High above Lancashire’s Calder Valley a curious, eye-catching structure erupts from the derelict fieldscapes at the moorland edge: the remarkable Singing Ringing Tree.
Circle around it at close radius and you might readily bring to mind’s eye the head of a gigantic great crested grebe, maybe a native American tribal headdress or – my favourite – a massive caricature of Woodstock, that little yellow bird in the famous Peanuts cartoons.
A series of these panopticons – defined as “a structure, space or device providing a comprehensive or panoramic view” – was commissioned 15 years ago by Mid Pennine Arts to celebrate the post-industrial revitalisation of the central Lancashire textile and engineering belt.
The four panopticons (others are Atom, a striking lozenge-shaped shelter; Colourfields, a transformed former cannon battery, and Halo, which shimmers with LED lights at night) are harbingers of this renaissance. Architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu created this design as an interpretation of a tree fashioned by persistent prevailing winds into the form familiar in coastal and upland-fringe areas: the huddled, stunted thorns and oaks bent and stretched over decades into wind-blasted cowering profiles.
Constructed from galvanised pipes, it’s shaped as a twisted expanding spiral. A breeze from any direction reverberates through the tubes, causing a haunting sound that thrums across the landscape, hence the name.
Crown of Burnley
The tree amply satisfies what it says on the tin. Views from the location at Crown Point can stretch to Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks and encompass the shapely bulk of Pendle Hill and the distant Bowland Fells. This airy upland is home to some of Britain’s rarest birds, including twite and merlin.
It’s easily reached by car via Crown Point Road, three miles south of Burnley, or take an energetic ramble via the Burnley Way path up from the town’s sublime Towneley Park, where a sculpture trail is another engaging diversion.
Visit on a still, late-winter morning and you may catch this glimmering tree rooted above a sea of valley fog, with distant mountains, ridges and impotent wind turbines floating on the billowing cotton-wool ocean. A clearing breeze may then give voice. Truly a magical, inspirational sound and sight.