It is an icon of Cumbria and one of the "must see" sights on the M6 motorway that runs by it in the Tebay gorge.

But what is the story of the heart-shaped wood?

Is it a memorial to tragedy? The sign of a love gone wrong or a farmer's sign of affection for his wife?

We take a closer look into the wood and find out more about the history behind the mysterious copse of trees that attracts so much attention.


There are lots of tales about its origins. Some say it was planted as a memorial to a young soldier killed in World War I, others say it was the farmer's way of expressing his love for his wife.

One tale has it that it is the place where two ill-fated lovers met for the final time. They were the offspring of two local farming families who forbade them from their affair, refusing to let them marry.

The pair arranged to meet for the final time where the wood stands now - on their meeting he ran her through with his sword, before turning it on himself.

The families of the dead lovers were so distraught at the tragedy that they had caused, they planted the wood as a memorial to their love.

Broken Gill

However the truth behind the wood is not quite as romantic.

When the farm that owns the land the wood stands on was bought by Hilary Wilson's family, they were told the wood was a Victorian plantation.

But having also been told so many tales about its origins, Hilary decided to investigate further.


Going to Kendal Archives, she was shown maps with the wood mentioned on them. One of them - the tithe map from 1841 - showed the wood with the name Broken Gill Plantation and planted with pine trees, rather than the current crop of deciduous trees.

"The shape of the wood is also easy to explain" says Hilary, "It's the way the trees are grown that make it look heart-shaped".

American folk singer Kristina Olsen wrote a song called Heart Hill based on one of the many stories told about Heart Wood

The trees grow between two walls, in a wedge-shaped piece of land making it look a bit like a heart.

It's a combination of the its shape and original name that Hilary believes has caused the confusion, with Broken Gill being confused with Broken Heart and with it "being a bit heart-shaped" it has all run together to give rise to all the stories.

And with fiction been stranger than truth, Hilary says "I think the stories will last longer than the truth".

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